Can telcos create a compelling smart home?

Telcos role in smart homes

Part of STL Partners’ (Re)connecting with Consumers stream, this report analyses the role of telcos in the smart home market, which is now growing steadily in many developed countries, as consumers seek to bolster security, improve energy efficiency, adopt electric cars and further automate appliances. In most developed markets, there are scores of companies pitching often incompatible smart home products and services to householders, resulting in a fragmented mess in which consumers are often left to figure out what might work with what.

This fragmentation spells opportunity for both telcos and the major Internet platforms – both sets of companies can use their role as a supplier of a key part of the smart home proposition (connectivity and computing devices respectively) as a springboard into the smart home solutions space.

In the case of Apple, Amazon and Google that means using the smartphone, the tablet and/or smart speakers as a segue into this market, while telcos can build on their connectivity offering, which is a fundament to the concept of a smart home that can be monitored and controlled from anywhere.

The challenge facing both sets of players is essentially delivering the systems-level integration required to simplify the consumer proposition into a seamless end-to-end offering that will appeal to the mass market. Without coherent coordination, the smart home will continue to characterised by of point solutions.

This report begins with an overview of the smart home sector and the competitive landscape, paying particular attention to the strategies of the major Internet platforms – Amazon, Apple and Google. It then goes on to discuss Deutsche Telekom’s and A&T’s contrasting strategies in this space, before making some recommendations for telcos.

This report builds on previous STL research, notably:

This report is the first in a series looking at smart home/connected consumer propositions from telcos. Future reports will analyse how the leading Asian telcos are targeting this market, while exploring related propositions, such as connected bikes and scooters, pet tracking and asset monitoring and insurance.

The smart home market

In an ideal world, a householder would be able to remotely monitor and control all the systems in their home, simply by pressing a button to activate and deactivate heating, air conditioning, alarms, locks, cameras and appliances, such as washing machines and automated vacuum cleaners. Although this concept, known as a smart home, has been around for many years, it is only now beginning to come of age. The smart home could also become an enabler for the sharing economy, making it easier for people to rent out their homes, monitor energy usage and take out appropriate insurance cover.

Up until very recently, most so-called smart home implementations amounted to partial solutions, enabling a householder to check their energy usage or a CCTV camera, rather than get a complete picture of what is happening in their property. In other words, most suppliers have focused on discrete point solutions designed for a fairly narrow use case.

While homes in developed markets have a growing number of connected devices (such as televisions, sound systems, printers, smart meters and burglar alarms), they rarely exchange information and typically can’t be managed through a single app or desktop interface.

This lack of coordination is a result of the diversity of the many different players supplying consumers with connected equipment and services for their homes, ranging from utilities and security companies to equipment makers and tech companies.

The smart home value chain

Indeed, a smart home value chain can be very complex and diverse. To make a home really smart, you would typically need:

  • A central hub that can aggregate and analyse related data, such as energy usage and room occupancy. This hub could be in the cloud or a device in the home.
  • Middleware that enables connected things to exchange data with each other and the hub.
  • A large number of connected appliances, devices and sensors, ranging from boilers and washing machines to door locks and smoke detectors.
  • Suitable connectivity for all the components, which could be WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth or a cellular technology.
  • A user interface or interfaces, such as a voice-activated speaker or a touchscreen tablet or smartphone, the householder can use to monitor and control their home.

Today, most telco-led smart home implementations take an ‘inside out’ approach in which the hub is located in the home: short range wireless technologies collect data from connected devices, which are aggregated in the hub and are then made available to the consumer via a smartphone app. In this scenario, the hub is generally connected to a fixed-line network via WiFi. However, 4G and 5G technologies, such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, could make it feasible to connect more devices directly to a cloud-based hub, which could ultimately allow smart homes to emerge in the many communities not served by fixed-line networks.

In some markets, these two approaches may be combined: cellular connectivity may be used to back-up WiFi, while some data and services will reside in both the cloud and on a local device in case the wide area connectivity fails or is tampered with.

For telcos providing the underlying fixed-line or cellular connectivity, the sheer variety of players touting smart home products and services makes the market both complex and challenging. Figure 1, an overview of the smart home ecosystem produced by the GSMA, highlights how many different angles there are on the smart home concept. However, even this chart is an over-simplification – the smart home market also overlaps with the personal transport market to some extent. Some of the potential use cases, such as charging electric vehicles, require coordination between the consumer’s home and vehicle.

Figure 1: The smart home ecosystem is complex and fragmented

smart home market

Source: GSMA Intelligence

Size of smart home market

Given the breadth of the smart home market and the blurred lines between it and other segments, sizing it in dollar terms is difficult. Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates worldwide consumer spending on smart home devices, systems and services totalled US$84 billion in 2017 and will reach almost US$96 billion in 2018.

However, ABI Research is more conservative, pegging the global smart home market at US$56 billion in 2018. The actual number will be down to what products and services are included and whether analysts are counting the total value of an appliance or just the embedded connectivity and processing power.

For example, should the total sale price of a washing machine with built-in WiFi be included? Or should analysts just count the value of the connectivity module? What if the WiFi is never activated? In any case, it is clear that the market is growing steadily as the cost of adding connectivity to consumer appliances and devices falls. The cost of adding a WiFi or cellular module to an appliance is in the region of US$10 to US$20, depending how many frequencies it supports and which radio technology is used.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary 
  • Introduction
  • The smart home market
  • Sizing the smart home space
  • How important are smart speakers?
  • The Internet players and their strategies
  • The Internet platforms jostle for position
  • Amazon bets big on Alexa
  • Google plays aggressive defence
  • Apple plays the premium game
  • Facebook struggles to differentiate
  • Utilities/security companies
  • Consumer electronics/appliances
  • The role of telcos in the smart home
  • Deutsche Telekom offers data protection
  • Does DT need its own voice?
  • Differentiation through data protection?
  • AT&T changes course
  • Conclusions
  • A major opportunity to cut complexity
  • Internet players don’t have a stranglehold

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The smart home ecosystem is complex and fragmented
  • Figure 2: Amazon and Google face growing competition in the smart speaker market
  • Figure 3: Alexa is integrated into the control panel of Amazon’s new microwave
  • Figure 4: The new Google Home Hub is designed to be fairly proactive
  • Figure 5: Facebook’s premium Portal has a rotating screen and a video camera
  • Figure 6: The Magenta Smarthome app can manage temperature, security and lighting
  • Figure 7: Deutsche Telekom’s growing smart home service
  • Figure 8: DT’s new smart speaker
  • Figure 9: Some of the functionality available from AT&T’s Digital Life service
  • Figure 10: AT&T’s LTE-M enabled button works with AWS to perform a specific task

5G: The first three years

The near future of 5G

Who, among telecoms operators, are 5G leaders? Verizon Wireless is certainly among the most enthusiastic proponents.

On October 1, 2018, Verizon turned on the world’s first major 5G network. It is spending US$20 billion to offer 30 million homes millimetre wave 5G, often at speeds around a gigabit. One of the first homes in Houston “clocked speeds of 1.3 gigabits per second at 2,000 feet.”  CEO Vestberg expects to cover the whole country by 2028, some with 3.5 GHz. 5G: The first three years cuts through the hype and confusion to provide the industry a clear picture of the likely future. A companion report, 5G smart strategies, explores how 5G helps carriers make more money and defeat the competition.

This report was written by Dave Burstein with substantial help from Andrew Collinson and Dean Bubley.

What is 5G?

In one sense, 5G is just a name for all the new technologies now being widely deployed. It’s just better mobile broadband. It will not change the world anytime soon.

There are two very different flavours of 5G:

  • Millimetre wave: offers about 3X the capacity of mid-band or the best 4G. Spectrum used is from 20 GHz to over 60 GHz. Verizon’s mmWave system is designed to deliver 1 gigabit downloads to most customers and 5 gigabits shared. 26 GHz in Europe & 28 GHz in the U.S. are by far the most common.
  • Low and mid-band: uses 4G hardware and “New Radio” software. It is 60-80% less capable on average than millimetre wave and very similar in performance to 4G TD-LTE. 3.3 GHz – 4.2 GHz is by far the most important band.

To begin, a few examples.

5G leaders are deploying millimetre wave

Verizon’s is arguably currently the most advanced 5G network in the world. Perhaps most surprisingly, the “smart build” is keeping costs so low capital spending is coming down. Verizon’s trials found millimetre wave performance much better than expected. In some cases, 5G capacity allowed reducing the number of cells.

Verizon will sell fixed wireless outside its incumbent territory. It has ~80 million customers out of district. Goldman Sachs estimates it will add 8 million fixed wireless by 2023 and more than pay for the buildout.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg says he believes mmWave capacity will allow very attractive offerings that will win customers away from the competition.

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What are the other 5G leaders doing?

Telefónica Deutschland has similar plans, hoping to blow open the German market with mmWave to a quarter of the country. Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone are sticking with the much slower mid-band 5G and could be clobbered.

Most 5G will be slower low and mid-band formerly called 4G

80% or more of 5G worldwide the next three years will not be high-speed mmWave. Industry group 3GPP decided early in 2018 to call anything running New Radio software “5G.” In practice, almost any currently shipping 4G radio can add on the software and be called “5G.” The software was initially said to raise capacity between 10% and 52%. That’s 60% to 80% slower than mmWave. However, improved 4G technology has probably cut the difference by more than half. That’s 60% to 80% slower than mmWave. It’s been called “faux 5G” and “5G minus,” but few make the distinction. T-Mobile USA promises 5G to the entire country by 2020 without a large investment. Neville Ray is blanketing the country with 4G in 20 MHz of the new 600 MHz band. That doesn’t require many more towers due to the long reach of low frequencies. T-Mobile will add NR software for a marketing push.

In an FCC presentation, Ray said standalone T-Mobile will have a very wide 5G coverage but at relatively low speeds. Over 85% of users will connect at less than 100 megabits. The median “5G” connection will be 40-70 megabits. Some users will only get 10-20 megabits, compared to a T-Mobile average today of over 30 megabits. Aggregating 600 MHz NR with other T-Mobile bands now running LTE would be much faster but has not been demonstrated.

