Growing B2B2X: Taking telcos beyond connectivity and 5G

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The telecoms industry is looking to revive growth

Telecoms operators have enjoyed 30 years of strong growth in all major markets. However, the core telecoms industry is showing signs of slowing. Connectivity revenue growth is declining and according to our research, annual growth in mobile operator revenues pre-COVID were converging to 1% across Asia Pacific, North America, and Western Europe. To help reverse this trend, telecoms operators’ have been investing in upgrading networks (fibre, 4G, 5G), enabling them to offer ever-increasing data speeds/plans to gain more customers and at least sustain ARPUs. However, this has resulted in the increasing commoditisation of connectivity as competitors also upgrade their networks. The costs to upgrade networks coupled with reducing margins from commoditisation have made it difficult for operators to invest in new revenue streams beyond core connectivity.

While connectivity remains an essential component in consumer and enterprises’ technology mix, on its own, it no longer solves our most pressing challenges. When the telecoms industry was first founded, over 150 years ago, operators were set up to solve the main challenge of the day, which was overcoming time and distance between people. Starting in the 1990s, alongside the creation of the internet and development of more powerful data networks, today’s global internet players set out to solve the next big challenge – affordable access to information and entertainment. Today, our biggest challenge is the need to make more efficient use of our resources, whether that’s time, assets, knowledge, raw material, etc. Achieving this requires not only connectivity and information, but also a high level of coordination across multiple organisations and systems to get it to the right place, at the right time. We therefore call this the Coordination Age.

Figure 1: New challenges for telecoms in the Coordination AgeThe coordination age overview

Source: STL Partners

In the Coordination Age, ‘things’ – machines, products, buildings, grids, processes – are increasingly connecting with each other as IoT and cloud-based applications become ubiquitous. This is creating an exponential increase in the volume of data available to drive development of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, which combined with automation can improve productivity and resource efficiency. There are major socioeconomic challenges that society is facing that require better matching of supply and demand, which not only needs real-time communications and information exchange, but also insights and action.

In the Coordination Age, there is unlikely to be a single dominant coordinator for most ecosystems. While telecoms operators may not have all the capabilities and assets to play an important coordination role, especially compared to the Internet giants, they do have the advantage of being regulated and trusted in their local markets. This presents new opportunities for telecom operators in industries with stronger national boundaries. As such, there is a role for telcos to play in other parts of the value chain which will ultimately enable them to unlock new revenue growth (e.g. TELUS Health and Elisa Smart Factory).

New purpose, new role

The Coordination Age has added increased complexity and new B2B2X business model challenges for operators. They are no longer the monopolies of the past, but one of many important players in an increasingly ecosystem-based economy. This requires telcos to take a different approach: one with new purpose, culture, and ways of working. To move beyond purely connecting people and devices to enabling coordination, telcos will need a fundamental shift in vision. Management teams will need to embrace a new corporate purpose aligned with the outcomes their customers are looking for (i.e. greater resource efficiency), and drive this throughout their organisations.

Historically, operators have served all customers – consumers, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), larger enterprises from all verticals and other operators – with a set of horizontal services (voice, messaging, connectivity).  If operators want to move beyond these services, then they will need to develop deep sector expertise. Indeed, telcos are increasingly seeking to play higher up the value chain and leveraging their core assets and capabilities provides an opportunity to do so.

However, in order to drive new revenues beyond connectivity and add value in other parts of the solution stack, telcos need to be able to select their battles carefully because they do not have the scale, expertise or resources to do it all.

Figure 2: Potential telco roles beyond traditional connectivity

Source: STL Partners

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Clearer on the vision, unclear on the execution

Many telcos have a relatively clear idea of where they want to drive new streams of revenue beyond traditional connectivity services. However, they face various technical, strategic and organisational challenges that have inhibited this vision from reaching fruition and have unanswered questions about how they can overcome these. This lack of clarity is further evident by the fact that some telcos have yet to set explicit revenue targets or KPIs for non-connectivity revenue, and those that have set clear quantifiable objectives struggle to define their execution plan or go-to-market strategy. Even operators that have been most successful in building new revenue streams, such as TELUS and Elisa, do not share targets or revenues for their new businesses publicly. This is likely to protect them from short-term demands of most telecoms shareholders, and because, even when profitable, they may not yet be seen as valuable enough to move the needle.

