Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors (Part 1)

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing is the first part of a two part report analysing China’s leading digital disruptors and their likely impact outside their home country. The report explores whether the global leaders in digital commerce – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – might soon face a serious challenge from a company built in China.

Part 1 analyses China’s two largest digital ecosystems – Alibaba, which shares many similarities with Amazon, and Tencent, which is somewhat similar to Facebook. This executive briefing considers the intensifying arms race between these two groups in China, their international ambitions and the support they might need from telcos and other digital players.

Both Alibaba and Tencent are potential competitors for telcos in some markets and potential partners in others. For example, like Amazon, Alibaba has a fast growing cloud computing business. (STL recently analysed why Amazon Web Services is so much more successful than many telcos’ cloud offerings, see: Amazon Web Services: Colossal, but Invincible?).

Like Facebook, Tencent has become a leading provider of digital communications in direct competition with telcos’ voice and messaging services. STL explored how telcos could respond to the rise and rise of Facebook in our recent report: Facebook: Telcos’ New Best Friend?

Part 2 of our report on China’s digital disruptors will cover Baidu, China’s answer to Google and the anchor for a third digital ecosystem, and the fast-growing smartphone maker, Xiaomi, which has the potential to build a fourth major ecosystem. Part 2 will also take a close look at DJI, the drone manufacturer, which is well worth watching for its mid-to-long term potential to create another major ecosystem.

Sizing up China’s disruptors

When it comes to disruption, China is a special case. Offering an enormous domestic market largely insulated by regulation, this vast country is proving to be fertile ground for Internet companies that may ultimately be able to mount a credible challenge to the big four globally – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

These four U.S.-based disruptors have used the scale and talent available in their home market to become leading digital commerce players globally, limiting the mindshare and market share available to other players. Moreover, Apple and Facebook, in particular, are carving out a strong position in digital communications, challenging telcos’ traditional dominance of this sector.

Greater competition among the Internet ecosystems would be in the strategic interests of many telcos, media companies and banks, as they seek to shore up their revenues and relevance. To that end, they could selectively encourage digital commerce and content companies that have gained sufficient scale in China to go global and compete with the U.S. giants.

In an ideal world, there might be a dozen or so major Internet ecosystems competing for a share of the worldwide digital commerce market. That would put individual telcos and other specialist players in the digital ecosystem, such as banks and media companies, in a stronger negotiating position, potentially enabling them to capture more of the value being created in the fast growing digital economy. For example, if Tencent were to mount a serious challenge to Facebook, telcos could potentially earn a commission for promoting one service over the other. Telcos could preload Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service or Tencent’s WeChat on the handsets they distribute or they might zero-rate access (not charge for data traffic) to either service in their markets.

Similarly, if Baidu could build effective international search and content services in competition with Google, the latter may have to pay higher commission to companies that supply it with traffic. If Google faced more competition in the digital advertising market, media companies’ sites may have to pay less commission to advertising brokers. In the smartphone market, if Xiaomi were to weaken Apple’s grip on the high-end, telcos’ might be able to negotiate better margins for distributing Apple’s handsets or enabling iPhone users to temporarily subscribe to their networks when travelling abroad.

Greater incentives to expand outside China

China’s economy is on course to grow about 7% this year, according to government figures, down from the double-digit growth at the turn of the decade. As a result, its leading disruptors are increasingly treading on each other’s toes in China and have a greater incentive to expand internationally. Although the obvious move for China’s domestic Internet companies it to initially target Greater China, nearby Asian markets and the Chinese diaspora, some have much broader ambitions. Alibaba, in particular, has significant traction in other major middle income countries, notably Russia. And the world’s leading drone maker DJI is making major inroads into the U.S. and Western Europe – the heartland of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Today, there are three major Internet ecosystems in China, headed by Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu respectively. Globally, these three players are in the top ten public Internet companies in terms of market capitalisation (see Figure 1). Moreover, Tencent has forged an alliance with JD.com, the fourth largest publicly-listed Chinese Internet company.

The first part of this report covers Alibaba and Tencent, asking whether either company is strong enough to pose a serious threat to Amazon, Facebook or Google on the global stage.

Figure 1: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies

Source: Morgan Stanley, Capital IQ, Bloomberg via KPCB

Alibaba – digital commerce behemoth

Whereas most consumers in Western Europe and North America have heard of Amazon.com, many might associate Alibaba with folklore, rather than digital commerce. Yet Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. claims to be the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company in terms of gross merchandise volume (the value in US dollars of the products and services sold through its marketplaces). Although it is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the Alibaba Group’s principal executive offices are in Hangzhou in China.

Founded in 1999 by its charismatic, combative and somewhat unpredictable executive chairman Jack Ma, Alibaba undertook the world’s largest initial public offering in September 2014. It raised USD 25 billion, which it has used to fund an ongoing acquisition spree.

