Operators will make a lot of the news at #MWC19 - but what can they learn this week?

MWC19 As MWC19 kicks off in Barcelona this week, operators will be more than keen to outline their latest wares, whether that's on the hardware side or on the ever-competitive race to 5G. Yet as anyone who has ever been to Fira Gran Via for the yearly mobile jamboree will testify, it is a broad church - and among the product launches are plenty of research studies, many of which have advice for operators in mind.

Take recent research from Mobileum as an example. The report, from Mobileum's security division and using three separate pieces of analysis, noted the importance of trust to mobile operators - and if that metric is damaged, current and future mobile services would be at risk.

The first report, put together by CCS Insight, said there was a 'surprising lack of coherent strategies for the positioning of network and smartphone security features and capabilities by mobile operators.' The note, which is based on conversations the analyst had with senior execs at operators across three continents, added that subscribers would be willing to pay a premium for 'peace of mind', and that operators had a solid long-term view over security.

Part of this issue has been accelerated by customers' increasing awareness - and anxiety - over security concerns. Verizon found that almost three quarters (71%) of its customers were either concerned or very concerned about cybersecurity today - a figure which was around a third five years ago. 

Yet while the long-term view is good, operators are split on the ways security can provide a competitive advantage to their portfolios. This is where the issue of trust can be most starkly found. For instance, if operators rebranded to further emphasise the security angle, would it infer that they didn't care previously? CCS cited Telia as 'vocal' in this area, yet even the Sweden-based operator said it was mulling over the right way of evolving its messaging from 'the most loved' to 'the most loved and trusted.'

HardenStance argued that telco security professionals should 'look for the opportunities arising from greater engagement by governents around the world in cybersecurity and telco security.' Governments naturally will turn to the telecoms sector as one of the first lines of defence for protecting citizens; so a proactive approach now would be a sensible one.

There are several examples, the analyst noted, of how informal collaboration between government agencies and operators has evolved. France's national agency, ANSSI, is now able to overrule and reject a French operator's choice of networking equipment used in providing lawful interception, while in New Zealand operators are now required under new legislation to gain government approval before making 'significant' changes to their networks.

The final study, from MobileSquared, found there was a disconnect around responsibility for security. There is an element of shared responsibility - similar to that with cloud infrastructure - but while more than half (55%) of consumers believe it is the operator's responsibility to protect mobile consumers, two thirds (65%) also said they were responsible. The report again noted users' heightened security awareness; 52% of consumers and 58% of enterprise said they would at least consider leaving their mobile provider after a security breach, a figure up significantly from 25% in 2017.

Ultimately, a lot of this is chicken and egg. More security incidents make users more concerned; while operators want and need to beef up their efforts in order to continue to gain customers' trust, there is still an element of nuance. 

"When we analysed the results, it soon became clear that the regulators are beginning to take action; that the users - consumers and businesses alike - want to hear about and see action," said Stephen Buck, SVP security at Mobileum. "But security remains a topic operators are usually reluctant to raise - despite an underlying belief that it could protect revenues and reduce churn in the long run.

"It's not easy to talk about [security] without raising questions about what was happening before," Buck added.

Meanwhile a note from Neural Technologies again suggests the need for reaction from operators - this time around the all-encompassing nature of digital transformation. With more and more services being requested by data-hungry customers, operators' IT networks are becoming increasingly complex. Naturally, their suggestion of digital platform integration involves a suggestion for their own product, in this case Optimus, but the wider point is of interest.

"Information is often stored across different locations across the network, making it difficult for operators to deliver the fast-paced, high-quality services their customers expect," said Claus Neilsen, Neural Technologies global VP of marketing. "A consolidated neutral interface that integrates different touchpoint channels and orchestrates orders, can consistently enhance customer experience and accelerate order completion rate."

You can find out more about the three Mobileum research studies by emailing marketing@mobileum.com.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

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