This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Dario Betti, CEO, Mobile Ecosystem Forum
The telecommunications landscape is evolving rapidly, driven by a myriad of factors ranging from privacy and security concerns to the rise of artificial intelligence and the imperative for environmental sustainability. The sector can expect far-reaching implications for how business is conducted, particularly with regard to consumer rights and competition.
Consumers in the Netherlands, Germany and the US have all seen the switching off of 3G networks, and mobile providers in the UK will be retiring 3G this year to allow them to focus on fourth and fifth generation technology. As the shift in priority to 5G spreads across the world, regulatory bodies will deliberate issues such as spectrum allocation, security standards, and privacy concerns associated with 5G infrastructure.
Ensuring universal access to affordable and reliable telecommunications services will also be a top priority. While 5G expansion will be encouraged, regulatory initiatives will aim to expand connectivity to underserved and rural areas.
AI, and Emerging Technologies
Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to redefine many industries, and the telecom sector is no exception. Regulatory bodies will need to take positions on a variety of challenges posed by AI in areas such as network management, customer service, and data analytics. Concerns about bias in AI algorithms and the ethical use of AI applications may prompt the introduction of guidelines and regulations.
Telecom companies deploying AI solutions may face scrutiny to ensure transparency and accountability in their algorithms. Regulators may develop frameworks to govern the use of AI in decision-making processes, particularly where it impacts user experiences and data privacy.
The issue of privacy has become a focal point for regulatory bodies worldwide, with an increasing emphasis on safeguarding user data and communications. In 2024, when important elections will take place in the UK and USA, news coverage of cyber security issues will increase. Security concerns related to cyber threats and network vulnerabilities will drive regulatory changes. Governments and regulatory bodies will likely enforce comprehensive security measures to fortify telecom infrastructure against cyber attacks. This may involve the implementation of advanced encryption protocols, regular security audits, and the establishment of incident response mechanisms to mitigate potential risks.
We can also expect stricter regulations aimed at protecting consumer privacy in the ever-expanding digital ecosystem, and authorities are likely to demand more transparent data handling practices from telecom companies, perhaps with stringent penalties for non-compliance.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is responsible for about 2% of all global emissions, about the same as the aviation industry, and it is inevitable that the telecom industry’s environmental footprint will come under increasing scrutiny, leading to calls for more effective sustainable practices. In 2024, regulatory changes are likely to focus on reducing the industry’s carbon footprint, minimizing electronic waste, and promoting energy-efficient technologies.
Governments may introduce incentives for telecom companies that adopt green technologies and impose penalties on those failing to meet sustainability standards. Collaboration between regulators, industry stakeholders, and environmental organisations will be crucial in developing and enforcing regulations that promote a more sustainable telecom sector.
Consolidation in the Sector
Competitive pressures are creating challenges for Telecom and Media players regarding increasing their average revenues, which in turn is depressing profit margins. But new and advanced networks are still requiring large cyclical investments. The number of mobile operators is reducing from four to three in most countries, and a similar transition can be seen in broadband networks. New technologies have required new approaches and perspectives from policymakers. An example is the ongoing deployment of 5G wireless networks. In several jurisdictions, policymakers are moving forward with subsidy programmes and other efforts to encourage the deployment of advanced networks more deeply into unserved and underserved areas.
Striking a balance between fostering innovation through healthy competition and preventing anti-competitive behaviour will be a key challenge for regulators. Telecom companies contemplating mergers will need to navigate regulatory approval processes carefully, considering both national and international implications.
There are two trends that have not yet seen the full impact of regulation: the implementation of personal data protection; and identity. While there are multiple regulations in place globally, many have had limited operative impacts. The regulation is now mostly in place, and the technology is still developing. The real focus today is on understating how to deploy and to monitor the implementation of these rules. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was one of the keystones to much of the global debate on personal data, and GDPR implementation and its evolution are crucial topics for the 2024 agenda.
Personal data is still too often leaked or hacked, and economic models that thrive on the sharing of private data are not fully transparent to their users. The legal implication of these data breaches will be a major concern for 2024.
Identity and Internet Regulation
Increasingly high levels of identity fraud, protection of minors, business impersonation and counterfeiting mean regulatory bodies will renew and redouble their focus on issues related to online identity verification and authentication. Customer identity is still crucial for the Internet—it has been an ‘identity-less’ structure—but the anonymity on the Internet is now challenging the protection of minors. Age verification is becoming more concerning given the success of online social media and messaging platforms.
Telecom regulators are also focusing on another form of identity: network and sender identity. This leads to issues that include phishing (on email, SMS and voice calls) as well as spam and unwanted calls. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced its attempt to roll out an anti-robocall solution for voice calls (known as STIR/SHAKEN), and it announced a new solution for SMS during 2023. Other regulators will follow soon; we will see governments collaborating with the telecom industry to develop standardised frameworks for digital identity.
Open debate is vital
2024 will see the discussion of many significant issues within the telecom and Internet law framework. Industry stakeholder contributions to this debate will be essential to ensuring that the telecom sector continues to thrive and shape a future where the mobile ecosystem remains a driving force of connectivity and innovation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dario Betti is CEO of the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF). Established in 2000, the Mobile Ecosystem Forum is a global trade body that acts as an impartial and authoritative champion for addressing issues affecting the broadening mobile ecosystem. MEF provides its members with a global and cross-sector platform for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions. The goal is to accelerate the growth of a sustainable mobile ecosystem that drives inclusion for all and delivers trusted services that enrich the lives of consumers worldwide.
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