While attesting to the benefits of the T-Mobile-Sprint deal, Neville claimed that using Sprint spectrum at 2500 MHz and 11,000 Sprint towers will make a far more robust offering by 2024. 10% of this would be mmWave.

In the final section of this report, I discuss 5G smart strategy: “5G” is a magic marketing term. It will probably sell well even if 4G speeds are similar. The improved sales can justify a higher budget.

T-Mobile Germany promises nationwide 5G by 2025. That will be 3.5 GHz mid-band, probably using 100 MHz of spectrum. Germany has just set aside 400 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. DT, using 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz, will deliver 100–400 megabit downloads to most.

100–400 megabits is faster than much of T-Mobile’s DSL. It soon will add fixed mobile in some rural areas. In addition, T-Mobile is selling a combined wireless and DSL router. The router uses the DSL line preferably but can also draw on the wireless when the user requires more speed.

China has virtually defined itself as a 5G leader by way of its government’s clear intent for the operators. China Mobile plans two million base stations running 2.5 GHz, which has much better reach than radio in the 3.5 GHz spectrum. In addition, the Chinese telcos have been told to build a remarkable edge network. Minister Miao Wei wants “90% of China within 25 ms of a server.” That’s extremely ambitious but the Chinese have delivered miracles before. 344 million Chinese have fibre to the home, most built in four years.

Telus, Canada’s second incumbent, in 2016 carefully studied the coming 5G choices. The decision was to focus capital spending on more fibre in the interim. 2016 was too early to make 5G plans, but a strong fibre network would be crucial. Verizon also invested heavily in fibre in 2016 and 2017, which now is speeding 5G to market. Like Verizon, Telus sees the fibre paying off in many ways. It is doing fibre to the home, wireless backhaul, and service to major corporations. CEO Darren Entwistle in November 2018 spoke at length about its future 5G, including the importance of its large fibre build, although he hasn’t announced anything yet.

There is a general principle that if it’s too early to invest in 5G, it’s a good idea to build as much fibre as you can in the interim.

Benefits of 5G technology

  • More broadband capacity and speed. Most of the improvement in capacity comes from accessing more bandwidth through carrier aggregation, and many antenna MIMO. Massive MIMO has shipped as part of 4G since 2016 and carrier aggregation goes back to 2013. All 5G phones work on 4G as well, connecting as 4G where there is no 5G signal.
  • Millimetre wave roughly triples capacity. Low and mid-band 5G runs on the same hardware as 4G. The only difference to 4G is NR software, which adds only modestly to capacity.
  • Drastically lower cost per bit. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said, “5G will deliver a megabit of service for about 1/10th of what 4G does.”
  • Reduced latency. 1 ms systems will mostly only be in the labs for several more years, but Verizon’s and other systems deliver speed from the receiver to the cell of about 10 milliseconds. For practical purposes, latency should be considered 15 ms to 50 ms and more, unless and until large “edge Servers” are installed. Only China is likely to do that in the first three years.

The following will have a modest effect, at most, in the next three years: Autonomous cars, remote surgery, AR/VR, drones, IoT, and just about all the great things promised beyond faster and cheaper broadband. Some are bogus, others not likely to develop in our period. 5G leaders will need to capitalise on near-term benefits.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Some basic timelines
  • What will 5G deliver?
  • What will 5G be used for?
  • Current plans reviewed in the report
  • Introduction
  • What is 5G?
  • The leaders are deploying millimetre wave
  • Key dates
  • What 5G and advanced 4G deliver
  • Six things to know
  • Six myths
  • 5G “Smart Build” brings cost down to little more than 4G
  • 5G, Edge, Cable and IoT
  • Edge networks in 5G
  • “Cable is going to be humongous” – at least in the U.S.
  • IoT and 5G
  • IoT and 5G: Does anyone need millions of connections?
  • Current plans of selected carriers (5G leaders)
  • Who’s who
  • Phone makers
  • The system vendors
  • Chip makers
  • Spectrum bands in the 5G era
  • Millimetre wave
  • A preview of 5G smart strategies
  • How can carriers use 5G to make more money?
  • The cold equations of growth

Figures:

  • Figure 1: 20 years of NTT DOCOMO capex
  • Figure 2: Verizon 5G network plans
  • Figure 3: Qualcomm’s baseband chip and radio frequency module
  • Figure 4: Intel 5G chip – Very limited 5G production capability until late 2019
  • Figure 5: Overview of 5G spectrum bands
  • Figure 6: 5G experience overview
  • Figure 7: Cisco VNI forecast of wireless traffic growth between 2021–2022

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Telco apps: What works?

Introduction

Part of STL Partners’ (Re)connecting with Consumers stream, this report analyses a selection of successful mobile apps run by telcos or their subsidiaries. It explains why mobile apps will continue to play a major in the digital economy for the foreseeable future before considering the factors that have made particular telco apps successful. Most of the apps considered in the report are from Asia, primarily because operators in that world have typically been more aggressive in pursuing the digital services market than their counterparts elsewhere. Note, the list of apps analysed in this report is far from exhaustive – there are other successful telco-run apps on the market.

The ultimate goal of this report is to explain how apps can engage customers and give telcos greater traction with consumers. Although many apps are rarely used and quickly discarded, the most popular apps, such as Instagram, Spotify and YouTube, have become an integral part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people. Some apps, such as Uber and Google Maps, regularly provide people with services and/or information that make their lives much easier – getting a taxi or navigating through an unfamiliar city is now much easier than it used to be. Indeed, a well-designed app dedicated to a specific service can deliver both relevance and revenues.

This report builds on previous STL research, notably:

Can Netflix and Spotify make the leap to the top tier?

AI in customer services: It’s not all about chatbots

AI on the Smartphone: What telcos should do 

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Why apps matter for telcos

Telcos’ most successful digital services, notably SMS, pre-date the smartphone app era.  Even more recent triumphs, such as the M-Pesa, the ground breaking mobile money service in Kenya, were originally designed to work on feature phones.  Many similar services, such as MTN Money and Orange Money, aimed at the large numbers of people without bank accounts in Africa and developing Asia, continue to be accessed largely through text-based menus via SIM toolkit.

But the widespread adoption of smartphones in developed and developing markets alike mean that telcos everywhere need to ensure all the consumer services they offer can be accessed via well-designed and intuitive apps with graphical user interfaces. By the end of 2017, there were 4.3 billion smartphones in use worldwide, according to Ericsson’s estimates. Moreover, smartphone adoption continues to rise rapidly, particularly in Africa, India and other developing countries. Ericsson reckons the number of smartphone subscriptions will reach 7.2 billion in 2023 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The number of smartphones in use is rising steadily across the world

Global App take up

Source: Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2018

Subscriptions associated with smartphones now account for around 60% of all mobile phone subscriptions, according to Ericsson, which says that 85% of all mobile phones sold in the first quarter of 2018 were smartphones.

With smartphones the default handset for people in developed markets and many developing markets, apps have become a major medium for interactions between consumers and service providers across the economy. Now approximately ten years old, the so-called app economy is worth tens of billions of dollars per annum.

Although there has been a backlash, as people’s smartphones get clogged up with apps, the sector still has considerable momentum.

The most popular apps, such as Uber and Amazon Shopping, combine ease of access (straightforward authentication), with ease-of-use and ease-of-payment, enabling them to attract tens of millions of users.

With some justification, proponents contend that apps will continue to be one of the main drivers of the digital economy for the foreseeable future. The broader app economy will be worth $6.3 trillion by 2021, up from $1.3 trillion in 2016, according to App Annie. Note, those figures include in-app ads and mobile commerce, as well as the revenues generated through app stores. In other words, this is the total value of the business conducted via apps, rather than the revenue accrued by app stores and developers. This dramatic forecast assumes the ongoing shift of physical transactions to the mobile medium continues apace: App Annie expects the value of mobile commerce transactions to rise from $344 per user in 2016 to $946 by 2021.

Although most of the leading apps are free, many do generate a subscription fee or one-off sales. Annual consumer spending in app stores is set to rise 18% between 2016 and 2021 to reach $139 billion worldwide, according to specialist app analytics firm App Annie, which also forecasts the total time spent in apps will grow to 3.5 trillion hours in 2021, up from 1.6 trillion in 2016.

In reality, some of these aggressive forecasts may prove to be too bullish, as consumers begin to make greater use of messaging services and voice-activated speakers to interact with local merchants and purchase digital content and services.  Even so, it is clear that the leading mobile apps will continue to be a major consumer engagement tool for many brands and merchants well into the next decade. In some cases, such as Spotify or the fitness app Strava, the user has typically put significant effort into creating a personalised experience, helping to cement their loyalty.

In developed countries, some telcos, notably AT&T and Verizon, have belatedly and expensively acquired a major presence in the app economy by buying leading digital content producers and service providers. With the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T is now the owner of HBO Now, which was the third highest app by consumer spend in the US in 2017, according to App Annie. HBO Now also ranked fifth in Mexico and eighth in the world on this measure. Having acquired Yahoo! and AOL apps over the past few years, Verizon ranked eighth among companies in terms of downloads in the US in 2017.

The delicate transition from SIM toolkit to app

But expensive acquisitions are not the only way into the app economy. For telcos that have developed consumer services from the ground-up, the rise of the smartphone offers opportunities to provide much richer functionality and a more intuitive interface, as well cross-selling and up-selling. In Kenya, Safaricom has been expanding the mobile money transfer service M-Pesa into a much broader financial services proposition, while prodding users to switch from the SIM toolkit to the app, which can properly highlight M-Pesa’s wider proposition. At the same time, the telco has integrated M-Pesa into its customer service app, mySafaricom, helping it to promote its broader telecoms offering to frequent users of its mobile money services.

However, Safaricom is well aware that it needs to tread cautiously, continuing to cater for those customers who are comfortable with the SIM toolkit experience. Its softly-softly approach is to reassure Kenyans that they can always fall back on the SIM toolkit, if they don’t like the app.  In a Safaricom-sponsored article from August 2017, Emmanuel Chenze wrote the following on the online site, Android Kenya:

“For over a year now, Safaricom has had the mySafaricom application available on the Google Play Store for users to be able to better manage the services they receive from the telecommunications company. However, it wasn’t until March this year when the application was updated to include M-PESA.