Why Alibaba is important

With a market capitalisation comparable to that of Amazon and Facebook, investors clearly believe Alibaba is set to be a major player in the global economy. That belief is fuelled by the fact that Alibaba:

  • Runs several world-leading digital marketplaces
  • Is growing fast at home and abroad
  • Is assembling a major digital entertainment portfolio
  • Has acquired dozens of promising Internet companies
  • Is affiliated with one of China’s leading online payment services

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Sizing up China’s disruptors
  • Alibaba – digital commerce behemoth
  • Why Alibaba is important
  • Alibaba’s business models
  • Likely impact outside China
  • Threats facing Alibaba
  • Tencent – a playbook for Facebook?
  • Why Tencent is important
  • Tencent’s business models
  • Tencent’s likely impact outside China
  • Threats to Tencent
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • Alibaba and Tencent are very strong companies…
  • … but they both need strategic partners
  • Implications for telcos
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies
  • Figure 2: Alibaba’s six major digital marketplaces
  • Figure 3: Alibaba has seen heady growth this decade
  • Figure 4: One of Alibaba’s recent investments was in MomentCam
  • Figure 5: Alipay helps Chinese consumers buy from overseas merchants
  • Figure 6: AliExpress sells a wide range of Chinese goods to the world
  • Figure 7: Alibaba’s UC Browser is widely used on Android smartphones
  • Figure 8: Comparing Alibaba and Amazon R&D over time
  • Figure 9: Alibaba’s mobile sales are rising rapidly
  • Figure 10: Almost half of Alibaba’s revenues are now generated by mobile services
  • Figure 11: Alibaba’s overall monetisation rate is slipping
  • Figure 12: Tencent runs three of the top five OTT communications services
  • Figure 13: Tencent claims leadership in digital content in China
  • Figure 14: Tencent sometimes leads Facebook
  • Figure 15: Tencent’s investment and partnership strategy
  • Figure 16: Tencent’s five years of fast growth
  • Figure 17: Tencent remains heavily reliant on online gaming revenues
  • Figure 18: Some of the use cases targeted by Tencent’s online payment portfolio
  • Figure 19: Tencent’s Red Envelope promotion was hugely successful
  • Figure 20: Both Alibaba and Tencent have seen strong growth in net income

Telco-Driven Disruption: What NTT DOCOMO, KT and Globe got right

Preface

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing is the second in a two-part series exploring the role of telcos in disrupting the digital economy. Across the two parts, STL has analysed a variety of disruptive moves by telcos, some long-standing and well established, others relatively new.

Part 2 builds on the analysis in Part 1, which considered telcos’ attempts to reinvent digital commerce in South Korea and Japan, the startling success of mobile money services in east Africa, BT’s huge outlay on sports content, AT&T’s multi-faceted smart home platform, Deutsche Telekom’s investments in online marketplaces and Orange’s innovative Libon communications service.

Part 2 takes a close look at NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s leading mobile operator, which has built up a major revenue stream from new businesses. Many of these new businesses are focused on enabling what DOCOMO refers to as a Smart Life. Revenues from its Smart Life suite of businesses, which provide consumers with advice, information, security, cloud storage and other lifestyle services, rose 22% to 421 billion yen (US$3.5 billion) in the year ending March 2015.

Part 2 also considers how South Korea’s incumbent telco KT used its high-speed broadband infrastructure to disrupt, but ultimately strengthen, its media business, which delivers IPTV to approaching six million households. This report also examines how Globe Telecom has carved out a significant position in the Philippines’ financial services market by enabling people to send each other money using text messages over a decade of patient experimentation. It also explains why the leading U.K. and U.S. mobile operators have struggled to disrupt the digital commerce market with their Weve and Softcard joint ventures.

Finally, Part 2 considers U.S. telco Verizon’s major push into cloud services, after spending US$1.4 billion to acquire specialist Terremark in 2011.

In each case, this briefing describes the underlying strategy, the implementation and the results, before setting out STL’s key takeaways. The conclusions section outlines the lessons other would-be disruptors can learn from telcos’ attempts to move into new markets and develop new value propositions.

Note, this report is not exhaustive. The examples it covers are intended to be representative. Some of these companies and their strategies are covered in other STL Partners reports, including:

Introduction: Telcos Can and do disrupt

In the digital economy, start-ups and major Internet platforms, such as Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Google, Spotify and Tencent QQ, 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. Figure 1 classifies various disruptive moves by telcos. Those in white were covered in Part 1 of this report, those in grey are covered in this report, Part 2.

Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos

Source: STL Partners

Offensive, major financial impact category

A classic disruptive play is to use existing assets and customer relationships to move into an adjacent market, open up a new revenue stream and build a major business. This is what Apple did with the iPhone and what Amazon did with cloud services. Several telcos have also followed this playbook. This section looks at two examples – NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life services and Globe Telecom’s GCash – and what other companies in the digital economy can learn from these relatively successful moves. Unlike many disruptive moves by telcos, the two businesses covered in this section have had a significant impact in the targeted market. They have also moved the needle for their parent’s telcos and given their investors greater confidence in their ability to innovate.

NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life proposition

Japan’s telecoms market was one of the first in the world to go ex-growth and its telcos have been searching for new sources of revenue for the best part of a decade. The market leader, NTT DOCOMO, has also been hit by an aggressive campaign by the third largest player, Softbank, to win market share. DOCOMO has seen its revenues from telecoms services decline every year since 2006, giving its efforts to expand into adjacent markets, such as entertainment, commerce and financial services, a real sense of urgency. In particular, DOCOMO has tried hard to get closer to consumers by developing a sophisticated and multi-faceted “smart life” proposition.

