Mentor Horoscope for 2019

How valuable are predictions?

At this time of year, we are blitzed with a myriad of forecast and trend articles giving views on where our industry is going in 2019.

What’s clear is these prophecies are mainly influenced by what market the publisher is in and what products and services they hope to sell.

But that’s no surprise, is it?

Rather than offer Mentor’s predictions for 2019, we’ve rummaged through a cocktail of contradictions and contrasts that may provide some insight into forces we should probably pay no attention to – and others that we skate over at our peril.


5G screams at you from every corner of our industry

There is a clear consensus we should be laying the foundations now. But there’s some doubt about the first application and some nervousness about the investment payback period.

A lot depends on the market you are in.

Some see the geography of the US and China driving early deployment of 5G for residential broadband. Others see the ubiquity and density of 4G in Europe as putting a damper on leadership from there.

Australia’s farce with its National Broadband Plan (NBN) is bound to drive 5G for broadband there.

Or so you would imagine?

In the UK, we need to get on with 5G ‘on the double.’ More importantly, we have to unscramble the meagre supply of dark fibre to allow urgent densification of 4G – and lay foundations for 5G, in parallel.

Fixed broadband is the “icing on the cake” for a UK 5G operator, rather than core to the business case – mainly because of the availability of superfast broadband and the latest push behind full fibre.

But – we think a mobile-centric fibre platform could supply both 5G and competitive full fibre provision in our cities.

Then again, 5G is not just another “G.” Some say it might be the last “G”, as it brings a whole new architecture – based on technologies like Orchestration, SDN and NFV – which are guaranteed to remain in our networks for decades.


As a magic potion, IOT is almost more pervasive than 5G

Perhaps because it will be a gruesome battle ground, with extremely powerful device and OTT players fighting for positions with the operators.  From an operator perspective, the crucial challenge is how to make this “clash of the titans” more than just another source of traffic for our networks.

But there are ghastlier outcomes than ‘only carrying the traffic.’

The operator task here is how to add value and play a decisive role in diverse IOT sub-markets.  These include connected homes, connected people, connected cars and even smart cities.

Operators must stay engaged and carefully place some small bets with prospective partners.

Bill Gates once said:

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.

This ‘change’ is definitely one of these.


Smartphone predictions are a bit lacklustre

The market is slowing down. Who’d have thought Apple would start discounting and Samsung would issue a profits warning?

In part, this is because new technologies are simply not grabbing the punter’s attention – and customers are hanging on to last year’s model for longer.

Looking forward, MNOs need to focus on – not just the unrelenting upsurge in data consumption per device – but also on the sharp increase in the number of personal devices, as we strap-on more health and fitness monitors.

Operators must plan for the impact on the 5G core architecture – radically increased scale, functionality – and monetisation of device management capabilities.


OTT will overtake Pay TV in 2019

Says John Giere, CEO of Openwave.

S&P suggest US cable is fortunate in having ‘a natural broadband hedge’ against the pressure on Pay TV from content owners and OTT – in sharp contrast to the Satellite TV companies who don’t.

We used to think Sky’s position in UK broadband was an offensive play – but it just might end up as a defensive one.

What’s clear is the volume of data is climbing, as customers demand HD and 4K video.  And the value chain that delivers them remains a little wobbly.

There must be an opportunity for operators to do much more than just carry ‘the bits.’ Not least because economics is driving video technologies towards the ‘edge’ and calling for increased network intimacy.

But this is the operators’ natural home territory, isn’t it?

The traditional set top box seems to be fading. People now watch TV on tablets and phones – but also ‘casting’ and Smart TV’s have opened up the ‘big screen.’ Content owners also seem more enthusiastic about dealing directly with their customers.

So, this is not a trend to ignore. Operators need to get ‘stuck in’ to this opportunity before the best seats are taken.


Everyone is talking about AI

What’s clear, from a number of commentators, is that AI technology will impact devices, services and operations across the telco space in the medium term. A recurring theme is the use of this ‘smart technology’ to toughen our networks and systems – and to help expose and prevent cyber-attacks.

Reflecting back on the new 5G-inspired core architecture – with its policies and orchestration, SDN and NFV – it’s clear we need to think about our AI readiness.

Many of us won’t deploy AI this year. But the foundations we are laying now need to be ready for AI to plug in and start adding value – by reducing costs, protecting our networks and customers – and improving both the speed and quality of our decisions.

AI is emerging now and we need to explore how and when it should be deployed.