“With M-PESA finally integrated, the over 1 million smartphone users can now take full advantage and transact even faster thanks to the app. While good ol’ SIM toolkit still works wonders and remains a good backup option when you’re not connected to the internet or when the mySafaricom app is acting up, using the application, which has since been updated to reflect Safaricom’s recent rebranding, is way better than using the otherwise cumbersome SIM toolkit.”

If they can make their apps straightforward and easily accessible, Africa’s telcos could still become major players in the app economy – as Figure 4 indicates, the number of smartphones in use in sub-Saharan Africa could double between now and 2023. That gives telcos a major opportunity to promote their apps to first-time smartphone users as they buy their new handsets. Pan-Africa operator MTN is pursuing this strategy with its MTN Game+ , Music+ and video apps (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: MTN is pushing its entertainment apps to new smartphone users

Safaricom app chart

Source: MTN interim results presentation for the six months ended June 2018

In Asia, some telcos have successfully developed widely used apps from scratch, notably in the customer care space, as explained in the next section (continued in full report).

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Why apps matter
  • The delicate transition from SIM toolkit to app
  • Telcos can build on customer care
  • My AIS – a top ten app in Thailand
  • Takeaways
  • Information apps have traction
  • Call management apps prove popular in South Korea
  • T Map in top ten apps in South Korea
  • Takeaways
  • Telcos’ entertainment apps go regional
  • PCCW’s Viu plays in sixteen markets
  • Liberty Global
  • Takeaways
  • Turkcell: Using apps to up engagement
  • Competitive in communications
  • Takeaways

Table of Figures

  • Figure 1: Alternative routes for telcos to build out their app proposition
  • Figure 2: Overview of the telco-owned apps covered in this report
  • Figure 3: The number of smartphones in use is rising steadily across the world
  • Figure 4: MTN is pushing its entertainment apps to new smartphone users
  • Figure 5: My AIS supports payments and loyalty points, as well as usage monitoring
  • Figure 6: The True iService app has a clear and straightforward graphic interface
  • Figure 7: True Digital’s app portfolio covers everything from coffee to communications
  • Figure 8: WhoWho helps user manage incoming calls on phones and wearables
  • Figure 9: SK Telecom’s T map app for public transport covers trains, buses and taxis
  • Figure 10: KKBOX Claims Strong Customer Base Among iPhone Users
  • Figure 11: Turkcell’s broad portfolio of apps covers content and communications
  • Figure 12: Turkcell’s BiP Messenger is designed to be fun
  • Figure 13: Turkcell is focused on how much time customers spend in its apps
  • Figure 14: Turkcell’s foreign subsidiaries are much smaller than its domestic operation

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Why fibre is on fire again

Introduction

Fibre to the home is growing at a near-explosive rate

Every company faces the problems of mature markets, disappointing revenues and tough decisions on investment. Everyone agrees that fibre delivers the best network experience, but until recently most companies rejected fibre as too costly.

Now, 15 of the world’s largest phone companies have decided fibre to the home is a solution. Why are so many now investing so heavily?

Here are some highlight statistics:

  • On 26th July 2018, AT&T announced it will pass 5 million locations with fibre to the home in the next 12 months, after reaching 3 million new locations in the last year.[1] Fibre is now a proven money-maker for the US giant, bringing new customers every quarter.
  • Telefónica Spain has passed 20 million premises – over 70% of the addressable population – and continues at 2 million a year.
  • Telefónica Brazil is going from 7 million in 2018 to 10 million in 2020.
  • China’s three giants have 344 million locations connected.[2]
  • Worldwide FTTH connections grew 23% between Q1 2017 and Q1 2018.[3]
  • In June 2018, China Mobile added 4.63 million broadband customers, nearly all FTTH.[4]
  • European FTTH growth in 2017 was 20%.[5]
  • In India, Mukesh Ambani intends to connect 50 million homes at Reliance Jio.[6]

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Even the most reluctant carriers are now building, including Deutsche Telekom and British Telecom. In 2015, BT Openreach CTO Peter Bell said FTTH was “impossible” for Britain because it was too expensive.[7] Now, BT is hiring 3,500 engineers to connect 3 million premises, with 10 million more homes under consideration.[8]

Credit Suisse believes that for an incumbent, “The cost of building fibre is less than the cost of not building fibre.”

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Fibre to the home is growing at a near-explosive rate
  • Why the change?
  • Strategies of leading companies
  • Frontrunners
  • Moving toward rapid growth
  • Relative newcomer
  • The newly converted
  • Alternate carriers
  • Naysayers
  • U.S. regionals: CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream
  • The Asian pioneers
  • Two technologies to consider
  • Ten-gigabit equipment
  • G.fast
  • The hard question: How many will decide to go wireless only?

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Paris area fibre coverage – Orange has covered most of the capital
  • Figure 2: European fibre growth
  • Figure 3: Top five European incumbents, stock price July 2016 – July 2018
  • Figure 4: DT CEO Tim Höttges and Bavarian Prime Minister Dr. Markus Söder announce a deal to fibre nearly all of Bavaria, part financed by the government

[1] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/11-fib/715-at-t-fiber-run-rate-going-from-3m-to-5m-year

[2] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/8-fnn/713-china-1-1b-4g-400m-broadband-328m-fibre-home-rapid-growth

[3] http://point-topic.com/free-analysis/world-broadband-statistics-q1-2018/

[4] https://www.chinamobileltd.com/en/ir/operation_m.php

[5] http://www.ftthcouncil.eu/documents/PressReleases/2018/PR%20Market%20Panorama%20-%2015-02-2018-%20FINAL.pdf

[6] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/11-fib/703-india-unreal-jio-wants-50m-ftth-in-1100-cities

[7] G.fast Summit May 2015

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/01/bt-openreach-hire-3000-engineers-drive-to-fill-broadband-not-spots

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Network AI: The state of the art

Introduction

This report is part of a series exploring how telecoms operators can leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their business operations, from customer experience to new services. Previous reports on AI in telecoms include:

This report explores the applications of AI for network operations, detailing the prerequisites and stages to implementing AI and automation in networks, real-world examples of what some telcos have done already, and their potential value across different application areas.

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We divide the applications for AI in telecoms networks into three main categories:

  • Fault detection, prediction and resolution: speeding up the process of identifying and resolving network faults, including predictive maintenance. This also includes identifying and mitigating network security risks, although security is a highly specialised field that merits its own report, so we do not cover it in detail here.
  • Network optimisation: optimising the use of network resources to mitigate the impact of network faults and adapt to or anticipate changes in demand. This is also the foundation for automated service provisioning in software defined networks, while insights on network usage and traffic could be valuable for new service creation.
  • Network planning and upgrades: optimising new infrastructure planning as well as the transition from legacy to next generation network solutions.

The first area is critical for all telcos, since service impairments are an inevitable element of running a network. The second is of immediate value for telcos that are still in the process of expanding existing network coverage and density, since it can enable operators to use their existing resources more efficiently. However, it is also increasingly tied into the first area of fault detection, since a large part of the fault resolution process is finding ways to re-route traffic from underperforming to underused assets, a process that is made easier with the adoption of SDN and NFV – processes can only be automated if they are software-based.

Compared with the first two categories, using AI for smarter network planning and upgrades is a nascent field. This is partially because many Tier 1 operators, who are leading the charge in adoption of AI elsewhere in network and business operations, completed the bulk of 4G deployments and have not yet fully embarked on 5G deployments. However, this report also looks at some innovative applications of image recognition models for network expansion in emerging markets.

While most of the data used for training and informing AI systems across network operations comes from operators’ own networks, telcos are also beginning to tap into new data sources to further refine their decision-making, such as using drones and image recognition to inspect towers, weather patterns and social media data.

Laying the foundations for AI in telecoms networks

Before jumping into how telcos are implementing AI for fault detection and resolution and in network operations, it is important to clarify what we mean by AI, and lay out the pre-requisites for any meaningful use of the technology.

What counts as AI? From automation to advanced AI

The term AI is nebulous – everyone has a different definition for it. Is it when a computer can make a faster, more accurate decision than a human?  Is it when a process is fully automated? Is it when the computer learns and continuously improves its decisions in real-time?

Wherever people draw the line between manual processes, (big) data analytics, automation and machine learning (ML) / AI, no company goes directly from manual to AI in one go. The transition is gradual. In this report we therefore use a broad definition of AI in this report, as outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Not all AI is equal

Rules-based automation to machine learning

Source: STL Partners

Two transitions are happening in parallel as operators move from left to right on Figure 1. First, there is a shift towards increasingly intelligent analytics techniques, from rules-based automation, where policies outline if-then sequences of actions for the computer, to machine learning supported automation, where models are trained to fulfil an intent (a goal) based on guidelines from experts and historical data.