Strategy

Rather than focusing simply on providing connectivity and fading into the background, DOCOMO is trying to maintain a close relationship with Japanese consumers. Its strategy is centred on using the data collected by its network to anticipate customers’ needs and provide them with tailored and timely propositions. In November 2011, DOCOMO set out a medium-term strategy (for the years up to and including 2015) called Shaping a smart life, which it positioned it as an interim step to realising its longer-term, corporate vision for 2020: Pursuing smart innovation: HEART (see Figure 2). This report looks, in particular, at the ‘T’ in the Heart strategy – DOCOMO’s bid to win consumers’ trust and clearly differentiate itself from other providers of digital services.

One of the central tenets of DOCOMO’s strategy is that individuals want the support of a “personal life agent” – an automated personal assistant that can make useful suggestions and recommendations. DOCOMO envisaged that this assistant would use the information collected by smartphones and wearable devices to perform various tasks, including making recommendations and even automatic ticket reservations.

In other words, DOCOMO was one of the first companies in the world to anticipate the market for personal digital assistants, which is now a key arena in the ongoing battle between Google, Apple and Microsoft, which have launched Google Now, Siri and Cortana respectively.

DOCOMO originally positioned its smart life proposition as part of a broader range of cloud services that would enable it to generate new sources of value. Back in 2011, DOCOMO pledged to create:

  • A personal cloud – a platform underpinning a wide range of services for consumers.
  • A business cloud – a solutions platform for the provision of new business styles
  • A network cloud – a platform that adds value through sophisticated information and communication processing performed on the network.

Figure 2:  The smart life strategy NTT DOCOMO set out in 2011

Source: NTT DOCOMO, Medium-Term Vision, November 2011

Implementation

DOCOMO has set about strengthening and expanding its existing digital commerce business to build closer relationships with both consumers and the third party businesses supplying the services and content consumers want. To that end, Japan’s largest telco set itself goals to expand the number of content providers supporting its dmenu portal (a long-standing portal offering original content) from 700 in March 2012 to 3,000 in March 2016, while boosting the number of monthly users of its dmarket, which provides a broader range of digital content, to 20 million by March 2016, up from 1.5 million in March 2012. To that end, DOCOMO has expanded dmarket into new areas, such as fashion, travel and even food deliveries, effectively transforming dmarket in an e-commerce portal, as well as a content portal (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: DOCOMO has significantly expanded the services offered by dmarket

Source: NTT DOCOMO investor presentation, April 2014

Beyond dmarket, DOCOMO has also deployed a raft of other value added services, encompassing navigation, local information, NFC-based wallet and information services, credit card and carrier-billing-based payments, translation apps, health and wellness services, insurance and even pet and child tracking. DOCOMO also provides an i-concier service, which is designed to help people with daily organisation, as well as delivering offers and information from brands the user is interested in. For example, i-concier can be configured to give you a reminder when you arrive in a specific location. Confusingly, DOCOMO has also rolled out a separate service, called Shabette-Concier, which enables customers to talk Siri-style to “their smartphone about things you want to know or do, and your smartphone will display the best answers to your queries on the screen.” In other words, DOCOMO is offering many similar services and functionality to the major Internet players, such as Apple and Google.

DOCOMO was also quick to realise the importance of enabling individuals to use a single ID across multiple devices, while positioning the smartphone as an authentication platform in everyday life in both the physical world and online world. This kind of persistent identification across multiple devices and networks will help DOCOMO collect the information it needs to make personalised recommendations. At the same time, various DOCOMO services encourage consumers to volunteer information about themselves. DOCOMO also provides secure storage of personal data, an important step towards a personal cloud service (see Figure 4) along the lines of that outlined by STL Partners in the report: Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players. While this approach is broadly similar to that pursued by the major Internet companies, DOCOMO’s marketing places a lot of emphasis on safety, security and peace of mind, implying it is different from the more ‘cavalier’ Internet companies – Google and Facebook’s business models are predicated on encouraging consumers to share personal information, so they tend not to highlight the need for safe and secure storage for that information.

 Figure 4: DOCOMO’s personal cloud aims to offer consumers secure data storage, persistent ID and personalised recommendations

Source: NTT DOCOMO, Medium-Term Vision, November 2011

Next section: DOCOMO Results Analysis…

 