This report focuses not just on telco ambitions in driving B2B2X revenues beyond core connectivity and the different roles they want to play in the value chain, but more importantly on what strategies telcos are adopting to fulfil their ambitions. Within this research, we explore what is required to succeed from both a technological and organisational standpoint. Our findings are based on an interview programme with over 23 operators globally, conducted from June to August 2020. Our participant group spans across different operator types, geographies, and types of roles within the organisation, ensuring we gain insight into a range of unique perspectives.

In this report, we define B2B2X as a business model which supports the dynamic creation and delivery of new services by multiple parties (the Bs) for any type of end-customer (the X), whether they be enterprises or consumers. The complexity of the value chains within B2B2X models requires more openness and flexibility from party providers, given that any provider could be the first or second ‘B’ in the B2B2X acronym. This research is primarily focused on B2B2X strategies for serving enterprise customers.

In essence, our research is focused on answering the following key question: how can operators grow their B2B2X revenues when traditional core connectivity is in decline?

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • The telecoms industry is looking to revive growth
    • New purpose, new role
    • Clearer on the vision, unclear on the execution
  • Beyond connectivity, but where to?
    • “Selling the service sandwich”
    • Horizontal play: Being the best application enabler
    • The vertical-specific digital services provider
    • There is no “best” approach: Some will work better for different operators in different situations
    • 5G is a trigger but not the only one
  • Accelerating the shift towards partnerships and ecosystems
    • Some operator ‘ecosystems’ look more like partnerships
    • Not all telcos define ‘ecosystems’ the same way
    • Most telcos focusing on ecosystems want to orchestrate and influence the proposition
    • Many see ecosystems as a key potential route but ecosystems come with new requirements
  • The market is ripe for telco ecosystems
    • The interest in network intelligence is not new but this time is different
    • Telcos can provide unique value by making their networks more accessible
    • But so far, telcos have not fully embraced this vision yet
  • Conclusions and recommendations

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Apple Glass: An iPhone moment for 5G?

Augmented reality supports many use cases across industries

Revisiting the themes explored in the AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle report STL Partners published in January 2018, this report explores whether augmented reality (AR) could become a catalyst for widespread adoption of 5G, as leading chip supplier Qualcomm and some telcos hope.

It considers how this technology is developing, its relationship with virtual reality (VR), and the implications for telcos trying to find compelling reasons for customers to use low latency 5G networks.

This report draws the following distinction between VR and AR

  • Virtual reality: use of an enclosed headset for total immersion in a digital3D
  • Augmented reality: superimposition of digital graphics onto images of the real world via a camera viewfinder, a pair of glasses or onto a screen fixed in real world.

In other words, AR is used both indoors and outdoors and on a variety of devices. Whereas Wi-Fi/fibre connectivity will be the preferred connectivity option in many scenarios, 5G will be required in locations lacking high-speed Wi-Fi coverage.  Many AR applications rely on responsive connectivity to enable them to interact with the real world. To be compelling, animated images superimposed on those of the real world need to change in a way that is consistent with changes in the real world and changes in the viewing angle.

AR can be used to create innovative games, such as the 2016 phenomena Pokemon Go, and educational and informational tools, such as travel guides that give you information about the monument you are looking at.  At live sports events, spectators could use AR software to identify players, see how fast they are running, check their heart rates and call up their career statistics.