The second transition that occurs in the move towards more sophisticated AI systems relates to decision-making. In rules-based automation, computers don’t have any decision-making power, they can only take pre-defined actions in specific circumstances. Making the transition from telling computers how to do something to what you want them to do means giving computers decision-making power. Telcos can do this gradually, by requiring humans to verify and approve recommended decisions before they are implemented. But in the promised future 5G and ‘sliceable’ networks, human approval for routine decisions would require more network engineers than operators could profitably employ, or drastically slow down network operations. This is not just a technical issue for telcos but also a cultural one that demands clarity from management teams on the evolving role of network engineers.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Making the shift from manual operations to autonomous, intelligent networks
  • Recommendations
  • Introduction
  • Laying the foundations for AI in telecoms networks
  • What counts as AI? From automation to advanced AI
  • AI works at two levels for network operations
  • Data: The bridge between rules-based automation and ML
  • Fault detection, prediction and resolution
  • What is it worth?
  • How does it work?
  • Real-world example of a recommendation model: AT&T Tower Outage and Network Analyzer
  • Next step: From fixed to self-learning policies
  • Optimising network capacity
  • What are self-optimising networks worth?
  • Use case overview
  • How to do it
  • From self-optimising to knowledge-defined networks
  • AI for network planning
  • Telefónica case study
  • Driving automation internally versus partnering with vendors
  • Reasons for developing solutions internally
  • Reasons for partnering with a vendor
  • Vendor profiles
  • How AI fits with SDN/NFV
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Not all AI is equal
  • Figure 2: Rules-based automation versus machine learning
  • Figure 3: A snapshot of rules-based automation versus machine learning
  • Figure 4: Overview of automation and AI in network operations
  • Figure 5: Telemetry is faster and uses less compute power than SNMP
  • Figure 6: Elisa growth of automated trouble ticket handling
  • Figure 7: Tupl results for automatic customer complaints resolution AI platform
  • Figure 8: Implementing fixed policies for fault detection and resolution
  • Figure 9: Visualisation of network alert clustering tool
  • Figure 10: A self-healing network
  • Figure 11: Elisa self-optimising network results
  • Figure 12: Elisa maintained flat capex intensity throughout 4G deployment
  • Figure 13: Finland 4G network performance, August 2018
  • Figure 14: Self-organising network example use cases
  • Figure 15: Numerous applications of machine learning and AI for 5G networks
  • Figure 16: Break self-optimising networks down into mini loops
  • Figure 17: The knowledge-defined network
  • Figure 18: Facebook TCO savings over traditional multilayer planning
  • Figure 19: Telefónica image recognition for network planning
  • Figure 20: Ciena Blue Planet overview
  • Figure 21: Google SDN layers
  • Figure 22: Overview of cross-industry initiatives relating to network AI and automation
  • Figure 23: Telefónica network automation roadmap
  • Figure 24: Overview of SK Telecom Advanced Next Generation OSS (TANGO)

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The IoT money problem: 3 options

Introduction

IoT has been a hot topic since 2010, but despite countless IoT initiatives being launched questions remain about how to monetise the opportunity.

This report presents:

  • A top-level summary of our thinking on IoT so far
  • Examples of 12 IoT verticals and over 40 use-cases
  • Case-studies of four telcos’ experimentation in IoT
  • Three potential roles that could help telcos monetise IoT

Overview

In the early days of the IoT (about five years ago) cellular connectivity was expected to play a major role – Ericsson predicted 50 billion connected devices by 2020, 20 billion of which would be cellular.

However, many IoT products have evolved without cellular connectivity, and lower cost connectivity solutions – such as SIGFOX – have had a considerable impact on the market.

Ericsson now forecasts that, although the headline number of around 50 billion connected devices by 2020 will remain the same, just over 1 billion will use cellular.

Despite these changes IoT is still a significant opportunity for telcos, but they need to change their IoT strategy to become more than connectivity providers as the value of this role in the ecosystem is likely to be modest.

Mapping the IoT ecosystem

The term IoT describes a diverse ecosystem covering a wide range of different connectivity types and use-cases. Therefore, to understand IoT better it is necessary to break it down into horizontal layers and vertical segments (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: A simplified map of the IoT ecosystem

Source: STL Partners

We are seeking input from our clients to shape our IoT research and have put together a short survey asking for your thoughts on:

  • What role telcos can play in the IoT ecosystem
  • Which verticals telcos can be successful in
  • What challenges telcos facing in IoT
  • How can STL support telcos developing their IoT strategy

To thank you for your time we will send you a summary of the survey results at the end of June 2017.

…to access the other 28 pages of this 31 page Telco 2.0 Report, including…

  • Introduction
  • Mapping the IoT ecosystem
  • Overview
  • Mapping the IoT ecosystem
  • IoT: A complicated and evolving market
  • Telcos are moving beyond connectivity
  • And use cases are increasing in complexity
  • IoT verticals – different end-customers with different needs
  • 12 examples of IoT verticals
  • What connectivity should telcos provide?
  • Four examples of IoT experimentation
  • Case study 1: AT&T: Vertically-integrated ecosystem architect
  • Case study 2: Vodafone: a ‘connectivity plus’ approach
  • Case study 3: SK Telecom: ecnouraging innovation through interoperability
  • Case study 4: Deutsche Telekom AG: the open platform integrator
  • Three potential monetisation strategies
  • Ecosystem orchestrator
  • Vertical champion
  • Trust broker
  • Conclusions

…and the following figures…   

  • Figure 1: A simplified map of the IoT ecosystem
  • Figure 2: Telcos moving beyond connectivity
  • Figure 3: IoT use cases are increasing in complexity
  • Figure 4: Use cases in manufacturing
  • Figure 5: Use cases in transportation
  • Figure 6: Use cases in utilities
  • Figure 7: Use cases in surveillance
  • Figure 8: Use cases in smart cities
  • Figure 9: Use cases in health & care
  • Figure 10: Use cases in agriculture
  • Figure 11: Use cases in extractive industries
  • Figure 12: Use cases in retail
  • Figure 13: Use cases in finance
  • Figure 14: Use cases in logistics
  • Figure 15: Use cases in smart home / building
  • Figure 16: Connectivity complexity profile for pay-as-you-drive insurance and rental services
  • Figure 17: Telco opportunity for deep learning pay-as-you-drive insurance and rental services

B2B growth: How can telcos win in ICT?

Introduction

The telecom industry’s growth profile over the last few years is a sobering sight. As we have shown in our recent report Which operator growth strategies will remain viable in 2017 and beyond?, yearly revenue growth rates have been clearly slowing down globally since 2009 (see Figure 1). In three major regions (North America, Europe, Middle East) compound annual growth rates have even been behind GDP growth.

 

Figure 1: Telcos’ growth performance is flattening out (Sample of sixty-eight operators)

Source: Company accounts; STL Partners analysis

To break out of this decline telcos are constantly searching for new sources of revenue, for example, by expanding into adjacent, digital service areas which are largely placed within mass consumer markets (e.g. content, advertising, commerce).

However, in our ongoing conversations with telecoms operators, we increasingly come across the notion that a large part of future growth potential might actually lie in B2B (business-to-business) markets and that this customer segment will have an increasing impact of overall revenue growth.

This report investigates the rationale behind this thinking in detail and tries to answer the following key questions:

  1. What is the current state of telco’s B2B business?
  2. Where are the telco growth opportunities in the wider enterprise ICT arena?
  3. What makes an enterprise ICT growth strategy difficult for telcos to execute?
  4. What are the pillars of a successful strategy for future B2B growth?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Telcos may have different B2B strategies, but suffer similar problems
  • Finding growth opportunities within the wider enterprise ICT arena could help
  • Three complications for revenue growth in enterprise ICT
  • Complication 1: Despite their potential, telcos struggle to marshal their capabilities effectively
  • Complication 2: Telcos are not alone in targeting enterprise ICT for growth
  • Complication 3: Telcos’ core services are being disrupted by OTT players – this time in B2B
  • STL Partners’ recommendations: strategic pillars for future B2B growth
  • Conclusion

 

  • Figure 1: Telcos’ growth performance is flattening out (Sample of sixty-eight operators)
  • Figure 2: Telcos’ B2B businesses vary significantly by scale and performance (selected operators)
  • Figure 3: High-level structure of the telecom industry’s revenue pool (2015) – the consumer segment dominates
  • Figure 4: Orange aims to expand the share of “IT & integration services” in OBS’s revenue mix
  • Figure 5: Global enterprise ICT expenditures are projected to growth 7% p.a.
  • Figure 6: Telcos and Microsoft are moving in opposite directions
  • Figure 7: SD-WAN value chain
  • Figure 8: Within AT&T Business Solutions’ revenue mix, growth in fixed strategic services cannot yet offset the decline in legacy services

Five telcos changing culture: Lessons from neuroscience

Introduction: The role of skills and culture in telco transformation

Skills and culture are the biggest barriers to transformation

It is generally accepted that the telecoms industry is currently undergoing a major process of transformation. In very general terms, telcos are engaged in a transition from being primarily operators of physical infrastructure and networks designed for the efficient delivery of analogue voice and packet data services, to being providers of cloud-based (distributed software, IT and virtualised) infrastructure, platforms and digital services (including communications).

STL Partners has documented this sea change in numerous previous reports focusing on different aspects of the transformation: technology, processes, business models, organisation and culture. This report focuses more closely on two interrelated aspects: skills and culture.

A recent STL Partners ‘summit’ workshop of leading SE Asian operators found that skills and culture are presently seen as the greatest barriers to transformation:

Figure 1: Benefits of and obstacles to transformation

Source: STL Partners

The above chart, reporting the results of a snap survey of attendees of the SE Asia summit, could be interpreted as implying that skills and culture change are of very little direct benefit to telcos, given that only two respondents indicated that it had “the greatest value” to their organisation. But at the same time, telcos are clearly focused on addressing the skills and culture issue, as this was overwhelmingly the most salient transformation challenge that the senior operator executives picked out. And the results of this small but high-quality survey are entirely consistent with STL Partners’ findings in other parts of the world, including research conducted for this report (see Sections 2 and 3 below).

There is a chronic shortage of essential software and IT skills in the industry

Precisely why have skills and culture emerged as such a critical challenge at this time? The skills issue is easier to analyse. The new business and technology model to which operators are transforming places a much greater emphasis on software and IT skills than traditional telco operations: skills such as software development and coding; digital product development and operations (DevOps), and marketing; cloud and IT infrastructure deployment, maintenance and support; etc. There is a chronic shortage of highly-skilled people in these areas, which varies country by country but could rightly be described as a global shortage owing to the international character of the telecoms industry. It is the top talent that is needed right now given the complexity of the technological and IT challenges that are involved in the migration from the legacy Telco 1.0 to the telco-cloud service provider (Telco 2.0).

