Consumer strategy: What should telcos do?

Globally, telcos are pursuing a wide variety of strategies in the consumer market, ranging from broad competition with the major Internet platforms to a narrow focus on delivering connectivity.

Some telcos, such as Orange France, Telefónica Spain, Reliance Jio and Rakuten Mobile, are combining connectivity with an array of services, such as messaging, entertainment, smart home, financial services and digital health propositions. Others, such as Three UK, focus almost entirely on delivering connectivity, while many sit somewhere in between, targeting a single vertical market, in addition to connectivity. AT&T is entertainment-orientated, while Safaricom is financial services-focused.

This report analyses the consumer strategies of the leading telcos in the UK and the Brazil – two very different markets. Whereas the UK is a densely populated, English-speaking country, Brazil has a highly-dispersed population that speaks Portuguese, making the barriers to entry higher for multinational telecoms and content companies.

By examining these two telecoms markets in detail, this report will consider which of these strategies is working, looking, in particular, at whether a halfway-house approach can be successful, given the economies of scope available to companies, such as Amazon and Google, that offer consumers a broad range of digital services. It also considers whether telcos need to be vertically-integrated in the consumer market to be successful. Or can they rely heavily on partnerships with third-parties? Do they need their own distinctive service layer developed in-house?

In light of the behavourial changes brought about by the pandemic, the report also considers whether telcos should be revamping their consumer propositions so that they are more focused on the provision of ultra-reliable connectivity, so people can be sure to work from home productively. Is residential connectivity really a commodity or can telcos now charge a premium for services that ensure a home office is reliably and securely connected throughout the day?

A future STL Partners report will explore telcos’ new working from home propositions in further detail.

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The UK market: Convergence is king

The UK is one of the most developed and competitive telecoms markets in the world. It has a high population density, with 84% of its 66 million people living in urban areas, according to the CIA Factbook. There are almost 272 people for every square kilometre, compared with an average of 103 across Europe. For every 100 people, there are 48 fixed lines and 41 broadband connections, while the vast majority of adults have a mobile phone. GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 48,710, compared with US$ 65,118 in the US (according to the World Bank).

The strength of the state-funded public service broadcaster, the BBC, has made it harder for private sector players to make money in the content market. The BBC delivers a large amount of high-quality advertising-free content to anyone in the UK who pays the annual license fee, which is compulsory to watch television.

In the UK, the leading telcos have mostly eschewed expansion into the broader digital services market. That reflects the strong position of the leading global Internet platforms in the UK, as well as the quality of free-to-air television, and the highly competitive nature of the UK telecoms market – UK operators have relatively low margins, giving them little leeway to invest in the development of other digital services.

Figure 1 summarises where the five main network operators (and broadband/TV provider Sky) are positioned on a matrix mapping degree of vertical integration against the breadth of the proposition.

Most UK telcos have focused on the provision of connectivity

UK telco B2C strategies

Source: STL Partners

Brazil: Land of new opportunities

Almost as large as the US, Brazil has a population density is just 25 people per square kilometre – one tenth of the total UK average population density. Although 87% of Brazil’s 212 million people live in urban areas, according to the CIA Fact book, that means almost 28 million people are spread across the country’s rural communities.

By European standards, Brazil’s fixed-line infrastructure is relatively sparse. For every 100 people, Brazil has 16 fixed lines, 15 fixed broadband connections and 99 mobile connections. Its GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 15,259 – about one third of that in the UK. About 70% of adults had a bank account in 2017, according to the latest World Bank data. However, only 58% of the adult population were actively using the account.

A vast middle-income country, Brazil has a very different telecoms market to that of the UK. In particular, network coverage and quality continue to be important purchasing criteria for consumers in many parts of the country. As a result, Oi, one of the four main network operators, became uncompetitive and entered a bankruptcy restructuring process in 2016. It is now hoping to to sell its sub-scale mobile unit for at least 15 billion reais (US$ 2.8 billion) to refocus the company on its fibre network. The other three major telcos, Vivo (part of Telefónica), Claro (part of América Móvil) and TIM Brazil, have made a joint bid to buy its mobile assets.

For this trio, opportunities may be opening up. They could, for example, play a key role in making financial services available across Brazil’s sprawling landmass, much of which is still served by inadequate road and rail infrastructure. If they can help Brazil’s increasingly cash-strapped consumers to save time and money, they will likely prosper. Even before COVID-19 struck, Brazil was struggling with the fall-out from an early economic crisis.

At the same time, Brazil’s home entertainment market is in a major state of flux. Demand for pay television, in particular, is falling away, as consumers seek out cheaper Internet-based streaming options.