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Telcos can and do disrupt
  • Offensive, major financial impact
  • NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life proposition
  • Globe Telecom’s GCash
  • Offensive, limited financial impact
  • Verizon Cloud
  • The Weve joint venture
  • The Softcard joint venture
  • Defensive, major financial impact
  • KT’s media business
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos
  • Figure 2: The smart life strategy NTT DOCOMO set out in 2011
  • Figure 3: DOCOMO has significantly expanded the services offered by dmarket
  • Figure 4: DOCOMO’s personal cloud aims to offer consumers secure data storage, persistent ID and personalised recommendations
  • Figure 5: The Smart Life businesses are growing, but not quite fast enough yet
  • Figure 6: DOCOMO hopes its Smart Life business will lift group profits this year
  • Figure 7: The Smart Life businesses now generate 15% of DOCOMO’s ARPU
  • Figure 8: In 2011 DOCOMO saw digital commerce and content as key opportunities
  • Figure 9: The value of transactions through the dmarket has grown rapidly
  • Figure 10: Subscriber growth at dmarket stalled in the first half of 2014
  • Figure 11: TV-on-demand is the most popular of the dmarket services
  • Figure 12: NTT DOCOMO is putting more emphasis on providing enablers
  • Figure 13: DOCOMO’s confusing portfolio of money services
  • Figure 14: The GCash App has improved its user interface
  • Figure 15: GCash appears to be narrowly ahead of rival services
  • Figure 16: Facebook leads the OTT communications market in the Philippines
  • Figure 17: Verizon’s Global Enterprise revenues continue to fall
  • Figure 18: Weve originally planned to used transactional data to improve marketing
  • Figure 19: The Isis Wallet could be used to store and browse offers
  • Figure 20: KT is successfully managing the transition to IPTV
  • Figure 21: KT’s media revenue has climbed to 6% of total revenues

Telco-Driven Disruption: Hits & Misses (Part 1)

Introduction

Part of STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing explores the role of telcos in disrupting the digital economy. It analyses a variety of disruptive moves by telcos, some long-standing and well established, others relatively new. It covers telcos’ attempts to reinvent digital commerce in South Korea and Japan, the startling success of mobile money services in east Africa, BT’s huge outlay on sports content, AT&T’s multi-faceted smart home platform, Deutsche Telekom’s investments in online marketplaces and Orange’s innovative Libon communications service.

In each case, this briefing describes the underlying strategy, the implementation and the results, before setting out STL’s key takeaways. The conclusions section outlines the lessons other would-be disruptors can learn from telcos’ attempts to move into new markets and develop new value propositions.

Note, this report is not exhaustive. The examples it covers are intended to be representative. Part 2 of this report will analyse other telcos who have successfully disrupted adjacent markets or created new ones. In particular, it will take a close look at NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s leading mobile operator, which has built up a major revenue stream from new businesses.  DOCOMO reported a 13% year-on-year increase in revenues from its new businesses in the six months to September 30th 2014 to 363 billion Japanese yen (more than US$3 billion). Its target for the full financial year is 770 billion yen (almost US$6.5 billion). Revenues from its Smart Life suite of businesses, which provide consumers with advice, information, security, cloud storage and other lifestyle services, rose 18% to 205 billion yen in the six months to September 30th 2014, while its dmarket content store now has 7.8 million subscribers. In the six months to September 30th, the total value of dmarket transactions rose 30% year-on-year to 34.6 billion yen.

In South Korea, leading telco KT is trying to use smartphone-based apps and services to disrupt the digital commerce market, as are the leading U.K. and U.S. mobile operators through their respective Weve and Softcard joint ventures.  In the Philippines, Smart Communications and Globe Telecom have recast the financial services market by enabling people to send each other money using text messages.

Several major telcos are seeking to use their network infrastructure to change the game in the cloud services market. For example, U.S. telco Verizon has made a major push into cloud services, spending US$1.4 billion to acquire specialist Terremark in 2011. At the same time, Verizon and AT&T are having to respond to an aggressive play by T-Mobile USA to reshape the U.S. telecoms market with its Un-carrier strategy.

Some of these companies and their strategies are covered in other STL Partners reports, including:

Telcos can and do disrupt

In the digital economy, innovative start-ups, such as Spotify, Twitter, Instagram and the four big Internet platforms (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) 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 succeeded in creating 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 reduce churn in the core business. In other cases, telcos have gone on the offensive, moving into new markets in search of new revenues (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos

Source: STL Partners

 

The next section of this paper explores the disruptive moves in the top right hand corner of Figure 1 – those that have taken telcos into new markets and have had a significant financial impact on their businesses.

Offensive, major financial impact 

A classic disruptive play is to use existing assets and customer relationships to move into an adjacent market, open up a new revenue stream and build a major business. This is what Apple did with the iPhone and what Amazon did with cloud services. Several telcos have also followed this playbook. This section looks at three examples – SK Telecom’s SK Planet, Safaricom’s M-Pesa and KDDI’s au Smart Pass – and what other companies in the digital economy can learn from these largely successful moves. Unlike many disruptive moves by telcos, the three businesses covered in this section have had sufficient impact to properly register on investors’ radar screens. They have moved the needle for their parent’s telcos and given their investors confidence in their ability to innovate.

SK Planet – an ambitious mobile commerce play

Owned by SK Telecom, SK Planet is a major broker in South Korea’s world-leading mobile commerce market. It has developed several two-sided online services that are similar in some respects to those offered by Google. SK Planet operates the T Map, a turn-by-turn navigation service, the T Store Android app store, the Smart Wallet payment, loyalty and couponing service, the OK Cashbag loyalty marketing programme and the 11th St online marketplace.