Note, an advanced form of AR is sometimes referred to as mixed reality or extended reality (XR). In this case, fully interactive digital 3D objects are superimposed on the real world, effectively mixing virtual objects and people with physical objects and people into a seamless interactive scene. For example, an advanced telepresence service could project a live hologram of the person you are talking to into the same room as you. Note, this could be an avatar representing the person or, where the connectivity allows, an actual 3D video stream of the actual person.

Widespread usage of AR services will be a hallmark of the Coordination Age, in the sense that they will bring valuable information to people as and when they need it. First responders, for example, could use smart glasses to help work their way through smoke inside a building, while police officers could be immediately fed information about the owner of a car registration plate. Office workers may use smart glasses to live stream a hologram of a colleague from the other side of the world or a 3D model of a new product or building.

In the home, both AR and VR could be used to generate new entertainment experiences, ranging from highly immersive games to live holograms of sports events or music concerts. Some people may even use these services as a form of escapism, virtually inhabiting alternative realities for several hours a day.

Given sufficient time to develop, STL Partners believes mixed-reality services will ultimately become widely adopted in the developed world. They will become a valuable aid to everyday living, providing the user with information about whatever they are looking at, either on a transparent screen on a pair of glasses or through a wireless earpiece. If you had a device that could give you notifications, such as an alert about a fast approaching car or a delay to your train, in your ear or eyeline, why wouldn’t you want to use it?

How different AR applications affect mobile networks

One of the key questions for the telecoms industry is how many of these applications will require very low latency, high-speed connectivity. The transmission of high-definition holographic images from one place to another in real time could place enormous demands on telecoms networks, opening up opportunities for telcos to earn additional revenues by providing dedicated/managed connectivity at a premium price. But many AR applications, such as displaying reviews of the restaurant a consumer is looking at, are unlikely to generate much data traffic. the figure below lists some potential AR use cases and indicates how demanding they will be to support.

Examples of AR use cases and the demands they make on connectivity


Source: STL Partners

Although telcos have always struggled to convince people to pay a premium for premium connectivity, some of the most advanced AR applications may be sufficiently compelling to bring about this kind of behavioural shift, just as people are prepared to pay more for a better seat at the theatre or in a sports stadium. This could be on a pay-as-you-go or a subscription basis.

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The pioneers of augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is essentially a catch-all term for any application that seeks to overlay digital information and images on the real-world. Applications of AR can range from a simple digital label to a live 3D holographic projection of a person or event.

AR really rose to prominence at the start of the last decade with the launch of smartphone apps, such as Layar, Junaio, and Wikitude, which gave you information about what you were looking at through the smartphone viewfinder. These apps drew on data from the handset’s GPS chip, its compass and, in some cases, image recognition software to try and figure out what was being displayed in the viewfinder. Although they attracted a lot of media attention, these apps were too clunky to break through into the mass-market. However, the underlying concept persists – the reasonably popular Google Lens app enables people to identify a product, plant or animal they are looking at or translate a menu into their own language.

Perhaps the most high profile AR application to date is Niantic’s Pokemon Go, a smartphone game that superimposes cartoon monsters on images of the real world captured by the user’s smartphone camera. Pokemon Go generated $1 billion in revenue globally just seven months after its release in mid 2016, faster than any other mobile game, according to App Annie. It has also shown remarkable staying power. Four years later, in May 2020, Pokemon Go continued to be one of the top 10 grossing games worldwide, according to SensorTower.

In November 2017, Niantic, which has also had another major AR hit with sci-fi game Ingress, raised $200 million to boost its AR efforts. In 2019, it released another AR game based on the Harry Potter franchise.

Niantic is now looking to use its AR expertise to create a new kind of marketing platform. The idea is that brands will be able to post digital adverts and content in real-world locations, essentially creating digital billboards that are viewable to consumers using the Niantic platform. At the online AWE event in May 2020, Niantic executives claimed “AR gamification and location-based context” can help businesses increase their reach, boost user sentiment, and drive foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores. Niantic says it is working with major brands, such as AT&T, Simon Malls, Starbucks, Mcdonalds, and Samsung, to develop AR marketing that “is non-intrusive, organic, and engaging.”