Telcos have adopted a variety of methods to try to close the skills gap. These are discussed in more detail in Sections 2 and 3 below in the context of conversations on skills and culture we have had with five operators from different parts of the world. On skills, these operators have adopted three broad approaches:

  • Aim to fulfil the skills requirements of the business from existing staff as much as possible by giving every employee the opportunity to up- and reskill (AT&T)
  • Try to meet the skills needs of the business through a combination of selective hires and retraining; but accept that a given percentage of positions in the company after the transformation phase can only be filled by new hires, and that existing staff whose functions have become redundant or who cannot adapt will need to be let go (Telkom Indonesia, Middle Eastern operator (MEO), and international enterprise networking provider (EO))
  • Accept that the business needs to transform radically and rapidly, and a relatively high percentage of people without the requisite skills or whose roles have become redundant must be let go (former developed-market incumbent (DMI))

Content:

  • Executive Summary
  • 1. Introduction: The role of skills and culture in telco transformation
  • 2. AT&T: A textbook exercise in re-skilling and culture change
  • 3. Two other models of skills development and culture change
  • 4. Conclusion: Skills are necessary but not sufficient, without culture

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Benefits of and obstacles to transformation
  • Figure 2: Old and new telco cultures and business model
  • Figure 3: MRI scans showing parts of the brain activated by social rejection and physical pain

Trump’s Impact: Global TMT Scenarios

Predictions are difficult with Trump

On Wednesday, November 9th, Donald J. Trump won the 58th US presidential election. During his campaign Mr Trump made many statements. Now that he has won, we look beyond the rhetoric and initial political shock and uncertainty at what he might actually do and how this could affect the TMT sector.

This is a difficult task because, to date, Trump has not made many detailed statements about his policies. During the campaign he made many declarations, but these will not necessarily translate into bold policy decisions. Indeed, within one week of being elected his rhetoric has become more measured and he has already changed his stance somewhat on Obamacare and immigration.

Trump is now in the process of choosing his senior advisors and cabinet, and these choices will indicate more about what his presidency will be like than his behaviour during the campaign. At the time of writing, only two senior advisors had been chosen, Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff and Steve Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President. Neither of these positions require Senate approval. Priebus has served as the chair of the Republican National Committee since 2011, so is a reassuring choice for establishment Republicans, but Bannon is much more controversial. Bannon was until his appointment the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right website. His appointment as Senior Counselor to the President has caused dismay among liberals, but leading Republicans have declined to criticise the appointment, calling for party unity instead.

We expect that deciding Trump’s cabinet will be a difficult and turbulent process and will take some weeks to settle, as Trump will have to put some of his own views aside in order to choose a cabinet that the broader Republican party will approve. Although Trump has indicated that he will work with the party through his choice of Priebus, his choice of Bannon indicates that he is not afraid of pushing the boundaries. We therefore expect to see some more controversial choices in the next few weeks, but whether these get approved by the Senate is another matter.

From a TMT perspective, the most important appointment will be the Attorney General, which will need Senate approval. Another position of interest to the TMT sector is the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Trump can choose a new chair of the FTC from its commissioners, who are confirmed by the Senate. Although there should be five commissioners there are currently only three, and Trump could decide to replace the current, Democrat chair with a Republican, and also nominate more Republicans as commissioners. The Attorney General and FTC roles are important because they will influence Trump’s position on data privacy and security, consumer protection, and antitrust, which are key issues for the TMT industry.

Two potential scenarios affecting five key areas for TMT

Because of the uncertainty around how Trump will behave as president, rather than try to definitively predict what he will do, STL Partners has decided to focus on five key areas for the telco industry and developed two scenarios which may play out under a Trump presidency, as outlined in the table below.

Scenario name Description
Hardline Trump leadership Trump’s leadership decisions closely match his most extreme campaign rhetoric; he leads the US into a period of right wing, isolationist politics.
Moderate Trump leadership Trump’s leadership decisions are more moderate; he listens to advice from the wider Republican party, is moderated by Congress and the Senate, and does not follow through on extreme claims, such as the wall preventing illegal Mexican immigrants reaching the US.

Source: STL Partners

We run through the five areas below, discussing what is known about Trump’s views and what might happen under each scenario, as well as highlighting our view on the most likely outcome.

 

  • Predictions are difficult with Trump
  • Two potential scenarios affecting five key areas for TMT
  • 1. Net neutrality
  • What we know of Trump’s views
  • Potential outcomes under the scenarios
  • 2. Tech companies
  • What we know of Trump’s views
  • Potential outcomes under the scenarios
  • 3. AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner
  • What we know of Trump’s views
  • Potential outcomes under the scenarios
  • 4. Security
  • What we know of Trump’s views
  • Potential outcomes under the scenarios
  • 5. Trade
  • What we know of Trump’s views
  • Potential outcomes under the scenarios
  • Conclusion

The IoT ecosystem and four leading operators’ strategies

The IoT ecosystem

The term IoT is used to describe a broad and diverse ecosystem that includes a wide range of different connectivity types and use-cases. Therefore, it is not helpful to discuss the IoT ecosystem as a whole, and to understand IoT better it is necessary to break it down into horizontal layers and vertical segments.

Figure 1: A simplified map of the IoT ecosystem

Source: STL Partners


The five horizontal layers in the figure above are essential elements common to all IoT use-cases, regardless of vertical segment, and comprise:

  1. Sensors or controllers (embedded in connected devices, the “things” in the Internet of Things)
  2. A gateway device to aggregate and transmit data back and forth via the data network.
  3. A communications network to send data.
  4. Software for analysing and translating data.
  5. The end application service.

Perhaps surprisingly we have not included ‘IoT platforms’ as a horizontal layer in its own right.  IoT platforms are designed to organise, analyse, and (in some cases) act upon the data from connected devices. Because there can be differences in platform capabilities from vendor to vendor, a platform horizontal layer has not been included in this analysis. Depending on the platform, it will be designed to deliver any combination of horizontal layers 3, 4, and 5.

Level 5 – the end application service – is where material differences exist between vertical segments. Because IoT is a young market new use-cases are still emerging and existing use-cases are still evolving. The IoT ecosystem is not static and will continue to change, grow, and develop, and could look quite different in the next ten years. However, several distinct IoT vertical markets – sometimes described as ecosystems in their own right – are already emerging. These include:

  1. Smart and connected cities.
  2. Connected vehicles.
  3. Industrial IoT (including smart manufacturing).
  4. Smart home.
  5. Smart healthcare.
  6. Smart agriculture.

Within each of these six verticals there are several use-cases, and each vertical is developing and evolving new ones all the time. Figure 2 shows examples of use-cases either currently in use or under development in each vertical.

Figure 2: IoT vertical markets and use cases

Source: STL Partners

The complexity and technical requirements of each use-case varies widely. For example, the requirements of a smart thermostat compared to those of an autonomous vehicle are distinctly different. The next section of this report will provide an overview of the different technologies enabling IoT, followed by a section providing analysis of the technological requirements of several use-cases to illustrate how the IoT ecosystem will be enabled by not just one, but several different connectivity technologies.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • The IoT ecosystem
  • Six key technologies enabling IoT
  • 1. Cloud computing
  • 2. Low-power wide-area technologies
  • 3. Big data analytics
  • 4. Network function virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN)
  • 5. 5G
  • 6. Edge computing
  • Will one connectivity technology be dominant?
  • Use-case one: Smart metering
  • Use-case two: Autonomous driving
  • Use-case three: Smart thermostat
  • Use-case four: Smart home security system
  • How will IoT use-cases evolve?
  • Telcos’ role in the IoT ecosystem
  • The IoT value chain
  • AT&T: the ambitious ecosystem orchestrator
  • Vodafone: a ‘connectivity plus’ approach
  • SK Telecom: connectivity via multiple technologies
  • Deutsche Telekom AG: the open platform integrator
  • Adapting for evolution

 

  • Figure 1: A simplified map of the IoT ecosystem
  • Figure 2: IoT vertical markets and use-cases
  • Figure 3: The role of ‘network slicing’ in IoT
  • Figure 4: The role of Edge Computing in IoT
  • Figure 5: Complexity profile criteria ratings
  • Figure 6: Smart metering complexity profile
  • Figure 7: Autonomous driving complexity profile
  • Figure 8: Smart thermostat complexity profile
  • Figure 9: Smart home security system complexity profile
  • Figure 10: IoT use-case evolution
  • Figure 11: Telco’s original role in the IoT ecosystem
  • Figure 11: Telco’s current role in the IoT ecosystem

SDN / NFV: Early Telco Leaders in the Enterprise Market

Introduction

This report builds on a number of previous analyses of the progress and impact of SDN (Software-Defined Networking) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), both in the enterprise market and in telecoms more generally. In particular, this briefing aims to explore in more detail the market potential and dynamics of two new SDN / NFV-based enterprise services that were discussed as part of an analysis of revenue opportunities presented by ‘telco cloud’ services.

These two services are ‘Network as a Service’ (NaaS) and ‘enterprise virtual CPE’ (vCPE). ‘Network as a Service’ refers to any service that enables enterprise customers to directly configure the parameters of their corporate network, including via a user-friendly portal or APIs. This particularly involves the facility to scale up or down the bandwidth available on network links – either on a near-real-time or scheduled basis – and to establish new network connections on demand, e.g. between business sites and / or data centers. Examples of NaaS include AT&T’s Network On Demand portfolio and Telstra’s PEN service, both of which are discussed further below.

‘Enterprise virtual CPE’, as the name suggests, involves virtualizing dedicated networking equipment sited traditionally at the enterprise premises, so as to offer equivalent functionality in the form of virtual network appliances in the cloud, delivered over COTS hardware. Virtual network functions (VNFs) offered in this form typically include routing, firewalls, VPN, WAN optimization, and others; and the benefit to telcos of offering vCPE is that it provides a platform to easily cross- and upsell additional functionality, particularly in the areas of application and network performance and security.

The abbreviation ‘vCPE’ is also used for consumer virtual CPE, which involves replacing complicated routers, TV set-top boxes and gateway equipment used in the home with simplified devices running equivalent functions from the cloud. For the purposes of this report, when we use the term ‘vCPE’, we refer to the enterprise version of the term, unless otherwise stated.

The reason why this report focuses on NaaS and vCPE is that more commercial services of these types have been launched or are planned than is the case with any other SDN / NFV-dependent enterprise service. Consequently, the business models are becoming more evident, and it is possible to make an assessment of the revenue potential of these services.