All of Brazil’s major telcos are building a broad consumer play

Brazil telco consumer market strategy overview

Source: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • The UK market: Convergence is king
    • BT: Trying to be broad and deep
    • Virgin Media: An aggregation play
    • O2 UK: Changing course again
    • Vodafone: A belated convergence play
    • Three UK: Small and focused
    • Takeaways from the UK market: Triple play gridlock
  • Brazil: Land of new opportunities
    • The Brazilian mobile market
    • The Brazilian fixed-line market
    • The Brazilian pay TV market
    • The travails of Oi
    • Vivo: Playing catch-up in fibre
    • Telefónica’s financial performance
    • América Móvil goes broad in Brazil
    • TIM: Small, but perfectly formed?
    • Takeaways from the Brazilian market: A potentially treacherous transition
  • Index

Uber and Tesla: What telcos should do

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of Tesla and Uber, two of four Internet-based disruptors that might be able to break into the top tier of consumer Internet players, which is made up of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google. The other two challengers – Spotify and Netflix – were the subject of the recent STL Partners report: Can Netflix and Spotify make the leap to the top tier?

Tesla, Uber, Spotify and Netflix are defined by three key factors, which set them aside from their fellow challengers:

  • Rapid rise: They have become major mainstream players in a short space of time, building world-leading brands that rival those of much older and more established companies.
  • New thinking: Each of the four have challenged the conventions of the industries in which they operate, driving disruption and forcing incumbents to re-evaluate their business models.
  • Potential to challenge the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google: This rapid success has allowed the companies to gain dominant positions in their relative sectors, which they could use as a springboard to diversify their business models into parallel verticals. By pursuing these economies of scope, they are treading the path taken by the big four Internet companies.


This report explores how improvements in digital technologies and consumer electronics are changing the automotive market, enabling Tesla and Uber to rethink personal transport almost from the bottom up. In particular, it considers how self-driving vehicles could become a key platform within the digital economy, offering a range of commerce services linked to transportation and logistics. The report also explores how the high level of regulation in transportation, as in telecoms, is complicating Uber’s efforts to build economies of scale and scope.

The final section provides a high-level overview of the opportunities for telcos as the automobile becomes a major computing and connectivity platform, including partnership strategies, and the implications for telcos if Uber or Tesla were able to make the jump to become a tier one player.

The report builds on the analysis in two previous STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore how artificial intelligence is changing the automotive sector:

Self-driving disruption

Uber, the world’s leading ride-hailing app, and Tesla, the world’s leading producer of all-electric vehicles, could evolve to become tier one players in the digital economy, as the car could eventually become a major control point in the digital value chain. Both companies could use the disruption caused by the arrival of self-driving cars to become a broad digital commerce platform akin to that of Amazon or Google.  As well as matching individuals with journeys, Uber is gearing up to use self-driving vehicles to connect people with shops, restaurants, bars and many other merchants and service providers.  With a strong brand, Tesla could potentially play a similar role in the premium end of the market as Apple has done in the PC, tablet and smartphone sectors.

However, Uber and Tesla are just two of the scores of technology and automotive companies jostling for a preeminent position in a future in which the car is a major computing and connectivity platform. As well as investing heavily in the development of self-driving technologies, many of these companies are splurging on M&A to get the skills and competences they will need in the personal transportation market of the future.  For example, Intel bought Mobileye, a maker of autonomous-driving systems, for US$15.3 billion in March 2017. Delphi, a big auto parts maker, bought nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle start-up, for US$450 million, and has since reinvented itself as an autonomous vehicle company called Aptiv.

Self-driving vehicles will change the world and the way people live in a myriad of different ways, just as cars themselves transformed society during the 20th century. Some shops, hotels and restaurants could become mobile, while car parks, garages and even traffic lights could eventually become obsolete, potentially heralding new business opportunities for many kinds of companies, including telcos. But the most important change for Uber and Tesla will be a widespread shift from owning cars to sharing cars.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • How Uber and Tesla are creating new opportunities for telcos
  • Uber’s and Tesla’s future prospects
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Introduction
  • Self-driving disruption
  • Making car ownership obsolete
  • From here to autonomy
  • The convergence of car rental, taxi-hailing and car making
  • Business models beyond transport
  • Opportunities for telcos
  • Uber: At the bleeding edge
  • Uber’s chequered history
  • Uber looks beyond the car
  • Uber’s strengths and weaknesses: From fame to notoriety
  • Tesla: All electric dreams
  • Tesla’s strengths and weaknesses: Beautiful but small
  • Conclusions and lessons for telcos
  • The future of Uber and Tesla
  • The future of connected cars
  • Lessons from Uber and Tesla

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Self-driving vehicles will become commonplace by 2030
  • Figure 2: The two different routes to self-driving vehicles
  • Figure 3: The first self-driving cars could appear within two years
  • Figure 4: Money is pouring into ride hailing and self-driving companies
  • Figure 5: Waymo is way ahead with respect to self-driving disengagements
  • Figure 6: Uber’s vision of a “vertiport” serving a highway intersection
  • Figure 7: Uber believes VTOL can be much cheaper than helicopters
  • Figure 8: Uber’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis
  • Figure 9: Growth in Tesla’s automotive revenues has been subdued
  • Figure 10: Tesla’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Figure 11: Tesla loses money most quarters
  • Figure 12: Tesla is having to cut back on capex

Transformation: Are telcos investing enough?

