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A new dawn: How Asia-Pacific carriers are finding fresh revenue on the cloud

March 1, 2023
Gary Traver

Director of Telecom, Media + Entertainment, Asia-Pacific, Google Cloud

Whether edge networks for smart cities, SaaS platforms for micro-businesses, or live translation on calls, telcos across Asia are monetizing with cloud and AI.

  • As dependence on mobile networks has grown over the past decade, carriers have been confronted with how to monetize increasingly commodified services.

  • Many have turned to cloud-based AI and network modernization to deliver superior experiences and unique offerings to drive new revenue.

  • In the Asia-Pacific region, these needs are especially acute, since so many businesses and families rely on mobile services for commerce and community.

The countries of the Asia-Pacific region boast some of the most diverse and unique economies anywhere on the globe. Part of what makes them so special is how dependent on, and driven by, mobile and digital services these businesses are. Do-it-all super apps. Micropayments. Mobile wallets. Virtual reality. All have have had there genesis in the Asia-Pacific, and helped put the region on the cutting edge of the digital revolution. 

Likewise, the communications service providers building and growing the networks on which these services rely — the very bedrock of these burgeoning digital economies — have become some of the most nimble and innovative companies to keep up with the pace of innovation. Whether it’s StarHub delivering 5G across Singapore, Indosat powering micro-businesses in Indonesia, or Optus transforming customer service in Australia, their networks must be reliable, responsive, and, above all, affordable. 

Networks have already been commodified in most regions, and particularly in the Asia-Pacific, given all the economic and social dependence on mobile and digital services. While demand is high across the region, the average revenue per user (known as ARPU) is relatively low, meaning the market has some of the narrowest margins in the industry. With consumer expectations continuing to rise for data each year, there is added pressure for service providers to find other ways to create new revenue and lower costs in order to maintain their margins. 

To that end, the push by carriers everywhere for monetization is felt even more acutely in Asia and Oceania. Any opportunity for an edge on the edge of the network, for a few more cents per cell, must be taken.

As we joined many of these innovative Asian-Pacific carriers in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress this week, along with dozens more from around the globe, it feels like an opportune moment to take stock of this exciting and dynamic time for telecommunications. For more than two decades, Google Cloud has been working with communications service providers across Asia and beyond to help them modernize their networks on the cloud and develop new monetization opportunities. 

Here’s the story of four leading carriers and how they’re using the cloud to make the most of their networks, both for their customers and their bottom line.

StarHub: Building a smart society in Singapore

If cloud computing has transformed the way we do business over the past two decades, edge computing is bound to have the same effect on the world at large in the coming years. Whether it’s smart devices, smart factories, or entire smart cities, edge computing will unleash newfound levels of connectivity, along with 5G, to power the next evolution in the digital economy. And there are few places as “smart” as Singapore.

This year, StarHub is launching the next phase of its 5G network, and will begin to transition its 5G core network to cloud-based edge networks, developed in partnership with Google Cloud and Nokia through Google Cloud Distributed Edge. This pilot will empower businesses of all sizes with high-bandwidth, low-latency connections at the edge of the network while also prioritizing energy efficiency to boost cost savings and reduce the carbon impact.

This combination of 5G, the cloud, and edge computing is a new paradigm that has the potential to change every industry it touches. Manufacturers will use 5G and the cloud to transform and optimize how products are made; retail and hospitality players will use it to optimize supply chains, logistics, and the customer experience; and transportation will be reshaped through a connected infrastructure that can support a future with autonomous vehicles.

By potentially leveraging Google Cloud’s data management, artificial intelligence, and machine learning tools, StarHub will be able to enhance customer interactions and create new operational efficiencies across its core communications systems. It’s a whole new way to work “smart” and build trust and loyalty with StarHub’s commercial clients.

New services and smart features built on AI are driving fresh revenue streams for APAC carriers.

Indosat: Boosting small businesses in Indonesia

Indonesia, a country with 270 million people, has 62 million small businesses. Most are considered “micro-businesses,” often a small shop or independent operator working out of a market or home. 

As a leading digital telecoms company and the second-largest mobile carrier by subscribers in the archipelago, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison is well-positioned to provide many tangible benefits to the country’s wide variety of businesses. It already has a vision to improve the digital lives of these micro-enterprises, a big part of which is providing the strong networks these entrepreneurs rely on. But that’s not all. 

