Commerce and connectivity: A match made in heaven?

Rakuten and Reliance: The exceptions or the rule?

Over the past decade, STL Partners has analysed how connectivity, commerce and content have become increasingly interdependent – as both shopping and entertainment go digital, telecoms networks have become key distribution channels for all kinds of consumer businesses. Equally, the growing availability of digital commerce and content are driving demand for connectivity both inside and outside the home.

To date, the top tier of consumer Internet players – Google, Apple, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent and Facebook – have tended to focus on trying to dominate commerce and content, largely leaving the provision of connectivity to the conventional telecoms sector. But now some major players in the commerce market, such as Rakuten in Japan and Reliance in India, are pushing into connectivity, as well as content.

This report considers whether Rakuten’s and Reliance’s efforts to combine content, commerce and connectivity into a single package is a harbinger of things to come or the exceptions that will prove the longstanding rule that telecoms is a distinct activity with few synergies with adjacent sectors. The provision of connectivity has generally been regarded as a horizontal enabler for other forms of economic activity, rather than part of a vertically-integrated service stack.

This report also explores the extent to which new technologies, such as cloud-native networks and open radio access networks, and an increase in licence-exempt spectrum, are making it easier for companies in adjacent sectors to provide connectivity. Two chapters cover Google and Amazon’s connectivity strategies respectively, analysing the moves they have made to date and what they may do in future. The final section of this report draws some conclusions and then considers the implications for telcos.

This report builds on earlier STL Partners research, including:

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Mixing commerce and connectivity

Over the past decade, the smartphone has become an everyday shopping tool for billions of people, particularly in Asia. As a result, the smartphone display has become an important piece of real estate for the global players competing for supremacy in the digital commerce market. That real estate can be accessed via a number of avenues – through the handset’s operating system, a web browser, mobile app stores or through the connectivity layer itself.

As Google and Apple exercise a high degree of control over smartphone operating systems, popular web browsers and mobile app stores, other big digital commerce players, such as Amazon, Facebook and Walmart, risk being marginalised. One way to avoid that fate may be to play a bigger role in the provision of wireless connectivity as Reliance Industries is doing in India and Rakuten is doing in Japan.

For telcos, this is potentially a worrisome prospect. By rolling out its own greenfield mobile network, e-commerce, and financial services platform Rakuten has brought disruption and low prices to Japan’s mobile connectivity market, putting pressure on the incumbent operators. There is a clear danger that digital commerce platforms use the provision of mobile connectivity as a loss leader to drive to traffic to their other services.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Mixing connectivity and commerce
    • Why Rakuten became a mobile network operator
    • Will Rakuten succeed in connectivity?
    • Why hasn’t Rakuten Mobile broken through?
    • Borrowing from the Amazon playbook
    • How will the hyperscalers react?
  • New technologies, new opportunities
    • Capacity expansion
    • Unlicensed and shared spectrum
    • Cloud-native networks and Open RAN attract new suppliers
    • Reprogrammable SIM cards
  • Google: Knee deep in connectivity waters
    • Google Fiber and Fi maintain a holding pattern
    • Google ramps up and ramps down public Wi-Fi
    • Google moves closer to (some) telcos
    • Google Cloud targets telcos
    • Big commitment to submarine/long distance infrastructure
    • Key takeaways: Vertical optimisation not integration
  • Amazon: A toe in the water
    • Amazon Sidewalk
    • Amazon and CBRS
    • Amazon’s long distance infrastructure
    • Takeaways: Control over connectivity has its attractions
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos in digital commerce/content
  • Index

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

Introduction

This is the first of two reports analysing the market position and strategies of four global technology companies – Netflix, Spotify, Tesla and Uber – that might be able to make the leap to become a top tier consumer digital player, akin to Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google. The two reports explore how improvements in digital technologies and consumer electronics are changing the entertainment and automotive markets, allowing the four companies to cause significant disruption in their sectors.

The first part of this report considers Netflix and Spotify, which are both trying to disrupt the entertainment market. For more on the increasing domination of online entertainment by the big Internet platforms, read the STL Partners report Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?

This report considers how well Netflix and Spotify are prepared for the likely technological changes in their markets. It also provides a high-level overview of the opportunities for telcos, including partnership strategies, and the implications for telcos if one of the companies were able to make the jump to become a tier one platform.

STL Partners is analysing the prospects of Netflix, Spotify, Tesla and Uber because all four have proven to be highly disruptive players in their relevant industries.

The four 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 has challenged the conventions of the industries in which they operate, leading to major disruption and forcing incumbents to completely 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 have used 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 (see Figure 1). Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have come from very diverse roots (ranging from an Internet search engine to a mobile device manufacturer), but are now directly competing with each other in a number of areas (communications, content, commerce and hardware).

Figure 1: How the leading Internet companies have diversified

Source: STL Partners

The evolution of online entertainment

As broadband networks proliferate and households are served by fatter pipes, telecoms networks are carrying more and more entertainment content. While there are major players in every country and region, there are essentially only six online entertainment platforms meeting this demand on a global scale – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify. These six companies are delivering increasingly sophisticated real-time entertainment services that are generating a growing proportion of Internet traffic, at the expense of traditional web browsing, file sharing, download services and physical retail entertainment.

The six are building global economies of scale that can’t be matched by national/regional media companies and telcos. Global distribution is becoming increasingly important in the media industry, given the prohibitive costs of sourcing content and then packaging it and distributing it across multiple different devices and networks.

Scale is also important for another reason. As the volume of digital content proliferates, consumers increasingly rely on recommendations. The platform capturing the most behavioural data (people who watched this, also watched this) should be able to offer the best recommendations.

Although the platforms with scale have a competitive advantage, they are still vulnerable to disruption because the online entertainment market is evolving rapidly with providers, including rights owners, experimenting with new formats and concepts.

As outlined in the STL Partners report Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?, most of this experimentation relates to the following six key trends, which are likely to shape the online entertainment market over the next decade.

  1. Greater investment in exclusive content: The major online platforms are increasingly looking to either source or develop their own exclusive content, both as a competitive differentiator and in response to the rising cost of licensing third parties’ content. Exclusive content may be anything from live sports programming to original drama series and even blockbuster movies. This is an area in which both Netflix and Amazon Video have heavily invested, making the two direct competitors for talent in this space.
  2. Growing support for live programming: People like to watch major sports events and dramatic breaking news live. Some of the online platforms are responding to this demand by creating live channels and giving celebrities and consumers the tools they need to peercast – broadcast their own live video streams.
  3. The changing face of user-generated content: Although YouTube, Facebook and other social networks have always relied on user-generated content, advances in digital technologies are making this content more compelling. If they are in the right place, at the right time, even an amateur equipped with a smartphone or a drone can produce engaging video pictures.
  4. Increasingly immersive games and interactive videos: As bandwidth, latency, graphics processing and rendering technology all improve, online games are becoming more photorealistic making them increasingly akin to an interactive movie. Furthermore, virtual reality will enable people to adopt different viewpoints within a 360-degree video stream, enabling them to choose the perspective from which to watch a movie or a live sports event. For more info, please see the STL Partners’ report: AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle.
  5. Rising use of ad blockers and mounting privacy concerns: Many consumers are looking for ways to avoid video advertising, which is more intrusive than a static banner ad and uses more bandwidth. At the same time, many national and regional regulators are becoming increasingly alarmed by the privacy implications of the data mining of consumer services and products, leading to clashes between the major online advertising platforms and regulators.
  6. Ongoing net neutrality uncertainty: In many jurisdictions, net neutrality regulation is either still under development or is vaguely worded as regulators struggle to balance the legitimate need to prioritise some online services with the equally important need to ensure that small content and app developers aren’t discriminated against.

To read on about Netflix and Spotify’s strategies and implications for telcos, please login and download the report, or contact us to subscribe.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Netflix: much loved, but too narrow
  • Spotify: leading a formidable pack
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Conclusions for telcos
  • Introduction
  • The evolution of online entertainment
  • Netflix: Keeping it original
  • Right time, right proposition
  • Competitive clouds gathering
  • Economies of scale, but not scope
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Spotify: The power of the playlist
  • Smaller than Netflix, but more rounded
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Takeaways for telcos
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Next steps for telcos

Figures:

  • Figure 1: How the leading Internet companies have diversified
  • Figure 2: Netflix revenue and paid subscriber growth, 2015-2017
  • Figure 3: Netflix has grown much faster than its rivals in the US
  • Figure 5: Netflix from a monolithic website to a flexible microservices architecture
  • Figure 6: Netflix: SWOT analysis
  • Figure 7: Tailoring movie artwork to the individual viewer
  • Figure 8: Netflix’s addressable market is growing steadily
  • Figure 9: The number of mobile broadband connections is rising rapidly
  • Figure 10: How studio films aim to make money using release windows
  • Figure 11: Hulu’s broad proposition is a challenge to Netflix
  • Figure 12: Growth in digital music is now offsetting declining sales of physical formats
  • Figure 13: Spotify’s rapid revenue and paid subscriber growth
  • Figure 14: Spotify’s fast-growing premium service is the profit engine
  • Figure 15: A SWOT analysis for Spotify
  • Figure 16: Spotify has significantly lower ARPU and costs than Netflix
  • Figure 17: Spotify’s losses continue to grow despite rapid revenue rises
  • Figure 18: Spotify’s costs are rising rapidly
  • Figure 19: YouTube is a major destination for music lovers

Telcos and GAFA: Dancing with the disruptors

Introduction

Across much of the world, the competing Internet ecosystems led by Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have come to dominate the consumer market for digital services. Even though most telcos continue to compete with these players in the service layer, it is now almost a necessity for operators to partner with one or more of these ecosystems in some shape or form.

This report begins by pinpointing the areas where telcos are most likely to partner with these players, drawing on examples as appropriate. In each case, it considers the nature of the partnership and the resulting value to the telco and to the Internet ecosystem. It also considers the longer-term, strategic implications of these partnerships and makes recommendations on how telcos can try to strengthen their negotiating position.

This research builds on the findings of the Digital Partnerships Benchmarking Study conducted between 26th September and 4th November 2016 by STL Partners and sponsored by AsiaInfo. That study involved a survey of 34 operators in Europe and Asia Pacific. It revealed that whereas almost all operators expected to grow their partnerships business in the future, they differed on how they expected to pursue this growth.

Approximately half (46%) of the operator respondents wanted to scale up and partner with a large number of digital players, while the other half (49%) wanted to focus in on a few strategic partnerships.  Those looking to partner with a large number of companies were primarily interested in generating new revenue streams or increasing customer relevance, while many of those who wanted to focus on a small number of partnerships also regarded increasing revenues from the core business as a main objective (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The business objectives differ somewhat by partnership strategy

Source: Digital Partnerships Benchmarking Study conducted in late 2016 by STL Partners and sponsored by AsiaInfo

Respondents were also asked to rank the assets that an operator can bring to a partnership, both today and in the future. These ranks were converted into a normalized score (see Figure 2): A score of 100% in Figure 2 would indicate that all respondents placed that option in the top rank.

Figure 2: Operators regard their customer base as their biggest asset

Source: Digital Partnerships Benchmarking Study conducted in late 2016 by STL Partners and sponsored by AsiaInfo

Clearly, operators are aware that the size of their customer base is a significant asset, and they are optimistic that it is likely to remain so: it is overall the highest scoring asset both today and in the future.

