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In a wide-ranging interview with Telecom Review, Marc Halbfinger, CEO of PCCW Global, the international operating division of HKT, discussed the ways in which the industry is evolving to meet the trends of digitization and the need for service providers to "continuously refresh themselves" and embrace "softwarization".

With traditional revenue streams declining for telecom service providers, what areas do you think they should be investing in?
The commercial models for delivery are shifting as the industry itself is undergoing transitional change. Technology is shifting and creating new operating structures and new applications. The basic element of bandwidth access as a facilitator to applications is still there but the price points for access are continuously commoditizing as bandwidth becomes more ubiquitous. The applications are finding their way to end users with greater granularity and through many varied distribution channels - and often direct from the application provider.

Service providers who have focused on the physical network need to continuously refresh themselves, particularly as software elements continue to penetrate the operating environment. That is one of the key reasons we acquired the intellectual property and people of a company called Console Connect. The integration of the team has given us a significant step forward in software development and its integration to the physical layer.

In general, I believe carriers need to invest in transitioning their capabilities to be more software-aware. But of course, carriers need to continue their focus also on the physical infrastructure to assure ubiquitous bandwidth access and delivery.

What are some of the key issues facing the industry going forward?
Well, who is the "industry"?

The fixed network today is challenged by the requirement to build more bandwidth to the end user underpinned by the commoditization of services through competition and ubiquity of bandwidth availability. As alluded to before, the physical network service providers need to aggressively embrace ‘softwarization' of the network.

Mobile operators are being challenged by the shift in revenue source from voice to data, reduction in roaming values, and increasing amounts of applications being delivered to the end user directly by the content provider, and network construction that will facilitate both capacity and coverage for 5G and beyond.

Clouds providers are facing the challenge that, as customers, requires more latency sensitive applications, they need to move closer to the edge. As clouds have traditionally operated in independent commercial ecosystems, will they seek to develop inclusive wholesale methodology to collaborate with other forms of service providers such as mobile operators or fixed operators?

Each faces different challenges and each has a different array of resources available. The large clouds - whether in Asia or the West - have significant financial resources which can help them deal with their challenges at a rapid pace. Fixed and mobile operators may in part solve their challenges over time through forms of commercial collaboration or market consolidation.

The economics are in place for each sector of the industry to overcome current challenges whether independently or through forms of commercial collaboration. Increased effort in these sectors to create new wholesale frameworks for interoperability both technically and commercially may contribute to problem solving and stability.

The newly announced MEF 3.0 framework can be an outstanding facilitator for technical collaboration and I am confident they will also be pushing to establish parameters for the commercial settlement of interoperability amongst all of the different service provider environments.

What did you talk about during your panel at MEF 2017?
At MEF 2017, we discussed the status of physical infrastructure in the global market and how its financial investors continue to take an interest in this space.

At MEF I also discussed bandwidth development globally, but especially in Hong Kong which continues to be ahead of the game in bandwidth deployment and utilization. Price points are attractive and services are very competitive and increasingly advanced.

I was asked about China. Clearly, China is demonstrating global leadership and stability and is using the ‘Belt & Road' initiative, which has been initiated by the Chinese government, to help assure that the Chinese economy further integrates to global economic development. This initiative is the basis for China-defined requirements in global ICT infrastructure, and PCCW Global is doing its best to play a part in the exciting opportunities brought about by Belt and Road.

In addition, I was asked about Console Connect where I explained our view of the nexus between the code-based assets and the people of Console Connect with the physical network and people of PCCW Global and how these will work together to drive value for end users.

Can you explain why PCCW Global has embraced the OTT movement?
Our core asset is a network that's quite large with high amounts of bandwidth. As bandwidth prices commoditize, one of the ways for the network to be successful from a financial perspective is to assure that the network is accommodating as much bandwidth utilization as possible in real time. Media applications - OTT or broadcast - are already driving some of the largest bandwidth consumption.

In Hong Kong, at the retail level where a large number of consumers have fiber to the home, over 70 percent of internet network utilization is diverted to some form of video-based consumption.

Networks, bandwidth, and an understanding of video go hand-in-hand. Our recent demonstration of 360-degree 4K VR live streamed in Hong Kong for the Rugby 7's tournament is an indication that we think these trends are very important.

OTTs are also striving to become the direct billing choice of consumption by the end user. The ability to consume your content on-demand is what OTT facilitates, and we hope to be able to work with OTT service providers, and content providers, in delivering wholesale solutions that accommodate both network and application.

What are some of the trends in the industry which you are watching or addressing?
Virtual reality and augmented reality consumption of bandwidth is an important next direction in both wholesale and retail environments. Interestingly, VR and AR will further challenge the storage industry.

The intersection of fiber and wireless networks will become even more prevalent in the IoT and 5G environments. 5G will further drive hybrid deployment of fiber and wireless to assure high bandwidth and excellent coverage as close to every edge element as possible.

IoT applications will drive creativity everywhere and will challenge notions of device volumes in a singular network environment. In China, bike-sharing which has evolved in the past year, accommodating millions of bicycles tracked through network-based GPS-style locators, and accessed through mobile device app-based transaction arrangements including QR code identification is the perfect example of what is in store worldwide and which will undoubtedly change the way we go about our daily life. Facilitating creativity in connectivity, applications, and the acceptance of large scale device management will likely be an increasing trend.

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