Our briefing ‘New Revenue Growth from Telco Cloud’ (published in April 2016) modeled the potential impact of SDN / NFV-based services on the revenues of a large illustrative telco with a significant presence in both fixed and mobile, and enterprise and consumer, segments in a developed market similar to the UK. This concluded that such a telco introducing all of the SDN / NFV services that are expected to become commercially mature over the period 2017 to 2021 could expect to generate a monthly revenue uplift of some X% (actual figures available in full report) by the end of 2021 compared with the base case of failing to launch any such service.

Including only revenues directly attributable to the new services (as opposed to ‘core revenues’ – e.g. from traditional voice and data services – that are boosted by reduced churn and net customer additions deriving from the new services), vCPE and NaaS represent the two largest sources of new revenue: Y and Z percentage points respectively out of the total X% net revenue increase deriving from SDN / NFV, as illustrated in Figure 1 (Figure not shown – actual figures available in full report).

Figure 1: Telco X – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)

Figure not shown – available in full report

Source: STL Partners analysis

In terms of NaaS and vCPE specifically, the model assumes that Telco X will begin to roll out these services commercially in January and February 2017 respectively. This is a realistic timetable for some in our view, as several commercial NaaS and vCPE offerings have already been launched, and future launches have been announced, by telcos across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

In the rest of this briefing, we will:

  • present the main current and planned NaaS and vCPE services
  • analyze the market opportunities and competitive threats they are responding to
  • analyze in more detail the different types and combinations of NaaS and vCPE offerings, and their business models
  • assess these services’ potential to grow telco revenues and market share
  • and review how these offerings fit within operators’ overall virtualization journeys.

We will conclude with an overall assessment of the prospects for NaaS and vCPE: the opportunities, and also the risks of inaction.

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Current and planned NaaS and vCPE products
  • Opportunities and threats addressed by NaaS and vCPE
  • NaaS and vCPE: emerging offers and business models
  • Revenue growth potential of NaaS and vCPE
  • Relationship between SDN / NFV deployment strategy and operator type
  • Conclusion: NaaS and vCPE – a short-term window of opportunity to a long-term virtual future

 

  • Figure 1: Telco X – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)
  • Figure 2: Leading current and planned commercial NaaS and vCPE services
  • Figure 3: Cumulative NaaS and vCPE launches, 2013-16
  • Figure 4: Verizon SD-WAN as part of Virtual Network Services vCPE offering
  • Figure 5: COLT’s cloud-native VPN and vCPE
  • Figure 6: Evolution of vCPE delivery modes
  • Figure 7: SD-WAN-like NaaS versus SD-WAN
  • Figure 8: Base case shows declining revenues
  • Figure 9: Telco X – Telco Cloud services increase monthly revenues by X% on the base case by Dec 2021
  • Figure 10: NaaS and vCPE deployments by operator type and overall SDN / NFV strategy
  • Figure 11: Progression from more to less hybrid deployment of NaaS and vCPE across the telco WAN

Innovation Leaders: A Surprisingly Successful Telco API Programme

Introduction

The value of APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are a central part of the mobile and cloud-based app economy. On the web, APIs serve to connect back-end and front-end applications (and their data) to one another. While often treated as a technical topic, APIs also have tremendous economic value. This was illustrated very recently when Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement over the use of Oracle-owned Java APIs during the development of Google’s Android operating system. Even though Google won the case, Oracle’s quest for around $9 billion showed the huge potential value associated with widely-adopted APIs.

The API challenge facing telcos…

For telcos, APIs represent an opportunity to monetise their unique network and IT assets by making them available to third-parties. This is particularly important in the context of declining ‘core’ revenues caused by cloud and content providers bypassing telco services. This so-called “over the top” (OTT) threat forces telcos to both partner with third-parties as well as create their own competing offerings in order to dampen the decline in revenues and profits. With mobile app ecosystems maturing and, increasingly, extending beyond smartphones into wearables, cars, TVs, virtual reality, productivity devices and so forth, telcos need to embrace these developments to avoid being a ‘plain vanilla’ connectivity provider – a low-margin low-growth business.

However, thriving in this co-opetitive environment is challenging for telcos because major digital players such as Google, Amazon, Netflix and Baidu, and a raft of smaller developers have an operating model and culture of agility and fast innovation. Telcos need to become easier to collaborate with and a systematic approach to API management and API exposure should be central to any telco partnership strategy and wider ‘transformation programme’.

…and Dialog’s best-practice approach

In this report, we will analyse how Dialog, Sri Lanka’s largest operator, has adopted a two-pronged API implementation strategy. Dialog has systematically exposed APIs:

  1. Externally in order to monetise in partnership with third-parties;
  2. Internally in order to foster agile service creation and reduce operational costs.

STL Partners believes that this two-pronged strategy has been instrumental in Dialog’s API success and that other operators should explore a similar strategy when seeking to launch or expand their API activities.

Dialog Axiata has steadily increased the number of API calls (indexed)

Source: Dialog Axiata

In this report, we will first cover the core lessons that can be drawn from Dialog’s approach and success and then we will outline in detail how Dialog’s Group CIO and Axiata Digital’s CTO, Anthony Rodrigo, and his team implemented APIs within the company and, subsequently, the wider Axiata Group.

 

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • The value of APIs
  • The API challenge facing telcos…
  • …and Dialog’s best-practice approach
  • 5 key ‘telco API programme’ lessons
  • Background: What are APIs and why are they relevant to telcos?
  • API basics
  • API growth
  • The telecoms industry’s API track record is underwhelming
  • The Dialog API Programme (DAP)
  • Overview
  • Ideamart: A flexible approach to long-tail developer engagement
  • Axiata MIFE – building a multipurpose API platform
  • Drinking your own champagne : Dialog’s use of APIs internally
  • Expanding MIFE across Axiata opcos and beyond
  • Conclusion and outlook

 

  • Figure 1: APIs link backend infrastructure with applications
  • Figure 2: The explosive growth of open APIs
  • Figure 3: How a REST API works its magic
  • Figure 4: DAP service layers
  • Figure 5: Five APIs are available for Idea Pro apps
  • Figure 6: Idea Apps – pre-configured API templates
  • Figure 7: Ideadroid/Apptizer allows restaurants to specify food items they want to offer through the app
  • Figure 8: Ideamart’s developer engagement stats compare favourably to AT&T, Orange, and Vodafone
  • Figure 9: Steady increase in the number of API calls (indexed)
  • Figure 10: Dialog Allapps on Android
  • Figure 11: Ideabiz API platform for enterprise third-parties
  • Figure 12: Dialog Selfcare app user interface
  • Figure 13: Dialog Selfcare app functions – share in total number of hits
  • Figure 14: Apple App Store – Dialog Selfcare app ratings
  • Figure 15: Google Play Store – Dialog Selfcare app ratings
  • Figure 16: MIFE enables the creation of a variety of digital services – both internally and externally

Telco NFV & SDN Deployment Strategies: Six Emerging Segments

Introduction

STL Partners’ previous NFV and SDN research

This report continues the analysis of three previous reports in exploring the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) journeys of several major telcos worldwide, and adds insights from subsequent research and industry discussions.

The first two reports that STL Partners produced contained detailed discussion of the operators that have publicly engaged most comprehensively with NFV: Telefónica and AT&T.

Telefónica embarked on an ambitious virtualization program, dubbed ‘UNICA’, toward the start of 2014; but its progress during 2014 and 2015 was impeded by internal divisions, lack of leadership from top management, and disagreement over the fundamental technology roadmap. As a result, Telefónica has failed to put any VNFs (Virtualized Network Functions) into production; although it continues to be a major contributor to industry efforts to develop open NFV standards.

By contrast, AT&T’s virtualization program, the User-Defined Network Cloud (UDNC) – launched at the same time as Telefónica’s, in February 2014 – has already contributed to a substantial volume of live NFV deployments, including on-demand networking products for enterprise customers and virtual EPC (Enhanced Packet Core) supporting mobile data and connected car services. AT&T’s activities have been driven from board level, with a very focused vision of the overall transformation that is being attempted – organizational as much as technological – and the strategic objectives that underlie it: those of achieving the agility, scalability and cost efficiency required to compete with web-scale players in both enterprise and consumer markets.

The third report in the series – ‘7 NFV Hurdles: How DTAG, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast have tackled them’  – extended the analysis to the SDN and NFV deployment efforts of several other major operators. The report arrived at a provisional model for the stages of the SDN / NFV transformation process, outlined in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The SDN-NFV Transformation Process

The transformation process outlined in the chart suggests that elaborating the overall SDN architecture should ideally precede the NFV process: logically if not always chronologically. This is because it is essential to have a vision of the ‘final’ destination, even if – or especially as – operators are navigating their way through a shifting myriad of technology choices, internal change programs, engagements with vendor and open-source ecosystems, priorities and opportunities for virtualization, legacy system migration models, and processes for service and business remodeling.

The focus of this report

This report re-examines some of the analysis undertaken on the players above, along with some additional players, to derive a more fine-grained understanding of the virtualization journeys of different types of telco.

We examine these journeys in relation to five dimensions and the analysis focuses on the choices operators have made in these areas, and how things have turned out so far. This, in turn, allows us to pinpoint six telco segments for SDN and NFV deployment.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to SDN and NFV. However, because the operators we examine have a similar rationale for engaging in SDN- and NFV-led transformation and display sufficient commonality in their approach to deployment, STL Partners has been able to make three core best-practice implementation recommendations.