In the future, the options around customer data (customer profiling, analytics and insights) are given higher scores (they move up the ranks). This suggests that operators believe that they will become better at exploiting their data-centric assets and – most significantly – that they will be able to monetize this in partnerships, and that these data-centric assets will have significant value.

The findings of the study confirm that most telcos believe they can bring significant and valuable assets to partnerships. This report considers how those assets can be used to strike mutually beneficial deals with the major Internet ecosystems. The next chapter explains why telcos and the leading Internet players need to co-operate with each other, despite their competition for consumers’ attention.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Strategic considerations
  • Delivering bigger, better entertainment
  • Improving customer experience
  • Extending and enhancing connectivity
  • Developing the networks of the future
  • Delivering cloud computing to enterprises
  • Introduction
  • Telcos and lnternet giants need each other
  • Delivering bigger, better entertainment
  • Content delivery networks
  • Bundling content and connectivity
  • Zero-rating content
  • Carrier billing
  • Content promotion
  • Apple and EE in harmony
  • Value exchange and takeaways
  • Improving the customer experience
  • Making mobile data stretch further
  • Off-peak downloads, offline viewing
  • Data plan awareness for apps
  • Fine-grained control for consumers
  • Value exchange and takeaways
  • Extending and enhancing connectivity
  • Subsea cable consortiums
  • Free public Wi-Fi services
  • MVNO Project Fi – branded by Google, enabled by telcos
  • Value exchange and takeaways
  • Developing the networks of the future
  • Software-defined networks: Google and the CORD project
  • Opening up network hardware: Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project
  • Value exchange and takeaways
  • Delivering cloud computing to enterprises
  • Reselling cloud-based apps
  • Secure cloud computing – AWS and AT&T join forces
  • Value exchange and takeaways
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Google is top of mind
  • Whose brand benefits?

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The business objectives differ somewhat by partnership strategy
  • Figure 2: Operators regard their customer base as their biggest asset
  • Figure 3: US Internet giants generate about 40% of mobile traffic in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 4: Google and Facebook are now major players in mobile in Africa
  • Figure 5: Examples of telco-Internet platform partnerships in entertainment
  • Figure 6: BT Sport uses YouTube to promote its premium content
  • Figure 7: Apple Music appears to have helped EE’s performance
  • Figure 8: Amazon is challenging Apple and Spotify in the global music market
  • Figure 9: Examples of telco-Google co-operation around transparency
  • Figure 10: YouTube Smart Offline could alleviate peak pressure on networks
  • Figure 11: Google’s Triangle app gives consumers fine-grained control over apps
  • Figure 12: Examples of telco-Internet platform partnerships to deliver connectivity
  • Figure 13: Project Fi’s operator partners provide extensive 4G coverage
  • Figure 14: Both T-Mobile US and Sprint need to improve their financial returns
  • Figure 15: Examples of telco-Internet platform partnerships on network innovation
  • Figure 16: AWS has a big lead in the cloud computing market
  • Figure 17: Examples of telco-Internet platform partnerships in enterprise cloud
  • Figure 18: AT&T provides private and secure connectivity to public clouds
  • Figure 19: Amazon and Alphabet lead corporate America in R&D
  • Figure 20: Telcos need to be wary of bolstering already powerful brands
  • Figure 21: Balancing immediate value of partnerships against strategic implications
  • Figure 22: Different telcos should adopt different strategies

Apple’s pivot to services: What it means for telcos

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s Dealing with Disruption stream, this executive briefing considers Apple’s strategic dilemmas in its ongoing struggle for supremacy with the other major Internet ecosystems – Amazon, Facebook and Google. It explores how the likely shift from a mobile-first world to an artificial-intelligence first world will impact Apple, which owes much of its current status and financial success to the iPhone.

After outlining Apple’s strategic considerations, the report considers how much Apple earns from services today, before identifying Apple’s key services and how they may evolve. Finally, the report features a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of Apple’s position in services, followed by a TOWS analysis that identifies possible next steps for Apple. It concludes by considering the potential implications for Apple’s main rivals, as well as two different kinds of telcos – those who are very active in the service layer and those focused on providing connectivity and enablers.

Several recent STL Partners’ research reports make detailed recommendations as to how telcos can compete effectively with the major Internet ecosystems in the consumer market for digital services. These include:

  • Telco-Driven Disruption: Will AT&T, Axiata, Reliance Jio and Turkcell succeed? To find new revenues, some telcos are competing head-on with the major internet players in the digital communications, content and commerce markets. Although telcos’ track record in digital services is poor, some are gaining traction. AT&T, Axiata, Reliance Jio and Turkcell are each pursuing very different digital services strategies, and we believe these potentially disruptive moves offer valuable lessons for other telcos and their partners.
  • Consumer communications: Can telcos mount a comeback? The rapid growth of Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat and other Internet-based services has prompted some commentators to write off telcos in the consumer communications market. But many mobile operators retain surprisingly large voice and messaging businesses and still have several strategic options. Indeed, there is much telcos can learn from the leading Internet players’ evolving communications propositions and their attempts to integrate them into broad commerce and content platforms.
  • Autonomous cars: Where’s the money for telcos? The connected car market is being seen as one of the most promising segments of the Internet of Things. Everyone from telcos to internet giants Google, and specialist service providers Uber are eyeing opportunities in the sector. This report analyses 10 potential connected car use-cases to assess which ones could offer the biggest revenue opportunities for operators and outline the business case for investment.
  • AI: How telcos can profit from deep learning Artificial intelligence (AI) is improving rapidly thanks to the growing use of deep neural networks to teach computers how to interpret the real world (deep learning). These networks use vast amounts of detailed data to enable machines to learn. What are the potential benefits for telcos, and what do they need to do to make this happen?
  • Amazon: Telcos’ Chameleon-King Ally? New digital platforms are emerging – the growing popularity of smart speakers, which rely on cloud-based artificial intelligence, could help Amazon, the original online chameleon, to bolster its fast-evolving ecosystem at the expense of Google and Facebook. As the digital food chain evolves, opportunities will open up for telcos, but only if the smart home market remains heterogeneous and very competitive.

Apple’s evolving strategy

Apple is first and foremost a hardware company: It sells physical products. But unlike most other hardware makers, it also has world-class expertise in software and services. These human resources and its formidable intellectual property, together with its cash pile of more than US$250 billion and one of the world’s must coveted brands, gives Apple’s strategic options that virtually no other company has. Apple has the resources and the know-how to disrupt entire industries. Apple’s decision to double the size of it’s already-impressive services business by 2021 has ramifications for companies in a wide range of industries – from financial services to entertainment to communications.

Throughout its existence, Apple’s strategy has been to use distinctive software and services to help sell its high-margin hardware, rather than compete head-on with Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon in the wider digital services and content markets. As Apple’s primary goal is to create a compelling end-to-end solution, its software and services are tightly integrated into its hardware. Although there are some exceptions, notably iTunes and Apple Music, most of Apple’s services and software can only be accessed via Apple’s devices. But there are four inter-related reasons why Apple may rethink that strategy and extend Apple’s services beyond its hardware ecosystem:

      • Services are now Apple’s primary growth engine, as iPhone revenue appears to have peaked and new products, such as the Apple Watch, have failed to take up the slack. Moreover, services, particularly content-based services, need economies of scale to be cost-effective and profitable.
      • Upstream players, such as merchants, brands and content providers, want to be able to reach as many people as possible, as cost-effectively as possible. They would like Apple’s stores and marketplaces to be accessible from non-Apple devices, as that would enable them to reach a larger customer base through a single channel. Figure 1 shows that Apple’s iPhone ecosystem (which use the iOS operating system) is approximately one quarter of the size of rival Android in terms of volumes.
      • Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly central to the propositions of the major Internet ecosystems, including that of Apple. The development of artificial intelligence requires vast amounts of real-world data that can be used to hone the algorithms computers use to make decisions. To collect the data necessary to detect patterns and subtle, but significant, differences in real-world conditions, the Internet players need services that are used by as many people as possible.
      • As computing power and connectivity proliferates, the smartphone won’t be as central to people’s lives as it is today. For Apple, that means having the best smartphone won’t be enough: Computing will eventually be everywhere and will probably be accessed by voice commands or gestures. As the hardware fades into the background and Apple’s design skills become less important, the Cupertino company may decide to unleash its services and allow them to run on other platforms, as it did with iTunes.

Content:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Apple’s evolving strategy
  • Playing catch-up in artificial intelligence
  • What does Apple earn from services?
  • What are Apple’s key services?
  • Communications – Apple iMessage and FaceTime
  • Commerce – Apple Pay and Apple Wallet
  • Content – iTunes, Apple Music, Apple TV
  • Software – the App Store, Apple Maps
  • Artificial intelligence and the role of Siri
  • Tools for developers
  • Conclusions and implications for rivals
  • Implications for rivals

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Installed base of smartphones by operating system
  • Figure 2: Apple’s artificial intelligence, as manifest in Siri, isn’t that smart
  • Figure 3: Apple’s services business is comparable in size to Facebook
  • Figure 4: The services business is Apple’s main growth engine
  • Figure 5: The strength of Apple’s online commerce ecosystem
  • Figure 6: iMessage is becoming a direct competitor to Instagram and WhatsApp
  • Figure 7: Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay
  • Figure 8: Apple Pay is available in a limited number of markets
  • Figure 9: Unlike most Apple services, Apple Music is “available everywhere”
  • Figure 10: Apple’s App Store generates far more revenue than Google Play
  • Figure 11: Apple Maps’ navigation trailed well behind Google Maps in June 2016
  • Figure 12: SWOT analysis of Apple in the services sector
  • Figure 13: TOWS analysis for Apple in the service market

Telco-Driven Disruption: Will AT&T, Axiata, Reliance Jio and Turkcell succeed?

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing explores the role of telcos in disrupting the digital economy. Building on the insights gleaned from the stream’s research, STL has analysed disruptive moves by four very different telcos and their prospects of success.

In the digital economy, start-ups and major Internet platforms, such as Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Spotify, Tencent QQ and Uber, are generally considered to be the main agents of disruption. Start-ups tend to apply digital technologies in innovative new ways, while the major Internet platforms use their economies of scale and scope to disrupt markets and established businesses. These moves sometimes involve the deployment of new business models that can fundamentally change the modus operandi of entire industries, such as music, publishing and video gaming.

However, these digital natives don’t have a monopoly on disruption. So-called old economy companies do sometimes successfully disrupt either their own sector or adjacent sectors. In some cases, incumbents are actually well placed to drive disruption. As STL Partners has detailed in earlier reports, telcos, in particular, have many of the assets required to disrupt other industries, such as financial services, electronic commerce, healthcare and utilities. As well as owning the underlying infrastructure of the digital economy, telcos have extensive distribution networks and frequent interactions with large numbers of consumers and businesses.

Although established telcos have generally been cautious about pursuing disruption, several have created entirely new value propositions, effectively disrupting either their core business or adjacent industry sectors. In some cases, disruptive moves by telcos have primarily been defensive in that their main objective is to hang on to customers in their core business. In other cases, telcos have gone on the offensive, moving into new markets in search of new revenues.

