This year’s DTW event had an interesting vibe.

It felt like maybe – just maybe – telecom might be about to turn a corner. The TM Forum audience – software and operations-focused, rather than hardware, spectrum or regulation-focused – seems now to have a greater sense of self-confidence. It *knows* what the right forward path for telecom looks like: it’s software, cloud, and AI. It’s automation and really enabling innovation. It is, truly, platforms and partnerships. It’s open and disaggregated. Don’t tell the GSMA but it’s *this* community that has the power to make something valuable out of 5G.

That path forward (rather than the default option of wait-and-see, or modest incremental changes) is also now properly important. For investors, for economies, telcos, for enterprises, for consumers, for governments. For the climate. For people.

And the timing of telcos’ plan for change is not negotiable anymore. Too much has already changed around them. As Allison Kirkby (currently CEO at Telia but heading to the hot seat at BT in 2024) put it: “It’s time for operators to place new bets”. (Her experience transforming Telia – “We had to change everything”- will be interesting to see applied at BT).

TM Forum CEO Nik Willets kicked off the event announcing a “Code Red” for telecom and giving it three years – tops – to get fit for the growth opportunities that are there for the taking. (Appledore called out $100bn in accessible market opportunity in a report earlier this year.)

But he wasn’t scare-mongering – he was issuing a rallying cry. Both the speaker program and the show floor provided ample evidence that new thinking, new architectures and approaches *work*. Telecom leaders do not *have* to be visionaries – but they do need to be pragmatists. Much of what was only a few years ago considered risky, too hard, “visionary” (and not in a good way) is being increasingly proven. At the same time, much of what was accepted practice, status quo thinking, is being set aside in favor of things that make a visible difference.

None of that is to say that the telecom software business is booming just yet. Most vendors we spoke to continue to face a degree of hesitancy, inertia and plain old dysfunction in their dealings with operators. But: there is a greater confidence that telcos are getting the message that the new way is the right way, and that standing still isn’t a viable strategy.

Our on-site team go into more detail for our research subscribers in a separate Research Note.