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From Telco to Techco

Sept. 9, 2022
What does the move to techco entail and why will it revolutionize your approach to change?

Begin Your Technology Revolution

The economist, Theodore Levitt, said “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things”. Quite where the telco industry fits in relation to this description is difficult to say, but the scales are certainly starting to tip in favor of “doing” rather than “thinking”.

The challenge of competing in today’s fast-paced, software-defined environment is demanding that telcos take this mindset even further, positioning themselves as tech-first companies rather than mere communication enablers. This journey from telco to “techco” will ensure they’re able to effectively capitalize on 5G, IoT and edge capabilities but only if the journey is mapped out in the right way. In this article, we’ll explore what that journey looks like, and what telcos will need to do in order to compete as true tech natives.

It’s become clear that the journey to techco is about more than core technology. It’s also about culture, talent, operational tools and processes, and the evolution from a fixed physical environment to flexible, multi-tenant software environments.

The Journey

The path from telco to techco is not yet well trodden, and there’s no defined blueprint for creating tech-driven value propositions within the industry. Telcos need to be mindful of maintaining their subscriber base and ensuring their quality of service remains high throughout any changes they might undertake. Unlike other industries, they’re walking a tightrope in this regard.

Telecom operations teams should no longer be considered conservative or strangers to change. On the contrary, they’ve proven adaptive and agile in what has become a rapidly changing environment. This is evidenced by how quickly telcos were able to accommodate swathes of the population suddenly shifting to remote working, despite surging traffic loads that at one point almost doubled. Plans to diversify revenue streams and digitize services may have been put on the backburner during the pandemic, but they never went away completely. In fact, coping with this new demand might one day be regarded as one of the key catalysts that sparked the telco to techco movement—from virtualization and cloud-native development to automated testing and proven networking.

Mobile operators such as BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Swisscom, Telenor, and Vodafone are already taking great strides toward becoming tech-first organizations. These operators are engaging in wholesale digital transformation across operations, strategy, culture, as well as customer and partner connectivity.

It’s become clear that the journey to techco is about more than core technology. It’s also about culture, talent, operational tools and processes, and the evolution from a fixed physical environment to flexible, multi-tenant software environments.

Vendors have a role to play here too. The standardization of interfaces is an enabling function, but compliance statements on their own don’t make for seamless interworking. Mutual education regarding the core baseline of services, the native or hybrid infrastructure underpinning deployment, and the tools and KPIs to facilitate operational Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance and Security (FCAPS) is also crucial. The next step is start blending best of breed functions so that the technical and operational advantages of new capabilities can be realized with new use cases.

What’s a Techco?

The answer to this question can depend on a telco’s history. In an IP world, a techco is like a large hyperscaler, with overnight mass software rollout, infinite cloud capacity and more homogenous and controlled environments. An experienced telco operator, however, will recognize that in a telecom environment there is a delicate mix of systems and interfaces as well as tight regulatory frameworks to consider. Telcos already embracing a techco mindset will look at how each of these elements can grow, scale and interwork, using everything from a common platform or virtual infrastructure to zero-touch operations and preconfigured groups.

One thing’s for sure though, having an underlying infrastructure that facilitates seamless multi-vendor strategies appears to be crucial to tech transformation, allowing telcos to tap into best-of-breed technologies to stay at the leading edge of new use cases in B2B, B2C and IoT. This is where telcos begin to split into two camps—those who want to skill up in-house for the techco transformation and those who employ systems integrators to handle it for them. This begs the question, is it easier for telcos to go with a suite of products from a single vendor or adopt a multi-vendor approach?

A core part of the multi-vendor approach is the sheer choice it will bring. Telcos will be met with a catalog of functions, all with standard interfaces and deployment approaches, that will offer new commercial and technical options. Whether this multi-vendor approach will be a help or a hindrance will very much depend on a) the scale of the telco and what internal resources are available, and b) what level of ownership they would like to maintain when it comes to their digital transformation. Bringing multiple vendors on board brings in-house ownership of any processes while gradually nurturing, training and skilling-up staff. These telcos will be more dynamic entities, able to alter their trajectory and implement new ideas with greater ease.

For some telcos, however—perhaps those that already lack sufficient in-house expertise in key digital areas—relying on an integrator to steer the ship might be the preferable choice. What they relinquish in terms of ownership, they gain in the form of objective expertise and streamlined operations management.

Neither option is right or wrong, but it will undoubtedly be a defining step on the journey.

An additional thought is who owns key data such as user profiles, registrations, session insights and billing information. When considering new use cases such as IoT, defining the model behind gathering and distributing data should not be overlooked. After all, it is this data that will ultimately drive the software.

Continuous Improvement

As well as their long-term strategy for growth, telcos are also going to have to move toward a continuous mode of operation—another key techco characteristic. This involves:

  • integration (CI),
  • continuous deployment (CD), and
  • continuous testing (CT) in cloud-native environments.

Much like digital transformation, the move to techco is never something that can be “finished”. Moving to the next level of automation will enable continuous improvement and evaluation. By definition, CI, CD, and CT initiatives are automated as much as possible to make them the most effective they can be in terms of rolling out and deploying functional improvements. This is in a nascent state and telcos are quite rightly treading carefully. Occupying a cloud-native space will naturally throw up additional challenges, such as how to control data access and security. This will need to be addressed alongside continuous improvement initiatives if the journey to techco is to be made without incident and without disrupting paying subscribers.

The transition from telco to techco isn’t something that can be rushed, and it isn’t something that can be easily bought. As Philippe Ensarguet, CTO at Orange Business Services, eloquently puts it, “Evolution you can buy, revolution you have to do.”


Oliver Korfmacher is CTO of Telecoms Group, Enea. He has more than 20 years of experience in product management and network architecture. For more information, please email [email protected] or visit Follow them on Twitter @EneaAB and @owMobility. Also follow them on LinkedIn: company/eneaopenwave and company/enea-software-ab.

About the Author

Oliver Korfmacher | CTO of Telecoms Group, Enea

Oliver Korfmacher is CTO of Telecoms Group, Enea. He has more than 20 years of experience in product management and network architecture. For more information, please email [email protected] or visit Follow them on Twitter @EneaAB and @owMobility. Also follow them on LinkedIn: company/eneaopenwave and company/enea-software-ab.