Increasingly, these two strategies are becoming intertwined. As regulators use spectrum licensing and local loop unbundling to fuel competition in connectivity, telcos have found themselves embroiled in damaging and expensive price wars. One way out of this commoditisation trap is to enhance and enrich the core proposition in ways that can’t easily be replicated by rivals. For example, BT in the UK has demonstrated that one of the most effective ways to defend the core business can be to bundle connectivity with exclusive content that consumers value. This report analyses four very different variants of this basic strategy and their chances of success.

Note, the examples in this report are intended to be representative and instructive, but they are not exhaustive. Other telcos have also pursued disruptive strategies with varying degrees of success. Many of these strategies have been described and analysed in previous STL Partners’ research reports. 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.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Strategy One: Aggressive Acquisitions
  • AT&T – how will engineering and entertainment mix?
  • Strategy Two: Fast and Fluid, build a portfolio
  • Axiata places many digital bets
  • Strategy Three: Leapfrogging the legacy
  • Reliance Jio – super-disruptor
  • Strategy Four: Building an elaborate ecosystem
  • Turkcell goes toe-to-toe with the big Internet ecosystems

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Figure 1: The largest pay TV providers in the US in September 2016
  • Figure 2: Fullscreen Entertainment – free to AT&T Wireless customers
  • Figure 3: AT&T’s television customer base is shrinking
  • Figure 4: But AT&T’s Entertainment Group has seen ARPU rise
  • Figure 5: Celcom Planet’s 11Street marketplace caters for all kinds of products
  • Figure 6: XL has integrated its commerce and payment propositions
  • Figure 7: The Tribe video-on-demand proposition majors on Korean content
  • Figure 8: 4G was designed to deliver major capacity gains over 3G
  • Figure 9: Vodafone’s view of spectrum holdings in India
  • Figure 10: Reliance Jio is offering an array of entertainment and utility apps
  • Figure 11: Reliance’s network is outperforming that of rivals by a large margin
  • Figure 12: Vodafone India has slashed the cost of its mobile data services
  • Figure 13: Vodafone, Airtel and Idea account for 72% of the Indian market
  • Figure 14: The performance required for Reliance to achieve a ROCE of 18%
  • Figure 15: Digital services have become a major growth engine for Turkcell
  • Figure 16: Downloads of Turkcell’s apps are growing rapidly
  • Figure 17: Turkcell TV+ is gaining traction both on and off network
  • Figure 18: Turkcell’s ARPU is growing steadily
  • Figure 19:Turkcell is seeing rapid growth in mobile data traffic

Consumer communications: Can telcos mount a comeback?

Introduction

Although they make extensive use of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and other Internet-based communications services, consumers still expect mobile operators to enable them to make voice calls and text messages. Indeed, communication services are widely regarded as a fundamental part of a telco’s proposition, but telcos’ telephony and messaging services are losing ground to the Internet-based competitors and are generating less and less revenue.

Should telcos allow this business to gradually melt away of should they attempt to rebuild a competitive communications proposition for consumers? How much strategic value is there in providing voice calls and messaging services?

This report explores telcos’ strategic options in the consumer communications market, building on previous STL Partners’ research reports, notably:

Google/Telcos’ RCS: Dark Horse or Dead Horse?

WeChat: A Roadmap for Facebook and Telcos in Conversational Commerce

This report evaluates telcos’ current position in the consumer market for voice calls and messaging, before considering what they can learn from three leading Internet-based players: Tencent, Facebook and Snap. The report then lays out four strategic options for telcos and recommends which of these options particular types of telcos should pursue.

Content:

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • What do telcos have to lose?
  • Key takeaways
  • Learning from the competition
  • Tencent pushes into payments to monetise messaging
  • Facebook – nurturing network effects with fast footwork
  • Snapchat – highly-focused innovation
  • Telcos’ strategic options
  • Maximise data traffic
  • Embed communications into other services
  • Differentiate on reliability, security, privacy and reach
  • Compete head-on with Internet players
  • Recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Vodafone still makes large sums from incoming calls & messages
  • Figure 2: Usage of Vodafone’s voice services is rising in emerging markets
  • Figure 3: Vodafone Europe sees some growth in voice usage
  • Figure 4: Internet-based services are overtaking telco services in China
  • Figure 5: Usage of China Mobile’s voice services is sliding downwards
  • Figure 6: China Mobile’s SMS traffic shows signs of stabilising
  • Figure 7: Vodafone’s SMS volumes fall in Europe, but rise in AMAP
  • Figure 8: Voice & messaging account for 38% of China Mobile’s service revenues
  • Figure 9: Line is also seeing rapid growth in advertising revenue in Japan
  • Figure 10: More WeChat users are making purchases through the service
  • Figure 11: About 20% of WeChat official accounts act as online shops
  • Figure 12: Line’s new customer service platform harnesses AI
  • Figure 13: Snapchat’s user growth seems to be slowing down
  • Figure 14: Vodafone Spain is offering zero-rated access to rival services
  • Figure 15: Google is integrating communications services into Maps
  • Figure 16: Xbox Live users can interact with friends and other gamers
  • Figure 17: RCS is being touted as a business-friendly option
  • Figure 18: Turkcell’s broad and growing range of digital services

How BT beat Apple and Google over 5 years

BT Group outperformed Apple and Google

Over the last five years, the share price of BT Group, the UK’s ex-incumbent telecoms operator, has outperformed those of Apple and Google, as well as a raft of other telecoms shares. The following chart shows BT’s share price in red and Apple’s in in blue for comparison.

Figure 1:  BT’s Share Price over 5 Years

Source: www.stockcharts.com

Now of course, over a longer period, Apple and Google have raced way ahead of BT in terms of market capitalisation, with Apple’s capital worth $654bn and Google $429bn USD compared to BT’s £35bn (c$53bn USD).

And, with any such analysis, where you start the comparison matters. Nonetheless, BT’s share price performance during this period has been pretty impressive – and it has delivered dividends too.

The total shareholder returns (capital growth plus all dividends) of shares in BT bought in September 2010 are over 200% despite its revenues going down in the period.

So what has happened at BT, then?

Sound basic financials despite falling revenues

Over this 5 year period, BT’s total revenues fell by 12%. However, in this period BT has also managed to grow EBITDA from £5.9bn to £6.3bn – an impressive margin expansion.   This clearly cannot go on for ever (a company cannot endlessly shrink its way to higher profits) but this has contributed to positive capital markets sentiment.

Figure 2: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11 – 2014/15

[Figure 2]

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

BT pays off its debts

BT has also managed to reduce its debt significantly, from £8.8bn to £5.1bn over this period.

Figure 3: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)

 

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

Margin expansion and debt reduction suggests good financial management but this does not explain the dramatic growth in firm value (market capitalisation plus net debt) from just over £20bn in March 2011 to circa £40bn today (based on a mid-September 2015 share price).

Figure 4: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

  • Introduction: BT’s Share Price Miracle
  • So what has happened at BT, then?
  • Sound basic financials despite falling revenues
  • Paying off its debts
  • BT Sport: a phenomenal halo effect?
  • Will BT Sport continue to shine?
  • Take-Outs from BT’s Success

 

  • Figure 1: BT’s Share Price over 5 Years
  • Figure 2: 5-Year Total Shareholder Returns Vs Revenue Growth for leading telecoms players
  • Figure 3: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11-2014/15
  • Figure 4: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)
  • Figure 5: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years
  • Figure 6: BT Group has improved key market valuation ratios
  • Figure 7: BT ‘broadband and TV’ compared to BT Consumer Division
  • Figure 8: Comparing Firm Values / Revenue Ratios
  • Figure 9: BT Sport’s impact on broadband

Do network investments drive creation & sale of truly novel services?

Introduction

History: The network is the service

Before looking at how current network investments might drive future generations of telco-delivered services, it is worth considering some of the history, and examining how we got where we are today.

Most obviously, the original network build-outs were synonymous with the services they were designed to support. Both fixed and mobile operators started life as “phone networks”, with analogue or electro-mechanical switches. (Earlier descendants were designed to service telegraph and pagers, respectively). Cable operators began as conduits for analogue TV signals. These evolved to support digital switches of various types, as well as using IP connections internally.

From the 1980s onwards, it was hoped that future generations of telecom services would be enabled by, and delivered from, the network itself – hence acronyms like ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and IN (Intelligent Network).

But the earliest signs that “digital services” might come from outside the telecom network were evident even at that point. Large companies built up private networks to support their own phone systems (PBXs). Various 3rd-party “value-added networks” (VAN) and “electronic data interchange” (EDI) services emerged in industries such as the automotive sector, finance and airlines. And from the early 1990s, consumers started to get access to bulletin boards and early online services like AOL and CompuServe, accessed using dial-up modems.

And then, around 1994, the first web browsers were introduced, and the model of Internet access and ISPs took off, initially with narrowband connections using modems, but then swiftly evolving to ADSL-based broadband. From 1990 onwards, the bulk of new consumer “digital services” were web-based, or using other Internet protocols such as email and private messaging. At the same time, businesses evolved their own private data networks (using telco “pipes” such as leased-lines, frame-relay and the like), supporting their growing client/server computing and networked-application needs.

Figure 1: In recent years, most digital services have been “non-network” based

Source: STL Partners

For fixed broadband, Internet access and corporate data connections have mostly dominated ever since, with rare exceptions such as Centrex phone and web-hosting services for businesses, or alarm-monitoring for consumers. The first VoIP-based carrier telephony service only emerged in 2003, and uptake has been slow and patchy – there is still a dominance of old, circuit-based fixed phone connections in many countries.

More recently, a few more “fixed network-integrated” offers have evolved – cloud platforms for businesses’ voice, UC and SaaS applications, content delivery networks, and assorted consumer-oriented entertainment/IPTV platforms. And in the last couple of years, operators have started to use their broadband access for a wider array of offers such as home-automation, or “on-boarding” Internet content sources into set-top box platforms.

The mobile world started evolving later – mainstream cellular adoption only really started around 1995. In the mobile world, most services prior to 2005 were either integrated directly into the network (e.g. telephony, SMS, MMS) or provided by operators through dedicated service delivery platforms (e.g. DoCoMo iMode, and Verizon’s BREW store). Some early digital services such as custom ringtones were available via 3rd-party channels, but even they were typically charged and delivered via SMS. The “mobile Internet” between 1999-2004 was delivered via specialised WAP gateways and servers, implemented in carrier networks. The huge 3G spectrum licence awards around 2000-2002 were made on the assumption that telcos would continue to act as creators or gatekeepers for the majority of mobile-delivered services.

It was only around 2005-6 that “full Internet access” started to become available for mobile users, both for those with early smartphones such as Nokia/Symbian devices, and via (quite expensive) external modems for laptops. In 2007 we saw two game-changers emerge – the first-generation Apple iPhone, and Huawei’s USB 3G modem. Both catalysed the wide adoption of the consumer “data plan”- hitherto almost unknown. By 2010, there were virtually no new network-based services, while the “app economy” and “vanilla” Internet access started to dominate mobile users’ behaviour and spending. Even non-Internet mobile services such as BlackBerry BES were offered via alternative non-telco infrastructure.

