Telcos are the arteries of the digital economy. Amid the sound and fury of emerging business trends such as Industry 4.0, virtual reality and driverless cars, the truth is that many of such technologies would not even exist without corresponding advances in telecommunications technology. With the impending advent of 5G connectivity amid a paradigm-shifting global pandemic, it seems that telcos have become more than ever before an essential industry.

Yet, the telcos themselves are not rolling in money — far from it. “The forecast for traditional telcos is for low revenue growth and shrinking margins, because of increasing competition from OTT and technology players,” says a McKinsey report way back in 2017 as over-thetop (OTT) entrants like WhatsApp and tech firms like Zoom and Microsoft slowly encroach into their value chain.

While Covid-19 saw a 40-fold spike in demand for data, most local telcos struggled to translate this into additional profit. “The telco industry has helped industries transform,” says Malcolm Rodrigues, CEO of Singapore-based telecommunications firm MyRepublic, in an interview with The Edge Singapore. “But telco still hasn’t transformed itself.”

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