 

  • Executive summary
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • STL Partners’ previous NFV and SDN research
  • The focus of this report
  • Virtualization journeys: 6 telco segments
  • The Story So Far: AT&T and Telefónica
  • ‘NFV Business Model Transformation Pioneers’: BT, China Mobile, NTT and Verizon
  • ‘Smart Piper Incumbent’: AT&T and Deutsche Telekom
  • ‘Fly Blind Incumbent’: Telefónica and Swisscom
  • ‘Agile Adopter’: Tele2
  • ‘Utilitarian adopters’: Vodafone and SingTel
  • ‘Cableco 2.0’: Comcast and Liberty Global
  • Conclusion and Best Practice Recommendations

US Wireless Market: Early Warning Signs of Change

Introduction

The US national wireless market is currently the most influential of its kind on the planet. Not only is it big, it is also rich, with significantly higher ARPUs than other developed markets. Not only is it big and rich, it is advanced, with much higher 4G penetration than comparable markets. Further, it has frequently acted as a bellwether for the world wireless industry. The iPhone’s success in the US marked the smartphone’s transition from pioneer to early-adopter status worldwide; the much greater success of the iPhone 3GS and the Moto Droid marked the beginning of mass adoption, and the crisis of the mid-market vendors.

On the network side, Verizon Wireless’s early decision to abandon the CDMA2000 development path and choose LTE FDD signalled the end of the standards wars and the beginning of serious 4G deployment, threw Motorola even deeper into crisis, and positioned Alcatel-Lucent as the leading vendor in the first wave of LTE rollouts.

The inclusion of the 1800MHz band in the iPhone 5, meanwhile, transformed the world’s spectrum picture, redefining this legacy GSM/PCS allocation as a key asset for smartphone-focused operators. Today, the combination of US wireless operators and US semiconductor vendors is transforming industry technology strategies again, as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Qualcomm lead the charge for a mobile broadband-focused “early” 5G.

Clearly, the US market is as critical for global mobile as the European market was in the pre-iPhone era. As a result, Telco 2.0 finds it useful to monitor it closely. We covered the changing 5G ecosystem in MWC: 5G and Wireless Networks  and How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today. We covered AT&T’s key role in driving NFV and open-source telco software forwards in Fast Pivot to the NFV Future, and the fate of worldwide 4G deployments in 4G Rollout Analysis: Winning Strategies and 5G Implications. This picked out one US carrier in particular for closer attention. In the adjacent industries, we covered Microsoft in Pivoting to a Communications-Focused Business, Amazon.com in Amazon Web Services: Colossal, but Invincible?, the cable operators in Gigabit Cable Attacks This Year, and the top-brand tech sector generally in Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?.

In this note, we will review developments in the US national wireless sector, both on a long-term basis since the launch of 4G, and on a tactical basis over the last 12 months, including analysis of the results from our new, unique Mobile Network Experience Index product .

The US Wireless Market, 2011-2016

The last five years in the US cellular market have been characterised by two forces – disruption, and growth. The arrival of smartphones comprehensively disrupted what had been a rather stagnant sector. Later, T-Mobile USA initiated a price disruption which resulted in a wave of consolidation and a significant drop in industrywide ARPU. However, despite the “uncarrier”’s price cuts, the total industry profit pool has nonetheless grown dramatically in that timeframe, from $8.7bn/quarter to $14bn/quarter, as the revenue base has grown by some 20%, or 4% per annum.

Figure 1: The US wireless revenue base, 2011-2016

Source: STL Partners, company filings, themobileworld

Growth was as characteristic of the US market over the last 5 years as price disruption. T-Mobile’s strategy was to a large extent possible because there was a significant degree of “blue-ocean” competition, enlarging the subscriber base and deepening its use of smartphones and high-speed data service, as well as consolidation of minor operators. We show the net impact on operating profits in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Long term shifts in the US national wireless profit pool, 2011-2016

Source: STL Partners, themobileworld.com, company filings

Over the whole timeframe, the total annual pool of operating profit available in the market has grown by 59% or 11.8% per annum, or five times as fast as US GDP. This came in the context of a 20%, or 4% annualised, increase in total wireless revenues. At the same time, three operators have benefited disproportionately from this growth – AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. In fact, AT&T’s gains have been quite modest compared to the triumphs at VZW and T-Mobile.

On the other hand, Sprint has seen its operating profits halve and halve again, while Leap, MetroPCS, and numerous minor operators have exited the market. Looking at these data in a time-series view, as we do in Figure 3, we see that the duopoly is still a real force, although Verizon, has done distinctly better than AT&T.

Verizon Wireless, which pursued a “premium carrier” strategy based on going first with 4G, using its 700MHz holdings to maximise coverage and densifying with 1800MHz, and holding the line on price as long as possible, has clearly maximised its operating-level profitability. Meanwhile, a vicious struggle for third place was waged between T-Mobile and Sprint. Both parties struggled at times with the cost of spectrum acquisitions and network investments, and the gap between them and the duopoly is unmistakable. However, T-Mobile has managed to keep in the black since 2013 and its profitability is gradually improving, breaking away from the also-rans over the last 12 months.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The US Wireless Market, 2011-2016
  • Where Do We Go From Here?
  • Duopolists, challengers, and exits
  • Valuations
  • Challenging the Premium Carrier
  • The Impact of IPv6 deployment
  • Conclusions
  • Disruptive Responses: 5G
  • Disruptive Responses: Content

 

  • Figure 1: The US wireless revenue base, 2011-2016
  • Figure 2: Long term shifts in the US national wireless profit pool, 2011-2016
  • Figure 3: Profits at US wireless carriers, 2011-2016 (time series)
  • Figure 4: The short-run profits pool
  • Figure 5: Five years of Verizon Vs T-Mobile
  • Figure 6: Long term share of connections growth, 2011-2016
  • Figure 7: Short term share of connections growth, 2015
  • Figure 8: Long term retail postpaid users, 2011-2016
  • Figure 9: Short term retail postpaid subscribers, 2015
  • Figure 10: Now, T-Mobile is gaining the right kind of subscribers
  • Figure 11: Retail postpaid connections over time
  • Figure 12: Prepaid subscribers over time
  • Figure 13: Long term change in prepaid users is mostly growth, and MetroPCS’s exit
  • Figure 14: Short term change in retail prepaid users, 2015
  • Figure 15: T-Mobile’s debts are far from zooming out of control
  • Figure 16: Duopolists, challengers, and exit candidates
  • Figure 17: Net income margins over time
  • Figure 18: Device sales surge, margins dive
  • Figure 19: Valuation – EV/EBITDA
  • Figure 20: T-Mobile leads on our MobiNEX score
  • Figure 21: A link between network metrics and customer satisfaction?
  • Figure 22: 3 out of 4 US MNOs are “challenged” in the world context
  • Figure 23: Download speed vs. percentage of LTE requests
  • Figure 24: T-Mobile is the lowest-latency US operator
  • Figure 25: T-Mobile is generating 25% fewer high latency events than AT&T
  • Figure 26: T-Mobile’s error rate catches up on the market leader
  • Figure 27: Quality across the board
  • Figure 28: IPv6 adoption, US wireless operators

MWC 2016: The Cloud/NFV Transformation Needle Moves

Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously

One of the most important trends from MWC 2016 was the increased presence, engagement, and enthusiasm of the key open-source software vendors. Companies like Red Hat, IBM, Canonical, HP Enterprise, and Intel are the biggest contributors of code, next to independent developers, to the key open-source projects like OpenStack, OPNFV, and Linux itself. Their growing engagement in telecoms software is a major positive for the prospects of NFV/SDN and telco re-engagement in cloud.

OpenStack, the open-source cloud operating system, is emerging as the key platform for telco cloud and also for NFV implementations. Figure 1, taken from the official OpenStack statistics tracker at Stackalytics.com, shows contributions to the current release of OpenStack by organisational affiliation and by module; this highlights both which companies are contributing heavily to OpenStack development, and which modules are attracting the most development effort.

AT&T’s specialist partner Mirantis shows up as a leading contributor of code for OpenStack, some of which we believe is developed inside AT&T Shannon Labs. Tellingly, among OpenStack modules, the single biggest focus area is Neutron, the OpenStack module which takes care of its networking functions. Anything NFV-related will tend to end up in here.

Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)

Source: Stackalytics

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously
  • And (some) telcos get serious about software
  • Open-source development is influencing the standards process
  • The cloud is the network is the cloud
  • Nokia and Intel: ever closer union?

 

  • Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)
  • Figure 2: Mirantis contributes more to OpenStack networking than Red Hat or Cisco (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company, for networking module)
  • Figure 3: Mirantis (and therefore AT&T) drive the key Fuel project forwards

Digital Partnering: Success Factors and AT&T Drive Case Study

Introduction

As communications services providers continue their push to develop and monetise digital services, partnering is proving a critical element of strategy, and a key enabler for telco agility. While some telco-digital player partnerships have been successful in achieving their objectives, many have languished, and failed to deliver value to one or both parties within the partnership.

In this report, we examine the different types of digital services partnerships that operators are engaged in; discuss the key success factors for the various partnering approaches and strategies; and look more deeply at a successful partnership strategy: AT&T’s Drive connected car initiative, which is an example of a broad vertical-focused partnership ecosystem. Our follow-on report will provide a case study of TeliaSonera’s successful digital music partnership with Spotify, an example of a single-focus collaboration for digital services.

Telcos are increasingly recognising the importance of partnerships for achieving their potential as true digital services companies. Partnering between telcos and third parties to deliver new services or target new markets is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Two things are new, however: the focus on partnering as a core competency of the telco organisation, and the increasing complexity of telco partnership ecosystems, as digital services, enabling technologies and service delivery value chains continue to evolve. An agile approach to building and managing complex partnerships is one of the key elements of becoming a Telco 2.0 organisation.

Figure 1: The Telco 2.0 Agility Framework

Source: STL Partners

Partnering is being defined as a telco ‘core competence’

A number of operators have now enshrined the objective of successful partnering in their corporate strategy. Deutsche Telekom, for example, has made partnering one of its ‘four pillars’. The clearly-stated objective in DTAG’s case is to attract (and learn from) companies that have adopted the agile, rapid-response, high-energy approach found in Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs such as Israel. DTAG hopes to offer these partners, access to its customers and channels across the twelve DTAG European markets, as well as the ability to leverage DTAG’s network and corporate resources:

“The list of companies we have been working with for many years is long. But how we cooperate, that has changed. We are more open and faster. We focus on our core competence – our best net – and add specific offers of the partners. Take for example the eReader tolino: We not only provide the eReader, but also the technical platform on which Bertelsmann, Hugendubel, Thalia and Libri are able to distribute their eBooks. Together with the German book trade, we established the tolino as a model of success in the eReader market.