Figure 2: Mobile data services only shifted to “open Internet” plans around 2006-7

Source: Disruptive Analysis

By 2013, there had still been very few successful mobile digital-services offers that were actually anchored in cellular operators’ infrastructure. There have been a few positive signs in the M2M sphere and wholesaled SMS APIs, but other integrated propositions such as mobile network-based TV have largely failed. Once again the transition to IP-based carrier telephony has been slow – VoLTE is gaining grudging acceptance more from necessity than desire, while “official” telco messaging services like RCS have been abject failures. Neither can be described as “digital innovation”, either – there is little new in them.

The last two years, however, have seen the emergence of some “green shoots” for mobile services. Some new partnering / charging models have borne fruit, with zero-rated content/apps becoming quite prevalent, and a handful of developer platforms finally starting to gain traction, offering network-based features such as location awareness. Various M2M sectors such as automotive connectivity and some smart-metering has evolved. But the bulk of mobile “digital services” have been geared around iOS and Android apps, anchored in the cloud, rather than telcos’ networks.

So in 2015, we are currently in a situation where the majority of “cool” or “corporate” services in both mobile and fixed worlds owe little to “the network” beyond fast IP connectivity: the feared mythical (and factually-incorrect) “dumb pipe”. Connected “general-purpose” devices like PCs and smartphones are optimised for service delivery via the web and mobile apps. Broadband-connected TVs are partly used for operator-provided IPTV, but also for so-called “OTT” services such as Netflix.

And future networks and novel services? As discussed below, there are some positive signs stemming from virtualisation and some new organisational trends at operators to encourage innovative services – but it is not yet clear that they will be enough to overcome the open Internet’s sustained momentum.

What are so-called “digital services”?

It is impossible to visit a telecoms conference, or read a vendor press-release, without being bombarded by the word “digital” in a telecom context. Digital services, digital platforms, digital partnerships, digital agencies, digital processes, digital transformation – and so on.

It seems that despite the first digital telephone exchanges being installed in the 1980s and digital computing being de-rigeur since the 1950s, the telecoms industry’s marketing people have decided that 2015 is when the transition really occurs. But when the chaff is stripped away, what does it really mean, especially in the context of service innovation and the network?

Often, it seems that “digital” is just a convenient cover, to avoid admitting that a lot of services are based on the Internet and provided over generic data connections. But there is more to it than that. Some “digital services” are distinctly non-Internet in nature (for example, if delivered “on-net” from set-top boxes). New IoT and M2M propositions may never involve any interaction with the web as we know it. Hybrids where apps use some telco network-delivered ingredients (via APIs), such as identity or one-time SMS passwords are becoming important.

And in other instances the “digital” phrases relate to relatively normal services – but deployed and managed in a much more efficient and automated fashion. This is quite important, as a lot of older services still rely on “analogue” processes – manual configuration, physical “truck rolls” to install and commission, and high “touch” from sales or technical support people to sell and operate, rather than self-provisioning and self-care through a web portal. Here, the correct term is perhaps “digital transformation” (or even more prosaically simply “automation”), representing a mix of updated IP-based networks, and more modern and flexible OSS/BSS systems to drive and bill them.

STL identifies three separate mechanisms by which network investments can impact creation and delivery of services:

  • New networks directly enable the supply of wholly new services. For example, some IoT services or mobile gaming applications would be impossible without low-latency 4G/5G connections, more comprehensive coverage, or automated provisioning systems.
  • Network investment changes the economics of existing services, for example by removing costly manual processes, or radically reducing the cost of service delivery (e.g. fibre backhaul to cell sites)
  • Network investment occurs hand-in-hand with other changes, thus indirectly helping drive new service evolution – such as development of “partner on-boarding” capabilities or API platforms, which themselves require network “hooks”.

While the future will involve a broader set of content/application revenue streams for telcos, it will also need to support more, faster and differentiated types of data connections. Top of the “opportunity list” is the support for “Connected Everything” – the so-called Internet of Things, smart homes, connected cars, mobile healthcare and so on. Many of these will not involve connection via the “public Internet” and therefore there is a possibility for new forms of connectivity proposition or business model – faster- or lower-powered networks, or perhaps even the much-discussed but rarely-seen monetisation of “QoS” (Quality of Service). Even if not paid for directly, QoS could perhaps be integrated into compelling packages and data-service bundles.

There is also the potential for more “in-network” value to be added through SDN and NFV – for example, via distributed servers close to the edge of the network and “orchestrated” appropriately by the operator. (We covered this area in depth in the recent Telco 2.0 brief on Mobile Edge Computing How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today.)

In other words, virtualisation and the “software network” might allow truly new services, not just providing existing services more easily. That said, even if the answer is that the network could make a large-enough difference, there are still many extra questions about timelines, technology choices, business models, competitive and regulatory dynamics – and the practicalities and risks of making it happen.

Part of the complexity is that many of these putative new services will face additional sources of competition and/or substitution by other means. A designer of a new communications service or application has many choices about how to turn the concept into reality. Basing network investments on specific predictions of narrow services has a huge amount of risk, unless they are agreed clearly upfront.

But there is also another latent truth here: without ever-better (and more efficient) networks, the telecom industry is going to get further squeezed anyway. The network part of telcos needs to run just to stand still. Consumers will adopt more and faster devices, better cameras and displays, and expect network performance to keep up with their 4K videos and real-time games, without paying more. Businesses and governments will look to manage their networking and communications costs – and may get access to dark fibre or spectrum to build their own networks, if commercial services don’t continue to improve in terms of price-performance. New connectivity options are springing up too, from WiFi to drones to device-to-device connections.

In other words: some network investment will be “table stakes” for telcos, irrespective of any new digital services. In many senses, the new propositions are “upside” rather than the fundamental basis justifying capex.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • History: The network is the service
  • What are so-called “digital services”?
  • Service categories
  • Network domains
  • Enabler, pre-requisite or inhibitor?
  • Overview
  • Virtualisation
  • Agility & service enablement
  • More than just the network: lead actor & supporting cast
  • Case-studies, examples & counter-examples
  • Successful network-based novel services
  • Network-driven services: learning from past failures
  • The mobile network paradox
  • Conclusion: Services, agility & the network
  • How do so-called “digital” services link to the network?
  • Which network domains can make a difference?
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: In recent years, most digital services have been “non-network” based
  • Figure 2: Mobile data services only shifted to “open Internet” plans around 2006-7
  • Figure 3: Network spend both “enables” & “prevents inhibition” of new services
  • Figure 4: Virtualisation brings classic telco “Network” & “IT” functions together
  • Figure 5: Virtualisation-driven services: Cloud or Network anchored?
  • Figure 6: Service agility is multi-faceted. Network agility is a core element
  • Figure 7: Using Big Data Analytics to Predictively Cache Content
  • Figure 8: Major cablecos even outdo AT&T’s stellar performance in the enterprise
  • Figure 9: Mapping network investment areas to service opportunities

The European Telecoms market in 2020, Report 2: 4 scenarios and 7 predictions

Introduction

The second report in The European Telecoms market in 2020, this document uses the framework introduced in Report 1 to develop four discrete scenarios for the European telecoms market in 2020.  Although this report can be read on its own, STL Partners suggests that more value will be derived from reading Report 1 first.

The role of this report

Strategists (and investors) are finding it very difficult to understand the many and varied forces affecting the telecoms industry (Report 1), and predict the structure of, and returns from, the European telecoms market in 2020 (the focus of this Report 2).  This, in turn, makes it challenging to determine how operators should seek to compete in the future (the focus of a STL Partners report in July, Four strategic pathways to Telco 2.0).

In summary, The European Telecoms market in 2020 reports therefore seek to:

  • Identify the key forces of change in Europe and provide a useful means of classifying them within a simple and logical 2×2 framework (Report 1);
  • Help readers refine their thoughts on how Europe might develop by outlining four alternative ‘futures’ that are both sufficiently different from each other to be meaningful and internally consistent enough to be realistic (Report 2);
  • Provide a ‘prediction’ for the future European telecoms market based on our own insights plus two ‘wisdom of crowds’ votes conducted at a recent STL Partners event for senior managers from European telcos (Report 2).

Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020

The second report in The European Telecoms market in 2020, this document uses the framework introduced in Report 1 to develop four discrete scenarios for the European telecoms market in 2020.  Although this report can be read on its own, STL Partners suggests that more value will be derived from reading Report 1 first.

Overview

STL Partners has identified the following scenarios for the European market in 2020:

  1. Back to the Future. This scenario is likely to be the result of a structurally attractive telecoms market and one where operators focus on infrastructure-led ‘piping’ ambition and skills.
  2. Consolidated Utility. This might be the result of the same ‘piping’ ambition in a structurally unattractive market.
  3. Digital Renaissance. A utopian world resulting from new digital ambitions and skills developed by operators coupled with an attractive market.
  4. Telco Trainwreck. As the name suggests, a disaster stemming from lofty digital ambitions being pursued in the face of an unattractive telco market.

The four scenarios are shown on the framework in Figure 1 and are discussed in detail below.

Figure 1: Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

How each scenario is described

In addition to a short overview, each scenario will be examined by exploring 8 key characteristics which seek to reflect the combined impact of the internal and external forces laid out in the previous section:

  1. Market Structure. The absolute and relative size and overall number of operators in national markets and across the wider EU region.
  2. Operator service pricing and profits. The price levels and profit performance of telecoms operators (and the overall industry) and the underlying direction (stable, moving up, moving down).
  3. The role of content in operators’ service portfolios. The importance of IPTV, games and applications within operators’ consumer offering and the importance of content, software and applications within operators’ enterprise portfolio.
  4. The degree to which operators can offer differentiated services. How able operators are to offer differentiated network services to end users and, most importantly, upstream service providers based on such things as network QoS, guaranteed maximum latency, speed, etc.
  5. The relationships between operators and NEP/IT players. Whether NEP and IT players continue to predominantly sell their services to and through operators (to other enterprises) or whether they become ‘Under the Floor’ competitors offering network services directly to enterprises.
  6. Where service innovation occurs – in the network/via the operator vs at the edge/via OTT players. The extent to which services continue to be created ‘at the edge’ – with little input from the network – or are ‘network-reliant’ or, even, integrated directly into the network. The former clearly suggests continued dominance by OTT players and the latter a swing towards operators and the telecoms industry.
  7. The attitude of the capital markets (and the availability of capital). The willingness of investors to have their capital reinvested for growth by telecoms operators as opposed to returned to them in the form of dividends. Prospects of sustained growth from operators will lead to the former whereas profit stasis or contraction will result in higher yields.
  8. Key industry statistics. Comparison between 2020 and 2015 for revenue and employees – tangible numbers that demonstrate how the industry has changed.

The European macro-economy – a key assumption

The health and structure of all industries in Europe is dependent, to a large degree, on the European macro-economy. Grexit or Brexit, for example, would have a material impact on growth throughout Europe over the next five years.  Our assumption in these scenarios is that Europe experiences a stable period of low-growth and that the economic positions of the stretched Southern European markets, particularly Italy and Spain, improves steadily.  If the European economic position deteriorates then opportunities for telecoms growth of any sort is likely to disappear.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The role of this report
  • Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020
  • Overview
  • How each scenario is described
  • The European macro-economy – a key assumption
  • Back to the Future
  • Consolidated Utility
  • Digital Renaissance
  • Telco Trainwreck
  • Risk and returns in the scenarios
  • Making predictions
  • Wisdom of crowds: 2 approaches
  • Approach 1: Aggregating individual forces – ‘Sum-of-the-parts’
  • Approach 2: Picking a scenario
  • STL Partners’ prediction for the European telecoms market in 2020
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020
  • Figure 2: Back to the Future – key characteristics
  • Figure 3: Consolidated Utility – key characteristics
  • Figure 4: Digital Renaissance – key characteristics
  • Figure 5: Telco Trainwreck – key characteristics
  • Figure 6: Risk and returns in the four scenarios
  • Figure 7: Europe’s future based on aggregating individual forces – ‘Sum-of-the-parts’
  • Figure 8: Europe’s future – results of the two approaches compared

Netflix: Threat or Opportunity?