Wanting to offer more than comparable carriers, Indosat developed a software-as-a-service marketplace, created in partnership with Google Cloud. Its purpose is to make it easier and faster for Indonesia’s millions of micro-to-medium-sized businesses to fully digitize their offerings and operations. Whether the business is on day 1 or year 10, they can tap into tools for building an online presence with Google My Business, boost productivity with Google Workspace, automate operations with AI/ML, and deliver better customer service with smart data analytics.

Additionally, the carrier launched the iDo Insights platform to provide behavioral analysis on up to 60 million active cellular users in the country. Overall, it provides an appealing package for any business trying to decide which carrier to bet on in the future.

The push by carriers everywhere for monetization is felt even more acutely in APAC. Any opportunity for an edge on the edge, for a few more cents per cell, must be taken.

Chungwha: Reprising voice recognition in Taiwan

It’s been said that voice search and voice control are the future of many digital services — people want devices they can interact with freely and naturally in the real world, rather than having to stare at another screen. Chungwha Telecom, the largest mobile operator in Taiwan, has accelerated the development of its own smart voice assistant products through a canny use of the cloud and a partnership with Google Cloud

When the company was developing its smart speaker, it was able to use Google’s speech-to-text tools and APIs as the basis of its speech-recognition technology. This underlying technology allowed Chungwha to bring a smart speaker to the market within a year, instead of an estimated three years; the new device provides Chungwha subscribers with new customer experiences while providing superior service.

Among its unique features, Chungwha’s speaker is able to understand both Chinese and Taiwanese. Since most people within the country mix the two languages within their daily life. This smart speaker had to be able to seamlessly switch between the Mandarin dialects, even within the same sentence. With the use of special GPU processors in the cloud, Chungwha was able to easily spin up new machine learning models to handle the specific demands of its customers' language use without interruption.

Taken together, Chungwha’s speaker offers another compelling reason to not only choose the carrier for its mobile and broadband networks, but also regularly utilize its services, helping to drive revenue for the company. 

It's a constant adventure for APAC carriers, like Optus in Australia, to keep customers engaged and happy. Optus is using live translations as one of its latest features.

Optus: Reimagining customer experience in Australia

As more of our lives and business take place digitally, it’s critical for carriers to ensure a reliable connection with robust features. Customer experience must be just as responsive as the network. Handling the deluge of requests, though, has become an increasingly complex challenge, with more and more kinds of queries every day. 

Optus, Australia’s second largest carrier and a subsidiary of Singapore’s Singtel, is all too familiar with this issue. The company fields more than 400,000 customer requests every week through all channels. To help field them all, Optus has been relying on Google Cloud’s Call Center AI since 2020. It was the first company outside North America to deploy the service, which uses artificial intelligence trained on company information to help direct and manage calls automatically, a need that grew when calls spiked after the WFH wave that followed COVID-19.

More recently, Optus is using a different set of advanced language-based AI features to pioneer innovations that empower its customers to connect, even if they don’t speak the same language. The carrier launched Call Translate, an in-call translation service, in 2021. Built on the Optus Living Network using Google Cloud translation technology, Call Translate can translate a standard voice call in real time between different language speakers. Customers can select the language they are translating “from” and “to” in the My Optus App and then make a call like they normally would.

This is all part of the Living Network strategic plan, which focuses on delivering better features and services to help gain and retain customers. The next development in the network will be using AI tools to help optimize service and connectivity in real time, to deliver better performance to customers.

The Asia-Pacific region is, by many measures, the largest and most diverse of the geographies in the business world. Yet there is at least one thing that these nations have in common: They are pioneers, and will continue to be, driving the forefront of telecommunications and the digital economy. 

As such, these communications service providers have mastered the art of innovation in response to their customers’ most pressing challenges. 

In the coming years, they will continue investing in critical technologies like cloud computing to develop new capabilities that pave the way for the future, providing valuable lessons for organizations from all industries and geographies on shifting their own approaches and strategies to transform.

Hear more from our communications customers: TELUS discusses data responsibility on the Transformation Debrief
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