Strategy

Taking advantage of South Koreans’ appetite for new technologies, SK Telecom is using its home market as a test bed for mobile commerce solutions that could be deployed more widely. As well as seeking to generate revenues from enabling payments, advertising, loyalty, couponing and other forms of direct marketing in South Korea, it is aiming to become a leading mobile commerce player in other markets in Asia and North America.

SK Telecom’s approach has been to launch services early and then refine these services in response to feedback from the Korean market. It launched a mobile couponing service, for example, as early as 2008. To reduce the impact of corporate bureaucracy, in 2011, SK Telecom placed its digital commerce activities into a separate company, called SK Planet. The new entity has since focused on the development of a two-sided platform that aims to provide consumers with convenient shopping channels and merchants and brands with a wide range of marketing solutions both online and in the bricks and mortar arena. Although its services are over-the-top, in the sense that they don’t require consumers to use SK Telecom, SK Planet continues to work closely with SK Telecom – its sole owner.

Downstream, SK Planet is trying to differentiate itself by putting consumers’ interests first, giving them considerable control and transparency over the digital marketing they receive. Upstream, SK Planet is putting a lot of emphasis on helping traditional bricks and mortars stores go digital and reverse so-called showrooming, so that consumers research products online, but actually buy them from bricks and mortar retailers.

SK Planet CEO Jinwoo So talks about enabling “Next Commerce” by which he means the seamless integration of online and bricks and mortar commerce.  “Just as Amazon became the global leader in e-commerce by revolutionizing the industry, SK Planet aims to
become the global ‘Next Commerce’ leader in the offline market by driving mobile innovation that will eventually
break down the walls which separate the online and offline worlds,” he says.

Estimating the offline commerce market in South Korea is worth 230 trillion won (more than 210 US billion dollars), SK Planet is aggressively adapting its existing digital commerce platforms, which are underpinned by SK Telecom’s network assets, for mobile commerce. It is also making extensive use of the big data generated by its existing platforms to hone its offerings.

At the 2014 Mobile World Congress, SK Planet CEO Jinwoo So outlined how SK Planet has worked closely with SK Telecom to develop algorithms that use customer data to predict churn and provide personalized recommendations and offers. “We combined the traditional data mining with text mining,” he said. “How people create the search criteria or the sites they visit, we came up with a very unique formula, which gives up much two times better performance than before. … In 11th street, we have achieved almost three times better performance by applying our recommendation engine, which we developed. Now we are trying to prove the ROI for marketing budgets for brands and merchants.”

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos can and do disrupt
  • Offensive, major financial impact (Strategy, Implementation, Results)
  • SK Planet – an ambitious mobile commerce play
  • M-Pesa – reinventing financial services
  • KDDI au Smart Pass – curating online commerce
  • Offensive, limited financial impact (Strategy, Implementation, Results)
  • Deutsche Telekom’s start-stop Scout 24 investments
  • AT&T Digital Life – slow burn for the smart home
  • Defensive, major financial impact (Strategy, Implementation, Results)
  • BT Sport and BT Wi-Fi – High perceived value
  • Defensive, minor financial impact (Strategy, Implementation, Results)
  • Orange Libon – disrupting the disruptors
  • Conclusions
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos
  • Figure 2: SK Planet’s Syrup Wallet stores loyalty cards, coupons and payment cards
  • Figure 3: Shopkick enables US retailers to interact with customers in store
  • Figure 4: SK Planet is an increasingly important part of SK Telecom’s business
  • Figure 5: The flywheel effect: how upstream partners can increase relevance
  • Figure 6: M-Pesa continues to grow in Kenya seven years after launch
  • Figure 7: Vodacom Tanzania has made it easy to register for M-Pesa
  • Figure 8: KDDI’s revenues and profits from value added services grow steadily
  • Figure 9: au Smart Pass is bolstering KDDI’s ARPU
  • Figure 10: Immobilienscout24 has seen a steady increase in traffic
  • Figure 11: AT&T Digital Life gives consumers remote control over their homes
  • Figure 12:  Investors value BT Sport’s contribution
  • Figure 13: BT Sport has driven broadband net-adds, but at considerable expense
  • Figure 14: Orange’s multi-faceted positioning of Libon in the App Store

 

Apple Pay & Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call

Mobile payments: Now is the time

After many years of trials, pilots and uncertainty, the mobile industry is now making a major push to enable consumers to use their mobile phones to complete transactions in stores and other merchant venues. This year is shaping up to be a pivotal year with a number of major launches of commercial mobile payment services involving device makers, mobile operators, the payment networks and retailers.

Crucially, Apple’s move to add Near Field Communications (NFC) – a short-range communications technology – to iPhone 6 has vindicated the telecoms industry’s ongoing push to make NFC a de facto standard for mobile proximity payments. Although sceptics (including Apple executives) have previously derided the cost and complexity of the technology, Vodafone, Orange, China Mobile and other major telcos have continued to develop digital commerce propositions based on the technology.

Apple’s U-turn on NFC has changed the sentiment around the technology dramatically and given the industry a clear sense of direction. Just a year ago, research firms, such as Gartner and Juniper, scaled back their forecasts for the use of mobile handsets to complete transactions in-store, primarily because Apple didn’t include a NFC chip in the iPhone 5.

