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MWC22: Day 3 – As telecoms evolves, marketers become teachers…

For all the talk about new devices and new enabling technologies, MWC22 demonstrated how the telecoms industry is continuing to change rapidly at a much more fundamental level.

Many of the real innovations taking root in the industry today involve far more than simply new features and functions, new Use Cases and new commercial opportunities using largely traditional tools and solutions. For once casting hyperbole aside, some of the new segments are truly “game-changers”. We’ll touch on two of them in this blog.

First, the mis-named issue of “cryptocurrency”. I say mis-named because the word “currency” carries with it an implication and invites comparison which traditional (fiat) currencies of which crypto is most definitely not. To the extent that so many still use fiat currencies as a base for understanding crypto, there is a problem. Crypto, not unsurprisingly, generated plenty of noise in Barcelona with this years’ chatter focused on a variety of subtopics including Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), programmable money, and Stablecoins among others. Programmable money may be among the next big things: it’s “money” coded with inherent logic for a pre-defined purpose that is automation-friendly and able to drive considerable efficiencies in the financial system.

The key for crypto in any of its forms to progress into the mainstream is likely to be stabilizing digital assets (to be clear, we are talking about all assets, not just payments these days.) The crypto industry is evolving rapidly and here, NFTs are likely to be particularly significant. These are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated. NFTs have now increasingly entered the mainstream in the wake of a number of high-profile sales causing consumer and investor interest, not least the well-publicised rise of Dogecoin.

The fly in the crypto ointment at present remains that despite increased consumer interest in the crypto market, actually getting involved remains complex. For all the low-level talk about jumping into crypto, it’s not as easy to do so as “walking into a bank”. Resources are limited, and public understanding of the space (its enthusiasm notwithstanding) remains low. For telco marketers, this presents a particularly interesting challenge; education, before sales, is going to be a key to crypto’s long-term success. The concepts and terms of the crypto industry need to be established and understood before the real lift-off arrives. That’s something telco marketers whose paths are likely to involve some sort of crypto asset or pitch in future (and that’s probably most telco marketers) need to be preparing for now.

A second game-changing front in the telco world (by which I mean a broader front than the boundaries of the traditional telecom industry) that’s also taking root and is perhaps in a more advanced state already than crypto is Artificial intelligence. As MWC222 showed, AI is already being implemented across organizations all around the world – bringing vast opportunities but with them new risks. Particularly interesting here is the acknowledgement that implementing AI invariably and unavoidably involves running into ethical issues. That being the case, the question becomes how do service providers put ethical frameworks in place?

While this blog isn’t the right place for an in-depth overview of the challenges involved there, what’s interesting is that as with crypto, in the evolving world of AI education and awareness are likely to play a key role. Most of us know what AI is, but few of us are yet aware of the impact it really brings and the difficult ethical factors involved in implementing AI-driven solutions. The seriousness of these issues can be seen, for one example, in Australian telecoms giant Telstra creating several levels of governance – including a risk council for AI and data and a group comprised of executives from each business division, to enable the company to stay on top of AI-related issues.

An interesting point to emerge is Barcelona was that the traditional view of implementing ethics could come at a business cost in terms of lost profits and missed sales opportunities is receding in the face of the increasing number of companies that are including social mandates as part their for-profit endeavours. This suggests that a fundamental shift in corporate governance may be happening. Thus, there’s a move to address the question, “How do you use this technology to actually produce good things?” This is important because in the future, it’s likely that ethical AI will be so ingrained that it will be automatically assumed to be part of business practices. If that’s correct, the groundwork being laid now is critical.

The point with both Crypto and AI-related issues is that they show how the telco industry is expanding its operational borders far beyond its traditional “telecommunications” domain and with that change a new, more education-focused marketing requirement is likely to be needed. “Sales and Marketing” may soon be transformed – particularly marketing – into something more akin to Customer Information, Education, and Communication”. If, and it’s likely to be the case, marketers are going to become educators as well as simply content creators and lead generators, then they are going to need to find new ways to do their business. And new partners to help them do it. What will those look like?

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