April 28

Suzana Leben, Telekom Slovenije: About erasing borders between industries, ICT disruptions, and infinite possibilities of collaboration with startups brought by 5G, IoT, and connectivity

The industry of telecommunications has so far been most disrupted by providers such as Skype, Viber, WeChat and other similar solutions. On the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, it is facing an erasure of borders between industries, fusion of technologies, and a search for new sources of income outside the primary activity. In this rapid tempo of development and undreamed of opportunities brought by the fifth mobile network generation, the internet of things and the paradigm of connectivity, Telekom Slovenije realizes that in developing products for the future, winners will be those companies that will also succeed in establishing a suitable ecosystem of partners. We talked to Suzana Leben, director of the organizational unit Strategy and regulations, about how innovative startup teams can find their place in the ecosystem of Telekom Slovenije, which is also our PODIM Challenge blue-chip partner.


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Ms. Leben, how will the fifth mobile network generation change our lives and, most of all, what kinds of opportunities does it bring for Telekom Slovenije to collaborate with startups?

The already existing LTE/4G technology offers users great speeds, responsiveness, and powerful mobile broadband connectivity, which is crucial for the development of IoT, cloud services, machine-to-machine interactions, online gaming and similar … With consolidation of 2G, 3G, 4G and WiFi networks, the 5G technology brings opportunities for ensuring an even better user experience, because it predicts an even smaller delay, a latency that will amount to less than a millisecond, and download speeds that will reach more than 1GB per second in the direction of the user.
 
The possibilities of developing new services that take advantage of this incredible speed and an actual real-time experience seem nearly endless?

That’s true. Big movements are expected in the field of technologies such as VR or autonomous vehicles as well as e-business, e-safety, e-health. A good example is performing remote patient surgery that a surgeon from Australia can actually perform in real time because the delay in picture streaming will be minimal or non-existent. Then there are of course e-education and the development of the Internet of Things. It will be possible to connect a significantly bigger number of devices simultaneously, and possibilities for the automatization and digitalization of various processes will significantly increase. It is difficult to predict all novelties at this moment, because 5G is still in the standardization stage, for which the first pilot projects are taking place. We are expecting the first bigger movements in this field as soon as 2018, while users will probably be able to experience 5G sometime around the year 2020.
 
Which new technologies and solutions will also be based on this 5G technology?

The transfer rate is also crucial for smart homes, smart vehicles, smart cities … In this, I have to emphasize that the network of the future is not only 5G, but a combination, set of all possibilities that we will be able to use optimally because opportunities in the field of connectivity will be practically endless.
 
As this year’s PODIM Challenge blue-chip partner you generally focus on IoT, but probably we are talking about a whole range of solutions that you could provide in collaboration with startups in the future?

In Telekom Slovenije, we are interested in everything connected to device and service management, communication and connectivity between devices, and development of comprehensive smart solutions. IoT solutions are interesting for us in the field of smart networks, connected homes, smart cities, e-health, whereby we see our role mostly in integrating solutions by various providers. We are interested in solutions for the fifth generation of mobile networks and their industrial application, data mining and services in this field, big data that enables an upgrade to our services or is designed as a service for the market. We are also interested in critical public solutions and cybernetic safety as well as business solutions for small and medium-sized companies with the purpose of improving productivity, digitalizing processes, and using innovative solutions based on big data and AI. Let me once again emphasize that all this is with the goal of integration into comprehensive smart solutions.
 
Which direction do you have in mind when you talk about business solutions for small and medium-sized companies?

We want to achieve that an entrepreneur who works on developing and selling a certain product can devote themselves to this as much as possible. So why couldn’t they get a comprehensive solution with us – phone, computer, connectivity, conference system, sensors for a healthy living environment, cloud services, communication system, mail, document preparation, accounting, logistics …? It’s that much better if these are solutions developed by startups, for example, when they were solving some of their own problems in this area.
 
What are some use cases with which we can concretize the field of IoT, where you will be looking for synergies with startups?

As I already mentioned, the role of Telekom Slovenije lies in connectivity. Soon basically every thing will be equipped with a certain communicator that will be able to communicate with other things, whereby a person is also treated as a thing. Sensors will detect and measure different parameters that otherwise often don’t bring a significant value added to the user. Winning solutions of the future will be those that will know how to connect the right things and will be included in bigger collaboration platforms. For us, it’s natural to think about mobility, movement, spot presence. I already mentioned smart homes, where we wish to go in the direction of ensuring wellbeing to users, enabling quick information access, accessibility, safety, home automation, after all also shopping and paying, where we are present with Moneta, but wish to further develop the service of mobile payments.
 
How do you see the role of Telekom Slovenije in the development of smart cities and smart communities?

When we talk of smart cities or, better to say, smart communities, there are often different applications – in the field of transport and parking, traffic control, water supply, electricity management … The future is in standardizing all these solutions, while we will strive for comprehensive solutions for controlling key functions in a city and for effective control and management of the city’s infrastructure. A simple example is getting rid of crowds when visiting cultural and other sights, for example with an e-ticket that also includes a certain time or duration of the visit, so that there are no crowds. In this, what’s actually smart is how to pack and sell such a service to users and how the system that enables all of this is organized. What is smart is user experience management.
 
What about big data – what should be the train of thought of startups that would develop their solutions in this field in collaboration with you?

When talking about big data, the most important question for us is how to use user behavior to design a product that will suit them most. Or how to predict that something will happen, for example on the network, based on past data. In short, by developing the technologies, we wish to reach the right customers at the right time with the right data, but at the same time also enable advanced prediction and analytics for our own needs.
 