Introduction

The way in which audiences consume movies and television content appears to be changing.  While ‘linear’ viewing of scheduled channels remains robust, the market for DVD has collapsed and new pricing and consumption models are opening up.

At the forefront of this is Netflix – with a total of 63M paying subscribers across 50 markets (it is present in a large number of locations in Latin America and the Caribbean) and a penetration of over 34% in the US, Netflix has created a new paradigm for on demand content.

How this model is going to impact other players in the market in the long term is as yet unclear. To date in the US, pay platform penetration has remained robust, premium channels such as HBO are also performing strongly, and for rights owners and producers a new player bidding for rights is hugely welcome.

So is Netflix a ‘win: win’ opportunity for all concerned?  It may not be that straightforward.  

  • For leading pay TV players, Netflix will be yet another component forcing them to invest in innovation to minimise customers churning from bundled packages, and reducing flexibility around price increases;
  • For TV channels Netflix could lead to programme rights inflation, as a new player with a distinct business model comes into bid for premium exclusive content rights
  • For both established TV platforms and premium channels there is the risk that in price sensitive markets or demographics Netflix offers may gain traction, particularly among younger consumers at the expense of traditional subscription models.
  • For telcos looking to compete with cable and satellite, while Netflix could offer a cost effective way to deliver attractive premium content, it also carries a risk of constraining the telcos into the position of a ‘dumb (or happy) pipe’, not sharing in upsides and not owning the consumer who deals directly with Netflix.

STL Partners has partnered with Prospero Strategy Consultants who work extensively with content and platform players on new market dynamics to prepare this Briefing. The work has drawn on interviews with key players and analysis of quantitative and qualitative market data, to determine the threats and opportunities emerging from this new content ecosystem and how these are likely to develop.

Overview of Netflix History

Netflix began as a postal DVD business in the US in 1997, launching its US subscription streaming service in 2007.  Since 2011 it has focused on rapid expansion into international markets with the biggest growth now coming from international subscribers (67% growth between 2013 and 2014) while its US DVD business is now in decline.

Figure 4: Netflix subscribers 1999 – 2014(Q3) in 000s

Source: Netflix annual reports, STL Partners & Prospero analysis

Netflix changed its reporting methodology from Q1 2011

Consumer Proposition and USPs

The success of the Netflix proposition to consumers has been based on a number of components:

  • Low Price and refusal to tie users into long-term contracts
  • Volume and exclusivity of content
  • Effective User Interface, recommendation engine and multi-device access
  • Customer Data

Low Price
The low monthly price point of Netflix (USD7.99 per month in the US rising to USD8.99 for new subscribers in 2014) has been a key component of the company’s success. This price point is less than the cost of purchasing a single DVD and significantly less than monthly premium drama channels such as HBO (at ~USD15 per month). This price point (and that users are not tied into long term contracts) allows Netflix to attract distinct audience groups.

  • First, the high-end audience who are already pay subscribers.  These customers have demonstrated that they are typically price inelastic and willing to pay for more, buying Netflix on top of existing services.
  • Second, the price constrained audiences, for whom traditional pay TV is out of reach but who are interested in expanded choice.  These are often younger demographics for whom the concept of non-linear consumption is very familiar.
  • There is a third audience group, the price sensitive pay TV subscribers for whom Netflix could be an effective substitute and who could churn off traditional pay TV (either completely or partially) as a result.  While the evidence around the impact on this group is as yet nascent, it is this segment that is making incumbent pay TV players nervous.

Figure 5: Reasons Netflix streamers subscribe to the Service

Source: Alphawise, 3rd Annual Streaming Video Survey – More Devices, More Consumption, March 2013

Volume and Exclusivity

As demonstrated in Figure 5 above a key to success has been offering both range and quality of content.  However, over time the shape of the Netflix library has changed as it has used its customer insight and data to inform its rights strategy.

  • In February 2012 the Netflix US library consisted of ~15k titles (Source: SNL Kagan) of which nearly three quarters were movie titles.
  • Since 2012 the volume of library titles has declined by approximately 30% nearly all of which is accounted for by a decline in movie titles.  Netflix has increased its focus on long run drama series which already have brand recognition and which are effective at attracting and keeping audiences.
  • Interestingly, the volume of content being offered in its international markets is significantly less than in the US (about one-third) as Netflix shifts its focus to quality (as opposed to quantity of content)

Netflix’s early content deals were typically library rights and non-exclusive.  Over time that mix has shifted as Netflix increasingly looks to have a component of exclusivity with the aim of shifting from a “nice to have” to a “must have” service

  • Netflix is investing in original production of a limited number of high profile, high end drama series (such as House of Cards, Orange is the only Black and the recently announced Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon sequel).  For these Netflix can retain its exclusive rights indefinitely.
  • In addition, Netflix is bidding aggressively for exclusive windows for high end content (such as the recently announced deal for exclusive VOD rights in all territories for Gotham and first window rights in several territories for Penny Dreadful).

Figure 6: Netflix’s Evolving Content Proposition

 

Source: STL Partners & Prospero analysis

Effective consumer interface on multiple devices

Netflix has evolved a highly effective consumer interface, enabling personalisation by individual members in the household, with an easy to manage and visually effective selection mechanism.

  • Since 2008 Netflix has rolled out its proposition across multiple connected devices, with the most recent development being access on mobile devices and partnership with 4G operators such as Vodafone.  Cross device functionality gives users a consistent experience.
  • The consumer is able to choose when and where to consume Netflix content – leading to a new dynamic of series “bingeing” analogous to box set consumption.  In addition, Netflix’s deals with Smart TV providers gives consumers the ability to by-pass traditional pay TV gatekeepers.

Figure 7: Netflix’s user interface

Source: Netflix & SNL Kagan

Customer Data

  • Underlying a huge part of their success is Netflix’s control of its data.  This includes knowledge of individuals within households (who will have their own profiles), detailed insight into viewing behaviour (not just what, but when and how much), knowledge that no linear channel can match.
  • In all markets (regardless of its distribution partners) Netflix retains its customer data and does not share it.  This informs its rights negotiations and new programme investments.
  • Netflix continues to refine its customer understanding using sophisticated A/B testing where small sub groups are given slightly different user experiences to see how this changes behaviour

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Overview of Netflix
  • History
  • Consumer Proposition and USPs
  • Netflix International Expansion
  • Netflix Financials
  • Attitude of the Financial Markets
  • Impact of Netflix on the Market
  • Impact on Rights Owners and Producers
  • Impact on Channels
  • Impact on Pay Platforms
  • Impact on Broadband Operators
  • Summary impacts on players along the value chain
  • Responses to Netflix
  • Case Study: HBO
  • Case Study: BSkyB
  • Case Study: Broadband Operators
  • Case Study: New Competitors

 

  • Figure 1: Selected Media Companies Market Capitalisation, 1st Sept. 2014 (left) & 1st Jan. 2015 (right), USD billion
  • Figure 2: Netflix’s subscriber targets for 2020 (announced launches only) in USD million
  • Figure 3: Summary of Netflix’s Impacts along the Value Chain
  • Figure 4: Netflix subscribers 1999 – 2014 in 000s
  • Figure 5: Reasons Netflix streamers subscribe to the Service
  • Figure 6: Netflix’s Evolving Content Proposition
  • Figure 7: Netflix’s user interface
  • Figure 8: Netflix geography and timeline
  • Figure 9: Netflix’s Market Penetration over time to Dec 2013 (% households)
  • Figure 10: Netflix revenue per service area, 1999 – 2014, USD million
  • Figure 11: Netflix’s revenues & costs per business line, 2011–2014, USD million
  • Figure 12: Netflix’s net income and free cash flow, 2009 – 2014, USD million
  • Figure 13: Netflix’s streaming content obligations, 2010 – 2013, USD million
  • Figure 14: Selected Media Companies Market Capitalisation, 1st Sept. 2014 (left) & 1st Jan. 2015 (right), USD billion
  • Table 1: Comparison of Key Value Ratios
  • Figure 15: Netflix’s share price (USD), Jan 2010 – Jan 2015
  • Figure 16: Players along the Value Chain
  • Figure 17: Subscribers to premium channels in the US (%of TV households)
  • Figure 18: Changes in US Pay TV Penetration
  • Figure 19: Percentage of Households that are “cord-cutters”
  • Figure 20: Real Time Entertainment Share of Downstream Traffic
  • Figure 21: Share of Traffic of Downstream Peak Time Applications
  • Figure 22: Summary of Impacts along the Value Chain
  • Figure 23: Overview of Sky Expanded Offering
  • Figure 24: Sky’s offering across All Windows
  • Figure 25: Vodafone / Spotify and Sky Sport deals – Impact on mobile broadband usage
  • Figure 26: Netflix Broadband Partners
  • Figure 27: Netflix Competitor Set

BT/EE: Huge Regulatory Headache and Trigger for European Transformation

UK Cellular: The Context

The UK is a high-penetration market (134%), and has for the most part been considered a high-competition one, with 5 MNOs and numerous resellers/MVNOs. However, since the Free.fr and T-Mobile USA price disruptions, the UK has ceased to be one of the cheaper markets among rich countries and now seems a little expensive by French standards, while the EE joint venture effectively means a move down from 5 operators to 4. There has been considerable concern that a price disruption was in the offing since BT acquired 2.6GHz spectrum, perhaps via a “Free-style” BT deployment, or alternatively via BT leasing the spectrum to a third party, possibly Virgin Media or TalkTalk. However, it is not as obvious that there is a big target for price disruption as it was in France pre-Free or the US pre-T-Mobile, as Figure 1 shows. The UK operators are only slightly dearer than the French average, with one exception, and the market is more competitive.

Figure 1: The UK is a slightly dearer cellular market than France

Source: STL Partners, themobileworld.com

The following chart summarises the current status of the operators.

Figure 2: UK mobile market overview, 2012-2014

Source: Company Accounts, STL Partners analysis

One reason to pick EE over O2 is immediately clear – EE has substantially better ARPU, is increasing it, and is at least holding onto customers. A deeper look into the company shows that the 4G network is just recruiting customers fast enough to compensate for churn away from the two legacy networks. Overall, the market is just growing.

Figure 3: UK cellular subscriber growth, 2012-2014

Source: Company Accounts, STL Partners analysis

O2 is the cheapest of the four 4G operators and is discounting hard to win share. Meanwhile, Vodafone UK starts to look like a squeezed third operator, losing customers and ARPU at the same time, and fourth operator 3UK looks remarkably strong. In terms of profitability, Figure 4 shows that Vodafone is just managing to hold its margins, while O2 is growing at constant margins, EE is improving its margins, and 3UK is powering ahead, improving its margins, ARPU, and subscriber base at the same time.

