Tech Mahindra: At the 5G intersection
Tech Mahindra’s senior vice president of EMEA speaks to Capacity’s Natalie Bannerman about the potential of 5G and the key use cases of the growing technology.
As the roll-out of 5G networks continues to pick up pace, it is companies like Tech Mahindra that many of the world’s telcos and service providers turn to. Billed as a $5 billion plus business and one of the top 15 IT service providers in the world, its nearly 1,000 customers include prominent Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies.
Founded as a joint venture between British Telecom (BT) and Mahindra Group, the company had and still retains its British heritage and has telecoms in the DNA, according to Bhushan Patil, the company’s senior vice president of EMEA.
“Till 2009, telecoms was our only business vertical,” he explains. “There was a reason for that, we thought telecoms was transforming at that point in time but, being a public company, it was necessary for us to expand.”
As result, Tech Mahindra’s business is split down the middle, made up of 40% telecoms and 60% enterprise customers.
Beyond just the next generation of mobile technology, 5G has long been seen as a step change in creating a more inclusive and connected society. A concept that Patil agrees with.
“5G use cases are developed around three tenets. If you take the massive IoT as one of three tenets of 5G that has the potential to transform so many industries just by virtue of being digital across the board.”
One facet of this gives you access to data like home electronics, etc improving things through autonomy and removing the need for people to manually maintain things in potentially hazardous conditions.
“The second tenet is ultra-high reliability and low latency, where you have the maximum high-end use of 5G to do precision engineering. This includes such things as driverless cars and healthcare operations being done,” adds Patil.
The third tenet, he says, is enhanced mobile broadband. “This use case in the UK is all about giving better experience to users with things like augmented reality, virtual reality, gaming and sports,” adds Patil. “But if you take the same use case for developing countries like India, it can massively transform the quality of education you can impart, to the remotest places.”
Many of these same pillars also play a part in the growing sustainability of 5G networks. For example, Patil says that the autonomy of massive IoT will create not only cost savings but also help reduce our carbon footprint, with less maintenance travel.
In addition, he says sustainability will very soon “shift from just carbon emissions to how you use all the resources”. Using precision farming as an example, this can on average “save between 20% to 25%, in water and other chemicals”.
Benefits aside, there still remain substantial costs for telcos with fibre roll-out and next-gen solutions required to not only deploy 5G networks but to manage and maintain them. This capital expenditure becomes even greater when considering 5G connectivity in rural locations when the geographic obstacles are coupled with a smaller user base. So, what should be the motivation for telcos?
“I think people have passed that decision point,” says Patil. “I think everybody has come to terms with this for two reasons. The use cases are strong enough to be developed and the potential is known. Bearing in mind that consumer is not the use case here, it’s B2B or B2B2C.”
Over time, he also says that in the long term there are savings to be made once the earlier generations of technology, like 3G and 4G networks, are switched off. Coupled with this, 5G enables far more seamless technology going forward so “at some point of time your operating costs will go down”.
Doubling down on the rural connectivity part of the 5G conversation, Patil says that this is the area that “a lot of people are putting energy and thinking behind”. Though fibre will of course be required, he adds that with the adoption of cloud-based WAN and open RAN technologies, “it will become relatively easier to provide 5G access to those areas”.
Interestingly, satellite is also being considered as a means of delivering rural connectivity, with Patil saying that “the price barriers are coming down” and that, overall, it will be a combination of provision.
The relationship between 5G and other emerging technologies like AI is all about added intelligence and, of course, growing data.
In the case of edge computing, there is an argument that more local connectivity may reduce the need for data to traverse the globe. Patil seems to agree in principle, but the relationship remains co-dependent.
“Theoretically, yes. If you take Moore’s Law, the technology becoming cheaper, etc. I think you will see the prevalence and growth of mobile edge computing,” he says.
“Speaking to companies like Google, AWS and Microsoft, they’re investing a huge amount of money in mobile edge computing. It won’t suddenly shift the balance of power because no matter what you do, you will still need the connectivity between the two points.”
As a business that serves both the wholesale and enterprise community, I am curious to know the differences in their approach and their needs around 5G.
In the case of telcos, Patil says: “They quite often focus more on their ability to deal with technology rather than the use cases they can deliver. Enterprises, on the other hand, need a particular business problem to be solved. It can be done with 5G, or what we are increasingly seeing is a lot of them are opting for intelligent connectivity, which is IoT plus 4G.”
Part of this conversation is interoperability, which will help to accelerate the roll-out of these networks, a concept that Patil admits “is not completely sorted but it’s just the process of evolution”, adding that it’s all about “separating hardcore legacy technology and turning it into software”.
Recognising gaming as one of the biggest growing content drivers and users of this ultra-fast, low latency connectivity, Patil says it is all about consumer experience, adding, “it is going to get bigger and better, particularly in areas like eSports.”
With the likes of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions announcing work on its 6G steering group and Orange and TIM joining the CEA-Leti project on wireless 6G environments, work is already well under way on the next generation of technology.
Patil says that there is still much to exploit in 5G for the next few years, “because it does have immense potential and the ability to leverage that potential to get back the money and investment that went into it.”
As company lead for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Patil has great insight into not only the differences in the regional 5G journey but also what it will mean for its citizens.
“Europe – predominantly Germany and the UK – are at the forefront of planning it and really driving this movement. On the African continent they aren’t at this stage yet. They’re talking, but the investment requirement is very high.”
Reflecting on the past year and the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on Patil on his team, he shares, “at first it was shocking and our first priority was to make sure that all our employees were safe, but at the same time business continuity was equally important.”
Overall he says that productivity hasn’t been affected, although “camaraderie and some of the team-building are missed, but it gets compensated by the fact that teams don’t have to commute and a lot of our workforce is still in cities, and in India, and the savings it makes really add up.”
One good thing the pandemic has done is force the hand of digital transformation for those businesses that were maybe hesitating to do so. Patil comments that, “Covid was the most successful transformation leader in history”, as well as shining a spotlight on the heroes of our sector.
“I think telco industry is the biggest unsung hero in this pandemic. We see all the frontline workers, rightfully, deserve kudos, but nobody really acknowledges that all these telecom companies continued to make things work for us,” he says.
Speaking on the focus areas for the company over the next year or so, Patil speaks about three mega trends. The first he says will be an “explosion of connected devices”, second is “exponential video consumption”, and third is the “power of new technologies like 5G”.
“We are investing in human-centric development, so everything we do will have customer experience at the forefront.”
In addition, all – customer – propositions will be data centred, he says: “This includes such questions as, can things be done in cloud, how much data can be extracted, can we do it in an automated way and can we use AI and machine learning?”
Lastly, he says attention will be given to the transformation of the company’s delivery platform, making it more agile and automated.