The widespread use of NFC in stores will add fuel to the mobile payments market which is already growing rapidly.  Some analysts are predicting mobile phones will be used to make transactions totalling more than US$721 billion worldwide by 2017 up from US$235 billion in 2013 (see Figure 1). Note, these figures include both remote/online and proximity/in-store transactions.

Figure 1: Global mobile payment transaction forecasts

Figure 1 - Global mobile payment transaction forecasts

Source: Gartner; Goldman Sachs (via Statista)

Although most consumers are happy paying in store using either cash or payment cards, there are two major reasons why mobile payments are gaining momentum in an increasingly digital economy:

  • Consumers will want to be able to receive and redeem offers, vouchers and loyalty points using their smartphones. A mobile payment service would enable them to do this in a straightforward way.
  • Mobile payments will generate valuable transaction data that could and should (with the consumer’s permission) be used to make highly personalised recommendations and offers.

In other words, mobile payments are an essential element of a compelling integrated digital commerce proposition.

The role of telcos

Although the big picture for mobile payments is improving, telcos are in danger of being side-lined in developed countries in this strategically important sector. (NB See the STL Partners Strategy Report, Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players for a detailed study of how telcos could disrupt the key digital commerce brokers: Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.) In recent weeks, telcos’ efforts to lead the development of the mobile payments market suffered two major setbacks. Firstly, Apple’s fully formed mobile payments solution, called Apple Pay, effectively cuts telcos out of the mobile payments business in the Apple ecosystem.

Secondly, it emerged that Weve, the ground-breaking mobile commerce joint venture between U.K. mobile operators, has pulled back from plans to facilitate payments (in addition to its existing role of delivering targeted offers to UK mobile users).  As a rare example of a well thought through collaborative venture between mobile operators, Weve had been a promising initiative that could provide a playbook for collaboration among mobile operators in other developed markets. But Weve’s change of course suggests that mobile operators are still struggling to collaborate effectively in the digital commerce market.

Rewriting the Mobile Payments Playbook

The Apple Pay proposition

Unveiled along with the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch in September, Apple Pay is an end-to-end mobile payments proposition developed by Apple. On the device side, the basic technical architecture is similar to that advocated by major telcos via the industry group the GSMA – the short-range wireless technology Near Field Communications (NFC) is used to transfer payment data from the device to the point of sale terminal, while a secure element (a segregated memory chip) is used to protect sensitive information from being hacked or corrupted by third-party apps. However, rather than using telcos’ SIM cards as a secure element, Apple has added its own dedicated piece of hardware to the iPhone 6 and bolstered security further with a fingerprint scanner.

Already used to organise boarding passes, tickets, coupons and other collateral, Apple’s Passbook acts as the primary interface for the Apple Pay service. In other words, Passbook is now a fully-fledged mobile wallet. Thanks to its iTunes service, Apple already has hundreds of millions of consumers’ credit and debit card details on file. These consumers can add a compatible payment card stored on iTunes to Passbook simply by entering the card security code. Alternatively, they can use the iPhone camera to scan a payment card into a handset or type in the details manually. If the consumer stores more than one card, Passbook allows them to change the default payment card that appears when they are about to make a transaction.

 

Figure 2: Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook

Figure 2 - Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook

Source: Apple

To make a payment in a store, the consumer simply holds their iPhone next to a NFC-enabled reader (attached to a point of sale terminal) with their finger on the handset’s Touch ID – the fingerprint reader embedded into the latest iPhones (see Figure 3). Unlike some mobile payment solutions, the consumer doesn’t need to open an app or enter a PIN code. The iPhone vibrates and beeps once the payment information has been sent. In this case, the payment information is protected by three layers of security: More than any existing mainstream mobile payments solution, including the SIM-secured NFC payments touted by telcos. These three layers are

  • Rather than transferring actual payment card details, Apple Pay transfers so-called tokens: a device-specific account number, together with a one-time security code.
  • These tokens are encrypted and stored on a secure element inside the iPhone – memory that is ring-fenced from access by any app other than Passbook. They aren’t stored on Apple’s servers, so are protected from online hacking.
  • The payment only happens if the Touch ID system recognises the consumer’s fingerprint, proving the consumer’s was in the store.

Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via iPhone’s fingerprint scanner

Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via the iPhone's fingerprint scanner

Source: Apple

If the consumer is using an Apple Watch, which also has a NFC chip and a secure element, they hold the face of the watch near the reader and double-click a button on the side of the watch. As the range of NFC is just a few centimetres, consumers will have to hold the face of their watch against the reader. This step doesn’t sound very intuitive and may cause confusion in stores.

Again, a vibration and beep confirm the transfer of the payment information. Note, the watch needs to have been linked to an iPhone with a compatible payment card stored in a Passbook app. Although Apple Watch isn’t equipped with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner in the iPhone, it does have alternative security mechanisms built in. Apple Watch is equipped with a biosensor that can detect when the watch is taken off and lock its payment function, according to a report by NFC World. Apparently, consumers will have to enter a code to re-enable the payment function when they put the handset back on.  These extra steps suggest making payments using Apple Watch will be more cumbersome and potentially less secure than using an iPhone 6 to make a payment.

