The telecommunication industry has acted as an enabler of innovation and disruption for many sectors, however, the industry itself is under increasing pressure to implement new concepts in order to survive the era of digital transformation. It is expected, that in the coming years, carriers will evolve on two digital service dimensions: digital service providers (DSP) and digital service enablers (DSE). DSPs will rely on cognitive technologies and data analytics to advance better customer experience, while DSEs will focus on the importance of ecosystem platforms. Characterized by an abandonment of the product-based model and a movement toward platform-based ones, DSEs will serve not only traditional customers but also over-the-top (OTT) clients, like WhatsApp, Viber, and iMessage. With digital giants and startups offering new, often free, communication options worldwide revenue in the telecommunications industry is projected to reach 2.1 trillion Euro by 2019.

As cutting-edge startups and their technologies are the driver of competitive advantage and creative disruption in this industry, we put them in the spotlight of this article. At StartUs Insights, our unit dedicated to Innovation Scouting and Open Innovation, we ran an extensive analysis on 850+ startups, discovering the most prevalent innovation areas which will impact the telecom industry in the coming years. To shed light on the application and potential of the most disruptive of these emerging technologies, we introduce revolutionary startups in upcoming innovation areas to highlight exciting cooperation possibilities.

Internet of Things (IoT) & Mobile 2 Mobile (M2M)

The telecom industry, which has massively focused on smartphones and computers, is now facing a new opportunity: the Internet of Things – and it’s connected devices via so-called Machine2Machine (M2M) communication. Because IoT devices show a very different way of communication as they are connecting and disconnecting to the network infrequently, telecom companies are also presented with new challenges, such as pricing, reliability, security, privacy protection, and system design. To manage these factors along with the varying demand, providers need to adapt new approaches (e.g. cloud technology) fast and implement them accordingly.

Thinxtra is building a full ecosystem of IoT solutions & services to enable non-connected persons to connect from anywhere at anytime. The startup operates IoT devices using Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology. This technology makes global coverage an achievable goal.

Internet of Things (IoT) & Mobile 2 Mobile (M2M)

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Cyber Security

As of now, the effort invested by telecommunication companies into cyber security does not reflect the potential hazard by hackers – although they hold a vast amount of sensitive data. As the Internet of Things is becoming a bigger topic and telecommunication companies go digital, measures to tackle the increased risk of cyber security to data, applications, and networks have to be taken. IoT devices, as well as 5G, will challenge privacy along with infrastructure security concerns – all of which telecommunication players can deal with by working with the vast and growing cyber security ecosystem.

Swiss startup ID Quantique proclaims itself the “world leader in quantum cryptography and quantum random number generation”. Designed to protect data long-term, the company provides network encryption, quantum key generation, and key distribution solutions.

Cyber Security

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Cloud Computing

As the next generation of wireless technologies, 5G, requires more flexible networks, telecom providers have a valid reason to engage in what has been called cloudification. One major benefit for telecom providers acting in the cloud is the optimization of IT including lower costs, more elasticity, and speed. The second upside is that cloud computing gives service providers the opportunity to move up in the information and communication technology (ICT) value chain as they can allocate cloud server resources, on-demand and for an arbitrary period of time.

Startup Twilio allows to programmatically make and receive phone calls and send and receive text messages using its web service APIs. The cloud communications platform as a service (PaaS) company’s services are accessed over HTTP and include communication building blocks such as messaging, voice & video as well as authentication.

Cloud Computing

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Already telecommunications providers show a massive interest in the potential of Artificial Intelligence to improve both their customer service and service delivery via a better network performance and reliability. Self-optimizing networks (SON), deep neural networks, software defined networks (SDN), and network function virtualization (NFV) are all technologies powered by AI, with very probable use for telecoms. Furthermore, a research group, initiated by ETSI, is focusing on Cognitive Management Architecture to enable the creation of networks that can adjust services based on user need, environmental conditions, and business goals.

Finish Valossa is one example for a startup leveraging the power of computer vision and AI. Their platform Val.ai is capable of analyzing movies, streaming videos in real-time and identifying thousands of concepts, like places, objects, and unique topics, from any video stream to meet and optimize services for user demand.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Big Data & Analytics

As with most industries, big data offers a real opportunity to telecom providers. Getting the chance to gain a more insightful picture of their operations and customers, big data along with analytics promotes growth and increases efficiency as well as profitability. By knowing their customer (Customer 360), telecoms are also able to predict the periods of heaviest usage arising not only from phone calls or texts but also video streaming, for example. These insights not only lead to new products and services but also optimize network services/usage, enhance customer experience, and improve security.

Having secured 12 million Euro in their first round of funding, Real Impact Analytics “capture the value of telecom data”. The Belgium-based startup aids telecoms to manage their marketing, sales and distribution networks more efficiently through changing the traditional big data approach by delivering simple and easy-to-use applications.

Big Data & Analytics

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Next Generation Mobile Networks / 5G

Proclaimed to be the next big thing after 4G/LTE, 5G/NGMN aims at higher capacity, allowing for a higher density of mobile broadband users, while also supporting device-to-device, ultra reliable, and massive machine communications. What is more, 5G networks will allow creating new use cases, such as the IoT due to lower latency and battery consumption. Expected to appear in 2020, the forecast of its capabilities is immense as the network is anticipated to operate most of the world, no matter where or from which device a user connects.

Italian startup ATHONET provides a 100% software-based mobile core for voice and data networks that runs in the cloud, virtualized or enterprise data center environments using standard off-the-shelf hardware. Their mobile packet core solution includes a Home Subscriber Server (HSS), Home Location Register (HLR), Voice-over-LTE (IMS for VoLTE), Voice-over-WiFi (WiFi calling) and LTE Broadcast (eMBMS) – built with the aim to facilitate 5G.

Next Generation Mobile Networks / 5G

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

The transformation toward virtual networks and services has been called a “once-in-a-generation” shift in the telecom industry. Offering the potential to change the way service providers architecture future networks, network virtualization creates far more agile business models. NFV enthusiasts anticipate mobile core networks, deep packet inspection (DPI), session border controllers (SBC) as well as security appliances (firewalls, IDS/IPS, SSL VPNs) to virtualize. Furthermore, increased flexibility and lower costs along with growing revenues speak for a shift from network-centric companies to more software-driven, customer-centric ones.

Startup Affirmed has built a fully virtualized IoT platform that supports narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and is interoperable with third party platforms. Their platform uses a cloud-native architecture that supports advanced capabilities like network slicing, helping with low latency and high-bandwidth applications.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

In the battle to remain competitive, telecommunication organizations have to embrace digital transformation where areas like sales, customer service, and billing are ripe for disruption. By seizing new business opportunities, unleashed through the cooperation with emerging startups and their technologies, telecoms expand their portfolios and gain influence. As customer requirements are changing and emerging technologies grow further, challenging existing structures and transforming the entire industry, companies that act proactively will emerge as industry leaders. As demonstrated in this breakdown, startups are in the front seat of this transformation. Collaborating with startups will provide telecommunication companies with a strong competitive advantage. StartUs Insights assists this process by providing actionable innovation intelligence on startup driven innovation in the telecommunications industry.


StartUs Insights provides actionable intelligence on startup driven innovation.
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Author Susi Wallner|Design Luca Nagy|Executive Editor Dietmar Gombotz|Copy Editor David Prasser, Iryna Bursuk|Web Development Reza Rastgoo