More execution complexity – much more – is inescapable

It’s a cliché to talk about fork-in-the-road moments. But 5G is going to be one of those.  It brings so much with it – beyond new spectrum and radio technologies.

And it will be critical to handling the actions demanded by all of these trends in the next 12 months.

The trouble is many people seem to have an approach which is about as useless as a 12th century cartographers map of the world to guide them through the process of rapid infrastructure birth, growth and death – that will keep us all busy for 2019 – and well beyond.

Worse, many companies are tackling these top-notch challenges – piecemeal – with whatever rudimentary maps they have. Without even the barebones of what it takes to succeed.

Only the tiniest percentage of them will deliver what they plan to do, anywhere close to their target dates.

For example, I well remember a spat with the Regional CEO of a Nordic OEM – not too long ago – about whether they were well-positioned to meet their commitments to a UK MNO.

He said they were – and would. But on the ‘fact-based’ evidence we saw, they were going to miss their targets by a country mile.

And they did.

Is it because some senior managers are incurably stupid? Badly informed? Slothful? Short-sighted? Or like the proverbial ostrich, have just decided not to think about it – yet. Or is there something else going on here?

Don’t let this be you.

The real question is – during the time we have left to deploy 5G, can we be sufficiently directed, structured and organised to get this most important job done.

When I was working in corporate life, I believed people would always act in their own self-interest. And if that ‘interest’ was spelled out to them in enough detail, they would do it.

I no longer believe this.

After 35 years in Hi-tech program management, I now think a huge percentage of people come to work for social reasons. By that, I mean it gives them something to do. Somewhere to go, provides them with a convenient group of friends – and a daily structure.

Delivering business-critical programs is not their first priority – or of any importance. Whatever rhetoric they might express to the contrary.

They’re mostly interested in working in lifeless cultures, ‘wishing things into place’ – and just getting by.

Only a very small percentage of people are genuinely committed to succeed and improve. And without this commitment nothing like 5G is possible – in sensible timescales.

As this became clear to me, a lot of what I’d seen in business became easier to understand. Even though it is not easy to accept.

Execution is the most ignored and trivialised challenge in deploying 5G. It’s one of those words that managers downplay and consistently skate over.

Mentor is a business that truly understands what needs to be done in execution. It’s in our DNA.

At Mentor we most definitely do not have a ‘medieval map’.

We have a ‘Modern Map’ – and what’s more – we have battle-tested program management capabilities to help you use it effectively to win on 5G.

The ‘acid test’ is this.

Are we willing to weed out every activity that obstructs or delays a 5G industry triumph?

When you realise – truly realise – time is ‘fixed’ and if you’ve set a goal that’s absolutely crucial to your business, you can then decide what’s really important today and what you can leave others to do, perhaps tomorrow, if ever.

If you can do that, you’re well on your way to doing something really worthwhile – and making some history in the process.


So, let all that sink in for a few minutes and consider this…

There’s no doubt that 5G programs will be absolute brutes.  They will challenge every MNO to reach standards of operational brilliance never achieved before. Not ever in the industry’s 30 year history.

Without a solid foundation, it’s not possible to build a robust executable plan. It may look colourful and beautiful on a PowerPoint chart– but that’s all it is. Beautiful – but improbable.

First-cut program plans always assume absolutely nothing will go wrong – there is a never-ending supply of qualified resource; and, the business is doing nothing else – only this one program.

Perfect – but absolute claptrap.  The plans won’t stand scrutiny – and then ‘déjà vu’ starts all over again.

From then on, nobody is heroic enough to tell top management that publicly committed numbers, dates and performances can’t be delivered. Anyone who attempts to is firmly reminded the targets have been in the Business Plan for many months and can’t be changed.

Now here’s a good question.

Has anyone ever heard of a business-critical program that was more straightforward; less of a slog – and had fewer hurdles to jump – than anyone originally thought? 

That’s right! No!

‘Optimism bias’ is widespread on many business-critical programs. Rampant overselling of ‘miracle results’ gives birth to most program fiascos.

Don’t make the naïve mistake of thinking these calamities only happen to ‘other people’ – and not to you.

If you’d like to avoid the humiliation of a colossal program nosedive on 5G, read our ebook ‘Are you jumping the gun?’ – our ‘Bible’ on how to dodge the mismatch between what your company wants to do – and what it’s actually prepared to do to ‘win.’

You won’t regret it. Why roll the dice?