 

Figure 4: You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch

Figure 4 - You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch

Source: Apple

Apple Pay can also be used to make online payments in compatible apps and this is how many consumers are likely to try the service initially. Apple said that several merchants, including Disney, Starbucks, Target and Uber, have adapted their apps to accept Apple Pay transactions (see Figure 5). In this case, the consumer selects Apple Pay and then places their finger on the Touch ID interface. Note, enabling online payments is an area that has been neglected by many telcos in developed countries targeting this market, but support for remote payments is an essential component of any holistic digital commerce solution  – consumers won’t want to use different digital wallets online and offline.

 

Figure 4: Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay

 

Figure 5 - Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay

 Source: Apple

If a consumer loses their iPhone, then they can use the Find My iPhone service to put their device into “lost mode” or they can opt to wipe the handset. The next time the iPhone goes online, it will be frozen or wiped, depending on the option the consumer selected. Note, this feature negates one of the advantages of using a SIM card, which can also be wiped remotely by a telco, as a secure element.

Although the consumer’s most recent purchases will be viewable in Passbook, Apple says it won’t save consumer’s transaction information. This is in stark contrast to the approach taken by Apple’s own iTunes service and Amazon, for example, which uses a consumer’s transaction history to make personalised product and service recommendations. With Apple Pay, it seems a consumer will only be able to check historic transactions by looking at their bank statements.

The big guns in the U.S. financial services industry are supporting Apple Pay – consumers can use credit and debit cards from the three major payment networks, American Express, MasterCard and Visa, issued by a range of leading banks, including Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo, representing 83% of credit card purchase volume in the US, according to Apple, which says additional banks, including Barclaycard, Navy Federal Credit Union, PNC Bank, USAA and U.S. Bank, are also planning to sign up. This is a much greater level of participation than that achieved by Softcard (formerly known as Isis), the mobile commerce joint venture between U.S. telcos AT&T Mobile, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA (see next section for more on Softcard).

Apple says that more than 220,000 bricks and mortar stores will accept Apple Pay transactions. Some of the participating retailers include leading brands, such as McDonalds, Stables, Subway, ToysRUs and Walgreens. However, the retailers in the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) consortium, which is developing its own mobile commerce proposition, have not signed up to accept Apple Pay. These retailers include major players, such as WalMart, Best-Buy, 7-11, Gap and Sears. (See next section for more on MCX). Although only a handful of apps are supporting Apple Pay today, that number is likely to grow rapidly, as many consumers will find it easier to press the Touch ID than to type in a password.

To access the rest of this 28 page Telco 2.0 Report in full, including…

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Mobile payments: Now is the time
  • Rewriting the Mobile Payments Playbook
  • The Apple Pay proposition
  • Will Apple Pay be a success? 
  • The implications of Apple Pay for telcos
  • The Weve U-Turn
  • How Weve broke new ground
  • Weve’s shareholders break ranks
  • Weve pulls back
  • Conclusions and recommendations

…and the following report figures…

  • Figure 1: Forecasts for the value of mobile proximity payments in the U.S 
  • Figure 2: Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook
  • Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner
  • Figure 4: You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch
  • Figure 5: Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay
  • Figure 6: MCX’s approach to security
  • Figure 7: Apple’s shrinking share of the global smartphone market
  • Figure 8: The Softcard wallet enables consumers to filter offers by their location
  • Figure 9: The virtuous circle Weve was aiming to create
  • Figure 10: Everything Everywhere’s Cash on Tap app is clunky to use

 

Google’s Big, Big Data Battle

The challenges to Google’s core business 

Although Google is the world’s leading search engine by some distance, its pre-eminence is more fragile than its first appears. As Google likes to remind anti-trust authorities, its competitors are just a click away. And its primary competitors are some of the most powerful and well-financed companies in the world – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. As these companies, as well as specialist service providers, accumulate more and more data on consumers, Google’s position as the leading broker of online advertising is under threat in several, inter-related, ways:

  1. Google’s margins are being squeezed, as competition intensifies. Increasingly experienced web users are using specialist search engines, such as Amazon (shopping), Expedia (travel) and moneysupermarket.com (financial services), or going direct to the sites they need, thereby circumventing Google’s search engine and the advertising brokered by Google. This trend is exacerbated by Google’s ongoing lockout from the vast amount of content being generated by Facebook’s social network. As the Internet matures, general-purpose web search may become yesterday’s business.
  2. The rise of the app-based Internet: As consumers increasingly access the Internet via mobile devices, they are making greater use of apps and less use of browsers and, by extension, conventional search engines. Apps are popular on mobile devices because they are designed to take the consumer straight to the content they are looking for, rather than requiring them to navigate around the web using small and fiddly on-screen keyboards. Moreover, Apple, the leading provider of smartphones and tablets to the affluent, is seeking to relegate, and where feasible, remove, Google’s apps and services in its ecosystem.
  3. Android forks: Android, an extraordinarily successful ‘Trojan Horse’ for Google’s apps and services, is the market leading operating system for mobile devices, but Google’s control of Android is patchy. Some device makers are integrating their own apps into a forked variant of this open-source platform. Amazon and Nokia are among those who have stripped Google’s search, maps, mail and store apps from their variants of the Android operating system, reducing the data that Google can gather on their customers. At the same time, Samsung, the world’s largest handset vendor, is straining at Google’s Android leash.
  4. Quality dilution: As Google is the world’s dominant search engine, it is the prime target for so-called content farms that produce large volumes of low quality content in an effort to rank highly in Google’s search results and thereby attract traffic and advertising.
  5. Regulatory scrutiny: Despite a February 2014 settlement with the European Commission concerning its search practices, Google remains in the regulatory spotlight. Competition authorities across the world continue to fret about Google’s market power and its ability to influence what people look at on the Internet.

