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About Morten Sorby

Morten Karlsen Sørby is an industry veteran with extensive strategic and operational experience in the world of telecom. Morten has held a number of senior positions during his impressive career, including 26 years at the Telenor group, 15 out of which were served as part of the executive management. Also having worked as the CEO of Telenor India and Head of Asia at the Telenor group, Morten has led many important projects at the company and has brought them to their successful completion.

During the past two years, telcos have really taken the role of key facilitators for stakeholders across the board. With their digitally enhanced platforms and solutions, telecom operators have done their part to curb the massive ramifications of Covid-19 by enabling people to connect with healthcare and family, supporting enterprises with remote working employees, and students with online learning to name just a few.

Apart from the state mandated lockdowns and social distancing, we have also seen some major paradigm shifts in the telecom industry over the course of this global pandemic including:

  • Customers using online self-service models more frequently
  • Increase in the use of heavy bandwidth for video calls, video streaming, attending online courses and more
  • An expectation for an increasingly seamless digital experience, brought about by services like Uber/Netflix

With the telecom industry on the cusp of its greatest turning point yet, we spoke with industry veteran and expert, Morten Karlsen Sørby, to understand what the future holds for telecoms at the turn of the year.

Post-Covid Operations

Post-Covid Operations

How do you think Covid-19 has put things in perspective for telecoms?

Telcos have been undertaking huge investments into 5G and fiber networks as well as further developing 4G networks over the last years. Covid has really been a stress test to capacity and quality and I think all  telcos have realized the value of networks. However, cash flow generation is an issue due to the lack of ability to increase revenues.

Based on this new pandemic-induced reality of digital engagement, how do you think the telecom industry will accelerate reinvention?

I am slightly more cautious than the most optimistic analysts and vendors. Yes –  IoT, Private Networks, Working from Home, Network slicing will enable a lot of new services.  And I really encourage Telcos to fight and drive innovation in these areas, but it will require more talent, time and resources than most Telcos have allocated so far.

Considering the major paradigm shifts in the industry over the last two years, especially the dramatic rise in digital connectivity, where do you think the future market trends will lead us?

You are right – we have seen some massive changes in recent years and I am not surprised as I thought it should have happened much earlier. Though, the timing is very difficult. It seems as if many things are happening at the same time. Something similar happened 10-15 years ago when customer ease and  experience improved dramatically due to Apple, Google and Facebook. This trend of seamless and unified customer experience will continue globally and I am especially impressed with the developments in Asia and Africa.

Approach to Up and Coming Trends

What are your thoughts on digital trends like 5G and Artificial Intelligence?

5G is driving change across all industries, but especially the telecom sector. Currently 5G is increasing speed and capacity, major impact from new services is still a year or two away. AI is still in its infancy, but will soon become very important.

What is your take on telcos leveraging data and deploying advanced analytics, AI, and automation at scale come 2022?

Something has really happened in 2021. Telcos are scaling up capabilities, hiring talent and are working much closer with the hyper scalers and cloud providers. Advanced analytics have been on the table for a while, but data collection and structure has been a nightmare. But things have been changing, as with the new data-driven and analytics solution, deriving insights is much easier for companies, especially for quick decision making.

With telcos quickly amplifying focus towards customer engagement and satisfaction, what direction do you see the industry going when it comes to customer focus?

Telecom operators are not moving fast enough or with much flexibility or agility to keep pace with the market trends, and it seems as if the telecom industry has been on a negative trajectory. In my opinion the ‘digital second brands’ are the ones to score highest in terms of customer satisfaction or NPS in customer surveys. In this era, customer satisfaction has more to do with the digital engagement of the company than the costs or prices that they charge.

How do you think the KPIs and strategic objectives for telecoms have evolved over the past few years?

I may be seen as negative, but cost cutting and efficiency measures have taken a toll. KPI’s need to be more balanced in order to drive customer satisfaction and innovation. Hopefully, we will see a change now.

The Future of the Industry

As last-mile visibility and centralised control over the entire network emerge as critical success factors for telecoms, what strategic initiatives do you think will be dedicated to them going forward?

I think they need to focus more on acquiring great talent that drives the innovation and efficiency that is critical going forward. Emerging market technologies like cloud and edge deployments, as well as data analytics platforms will also be key to gaining visibility and control over operation and drive revenue growth.

From your perspective, what is the most important investment area that will generate the most business value for global telecom operators?

Continued 4G roll out, 5G and fiber. And hopefully, new services over time.

Which of the regions do you think will remain, or become, the focus centers for key telecom groups and why?

Home markets as scalability is an important factor to consider and it is much easier to do on the home turf. And cross border initiatives have not been too successful yet.

What is your leadership philosophy for digital acceleration and what initiatives have been or will be make or break for telecom groups to ride the innovation wave?

This may sound simplistic but you must have the best talent. And they must enjoy working with you. Technology is just one piece of the puzzle and you need your star players to ride the wave.

Currently, telcos are at the vantage point of deciding whether to seek incremental gains during the flux of the pandemic or taking bold choices that may change their ways of operating. 

  • Is the decision as binary as it seems or are there nuances that dictate an ideal split between the two approaches? 

  • What do you think should be the ideal modus operandi?

I should be careful here. I think I agree with some very insightful comments from Nick Fides in Financial Times – he more or less concluded that the judge is out – but that most likely Telcos will remain network operators. But it is fair to say that there are very different strategies among operators, and what will decide in the end is ability to execute.

Moving forward, should the focus be on building defence mechanisms for unprecedented threats or banking on new growth opportunities?

Wouldn’t it be easy if you could do only one, but you have to do both. Focusing completely on one can be a deterrent for the other. Telecoms will need to have some defence mechanisms and contingencies in place in case of any future threats, and this is also critical for exploring new growth opportunities as it will offer a cushion to fall back on. With the contingencies in place, it is much safer and effective to focus on growth strategies and improve revenue for the operating company. It’s a tricky balance for sure but that’s what makes life so interesting and challenging.

Author Sania Amir

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