Figure 4: 3UK is a remarkably strong fourth operator

Source: Company Accounts, STL Partners analysis

 

  • UK Cellular: The Context
  • Meanwhile, in the Retail ISP Market
  • The Business Case for BT+EE
  • An affordable deal?
  • Valuation and leverage
  • Synergy: operational cost savings
  • Synergy: marketing, customer data and cross-sales
  • Synergy: quad-play revenue
  • Can a BT-EE merger be acceptable to the Regulator?
  • The Spectrum Position
  • The Vertical Integration Problem
  • The Move towards Convergence and the Fixed Squeeze Potential Scenarios
  • Conclusion: big bets, tests, and signals
  • BT: betting big
  • The market: three big decisions
  • The regulator and the regulatory environment: a big test
  • Sending important signals

 

  • Figure 1: The UK is a slightly dearer cellular market than France
  • Figure 2: UK mobile market overview, 2012-2014
  • Figure 3: UK cellular subscriber growth, 2012-2014
  • Figure 4: 3UK is a remarkably strong fourth operator
  • Figure 5: UK consumer wireline overview
  • Figure 6: FTTC is mostly benefiting the “major independent” ISPs
  • Figure 7: BT Sport has peaked as a driver of broadband net-adds, but the football rights bills keep coming
  • Figure 8: Content costs are eating around 70% of wholesale fibre revenue at BT
  • Figure 9: BT Sport’s impact on its market valuation
  • Figure 10: BT-EE would blow through the 2013 regulatory cap on spectrum allocations, but not the proposed cap post-2.3/3.4GHz auctions
  • Figure 11: Although BT-EE is just compliant with the 2.3/3.4GHz cap, it looks suspiciously dominant
  • Figure 12: Fibre-rich MNOs break away from the herd of mediocrity in Europe Figure 13: Vodafone – light on fibre across the EU

Triple-Play in the USA: Infrastructure Pays Off

Introduction

In this note, we compare the recent performance of three US fixed operators who have adopted contrasting strategies and technology choices, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. We specifically focus on their NGA (Next-Generation Access) triple-play products, for the excellent reason that they themselves focus on these to the extent of increasingly abandoning the subscriber base outside their footprints. We characterise these strategies, attempt to estimate typical subscriber bundles, discuss their future options, and review the situation in the light of a “Deep Value” framework.

A Case Study in Deep Value: The Lessons from Apple and Samsung

Deep value strategies concentrate on developing assets that will be difficult for any plausible competitor to replicate, in as many layers of the value chain as possible. A current example is the way Apple and Samsung – rather than Nokia, HTC, or even Google – came to dominate the smartphone market.

It is now well known that Apple, despite its image as a design-focused company whose products are put together by outsourcers, has invested heavily in manufacturing throughout the iOS era. Although the first generation iPhone was largely assembled from proprietary parts, in many ways it should be considered as a large-scale pilot project. Starting with the iPhone 3GS, the proportion of Apple’s own content in the devices rose sharply, thanks to the acquisition of PA Semiconductor, but also to heavy investment in the supply chain.

Not only did Apple design and pilot-produce many of the components it wanted, it bought them from suppliers in advance to lock up the supply. It also bought machine tools the suppliers would need, often long in advance to lock up the supply. But this wasn’t just about a tactical effort to deny componentry to its competitors. It was also a strategic effort to create manufacturing capacity.

In pre-paying for large quantities of components, Apple provides its suppliers with the capital they need to build new facilities. In pre-paying for the machine tools that will go in them, they finance the machine tool manufacturers and enjoy a say in their development plans, thus ensuring the availability of the right machinery. They even invent tools themselves and then get them manufactured for the future use of their suppliers.

Samsung is of course both Apple’s biggest competitor and its biggest supplier. It combines these roles precisely because it is a huge manufacturer of electronic components. Concentrating on its manufacturing supply chain both enables it to produce excellent hardware, and also to hedge the success or failure of the devices by selling componentry to the competition. As with Apple, doing this is very expensive and demands skills that are both in short supply, and sometimes also hard to define. Much of the deep value embedded in Apple and Samsung’s supply chains will be the tacit knowledge gained from learning by doing that is now concentrated in their people.

The key insight for both companies is that industrial and user-experience design is highly replicable, and patent protection is relatively weak. The same is true of software. Apple had a deeply traumatic experience with the famous Look and Feel lawsuit against Microsoft, and some people have suggested that the supply-chain strategy was deliberately intended to prevent something similar happening again.

Certainly, the shift to this strategy coincides with the launch of Android, which Steve Jobs at least perceived as a “stolen product”. Arguably, Jobs repeated Apple’s response to Microsoft Windows, suing everyone in sight, with about as much success, whereas Tim Cook in his role as the hardware engineering and then supply-chain chief adopted a new strategy, developing an industrial capability that would be very hard to replicate, by design.

Three Operators, Three Strategies

AT&T

The biggest issue any fixed operator has faced since the great challenges of privatisation, divestment, and deregulation in the 1980s is that of managing the transition from a business that basically provides voice on a copper access network to one that basically provides Internet service on a co-ax, fibre, or possibly wireless access network. This, at least, has been clear for many years.

AT&T is the original telco – at least, AT&T likes to be seen that way, as shown by their decision to reclaim the iconic NYSE ticker symbol “T”. That obscures, however, how much has changed since the divestment and the extremely expensive process of mergers and acquisitions that patched the current version of the company together. The bit examined here is the AT&T Home Solutions division, which owns the fixed-line ex-incumbent business, also known as the merged BellSouth and SBC businesses.

AT&T, like all the world’s incumbents, deployed ADSL at the turn of the 2000s, thus getting into the ISP business. Unlike most world incumbents, in 2005 it got a huge regulatory boost in the form of the Martin FCC’s Comcast decision, which declared that broadband Internet service was not a telecommunications service for regulatory purposes. This permitted US fixed operators to take back the Internet business they had been losing to independent ISPs. As such, they were able to cope with the transition while concentrating on the big-glamour areas of M&A and wireless.

As the 2000s advanced, it became obvious that AT&T needed to look at the next move beyond DSL service. The option taken was what became U-Verse, a triple-play product which consists of:

  • Either ADSL, ADSL2+, or VDSL, depending on copper run length and line quality
  • Plus IPTV
  • And traditional telephony carried over IP.

This represents a minimal approach to the transition – the network upgrade requires new equipment in the local exchanges, or Central Offices in US terms, and in street cabinets, but it does not require the replacement of the access link, nor any trenching.

This minimisation of capital investment is especially important, as it was also decided that U-Verse would not deploy into areas where the copper might need investment to carry it. These networks would eventually, it was hoped, be either sold or closed and replaced by wireless service. U-Verse was therefore, for AT&T, in part a means of disposing of regulatory requirements.

It was also important that the system closely coupled the regulated domain of voice with the unregulated, or at least only potentially regulated, domain of Internet service and the either unregulated or differently regulated domain of content. In many ways, U-Verse can be seen as a content first strategy. It’s TV that is expected to be the primary replacement for the dwindling fixed voice revenues. Figure 1 shows the importance of content to AT&T vividly.

Figure 1: U-Verse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2.0 revenue at AT&T, although M2M is growing fast

Telco 2 UVerse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2 revenue at ATandT although M2M is growing fast.png

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

This sounds like one of the telecoms-as-media strategies of the late 1990s. However, it should be clearly distinguished from, say, BT’s drive to acquire exclusive sports content and to build up a brand identity as a “channel”. U-Verse does not market itself as a “TV channel” and does not buy exclusive content – rather, it is a channel in the literal sense, a distributor through which TV is sold. We will see why in the next section.

The US TV Market

It is well worth remembering that TV is a deeply national industry. Steve Jobs famously described it as “balkanised” and as a result didn’t want to take part. Most metrics vary dramatically across national borders, as do qualitative observations of structure. (Some countries have a big public sector broadcaster, like the BBC or indeed Al-Jazeera, to give a basic example.) Countries with low pay-TV penetration can be seen as ones that offer greater opportunities, it being usually easier to expand the customer base than to win share from the competition (a “blue ocean” versus a “red sea” strategy).

However, it is also true that pay-TV in general is an easier sell in a market where most TV viewers already pay for TV. It is very hard to convince people to pay for a product they can obtain free.

In the US, there is a long-standing culture of pay-TV, originally with cable operators and more recently with satellite (DISH and DirecTV), IPTV or telco-delivered TV (AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS), and subscription OTT (Netflix and Hulu). It is also a market characterised by heavy TV usage (an average household has 2.8 TVs). Out of the 114.2 million homes (96.7% of all homes) receiving TV, according to Nielsen, there are some 97 million receiving pay-TV via cable, satellite, or IPTV, a penetration rate of 85%. This is the largest and richest pay-TV market in the world.

In this sense, it ought to be a good prospect for TV in general, with the caveat that a “Sky Sports” or “BT Sport” strategy based on content exclusive to a distributor is unlikely to work. This is because typically, US TV content is sold relatively openly in the wholesale market, and in many cases, there are regulatory requirements that it must be provided to any distributor (TV affiliate, cable operator, or telco) that asks for it, and even that distributors must carry certain channels.

Rightsholders have backed a strategy based on distribution over one based on exclusivity, on the principle that the customer should be given as many opportunities as possible to buy the content. This also serves the interests of advertisers, who by definition want access to as many consumers as possible. Hollywood has always aimed to open new releases on as many cinema screens as possible, and it is the movie industry’s skills, traditions, and prejudices that shaped this market.

As a result, it is relatively easy for distributors to acquire content, but difficult for them to generate differentiation by monopolising exclusive content. In this model, differentiation tends to accrue to rightsholders, not distributors. For example, although HBO maintains the status of being a premium provider of content, consumers can buy it from any of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, any other cable operator, satellite, or direct from HBO via an OTT option.

However, pay-TV penetration is high enough that any new entrant (such as the two telcos) is committed to winning share from other providers, the hard way. It is worth pointing out that the US satellite operators DISH and DirecTV concentrated on rural customers who aren’t served by the cable MSOs. At the time, their TV needs weren’t served by the telcos either. As such, they were essentially greenfield deployments, the first pay-TV propositions in their markets.

The biggest change in US TV in recent times has been the emergence of major new distributors, the two RBOCs and a range of Web-based over-the-top independents. Figure 2 summarises the situation going into 2013.

Figure 2: OTT video providers beat telcos, cablecos, and satellite for subscriber growth, at scale

OTT video providers beat telcos cablecos and satellite for subscriber growth at scale

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

The two biggest classes of distributors saw either a marginal loss of subscribers (the cablecos) or a marginal gain (satellite). The two groups of (relatively) new entrants, as you’d expect, saw much more growth. However, the OTT players are both bigger and much faster growing than the two telco players. It is worth pointing out that this mostly represents additional TV consumption, typically, people who already buy pay-TV adding a Netflix subscription. “Cord cutting” – replacing a primary TV subscription entirely – remains rare. In some ways, U-Verse can be seen as an effort to do something similar, upselling content to existing subscribers.

Competing for the Whole Bundle – Comcast and the Cable Industry

So how is this option doing? The following chart, Figure 3, shows that in terms of overall service ARPU, AT&T’s fixed strategy is delivering inferior results than its main competitors.