The sustained success of Pokemon Go has made an impression on the major Internet platforms. By 2018, the immediate focus of both Apple and Google had clearly shifted from VR to AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been particularly vocal about the potential of AR. And he continues to sing the praises of the technology in public.

In January 2020, for example, during a visit to Ireland, Cook described augmented reality as the “next big thing.”  In an earnings call later that month, Cook added:When you look at AR today, you would see that there are consumer applications, there are enterprise applications. … it’s going to pervade your life…, because it’s going to go across both business and your whole life. And I think these things will happen in parallel.”

Both Apple and Google have released AR developer tools, helping AR apps to proliferate in both Apple’s App Store and on Google Play.  One of the most popular early use cases for AR is to check how potential new furniture would look inside a living room or a bedroom. Furniture stores and home design companies, such as Ikea, Wayfair and Houzz, have launched their own AR apps using Apple’s ARKit. Once the app is familiar with its surroundings, it allows the user to overlay digital models of furniture anywhere in a room to see how it will fit. The technology can work in outdoor spaces as well.

In a similar vein, there are various AR apps, such as MeasureKit, that allow you to measure any object of your choosing. After the user picks a starting point with a screen tap, a straight line will measure the length until a second tap marks the end. MeasureKit also claims to be able to calculate trajectory distances of moving objects, angle degrees, the square footage of a three-dimensional cube and a person’s height.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • More mainstream models from late 2022
    • Implications and opportunities for telcos
  • Introduction
  • Progress and Immediate Prospects
    • The pioneers of augmented reality
    • Impact of the pandemic
    • Snap – seeing the world differently
    • Facebook – the keeper of the VR flame
    • Google – the leader in image recognition
    • Apple – patiently playing the long game
    • Microsoft – expensive offerings for the enterprise
    • Amazon – teaming up with telcos to enable AR/VR
    • Market forecasts being revised down
  • Telcos Get Active in AR
    • South Korea’s telcos keep trying
    • The global picture
  • What comes next?
    • Live 3D holograms of events
    • Enhancing live venues with holograms
    • 4K HD – Simple, but effective
  • Technical requirements
    • Extreme image processing
    • An array of sensors and cameras
    • Artificial intelligence plays a role
    • Bandwidth and latency
    • Costs: energy, weight and financial
  • Timelines for Better VR and AR
    • When might mass-market models become available?
    • Implications for telcos
    • Opportunities for telcos
  • Appendix: Societal Challenges
    • AR: Is it acceptable in a public place?
    • VR: health issues
    • VR and AR: moral and ethical challenges
    • AR and VR: What do consumers really want?
  • Index

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The future of assurance: How to deliver quality of service at the edge

Why does edge assurance matter?

The assurance of telecoms networks is one of the most important application areas for analytics, automation and AI (A3) across telcos operations. In a previous report estimating the potential value of A3 across telcos’ core business, including networks, customer channels, sales and marketing, we estimated that service assurance accounts for nearly 10% of the total potential value of A3 (see the report A3 for telcos: Mapping the financial value). The only area of greater combined value was in resource management across telecoms existing networks and planned deployments.

Within service assurance, the biggest value buckets are self-healing networks, impact on customer experience and churn, and dynamic SLA management. This estimate was developed through a bottom up analysis of specific applications for automation, analytics and AI within each segment, and their potential to deliver cost savings or revenue uplift for an average sized telecoms operator (see the original report for the full methodology).

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance, US$ millions

Breakdown of the value of A3 in service assurance (US$ millions)

Source: STL Partners, Charlotte Patrick Consult

While this previous research demonstrates there is significant value for telcos in improving assurance on their legacy networks, over the next five years edge assurance will become an increasingly important topic for operators.

