How Telcos can add 50% share value: lessons from Google and Unilever’s business models

Transformation can be hugely valuable for telcos if they can grow platform and product innovation revenues to add to their core services. In this post previewing some of the findings from the new Telco 2.0 Transformation Index to be published next week (w/c 20th January) we show how this could work.

‘Platform’ and ‘product innovation’ business models produce higher returns on capital

Telcos predominantly sell three undifferentiated services to downstream customers: voice, messaging and connectivity. This amounts to an infrastructure-led business model (Telco 1.0). Infrastructure businesses (e.g. Vodafone) are highly capital intensive (high EBITDA margins), and show low innovation (its few products are tied to the capital investment – the network) with relatively low returns on capital.

The operational and financial business models of both Google and Unilever, however, are very different to that of a Telco. Platform businesses (e.g. Google) require a mixture of capex (to build and maintain the platform) and opex (to run and market it), generate strong innovation, utilise a lot of brands (predominantly from other companies) and enjoy high returns on capital. Product innovation businesses (e.g. Unilever) have relatively high operating expenses (low EBITDA margins), but these operating expenses generate strong innovation and high returns on capital.

These differences are summarised in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Mapping the financial/operational differences between Vodafone, Google and Unilever
financial/operational differences between Vodafone, Google and Unilever

The table shows just how much higher the cash return on invested capital (CROIC) is at Google (18%) and Unilever (68%) as opposed to Vodafone (6%). This is naturally reflected in the price to book ratio: Google and Unilever have ratios 2.5 and 4 times higher than Vodafone respectively.

So if a CSP were to expand so that 15% of its operations are platform-based, that should (in theory at least) lead to a 45% increase in share price. Here’s how: suppose an infrastructure-led CSP has a book value of $85m. Figure 1 suggests a price to book ratio of 1.6, implying a total share valuation of ($85m × 1.6) = $136m.

Now suppose the CSP added a platform business to its existing infrastructure such that 15% of its revenues came from here. Its total share valuation is now ($85m × 1.6) + ($15m × 4.1) = $197.5m – 45% larger than $136m and, since the number of shares has not changed, its share price would also be 45% higher.

If a CSP were to expand so that 5% of its operations are product innovation based, this should lead to a 22% increase in share price (using the above methodology and the data on Unilever from Figure 1.)

Telcos need new approaches to generate new value

Historically, being a good CSP has involved making effective capital investment decisions and operating an efficient network. The internet has changed everything. It has fractured the integration between network and services so that voice and messaging are no longer the sole domain of the CSP. Enter the disruptors – such as Google, Apple and Facebook.

Inspired by the success of these internet giants, companies of all sizes are rethinking how they do business. They are creating and embracing diverse ecosystems, partnerships and innovation through a culture supportive of collaboration, rapid development and emerging technologies. This new approach is based on a two-sided business model (or platform model) that bridges between upstream customers (sometimes called ‘merchants’) and downstream customers (or ‘end-users’). For example, in Google’s case, the upstream customers are advertisers, and the downstream customers those that view and click on adverts.

The story does not end here, however: telcos must also learn from the ‘differentiators’. As well as adopting a two-sided business model, Telcos must also implement innovation designed for both sides of the market at the core of their infrastructure. Unilever, for example, has thousands of brands sold in over 150 countries; two billion people use Unilever’s products every day. The consumer goods market is extremely competitive, and Unilever remains ahead of the game by making product innovation supreme.

In previous research, such as A Practical Guide to Implementing Telco 2.0 and The Roadmap to New Telco 2.0 Business Models, we have described the strategies and types of products and services that could generate both types of revenue for telcos.

The skills demanded by the new and existing business models are described by Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: The skills needed to move to Telco 2.0
skills needed to move to Telco 2.0

The Telco 2.0 Transformation Index benchmarks how well Telcos are managing this transformation

The Telco 2.0 Transformation Index – released next week (commencing 20th January) – is designed to support companies throughout the industry as they undertake this journey of transformation. It provides a fast, comprehensive, and high impact strategic reality-check and forward outlook to help Telcos, their partners and investors improve returns on strategic investments and activities. It assesses current market performance and positioning, new services, transformative strategies, and future competitive and collaborative abilities of key Telcos/CSPs against their potential and ‘best-in-class’ peers.

For example, Figure 3 below, which is taken from the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index benchmarking report, shows where the five Telcos included in the first tranche of deep-dive analyses – Telefonica, SingTel, AT&T, Verizon and Ooredoo – are positioned along the inverse relationship between operating costs and capital expenditure. This is directly related with the movement from an infrastructure-led business model (high capex, low opex; Telco 1.0), to a platform-based, product-innovation-driven business model (low capex, high opex; Telco 2.0).

Figure 3: The inverse relationship between capital expenditure and operating costs
The inverse relationship between capital expenditure and operating costs 2012