In the area Smart Home, we work together with Miele, Samsung, EON and EnBw, amongst others. We have started the system platform QIVICON, which our product DT Smart Home is based on. Together with our partners, we develop the vision of a connected house.”

Thomas Kiesling, Former Chief Product and Innovation Officer, Deutsche Telekom AG1

Partnering and partnerships are becoming more complex

The DTAG example highlights our second point about new aspects of partnering. The increasing complexity of digital services partnerships, and the growing trend for larger partnership ecosystems with many partners participating from different levels of the value chain, requires telcos to take a different and more flexible approach.

A potential digital services partner will usually want to build global scale and so is likely to have several telco partners. Digital services partners will in many cases move at very different speeds from telcos in terms of decision-making and processes, and are likely to use a variety of distribution channels, some of which will bypass, or compete with, the telco partner (particularly for OTT B2C content services such as Spotify). For both B2B and B2C partnerships, business models and revenue sharing arrangements are likely to be fluid and to involve multiple parties.

B2B (and B2B2C) services are increasingly being supported by more extensive and complex partnership ecosystems, rather than single partnerships. Telcos may lead the development of such ecosystems – as AT&T does in the case of Drive – or simply participate. The growth of wider ecosystem partnering relationships has been especially prevalent in the development of M2M/IoT propositions. These may require a variety of platforms, applications, devices and integration elements, as well as a high level of openness in terms of open-source and accessible platforms, APIs, analytics etc.

These trends present challenges for traditional telco approaches to partnering, which have favoured exclusive relationships and ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ approaches to building joint revenue streams. Many telcos have set up digital or innovation arms with the goal of developing new digital propositions together with third parties in a more flexible manner. However, for such propositions to succeed, they need clear buy-in from one or more of the main divisions of the telco. In the case of AT&T, the successful partnering effort we profile here was ultimately rolled back into a main division of the operator, rather than continuing to sit within an innovation division.

Based on our observations from AT&T’s success and the partnership case study we cover in our follow-up report (TeliaSonera’s long-term relationship with Spotify), we have identified a set of key success factors, and major barriers, for effective digital services partnerships between operators and third parties (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Key success factors and barriers for successful digital services partnering

Source: STL Partners

While it isn’t the case that all of the key success factors above must be present in successful operator partnering initiatives, our analysis suggests that several external and internal ones should be present in any digital services partnership.

In the next section, we discuss drivers for digital services partnering, approaches operators have used in partnering, key success factors and barriers; and evaluate the approach that AT&T has taken to partnering with the connected car.

Motivations for partnering in digital services

There are several compelling reasons for telcos to partner when exploring and growing digital services opportunities. The most important of these drivers are shown below in Figure 3. Each driver supports a set of higher-level objectives for telcos, comprising revenue growth, revenue retention, branding and positioning, and organisation transformation and/or agility.

Figure 3: Major drivers for telco digital services partnering initiatives

Source: STL Partners

Drivers linked to the objectives of revenue growth and retention may appear to be most compelling to telcos, given their obvious short-term impact; but those linked to transformation/agility and branding/positioning have been at the forefront of the AT&T partnership initiative we profile here as well as the TeliaSonera-Spotify partnership we profile in our follow-on report. The most successful partnerships support several telco objectives: part of their success is thus attributable to the support they engender from across the telco organisation.

As discussed in the following sections, beyond clearly defining the objectives of the partnership, and the assets that both parties bring to the table, there are a number of other soft elements that contribute to (or hinder) the success of telco digital services partnerships. The existence of clear market demand for the partnership’s products and services is also a key, though sometimes overlooked, element of success.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Partnering is being defined as a telco ‘core competence’
  • Partnering and partnerships are becoming more complex
  • Motivations for partnering in digital services
  • 4 digital services partnership approaches
  • Single-focus collaboration is easiest to manage and has best track record but impact is likely to be limited
  • Broader vertical focus requires greater commitment and has a greater market and implementation risk but can yield big benefits
  • General strategic partnerships appear to have had limited success
  • Key success factors for digital services partnerships
  • External/Market-Driven (demand-side) factors
  • Internal / organisation (supply-side) factors
  • Challenges to successful digital services partnering
  • External (demand side) challenges
  • Internal (supply-side) challenges
  • AT&T’s Drive Connected Car Ecosystem – A B2B2C Vertical Area Partnership
  • Background and context for the partnership
  • AT&T’s Drive Ecosystem
  • Key objectives and fit with the operator’s digital services strategy
  • Partnership approach and evolution
  • Organisation structure and framework for the partnership
  • Evidence of success
  • Key success factors and challenges
  • Barriers to successful partnering: challenges for Sprint and Verizon’s connected car initiatives

 

  • Figure 1: The Telco 2.0 Agility Framework
  • Figure 2: Key success factors and barriers for successful digital services partnering
  • Figure 3: Major drivers for telco digital services partnering initiatives
  • Figure 4: Telco Digital Services Partnership Models
  • Figure 5: US Connected Car Shipments, 2014-2020
  • Figure 6: AT&T Drive: Key End User Applications
  • Figure 7: AT&T Drive Studio, 2015
  • Figure 8: Drivers and objectives for AT&T’s connected car partnerships
  • Figure 9: AT&T Drive Platform Core Functionality and Applications
  • Figure 10: Opel OnStar Service Features, 2016
  • Figure 11: AT&T Drive Partnerships, Dec. 2015
  • Figure 12: AT&T connected car net adds are accelerating
  • Figure 13: Key Success Factors for AT&T Drive Partnerships (GM)

Problem: Telecoms technology inhibits operator business model change (Part 1)

Introduction

Everyone loves to moan about telcos

‘I just can’t seem to get anything done, it is like running through treacle.’

‘We gave up trying to partner with operators – they are too slow.’

‘Why are telcos unable to make the most basic improvements in their service offerings?’

‘They are called operators for a reason: they operate networks. But they can’t innovate and don’t know the first thing about marketing or customer service.’

Anyone within the telecoms industry will have heard these or similar expressions of dissatisfaction from colleagues, partners and customers.  It seems that despite providing the connectivity and communications services that have truly changed the world in the last 20 years, operators are unloved.  Everyone, and I think we are all guilty of this, feels that operators could do so much better.  There is a feeling that these huge organisations are almost wilfully seeking to be slow and inflexible – as if there is malice in the way they do business.

But the telecoms industry employs millions of people globally. It pays quite well and so attracts talent. Many, for example, have already enjoyed success in other industries. But nobody has yet, it seems, been able to make a telco, let alone the industry, fast, agile, and innovative.

Why not?

A structural problem

In this report, we argue that nobody is at fault for the perceived woes of telecoms operators.  Indeed, the difficulty the industry is facing in changing its business model is a result of financial and operational processes that have been adopted and refined over years in response to investor requirements and regulation.  In turn, investors and regulators have created such requirements as a result of technological constraints that have applied, even with ongoing improvements, to fixed and mobile telecommunications for decades. In essence, operators are constrained by the very structures that were put in place to ensure their success.

So should we give up?

If the limitations of telecoms operators is structural then it is easy to assume that change and development is impossible.  Certainly sceptics have plenty of empirical evidence for this view.  But as we outline in this report and will cover in more detail in a follow up to be published in early February 2016 (Answer: How 5G + Cloud + NFV can create the ‘agile telco’), changes in technology should have a profound impact on telecoms operators ability to become more flexible and innovative and so thrive in the fast-paced digital world.

Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets

Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK

Improving customer experience has become something of a mantra within telecoms in the last few years. Many operators use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as a way of measuring their performance, and the concept of ‘putting the customer first’ has gained in popularity as the industry has matured and new customers have become harder to find. Yet customer satisfaction remains low.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) publishes annual figures for customer satisfaction based on extensive consumer surveys. Telecommunications companies consistently come out towards the bottom of the range (scoring 65-70 out of 100). By contrasts internet and content players such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Netflix have much more satisfied customers and score 80+ – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies

 

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/the-american-customer-satisfaction-index); STL Partners analysis

The story in the UK is similar.  The UK Customer Satisfaction Index, using a similar methodology to its US counterpart, places the Telecommunications and Media industry as the second-worst performer across 13 industry sectors scoring 71.7 in 2015 compared to a UK average of 76.2 and the best-performing sector, Non-food Retail, on 81.6.

Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance

Most concerning for the telecoms industry is the work that ACSI has undertaken showing that customer satisfaction is linked to the financial performance of the overall economy and the performance of individual sectors and companies. The organisation states:

  • Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of company financial performance. Stocks of companies with high ACSI scores tend to do better than those of companies with low scores.
  • Changes in customer satisfaction affect the general willingness of households to buy. As such, price-adjusted ACSI is a leading indicator of consumer spending growth and has accounted for more of the variation in future spending growth than any other single factor.

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/about-acsi/key-acsi-findings)  

In other words, consistently poor performance by all major players in the telecoms industry in the US and UK suggests aspirations of growth may be wildly optimistic. Put simply, why would customers buy more services from companies they don’t like? This bodes ill for the financial performance of telecoms operators going forward.

Senior management within telecoms knows this. They want to improve customer satisfaction by offering new and better services and customer care. But change has proved incredibly difficult and other more agile players always seem to beat operators to the punch. The next section shows why.

 

  • Introduction
  • Everyone loves to moan about telcos
  • A structural problem
  • So should we give up?
  • Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets
  • Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK
  • Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance
  • ‘One-function’ telecommunications technology stymies innovation and growth
  • Telecoms has always been an ‘infrastructure play’
  • …which means inflexibility and lack of innovation is hard-wired into the operating model
  • Why ‘Telco 2.0’ is so important for operators
  • Telco 2.0 aspirations remain thwarted
  • Technology can truly ‘change the game’ for operators

 

  • Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies
  • Figure 2: Historically, capital deployment has driven telecoms revenue
  • Figure 3: Financial & operational metrics for Infrastructure player (Vodafone) vs Platform (Google) & Product Innovator (Unilever)