What we mean by edge assurance is the new capabilities operators will require to enable visibility across much more distributed, cloud-based networks, and monitoring of a wider and more dynamic range of services and devices, in order to deliver high quality experience and self-healing networks. This need is driven by operators’ accelerating adoption of virtualisation and software-defined networking, for example with increasing experimentation and excitement around open RAN, as well as some operators’ ambitions to play a significant role in the edge computing market (see our report Telco edge computing: How to partner with hyperscalers for analysis of telcos’ ambitions in edge computing).

To give an idea of the scale of the challenge ahead of operators in assuring increasingly distributed network functions and infrastructure, STL Partners’ expects a Tier-1 operator will deploy more than 8,000 edge servers to support virtual RAN by 2025 (see Building telco edge infrastructure: MEC, private LTE and vRAN for the full forecasts).

Forecast of Tier 1 operator edge servers by domain

Forecast of Tier-1 operator edge servers by domain

Source: STL Partners

Given this dramatic shift in network operations, without new edge assurance capabilities:

  • A telco will not be able to understand where issues are occurring across the (virtualised) network and the underlying infrastructure, and diagnose the root cause
  • The promises of cost saving and better customer experience from self-healing networks will not be fully realised in next-generation networks
  • Potential revenue generators such as network slicing and URLLC will be of limited value to customers if the telco can’t offer sufficient SLAs on reliability, latency and visibility
  • It will not be possible to make promises to ecosystem partners around service quality.

Despite the significant number of unknowns in the future of telco activities around 5G, IoT and edge computing, this research ventures a framework to allow telcos to plan for their future service assurance needs. The first section describes the drivers affecting telcos decision-making around the types of assurance that they need at the edge. The second sets out products and capabilities that will be required and types of assurance products that telcos could create and monetise.

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Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • The three main telco strategies in edge assurance
    • What exactly do telcos need to assure?
  • Why edge assurance matters
  • Factors affecting edge assurance development
    • What are telcos measuring?
    • Internal assurance applications
    • Location of measurement and analysis
    • Ownership status of equipment and assets being assured
    • Requirements of external assurance users
    • Requirements from specific applications
    • Telco business model
  • The status of edge assurance and recommendations for telcos
    • Edge assurance vendors
    • Telco assurance products
  • Appendix

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Telco edge computing: How to partner with hyperscalers

Edge computing is getting real

Hyperscalers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google are rapidly increasing their presence in the edge computing market by launching dedicated products, establishing partnerships with telcos on 5G edge infrastructure and embedding their platforms into operators’ infrastructure.

Many telecoms operators, who need cloud infrastructure and platform support to run their edge services, have welcomed the partnership opportunity. However, they are yet to develop clear strategies on how to use these partnerships to establish a stronger proposition in the edge market, move up the value chain and play a role beyond hosting infrastructure and delivering connectivity. Operators that miss out on the partnership opportunity or fail to fully utilise it to develop and differentiate their capabilities and resources could risk either being reduced to connectivity providers with a limited role in the edge market and/or being late to the game.

Edge computing or multi-access edge computing (MEC) enables processing data closer to the end user or device (i.e. the source of data), on physical compute infrastructure that is positioned on the spectrum between the device and the internet or hyperscale cloud.

Telco edge computing is mainly defined as a distributed compute managed by a telco operator. This includes running workloads on customer premises as well as locations within the operator network. One of the reasons for caching and processing data closer to the customer data centres is that it allows both the operators and their customers to enjoy the benefit of reduced backhaul traffic and costs. Depending on where the computing resources reside, edge computing can be broadly divided into:

  • Network edge which includes sites or points of presence (PoPs) owned by a telecoms operator such as base stations, central offices and other aggregation points on the access and/or core network.
  • On-premise edge where the computing resources reside at the customer side, e.g. in a gateway on-site, an on-premises data centre, etc. As a result, customers retain their sensitive data on-premise and enjoy other flexibility and elasticity benefits brought by edge computing.

Our overview on edge computing definitions, network structure, market opportunities and business models can be found in our previous report Telco Edge Computing: What’s the operator strategy?