1. Google’s margin squeeze

Price deflation

Google, the company that facilitated massive deflation across advertising, content, e-commerce, and mobile operating systems, is itself suffering from the deflationary environment of the Internet. Although revenue and net income are still growing, margins are shrinking (see Figure 2). Google is still growing because it is adding volume. However, there is strong evidence that its pricing power is being eroded.

Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise

Telco 2 Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise

Source: Google filings

To put this in the context of its Silicon Valley peers, Figure 3 shows the same data for Google, Facebook, and Apple using a trend line covering the 2009 to 2013 period for each company. Note, that we have used a log scale to compare three companies of very different size. Apple saw growth in both revenue and operating margins until 2013, when it hit a difficult patch, although a big product launch might fix that at any time. Facebook has grown revenues enormously, but went through a traumatic 2012 as the shift to mobile hit it. While all this drama went on, Google has grown steadily, while seeing its margins eroded.

Figure 3: Google’s operating margins are now below those of Apple and Facebook

Telco 2 Figure 3 googles operating mar

Source: SEC filings

What are the factors behind Google’s declining operating margin? We believe the main drivers are:

  • The amount Google can charge per click is falling – buyers get more ads per buck.
  • The cost of acquiring ad inventory is increasing.

Cheaper ads

As Figure 4 shows, Google continues to drive ad volume (paid clicks), but ad rates (cost per click) are falling steadily. The average cost-per-click on Google websites and Google Network Members’ websites decreased approximately 8% from 2012 to 2013.  We think this is primarily due to intensifying competition, particularly from Facebook. However, Google attributes the decline to “various factors, such as the introduction of new products as well as changes in property mix, platform mix and geographical mix, and the general strengthening of the U.S. dollar compared to certain foreign currencies.” The second quarter of 2014 saw paid clicks rise 2% quarter-on-quarter, while the cost per click was flat.

Figure 4: The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume

Telco 2 Figure 4 The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume

Source: Google filings

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The challenges to Google’s core business
  • 1. Google’s margin squeeze
  • 2. The rising importance of mobile apps
  • 3. Android forks
  • 4. Quality dilution
  • 5. Regulatory scrutiny
  • Google’s strategy – get on the front foot
  • Google Now – turning search on its head
  • Reactive search becomes more proactive
  • Voice input
  • Anticipating wearables, connected cars and the Internet of Things
  • Searching inside apps
  • Evaluating Google Now
  • 1. The marketplace
  • 2. Develop compelling service offerings
  • 3. The value network
  • 4. Technology
  • 5. Finance – the high-level business model

 

  • Figure 1: How Google is neutralising threats and pursuing opportunities
  • Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise
  • Figure 3: Google’s operating mar gins are now below those of Apple and Facebook
  • Figure 4: The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume
  • Figure 5: Rising distribution costs are driving Google’s TAC upwards
  • Figure 6: Google’s revenues are increasingly coming from in-house sites and apps
  • Figure 7: R&D is the fastest-growing ad-acquisition cost in absolute terms
  • Figure 8: Daily active users of Facebook generating content out of Google’s reach
  • Figure 9: Google is still the most popular destination on the Internet
  • Figure 10: In the U.S., usage of desktop web sites is falling
  • Figure 11: Google’s declining share of mobile search advertising in the U.S.
  • Figure 12: Google’s lead on the mobile web is narrower than on the desktop web
  • Figure 13: Top smartphone apps in the U.S. by average unique monthly users
  • Figure 14: For Google, its removal from the default iOS Maps app is a major blow
  • Figure 15: On Android, Google owns four of the five most used apps in the U.S.
  • Figure 16: The resources Google needs to devote to web spam are rising over time
  • Figure 17: Google, now genuinely global.
  • Figure 18: A gap in the market: Timely proactive recommendations
  • Figure 19: Google’s search engine is becoming proactive
  • Figure 20: The ongoing evolution of Google Search into a proactive, recommendations service
  • Figure 21: The Telco 2.0 Business Model Framework
  • Figure 22: Amazon Local asks you to set preferences
  • Figure 23: Google Now’s cards and the information they use
  • Figure 24: Android dominates the global smartphone market
  • Figure 25: Samsung has about 30% of the global smartphone market
  • Figure 26: Google – not quite the complete Internet company
  • Figure 27: Google’s strategic response