How do processes of digital transformation and the fourth industrial revolution influence your company; which challenges in this field are most relevant for you?

We know very well what it means to change the company in a rapidly changing environment. Telecoms have practically been part of digital transformation for the last 15 years. We went from analogue to digital, from fixed to mobile, certain technologies already fused, we used to talk about telecommunications and IT, today we speak of ICT or information-communication technologies. In the era of digital transformation, ICT solutions will start erasing borders between industries. Will a car manufacturer be only a manufacturer or will they also become a taxi driver or a transport company? Changes that are in front of us will be crucial. Borders between industries and technologies are being erased, and the basic purpose is to best satisfy the user’s needs. In this, the user doesn’t care at all what has to be combined so that their need will be satisfied better and faster, and that will probably be the key moment of the revolution we are talking about today.
 
What goals did you set in this?

Every company that has tradition and history also has a range of systems that need to be cleaned out, joined, upgraded – all so that we can adapt to users’ needs as quickly as possible. In the first stage, which is still lasting, we are focusing mostly on our primary activity. We are analyzing what bothers users most, and eliminating all such “disturbances”. We are optimizing processes that include contact with users, are informing and combining them. The second bigger field are investments into the infrastructure. There is no transformation without connectivity, but that is not a given fact, it is necessary to invest in it. The third pillar will be expanding outside the primary activity, looking for other sources of income, and building an ecosystem of partners. Although we were used to every company working more or less for itself, today the speed of development is such that we can only offer new, quality and advanced services if we have a suitable partner ecosystem. That is the part of the story where startups fit in and alongside them of course also our already established partners and other companies.
 
Globally speaking, what has so far had the most disruptive influence on the telecommunications industry?

The biggest disruption so far in our industry was caused by different OTT providers such as Skype, Viber, WeChat … So those that used the existing infrastructure and offered it in a different way. Of course new projects are coming, for example in the field of ensuring internet access, developed by Facebook, Google or Elon Musk.
 
At the end, how would you summarize your current experience in collaborating with startups? From the first corporate incubator in the region to a recent IoT hackathon in collaboration with the ABC Accelerator … And of course, what are you planning for the future?

At the hackathon, we set the challenges rather broadly. We wished to encourage participants to think about advanced solutions in digitalization of daily tasks, use of digital solutions in caring for the older population, and inclusion of users into the user experience improvement process. In short, we wanted to address everything that we are thinking about and implementing into our business. The most valuable for us was the opportunity to find out how we are seen by those who may not know us well yet, and where they see opportunities for collaboration.
 
All these experiences are probably a basis for designing your future startup activities?

We are glad that the interest for collaboration is big. Our key task is to learn expectations of startup teams well, find joint interests, and determine how we can answer them most effectively with a suitable offer or collaboration model. We are currently developing an innovativeness programme that we are planning to introduce in the middle, or at latest by the end of the year. Startups with solutions that are in accordance with Telekom Slovenije’s development strategy will be supported mostly with infrastructure, access to different development environments, and mentoring. But until our model is completely developed, we will individually consider each initiative and opportunity for collaboration.
 
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Telekom Slovenije as the only Slovenian operator in two European 5G projects

Telekom Slovenije is the only Slovenian operator to participate in two European projects for 5G network development. The first is the 
iCirrus project, focused on the development of systemic solutions for building 5G systems, focused on communication between devices (D2D) and centralized radio access network (C-RAN), with the purpose of ensuring bigger spectral and energetic efficiency. By integrating both into a mobile information cloud, partners in the project wish to develop a solution that will contribute to additional spectral and energetic efficiency and improve the way the system works, also with help of intelligent control. Benefits for final users will mostly include a longer lifespan of mobile device batteries, improved user experience by using larger bandwidth, low delay and latency of services, and additional flexibility due to the use of a mobile information cloud. The project also includes laboratory establishment of a pilot radio access cloud network, which is in the test lab of Telekom Slovenije.
 
The international consortium of the iCirrus project consists of Telekom Slovenije, Heinrich Hertz Institute, and company IAF GmbH from Germany, operators Primetel from Cyprus, Orange from France, and Wellness Telecom from Spain, University of Kent, University of Essex, and companies JDSU and ADVA Optical Networking Ltd. from Great Britain. The project, led by the University of Kent, has been active since March 2015 and will be concluded approximately in January 2018. Altogether the project has a bit more than 3 million euros in grant funds at its disposal, ensured entirely by the European Commission.
 
Telekom Slovenije is also participating in the consortium of companies of the project CHARISMA, in the joint value of 5.9 million euros, which is part of the Horizon 2020 programme. The project offers consortium partners practical experiences and topics that telecommunications operators face in fifth generation networks.
 

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Get in touch with representatives of Telekom Slovenije

If you have an innovative idea in IoT and other fields that are relevant for the leading Slovenian provider of ICT services and solutions, and wish to present it to Telekom Slovenije at this year’s PODIM Conference, we invite you to write to Larisa Potokar (larisa.potokar@telekom.si) who is in charge of first contact with startup teams in Telekom Slovenije. Otherwise the startup team of Telekom Slovenije includes Suzana Leben (suzana.leben@telekom.si), director of Strategy and regulations, and Sašo Djoković (saso.djokovic@telekom.si), in charge of partnerships.


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More information about how to collaborate with Telekom Slovenije:  
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Author: Stanislava Vabšek, Start:up Slovenia Initiative