The edge computing opportunity for operators and hyperscalers

Many operators are looking at edge computing as a good opportunity to leverage their existing assets and resources to innovate and move up the value chain. They aim to expand their services and revenue beyond connectivity and enter the platform and application space. By deploying computing resources at the network edge, operators can offer infrastructure-as-a-service and alternative application and solutions for enterprises. Also, edge computing as a distributed compute structure and an extension of the cloud supports the operators’ own journey into virtualising the network and running internal operations more efficiently.

Cloud hyperscalers, especially the biggest three – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google – are at the forefront of the edge computing market. In the recent few years, they have made efforts to spread their influence outside of their public clouds and have moved the data acquisition point closer to physical devices. These include efforts in integrating their stack into IoT devices and network gateways as well as supporting private and hybrid cloud deployments. Recently, hyperscalers took another step to get closer to customers at the edge by launching platforms dedicated to telecom networks and enabling integration with 5G networks. The latest of these products include Wavelength from AWS, Azure Edge Zones from Microsoft and Anthos for Telecom from Google Cloud. Details on these products are available in section.

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From competition to coopetition

Both hyperscalers and telcos are among the top contenders to lead the edge market. However, each stakeholder lacks a significant piece of the stack which the other has. This is the cloud platform for operators and the physical locations for hyperscalers. Initially, operators and hyperscalers were seen as competitors racing to enter the market through different approaches. This has resulted in the emergence of new types of stakeholders including independent mini data centre providers such as Vapor IO and EdgeConnex, and platform start-ups such as MobiledgeX and Ori Industries.

However, operators acknowledge that even if they do own the edge clouds, these still need to be supported by hyperscaler clouds to create a distributed cloud. To fuel the edge market and build its momentum, operators will, in the most part, work with the cloud providers. Partnerships between operators and hyperscalers are starting to take place and shape the market, impacting edge computing short- and long-term strategies for operators as well as hyperscalers and other players in the market.

Figure 1: Major telco-hyperscalers edge partnerships

Major telco-hyperscaler partnerships

Source: STL Partners analysis

What does it mean for telcos?

Going to market alone is not an attractive option for either operators or hyperscalers at the moment, given the high investment requirement without a guaranteed return. The partnerships between two of the biggest forces in the market will provide the necessary push for the use cases to be developed and enterprise adoption to be accelerated. However, as markets grow and change, so do the stakeholders’ strategies and relationships between them.

Since the emergence of cloud computing and the development of the digital technologies market, operators have been faced with tough competition from the internet players, including hyperscalers who have managed to remain agile while building a sustained appetite for innovation and market disruption. Edge computing is not an exception and they are moving rapidly to define and own the biggest share of the edge market.

Telcos that fail to develop a strategic approach to the edge could risk losing their share of the growing market as non-telco first movers continue to develop the technology and dictate the market dynamics. This report looks into what telcos should consider regarding their edge strategies and what roles they can play in the market while partnering with hyperscalers in edge computing.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Operators’ roles along the edge computing value chain
    • Building a bigger ecosystem and pushing market adoption
    • How partnerships can shape the market
    • What next?
  • Introduction
    • The edge computing opportunity for operators and hyperscalers
    • From competition to coopetition
    • What does it mean for telcos?
  • Overview of the telco-hyperscalers partnerships
    • Explaining the major roles required to enable edge services
    • The hyperscaler-telco edge commercial model
  • Hyperscalers’ edge strategies
    • Overview of hyperscalers’ solutions and activities at the edge
    • Hyperscalers approach to edge sites and infrastructure acquisition
  • Operators’ edge strategies and their roles in the partnerships
    • Examples of operators’ edge computing activities
    • Telcos’ approach to integrating edge platforms
  • Conclusion
    • Infrastructure strategy
    • Platform strategy
    • Verticals and ecosystem building strategy

 

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Building telco edge infrastructure: MEC, Private LTE and VRAN

Reality check: edge computing is not yet mature, and much is still to be decided

Edge computing is still a maturing domain. STL Partners has written extensively on the topic of edge computing over the last 4 years. Within that timeframe, we have seen significant change in terminology, attitudes and approaches from telecoms and adjacent industries to the topic area.  Plans for building telco edge infrastructure have also evolved.

