In last year’s Visions report, I highlighted falling revenues and net neutrality as being major issues CSPs would face in the year ahead. But neither became the big issue I anticipated.

The telecoms industry has an uncanny ability to weather storms, and even if voice revenues are down, overall revenues appear to be holding – with most of the pressure being felt in sustaining margins. This is likely to continue as CSPs offer an ever-burgeoning cornucopia of third-party products and services.

On the other hand, net neutrality seems to have fizzled as an area of concern for CSPs. The fact that the ‘rules’ have not been universally adopted and are vague in nature (plus the fact that there are more important things to worry about) have diluted the neutrality backlash – if there ever really was one. That said, if it looks like net neutrality impacts revenues, it will get far more attention. The coming year will be dominated by far more mundane things like making networks more efficient, continued cost-cutting, spectrum and security.

SDN and NFV received a lot of airplay in 2015 (some might say ‘hot air’), but progressive network operators haven’t wasted time pontificating over the value of these technologies but instead are actively implementing them.

Network transformation is a constant process but the ability to manage loads, capacity, failures and natural or man-made disasters in real-time is key. Customers look past the bells-and-whistles products CSPs now offer as they’re more concerned with dependable and disruption-free connectivity.

Sure they expect speed, but above all they want consistent and secure connectivity. And those are the most contentious issues for CSPs in 2016: consistency and security. They can either take the initiative, or be forced to take it by customers or regulators.

More spectrum, please

Fixed-line and cable operators will continue to maximize the network capacity and speed any way they can – and fiber gives them some respite – but for mobile networks the continuing challenge of capacity restraints linked to spectrum will increase.

Pressure by the ITU on governments to release more spectrum bands will only temporarily relieve the expected surge in demand. Wi-Fi’s popularity has led to off-loading from 3G and 4G networks, but 5G is years away. It seems absurd that in 2016 we can’t do more with the spectrum we do have. Better spectrum utilization is my wish for the coming year – although I know full well that it won’t happen.

Instead, we’ll see thousands more apps for smartphones, a few hundred new wearable thingies, far too many absolutely useless IoT devices (and a few useful ones), but without them being secured in some way they’ll be too risky to deploy. Security of devices, data and networks must be the biggest area of attention in the future.

Security versus privacy

We’ll see an almighty battle between the arbiters of data and personal privacy versus the emotive arguments around national security, and CSPs will be ‘piggy in the middle.’ By providing the security their customers demand, they may fall afoul of security services on the lookout for criminals and terrorists. When CSPs were doing it ‘in the dark’ the public didn’t know and didn’t care, but now that they know, customers are all over it.

If the network are compromised by people with a mission to disrupt our lives and even our countries, what use are speed, capacity, and access from anywhere? The dilemma is that the very same security we demand will likely prevent the perpetrators from being detected and stopped. And there lies the conundrum.

So, it’s going to be spectrum and security featuring in my vision for the coming year. Let’s hope they are both addressable and managed in ways that cause us the least amount of pain.

First published at TelecomAsia.