The Next Frontier: Growth Opportunities for Telecom in Asia

In March this year, we hosted an Asia-Pacific telecom summit – The Next Frontier, in partnership with Twimbit. Industry leaders from across the region participated in a series of rapid-fire conversations where we covered a wide gamut of issues impacting the telecom industry and focused on critical areas for growth. It was great to hear Dato’ Izzaddin Idris, Group CEO of Axiata, alongside senior technology leaders from some of the world’s largest telecom companies – Dhiraj Sharma (Senior VP, Reliance JIO), Rashim Kapoor (SVP Core Networks, Bharti Airtel), Ir. Azizi Hadi ( COO, Telekom Malaysia), and James Feger (GM, Service Providers, F5); and financial services players, including Airtel Payments Bank COO, Ganesh Ananthanarayanan, and Finin Founder, Suman Gandham, share their insights on the future opportunities in telecoms.

My takeaways from the telecom summit are four-fold:

  1. Capability building: Tech leaders in these firms are making the pivot to develop deeper technology capabilities within their organization. While they may have been slower than some of the region’s leading banks in this regard, they are now racing forward. The pace of cloud adoption, in particular, has caught me by surprise. The desire to integrate the network and business applications on common underlying cloud infrastructure will pave the way for considerable innovation.
  2. Operational excellence: There is considerable opportunity to improve operational performance by digitising business processes for both the backend and customer-facing teams. In fact, 3% to 5% EBITDA margin improvement from operational excellence is something every service provider can aim for.
  3. Telecom + Financial Services – the next big thing?: I used to be sceptical of how telco service providers can generate explosive growth opportunities in the financial services industry. I’m now convinced that the opportunity is clear and addressable. The progress made by Airtel Payments Bank in India is an encouraging sign. By the end of the decade, we will see significant success for telecom service providers in delivering financial services in at least half of the countries across Asia-Pacific.
  4. Deeper industry/segment expertise: The region’s leading telcos are making significant investments to acquire or develop solutions for industry verticals or specific customer segments such as small and medium businesses, gaming, and AR-VR. Most value creation will happen closer to the customer than to the network.

Despite the positive response to the virtual summit, I can’t help but imagine how much more exciting it would have been to be at this event in person. Indeed that day is not far off, and I am hopeful we’ll meet at the next iteration of the summit in person.