Within the past twelve months, we’ve seen high profile partnerships between hyperscale cloud providers (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google) and telecoms operators that are likely to catalyse the industry and accelerate route to market. We’ve also seen early movers within the industry (such as SK Telecom) developing MEC platforms to enable access to their edge infrastructure.

In the course of this report, we will highlight which domains will drive early adoption for edge, and the potential roll out we could see over the next 5 years if operators move to capitalise on the opportunity. However, to start, it is important to evaluate the situation today.

Commercial deployments of edge computing are rare, and most operators are still in the exploration phase. For many, they have not and will not commit to the roll out of edge infrastructure until they have seen evidence from early movers that it is a genuine opportunity for the industry. For even more, the idea of additional capex investment on edge infrastructure, on top of their 5G rollout plans, is a difficult commitment to make.

Where is “the edge”?

There is no one clear definition of edge computing. Depending on the world you are coming from (Telco? Application developer? Data centre operator? Cloud provider? etc.), you are likely to define it differently. In practice, we know that even within these organisations there are differences between technical and commercial teams around the concept and terminology used to describe “the edge”.

For the purposes on this paper, we will be discussing edge computing primarily from the perspective of a telecoms operator. As such, we’ll be focusing on edge infrastructure that will be rolled out within their network infrastructure or that they will play a role in connecting. This may equate to adding additional servers into an existing technical space (such as a Central Office), or it may mean investing in new microdata centres. The servers may be bought, installed and managed by the telco themselves, or this could be done by a third party, but in all cases the real estate (e.g. the physical location as well as power and cooling) is owned either by the telecoms operator, or by the enterprise who is buying an edge-enabled solution.

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Operators have choice and a range of options for where and how they might develop edge computing sites. The graphic below starts to map some of the potential physical locations for an edge site. In this report, STL Partners forecasts edge infrastructure deployments between 2020 and 2024, by type of operator, use-case domains, edge locations and type of computing.

There is a spectrum of edge infrastructure in which telcos may invest

mapping edge infrastructure investmentSource: STL Partners

This paper primarily draws on discussions with operators and others within the edge ecosystem conducted between February and March 2020. We interviewed a range of operators, and a range of job roles within them, to gain a snapshot of the existing attitudes and ambitions within the industry to shape our understanding of how telcos are likely to build out edge infrastructure.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Preface
  • Reality check: edge computing is not yet mature, and much is still to be decided
    • Reality #1: Organisationally, operators are still divided
    • Reality #2: The edge ecosystem is evolving fast
    • Reality #3: Operators are trying to predict, respond to and figure out what the “new normal” will be post COVID-19
  • Edge computing: key terms and definitions
    • Where is “the edge”?
    • What applications & use cases will run at edge sites?
    • What is inside a telco edge site?
  • How edge will play out: 5-year evolution
    • Modelling exercise: converting hype into numbers
    • Our findings: edge deployments won’t be very “edgy” in 2024
    • Short-term adoption of vRAN is the driving factor
    • New revenues from MEC remain a longer-term opportunity
    • Short-term adoption is focused on efficient operations, but revenue opportunity has not been dismissed
  • Addressing the edge opportunity: operators can be more than infrastructure providers
  • Conclusions: practical recommendations for operators

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COVID-19: Impact on telco priorities

The goal of this research is to understand how telecoms operators’ investment priorities and investments are likely to change in response to COVID-19.  To do this, we collected more than 200 survey responses from participants in telecoms operators, telecoms vendors, and analysts and consultants and other groups. All responses are treated in strict personal and company confidence. Take the survey here.

