Today’s digital society is standing on the brink of an unprecedented industrial revolution that will dramatically change both the way people live and work, and also the way companies in the IT and telecom field run their operations. This means new opportunities for those who are able to ride this wave, but also challenges, because of the pressure to do so. Pundits attending the Technology & Telecom event organized by BR discussed how this will affect their businesses.

 Otilia Haraga

“We are facing a greater transformation than we have been used to until now. 5G will be commercially available in 2020, but before that we have many challenges in front of us. We need to change the way we work. We are dealing with virtualization and customer oriented strategies. Add to this the digital society context we are in, and this will mean a full transformation of our operations,” Mihai Tudor, head of service quality & efficiency management at Orange Romania, said during BR’s seventh Technology & Telecom event. One of a list of challenges that operators are adapting to is what Tudor calls the “IT-zation of the network. There will be a lot of space for NFV (network function virtualization),” he predicts.

Other telecom representatives on the panel agreed with this vision. Dragos Spataru, head of the telephone and mobile communications division at RCS&RDS, says that the trend points towards virtualization and adding on more software. “Virtualization and on-demand services have been coming over the last seven years. Building a network involves coping with so many services, and the need for more capacity and services is pushing us forward. As an enterprise, it makes sense to pay for a service only when you use it. Virtualization/ software solutions and whatever can help you keep the costs down will work in the future.”

Customer experience is another challenge on the big telco’s list, given that investments are still needed in this field. Spataru says that at the moment, collecting data is becoming easier; however, analyzing the collected data is the real challenge. “We will try to implement artificial intelligence to spot some problems. It’s always best to be able to identify a problem before the customer does,” says Spataru. Proactively solving customers’ issues is one of the strategies that most operators are using.

“One of the things that I check every morning is what our customers tell us about the network. I have an app on my phone where we check the feedback we get from customers. We get more than 100,000 pieces of feedback per month. The second area in which we have invested is customer experience network performance, which means that we look at the network performance starting from the customer. Often the network can look clean but the customer is experiencing problems,” said Catalin Buliga, chief technology officer at Vodafone Romania.

A project proactively detecting problems before they are even noticed by the customer is currently being implemented by Deutsche Telekom, announced Timos Tsokanis, chief technology and infor-mation officer at Telekom Romania. “Instead of the traditional NOC (network operations centers), there is software looking at network parameters in real time and deciding how we can improve a certain parameter in a certain area. This is a pilot project we are implementing in Greece and now in Romania. This results in a proactively improved customer-experience,” he outlined.

Orange Romania has launched an application called The Fun Kit, which enables users to vote on which areas 4G coverage should be extended to. Following the vote, Orange intends to expand the 4G network across the 20 most popular counties.

In terms of network rollout, operators are complaining that the authorities’ reaction is not keeping pace with the required speed of implementation. “The challenge is coming from the environment. So many times, to get authorization to roll out infrastructure does not depend on us. The regulatory environment and administration can still make a lot of improvements to help us roll out our investments. This is the biggest and only challenge that we still have,” complained Buliga. New technologies are knocking at the door: just four years from now, technology buffs can expect the launch of 5G, which is being hailed as a major upgrade, but also brings new challenges. “5G is going to be a gradual transformation because it needs to enable applications that depend on it. (…) This is going to cost a lot of money but it will enable all the things that we see around. It’s going bring a lot of investments in the country,” predicted Tsokanis.

In terms of the new benefits that 5G will bring, Buliga argues that there will be two major transformations: the speed of the network and the bandwidth, and very short delays. While with 4G, delays are around 40 milliseconds and with 4G+ around 25 milliseconds, with 5G the delays will be just 1 millisecond. “For some apps like self-driving cars, you really need to get to that 1 millisecond delay. The benefits for the customer will be seen between 4G + and 5G,” said Buliga.

Higher speeds and shorter delays will bring changes to the ecosystem, but not all of them good. For instance, the number of cybernetic threats is expected to increase.

Malware is a billion-dollar business. For every dollar spent, hackers make 1,400 times more, according to Liviu Arsene, senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender.

To the conventional threats known from previous years, such as banker Trojans (like Zeus, Carberp or SpyEye), information stealers (especially password stealers), and spam sending Trojans, new threats have been added, such as ransomware, exploit kits and advanced persistent threats. The bad news does not stop here: approximately 60 percent of targeted malware is aimed at small and medium businesses because they have fewer resources to invest in security.

Cybercriminals are also organizing into outsourcing companies. Malware is now available as a service, in the form of malware creation toolkits selling for between USD 100 and USD 10,000 – some are even free of charge. There are hourly updates to these malware toolkits, as well as technical support for “customers” included.

“We found a ransomware kit somewhere at around USD 3,000,” said Arsene.

The costs to businesses are astonishing. Some 74 percent of small or-ganizations reported a security breach last year. The cost was around USD 99,000 per crypto-malware or ransom attack.

At the moment, Romanian companies are not prepared to fight this threat. According to Arsene, Romanian firms are still living with two mentalities: that “this will not happen to me” and that “this will not happen to me twice in the same month.” The reality is quite different. Many small and medium organizations have reported more than one security breach per month.

“The industrial revolution 4.0 is blurring the physical and digital divide,” commented Marius Filipas, Microsoft services delivery manager director at Microsoft Romania. He said that 50 percent of CEOs in the Top 500 believe that their main priority is the digital transformation. The view of the visionaries is that every company in the world will become a software company. Filipas gave as an example Amazon, which is the biggest retailer in the world, but has zero salespeople. This means that the focus will shift even more in the future.

He is not alone in this view. “The pillars of digital transformation are redefining customer experience, something that has already started, digitizing core business operations, which is going on right now, and reshaping companies’ business models, which will be going on in the near future,” pointed out Teodor Blidarus, managing partner at Softelligence Romania.

He added that in 2008, there was a great rupture of trust between consumers and operators of financial services. “I would say that in the not too distant future, payment companies will be tackling customer relations and banks will be dealing with risk management,” he predicted.

The way customers are dealing with financial institutions has changed. “Customers have migrated towards digital and now the problem is to create services that cover their needs. Digital will increase twofold while office interaction decreases,” forecast Robert Anghel, head of digital channels, ING Bank Romania.