Introduction

Why are we doing non-telco case studies?

Digital transformation is a phenomenon that is not just affecting the telco sector. Many industries have been through a transformation process far more severe than we have seen in telecoms, while others began the process much earlier in time. We believe that there are valuable lessons telcos can learn from these sectors, so we have decided to find and examine the most interesting/useful case studies.

In this report, we look at German publisher Axel Springer, which has successfully transformed itself from a print-based publisher to an online multimedia platform.

While the focus of this report will be on Axel Springer’s transformation, the key takeaways will be the lessons for telcos to help them make their own transformation process run more smoothly.

STL Partners has done extensive research into the challenge of telco transformation and how to implement effective business model change, most recently in our reports Five telcos changing culture: Lessons from neuroscience, Changing Culture: The Great Barrier and Which operator growth strategies will remain viable in 2017 and beyond?

General outline of STL Partners’ case study transformation index

We intend to complete similar case studies in the future from other industry verticals, with the goal of creating a ‘case study transformation index’, illustrating how selected companies have overcome the challenge of digital disruption. In these case studies we will examine five key areas of transformation, identifying which have been the most challenging, which have generated the most innovative solutions, and which can be considered successes or failures. These five areas are:

  • Market
  • Proposition
  • Value Network
  • Technology
  • Finances

For each section, supporting evidence of good or bad practice will be graded as a positive (tick) or a negative (cross). These ticks and crosses will then be evaluated to create a “traffic light” rating for each section, which will then be tallied to provide an overall transformation rating for each case study.

We anticipate that some of these five sections will overlap, and some will be more pertinent to certain case studies than others. But central to the case studies will be analysis of how the transformation process is relevant to the telco industry and the lessons that can be learned to help operators on the path to change.

Axel Springer’s transformation – a success story

German publishing house Axel Springer began to suffer from declining revenues in the mid-2000’s as changes in consumer behaviour and disruption from new digital rivals such as Google and Yahoo! led to falling readership. Axel Springer identified this threat immediately and reacted swiftly, making the bold move to cannibalise its core printed newspaper and magazine business by repositioning most of its existing content onto online and digital platforms. The company has continued this transformation with an aggressive acquisition strategy, enabling it to expand its footprint into new geographies and content areas.

Even though Axel Springer’s transformation required sweeping technological, strategic and cultural change, it has been a success. Since the disposal of several non-core regional publications in 2012, both revenues and EBITDA have grown on average nearly 5% per year, while the percentage of revenues from digital streams grew to 67% in 2016 from just 42% in 2012.

Why is the Axel Springer case study relevant for telcos?

Much of Axel Springer’s transformation has consisted of (and been driven by) the change from traditional (print) to digital (online) publishing. While telcos have grown up in the digital era, with much of their transformation being driven by changes in consumer behaviour, there are many parallels between Axel Springer and the telco sector. We will look at the key lessons that can be learnt in the following areas:

  • Advances in technology
  • Changes in consumption and customer habits
  • The risk of cannibalisation
  • New opportunities in content
  • Working with social media
  • Platform and partnership opportunities
  • Culture change
  • The importance of data

Content:

  • Executive Summary
  • Axel Springer’s transformation success – a summary of key lessons
  • Axel Springer in STL Partners case study transformation index
  • Introduction
  • Why are we doing non-telco case studies?
  • Axel Springer – background to transformation
  • What was Axel Springer’s business model pre-transformation?
  • Drivers of change – how the market developed and Axel Springer’s reaction
  • Conclusions
  • Axel Springer in STL Partners transformation index
  • Appendices
  • Appendix 1: Axel Springer – company timeline
  • Appendix 2: Axel Springer – recent acquisitions
  • Appendix 3: Axel Springer – recent investments

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total global internet users
  • Figure 2: Traditional publishing company business model
  • Figure 3: Post-digital publishing company business model
  • Figure 4: Axel Springer total revenues 2003-2016
  • Figure 5: Axel Springer total EBITDA and EBITDA margin 2003-2016
  • Figure 6: The development of news and media consumption
  • Figure 7: Axel Springer 2016 revenues by sector (€ million)
  • Figure 8: Axel Springer percentage of revenues from digital streams
  • Figure 9: Axel Springer revenues by sector 2012-2016
  • Figure 9: Axel Springer investment in acquisitions 2012-H1 2016 in comparison to selected telcos