Figure 3: Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up

Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

The interesting point here is that Time Warner Cable is doing less well than some of its cable industry peers. Comcast, the biggest, claims a $159 monthly ARPU for triple-play customers, and it probably has a higher density of triple-players than the telcos. More representatively, they also quote a figure of $134 monthly average revenue per customer relationship, including single- and double-play customers. We have used this figure throughout this note. TWC, in general, is more content-focused and less broadband-focused than Comcast, having taken much longer to roll out DOCSIS 3.0. But is that important? After all, aren’t cable operators all about TV? Figure 4 shows clearly that broadband and voice are now just as important to cable operators as they are to telcos. The distinction is increasingly just a historical quirk.

Figure 4: Non-video revenues – i.e. Internet service and voice – are the driver of growth for US cable operators

Non video revenues ie Internet service and voice are the driver of growth for US cable operatorsSource: NCTA data, STL Partners

As we have seen, TV in the USA is not a differentiator because everyone’s got it. Further, it’s a product that doesn’t bring differentiation but does bring costs, as the rightsholders exact their share of the selling price. Broadband and voice are different – they are, in a sense, products the operator makes in-house. Most have to buy the tools (except Free.fr which has developed its own), but in any case the operator has to do that to carry the TV.

The differential growth rates in Figure 4 represent a substantial change in the ISP industry. Traditionally, the Internet engineering community tended to look down on cable operators as glorified TV distribution systems. This is no longer the case.

In the late 2000s, cable operators concentrated on improving their speeds and increasing their capacity. They also pressed their vendors and standardisation forums to practice continuous improvement, creating a regular upgrade cycle for DOCSIS firmware and silicon that lets them stay one (or more) jumps ahead of the DSL industry. Some of them also invested in their core IP networking and in providing a deeper and richer variety of connectivity products for SMB, enterprise, and wholesale customers.

Comcast is the classic example of this. It is a major supplier of mobile backhaul, high-speed Internet service (and also VoIP) for small businesses, and a major actor in the Internet peering ecosystem. An important metric of this change is that since 2009, it has transitioned from being a downlink-heavy eyeball network to being a balanced peer that serves about as much traffic outbound as it receives inbound.

The key insight here is that, especially in an environment like the US where xDSL unbundling isn’t available, if you win a customer for broadband, you generally also get the whole bundle. TV is a valuable bonus, but it’s not differentiating enough to win the whole of the subscriber’s fixed telecoms spend – or to retain it, in the presence of competitors with their own infrastructure. It’s also of relatively little interest to business customers, who tend to be high-value customers.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • A Case Study in Deep Value: The Lessons from Apple and Samsung
  • Three Operators, Three Strategies
  • AT&T
  • The US TV Market
  • Competing for the Whole Bundle – Comcast and the Cable Industry
  • Competing for the Whole Bundle II: Verizon
  • Scoring the three strategies – who’s winning the whole bundles?
  • SMBs and the role of voice
  • Looking ahead
  • Planning for a Future: What’s Up Cable’s Sleeve?
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: U-Verse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2.0 revenue at AT&T, although M2M is growing fast
  • Figure 2: OTT video providers beat telcos, cablecos, and satellite for subscriber growth, at scale
  • Figure 3: Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up
  • Figure 4: Non-video revenues – i.e. Internet service and voice – are the driver of growth for US cable operators
  • Figure 5: Comcast has the best pricing per megabit at typical service levels
  • Figure 6: Verizon is ahead, but only marginally, on uplink pricing per megabit
  • Figure 7: FCC data shows that it’s the cablecos, and FiOS, who under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to broadband
  • Figure 7: Speed sells at Verizon
  • Figure 8: Comcast and Verizon at parity on price per megabit
  • Figure 9: Typical bundles for three operators. Verizon FiOS leads the way
  • Figure 12: The impact of learning by doing on FTTH deployment costs during the peak roll-out phase

Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon (Updated Extract)

Executive Summary (Extract)

This report analyses the strategies behind the success of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Skype, before going on to consider the key risks they face and how telcos and their partners should deal with these highly-disruptive Internet giants.

As the global economy increasingly goes digital, these five companies are using the Internet to create global brands with much broader followings than those of the traditional telecoms elite, such as Vodafone, AT&T and Nokia. However, the five have markedly different business models that offer important insights into how to create world-beating companies in the digital economy:

  • Amazon: Amazon’s business-to-business Marketplace and Cloud offerings are text-book examples of how to repurpose assets and infrastructure developed to serve consumers to open up new upstream markets. As the digital economy goes mobile, Amazon’s highly-efficient two-sided commerce platform is enabling it to compete effectively with rivals that control the leading smartphone and tablet platforms – Apple and Google.
  • Apple: Apple has demonstrated that, with enough vision and staying power, an individual company can single-handedly build an entire ecosystem. By combining intuitive and very desirable products, with a highly-standardised platform for software developers, Apple has managed to create an overall customer experience that is significantly better than that offered by more open ecosystems. But Apple’s strategy depends heavily on it continuing to produce the very best devices on the market, which will be difficult to sustain over the long-term.
  • Facebook: A compelling example of how to build a business on network effects. It took Facebook four years of hard work to reach a tipping point of 100 million users, but the social networking service has been growing easily and rapidly ever since. Facebook has the potential to attract 1.4 billion users worldwide, but only if it continues to sidestep rising privacy concerns, consumer fatigue or a sudden shift to a more fashionable service.
  • Google: The search giant’s virtuous circle keeps on spinning to great effect – Google develops scores of free, and often-compelling, Internet services, software platforms and apps, which attract consumers and advertisers, enabling it to create yet more free services. But Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility risks destabilising the Android ecosystem on which a big chunk of its future growth depends.
  • Skype: Like Facebook and Google, Skype sought users first and revenues second. By creating a low-cost, yet feature-rich, product, Skype has attracted more than 660 million users and created sufficient strategic value to persuade Microsoft to hand over $8.5bn. Skype’s share of telephony traffic is rising inexorably, but Google and Apple may go to great lengths to prevent a Microsoft asset gaining a dominant position in peer-to-peer communications.

The strategic challenge

There is a clear and growing risk that consumers’ fixation on the products and services provided by the five leading disruptors could leave telcos providing commoditised connectivity and struggling to make a respectable return on their massive investment in network infrastructure and spectrum.

In developed countries, telcos’ longstanding cash-cows – mobile voice calls and SMS – are already being undermined by Internet-based alternatives offered by Skype, Google, Facebook and others. Competition from these services could see telcos lose as much as one third of their messaging and voice revenues within five years (see Figure 1) based on projections from our global survey, carried out in September 2011.

Figure 1 – The potential combined impact of the disruptors on telcos’ core services

Impact of Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype, Amaxon on telco services

Source: Telco 2.0 online survey, September 2011, 301 respondents

Moreover, most individual telcos lack the scale and the software savvy to compete effectively in other key emerging mobile Internet segments, such as local search, location-based services, digital content, apps distribution/retailing and social-networking.

The challenge for telecoms and media companies is to figure out how to deal with the Internet giants in a strategic manner that both protects their core revenues and enables them to expand into new markets. Realistically, that means a complex, and sometimes nuanced, co-opetition strategy, which we characterise as the “Great Game”.

In Figure 3 below, we’ve mapped the players’ roles and objectives against the markets they operate in, giving an indication of the potential market revenue at stake, and telcos’ generic strategies.

Figure 3- The Great Game – Positions, Roles and Strategies

The Great Game - Telcos, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Skype/Microsoft

Our in-depth analysis, presented in this report, describes the ‘Great Game’ and the strategies that we recommend telcos and others can adopt in summary and in detail. [END OF FIRST EXTRACT]

Report contents

  • Executive Summary [5 pages – including partial extract above]
  • Key Recommendations for telcos and others [20 pages]
  • Introduction [10 pages – including further extract below]


The report then contains c.50 page sections with detailed analysis of objectives, business model, strategy, and options for co-opetition for:

  • Google
  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft/Skype
  • Amazon

Followed by:

  • Conclusions and recommendations [10 pages]
  • Index

The report includes 124 charts and tables.

The rest of this page comprises an extract from the report’s introduction, covering the ‘new world order’, investor views, the impact of disruptors on telcos, and how telcos are currently fighting back (including pricing, RCS and WAC), and further details of the report’s contents. 

 

Introduction

The new world order

The onward march of the Internet into daily life, aided and abetted by the phenomenal demand for smartphones since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, has created a new world order in the telecoms, media and technology (TMT) industry.

Apple, Google and Facebook are making their way to the top of that order, pushing aside some of the world’s biggest telcos, equipment makers and media companies. This trio, together with Amazon and Skype (soon to be a unit of Microsoft), are fundamentally changing consumers’ behaviour and dismantling longstanding TMT value chains, while opening up new markets and building new ecosystems.

Supported by hundreds of thousands of software developers, Apple, Google and Facebook’s platforms are fuelling innovation in consumer and, increasingly, business services on both the fixed and mobile Internet. Amazon has set the benchmark for online retailing and cloud computing services, while Skype is reinventing telephony, using IP technology to provide compelling new functionality and features, as well as low-cost calls.

On their current trajectory, these five companies are set to suck much of the value out of the telecoms services market, substituting relatively expensive and traditional voice and messaging services with low-cost, feature-rich alternatives and leaving telcos simply providing data connectivity. At the same time, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have become major conduits for software applications, games, music and other digital content, rewriting the rules of engagement for the media industry.

In a Telco2.0 online survey of industry executives conducted in September 2011, respondents said they expect Apple, Google, Facebook and Skype together to have a major impact on telcos’ voice and messaging revenues in the next three to five years . Although these declines will be partially compensated for by rising revenues from mobile data services, the respondents in the survey anticipate that telcos will see a major rise in data carriage costs (see Figure 1 – The potential combined impact of the disruptors on telcos’ core services).

In essence, we consider Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Skype-Microsoft to be the most disruptive players in the TMT ecosystem right now and, to keep this report manageable, we have focused on these five giants. Still, we acknowledge that other companies, such as RIM, Twitter and Baidu, are also shaping consumers’ online behaviour and we will cover these players in more depth in future research.

The Internet is, of course, evolving rapidly and we fully expect new disruptors to emerge, taking advantage of the so-called Social, Local, Mobile (SoLoMo) forces, sweeping through the TMT landscape. At the same time, the big five will surely disrupt each other. Google is increasingly in head-to-head competition with Facebook, as well as Microsoft, in the online advertising market, while squaring up to Apple and Microsoft in the smartphone platform segment. In the digital entertainment space, Amazon and Google are trying to challenge Apple’s supremacy, while also attacking the cloud services market.

Investor trust

Unlike telcos, the disruptors are generally growing quickly and are under little, or no, pressure from shareholders to pay dividends. That means they can accumulate large war chests and reinvest their profits in new staff, R&D, more data centres and acquisitions without any major constraints. Investors’ confidence and trust enables the disruptors to spend money freely, keep innovating and outflank dividend-paying telcos, media companies and telecoms equipment suppliers.

By contrast, investors generally don’t expect telcos to reinvest all their profits in their businesses, as they don’t believe telcos can earn a sufficiently high return on capital. Figure 16 shows the dividend yields of the leading telcos (marked in blue). Of the disruptors, only Microsoft (marked in green) pays a dividend to shareholders.

