Author(s): Paolo Pescatore
Last Thursday, I travelled to Brussels for the launch of Telenet's first innovation centre in collaboration with parent Liberty Global and network partner ZTE. The facility will be used to test new technologies in network connectivity, and will eventually expand to trial initiatives in other areas such as entertainment, value-added services and customer experiences. The innovation hub is equipped with the latest 5G network components and antennas, and for now, 5G will be its main focus along with the Internet of things.
At the event, selected partners showed off their products and services. As expected, ZTE, which has been Telenet's network partner since 2015, displayed its products and offered a live demonstration of a smart parking service powered by NB-IoT connectivity. Furthermore, Telenet announced a tie-up with the IMEC research institute to transform the city of Antwerp into a "living lab" focused on trialling Internet of things and smart city projects.
SoftBank's robot Pepper made an appearance and was a crowd-pleaser, answering questions and finding relevant videos to watch or music to listen to. When asked "Who is the CEO of Telenet?" the robot correctly identified John Porter. Although the demonstration played on the novelty factor, it also underlined the importance of big data and having a platform that continually learns from users' behaviour. Big data specialist NGdata is the company behind the showcase, and is working on building this platform for companies.
I was particularly impressed by Telenet's use of augmented reality. The provider introduced an app integrating this technology to guide users in connecting their set-top boxes to the Internet, TV and power. Telenet says it connects about 20,000 boxes every month and that most of them are installed by engineers. The app will allow customers to install the devices themselves, making the process easier and more efficient, and it will also help cut the number of engineer visits.
There was also a demonstration aimed at enterprises, as Spencer, a young company from Belgium, presented its mobile workplace assistant for employees. Spencer claims its solution offers an intuitive experience for workers and has already been deployed with Proximus and Telenet.
Telenet aims to use the Brussels innovation centre to understand new forms of connectivity, and experiment with products and services prior to commercial roll-out. The operator has a good track record of delivering new services; its multiplay service Wigo and new smart product line-up for its Base network are good examples of this.
For ZTE, the move is an important step to further establish itself as a major partner in the deployment of 5G services in Belgium. It's encouraging to see the operator play a prominent role in this space given the struggles that some of its rivals, such as Ericsson, have endured. The network supplier landscape has seen a few casualties, but the advent of 5G and the need to modernise cellular networks offer a lifeline to the remaining companies. ZTE is also working closely with Wind Three in Italy to modernise network infrastructure, so it will be able to apply its findings from this innovation hub to help its other operations.
For Liberty Global, this is a huge investment, and I believe it shows a strong commitment to expand its presence in the rapidly changing and converging European landscape.
Cable and telecom providers are under huge pressure to stay at the forefront of innovation. They need to move quickly as online giants continue to push boundaries. Consumers' insatiable appetite for connectivity and content shows no signs of easing up. Demand for Internet of things technology is growing and this, coupled with the arrival of 5G networks, will unlock a wealth of opportunities. Operators must be equipped to deal with the explosion in data traffic and to serve new business cases.
I'd like to thank Liberty Global for the kind invitation to attend the opening of its innovation centre.