Figure 16: Investors expect dividends, not growth, from telcos

Figure 1 Chart Google Apple Facebook Microsoft Skype Amazon Sep 2011 Telco 2.0

Source: Google Finance 2/9/2011

The top telcos’ turnover and net income is comparable, or superior, to that of the leading disruptors, but this isn’t reflected in their respective market capitalisations. AT&T’s turnover is approximately four times that of Google and its net income twice as great, yet their market cap is similar. Even accounting for their different capital structures, investors clearly expect Google to grow much faster than AT&T and syphon off more of the value in the TMT sector.

More broadly, the disparity in the market value between the leading disruptors and the leading telcos’ market capitalisations suggest that investors expect Apple, Microsoft and Google’s revenues and profits to keep rising, while they believe telcos’ will be stable or go into decline. Figure 17 shows how the market capitalisation of the disruptors (marked in green) compares with that of the most valuable telcos (marked in blue) at the beginning of September 2011.

Figure 17: Investors value the disruptors highly

Figure 2 Chart Google Apple Facebook Microsoft Skype Amazon Market Capitalisation Sep 2011 Telco 2.0

Source: Google Finance 2/9/2011 (Facebook valued at Facebook $66bn based on IPG sale in August 2011)

Impact of disruptors on telcos

It has taken longer than many commentators expected, but Internet-based messaging and social networking services are finally eroding telcos’ SMS revenues in developed markets. KPN, for example, has admitted that smartphones, equipped with data communications apps (and Whatsapp in particular), are impacting its voice and SMS revenues in its consumer wireless business in its home market of The Netherlands (see Figure 18). Reporting its Q2 2011 results, KPN said that changing consumer behaviour cut its consumer wireless service revenues in Holland by 2% year-on-year.

Figure 18: KPN reveals falling SMS usage

Figure 3 Chart Google Apple Facebook Microsoft Skype Amazon KPN Trends Sep 2011 Telco 2.0

Source: KPN Q2 results

In the second quarter, Vodafone also reported a fall in messaging revenue in Spain and southern Africa, while Orange saw its average revenue per user from data and SMS services fall in Poland.

How telcos are fighting back

Big bundles

Carefully-designed bundles are the most common tactic telcos are using to try and protect their voice and messaging business. Most postpaid monthly contracts now come with hundreds of SMS messages and voice minutes, along with a limited volume of data, bundled into the overall tariff package. This mix encourages consumers to keep using the telcos’ voice and SMS services, which they are paying for anyway, rather than having Skype or another VOIP service soak up their precious data allowance.

To further deter usage of VOIP services, KPN and some other telcos are also creating tiered data tariffs offering different throughput speeds. The lower-priced tariffs tend to have slow uplink speeds, making them unsuitable for VOIP (see Figure 19 below). If consumers want to use VOIP, they will need to purchase a higher-priced data tariff, earning the telco back the lost voice revenue.

Figure 19: How KPN is trying to defend its revenues

Figure 4 Chart Google Apple Facebook Microsoft Skype Amazon KPN Defence Sep 2011 Telco 2.0

Source: KPN’s Q2 results presentation

Of course, such tactics can be undermined by competition – if one mobile operator in a market begins offering generous data-only tariffs, consumers may well gravitate towards that operator, forcing the others to adjust their tariff plans.

Moreover, bundling voice, SMS and data will generally only work for contract customers. Prepaid customers, who only want to pay for what they are use, are naturally charged for each minute of calls they make and each message they send. These customers, therefore, have a stronger financial incentive to find a free WiFi network and use that to send messages via Facebook or make calls via Skype.

The Rich Communications Suite (RCS)

To fend off the threat posed by Skype, Facebook, Google and Apple’s multimedia communications services, telcos are also trying to improve their own voice and messaging offerings. Overseen by mobile operator trade association the GSMA, the Rich Communications Suite is a set of standards and protocols designed to enable mobile phones to exchange presence information, instant messages, live video footage and files across any mobile network.

In an echo of social networks, the GSMA says RCS will enable consumers to create their own personal community and share content in real time using their mobile device.

From a technical perspective, RCS uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to manage presence information and relay real-time information to the consumer about which service features they can use with a specific contact. The actual RCS services are carried over an IP-Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), which telcos are using to support a shift to all-IP fixed and mobile networks.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Vodafone have publically committed to deploy RCS services, indicating that the concept has momentum in Europe, in particular. The GSMA says that interoperable RCS services will initially be launched by these operators in Spain, Germany, France and Italy in late 2011 and 2012. [NB We’ll be discussing RCSe with some of the operators at our EMEA event in London in November 2011.]

In theory, at least, RCS will have some advantages over many of the communications services offered by the disruptors. Firstly, it will be interoperable across networks, so you’ll be able to reach people using different service providers. Secondly, the GSMA says RCS service features will be automatically available on mobile devices from late 2011 without the need to download and install software or create an account (by contrast, Apple’s iMessage service, for example, will only be installed on Apple devices).

But questions remain over whether RCS devices will arrive in commercial quantities fast enough, whether RCS services will be priced in an attractive way and will be packaged and marketed effectively. Moreover, it isn’t yet clear whether IMS will be able to handle the huge signalling load that would arise from widespread usage of RCS.

Internet messaging protocols, such as XMPP, require the data channel to remain active continuously. Tearing down and reconnecting generates lots of signalling traffic, but the alternative – maintaining a packet data session – will quickly drain the device’s battery.
By 2012, Facebook and Skype may be even more entrenched than they are today and their fans may see no need to use telcos’ RCS services.

Competing head-on

Some of the largest mobile operators have tried, and mostly failed, to take on the disruptors at their own game. Vodafone 360, for example, was Vodafone’s much-promoted, but ultimately, unsuccessful €500 million attempt to insert itself between its customers and social networking and messaging services from the likes of Facebook, Windows Live, Google and Twitter.

As well as aggregating contacts and feeds from several social networks, Vodafone 360 also served as a gateway to the telco’s app and music store. But most Vodafone customers didn’t appear to see the need to have an aggregator sit between them and their Facebook feed. During 2011, the service was stripped back to be just the app and music store. In essence, Vodafone 360 didn’t add enough value to what the disruptors are already offering. We understand, from discussions with executives at Vodafone, that the service is now being mothballed.

A small number of large telcos, mostly in emerging markets where smartphones are not yet commonplace, have successfully built up a portfolio of value-added consumer services that go far beyond voice and messaging. One of the best examples is China Mobile, which claims more than 82 million users for its Fetion instant messaging service, for example (see Figure 20 – China Mobile’s Internet Services).

Figure 20 – China Mobile’s Internet Services

China Mobile Services, Google, Apple, Facebook Report, Telco 2.0

Source: China Mobile’s Q2 2011 results

However, it remains to be seen whether China Mobile will be able to continue to attract so many customers for its (mostly paid-for) Internet services once smartphones with full web access go mass-market in China, making it easier for consumers to access third-parties’ services, such as the popular QQ social network.

Some telcos have tried to compete with the disruptors by buying innovative start-ups. A good example is Telefonica’s acquisition of VOIP provider Jajah for US$207 million in January 2010. Telefonica has since used Jajah’s systems and expertise to launch low-cost international calling services in competition with Skype and companies offering calling cards. Telefonica expects Jajah’s products to generate $280 million of revenue in 2011, primarily from low-cost international calls offered by its German and UK mobile businesses, according to a report in the FT.

The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC)

Concerned about their growing dependence on the leading smartphone platforms, such as Android and Apple’s iOS, many of the world’s leading telcos have banded together to form the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC).

WAC’s goal is to create a platform developers can use to create apps that will run across different device operating systems, while tapping the capabilities of telcos’ networks and messaging and billing systems.

At the Mobile World Congress in February 2011, WAC said that China Mobile, MTS, Orange, Smart, Telefónica, Telenor, Verizon and Vodafone are “connected to the WAC platform”, while adding that Samsung and LG will ensure “that all devices produced by the two companies that are capable of supporting the WAC runtime will do so.”

It also announced the availability of the WAC 2.0 specification, which supports HTML5 web applications, while WAC 3.0, which is designed to enable developers to tap network assets, such as in-app billing and user authentication, is scheduled to be available in September 2011.

Ericsson, the leading supplier of mobile networks, is a particularly active supporter of WAC, which also counts leading Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, LG Electronics, Qualcomm, Research in Motion, Samsung and ZTE, among its members.

In theory, at least, apps developers should also throw their weight behind WAC, which promises the so far unrealised dream of “write once, run anywhere.” But, in reality, games developers, in particular, will probably still want to build specific apps for specific platforms, to give their software a performance and functionality edge over rivals.

Still, the ultimate success or failure of WAC will likely depend on how enthusiastically Apple and Google, in particular, embrace HTML5 and actively support it in their respective smartphone platforms. We discuss this question further in the Apple and Google chapters of this report.

Summarising current telcos’ response to disruptors

 

Telcos, and their close allies in the equipment market, are clearly alert to the threat posed by the major disruptors, but they have yet to develop a comprehensive game plan that will enable them to protect their voice and messaging revenue, while expanding into new markets.

Collective activities, such as RCS and WAC, are certainly necessary and worthwhile, but are not enough. Telcos, and companies across the broader TMT ecosystem, need to also adapt their individual strategies to the rise of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Skype-Microsoft. This report is designed to help them do that.

[END OF EXTRACT]

 

Digital Entertainment 2.0: Report and analysis of the event

Digital Entertainment 2.0: A summary of the findings of the Digital Entertainment 2.0 workshop, 8th November 2011, held in the Guoman Hotel, London.

Digital Entertainment 2.0: Event Summary Analysis Presentation

Part of the New Digital
Economics Executive Brainstorm
series, the Digital Entertainment 2.0
workshop took place at the Guoman Hotel, London on the 8th November
and looked at how ‘personal data’ will revolutionize advertising, payments and
customer experiences.

Using a widely acclaimed interactive format called ‘Mindshare’ the event enabled  specially-invited senior executives from across the communications, media, banking and technology sectors to.

This note summarises some of the high-level findings and includes the verbatim output of the brainstorm.

More information: email contact@stlpartners.com, or phone: +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

DOWNLOAD REPORT

Extracted example slide:

Digital Entertainment 2.0: Event Summary Analysis Presentation

CDN 2.0: Report and analysis of the event

CDN 2.0: Event Summary Analysis. A summary of the findings of the CDN 2.0 session, 10th November 2011, held in the Guoman Hotel, London

CDN 2.0: A Summary of Findings of the CDN 2.0 Session Presentation

Part of the New Digital Economics Executive Brainstorm
series, the CDN 2.0 session took place at the Guoman Hotel, London on the 10th
November and looked at the future of online video, both the star product telcos
rely on for much of their revenue and the main driver of their costs.

Using a widely acclaimed interactive format called ‘Mindshare’, the event enabled
specially-invited senior executives from across the communications, media,
banking and technology sectors to discuss the field of content delivery
networking and the digital logistics systems Netflix, YouTube and other online
video providers rely on.

This note summarises some of the high-level
findings and includes the verbatim output of the brainstorm.

More information: email contact@stlpartners.com, or phone: +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

DOWNLOAD REPORT


Extracted example slide:

CDN 2.0: A Summary of Findings of the CDN 2.0 Session Presentation