This research builds on our initial research on the impact of the pandemic to the telecoms industry, COVID-19: Now, next and after, published in March 2020.

Background to the telco COVID-19 survey

The respondents were fairly evenly split between telcos, vendors, and ‘others’ (mainly analysts and consultants). This sample contained a higher proportion of European and American respondents than industry average, so is not fully globally representative. We have drawn out regional comparisons where possible.

Who took the survey?

COVID-19 survey respondents by company and region

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

Meanwhile, 44% of respondents were C-Level/VP/SVP/Director level. Functionally, most respondents work in senior HQ and operational management areas.

What are their roles?

COVID-19 survey respondents by seniority

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

How respondents perceive the risks from COVID-19

Respondents were positive on the prospects for most areas overall. We have taken a slightly more pessimistic view in our analysis of the survey results and the categorisation below to balance this bias and factor in future economic risk.

While not all activities we have categorised as “at risk” will necessarily be delayed, we believe that in some telcos there may be more pressure in these areas if the financial impact of COVID-19 is harsher than expected at the time of the survey. We expect that when Q2 results come out, many operators will have a clearer view of how the crisis will affect them financially – and those that are ahead of the curve in adopting technologies such as automation will be in a good position to accelerate their impact, those that are behind the curve may face a more difficult uphill battle.

A relative view of how respondents perceived the outlook for telcos in different business areas and verticals

COVID-19 survey perceived risks to business

Source: STL Partners analysis of COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

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Notes on the research findings

  • The way research respondents perceive any given question is generally dependent on their current situation and knowledge. To get relevant answers, we asked all respondents if they were interested or involved in specific areas of interest (e.g. ‘consumer services’), and to not answer questions they couldn’t (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) or simply didn’t know or have a clear opinion.
  • We saw no evidence that respondents were ‘gaming’ the results to be favourable to their interests.
  • Results need to be seen in the context that telcos themselves vary widely in size, profitability and market outlook. For example, for some, 5G seems like a valid investment, whereas for others the conditions are currently much less promising. COVID-19 has clearly had some impact on these dynamics, and our analysis attempts to reflect this impact on the overall balance of opinions as well as some of the specific situations to bring greater nuance.
  • As of mid May 2020, the total economic impact of COVID-19 was probably less clear to the majority of the respondents than the operational and lifestyle changes it has brought. It is therefore likely that as telco results for Q2 start to be circulated, and before then internally to the telcos, differing pressures will arise than that existed at the time of this survey. The resulting intentions may therefore become more or less extreme than shown in this research, though the relative positions of different activities in the various maps of risk and opportunity may change less than the absolute levels shown here.
  • We’ve interpreted the results as best we can given our knowledge of the respondents and what they told us, and added in our own insights where relevant.
  • Inevitably, this is a subjective exercise, albeit based on 200+ industry respondents’ views.
  • Nonetheless, we hope that it brings you additional insights to the many that you already possess through your own experiences and access to data.
  • Finally, things continue to change fast. We will continue to track them.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary: What’s most likely to change?
  • Research background
  • Technology impacts: Implementing automation, cloud and edge
  • Network impacts: Making sense of divergent 5G viewpoints
  • Enterprise sector impacts: Healthcare and consumerisation
  • Consumer sector impacts: What will last?
  • Leadership impacts: Building on new foundations
  • What next?

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Telco edge computing: What is the operator strategy?

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Edge computing can help telcos to move up the value chain

The edge computing market and the technologies enabling it are rapidly developing and attracting new players, providing new opportunities to enterprises and service providers. Telco operators are eyeing the market and looking to leverage the technology to move up the value chain and generate more revenue from their networks and services. Edge computing also represents an opportunity for telcos to extend their role beyond offering connectivity services and move into the platform and the application space.

However, operators will be faced with tough competition from other market players such as cloud providers, who are moving rapidly to define and own the biggest share of the edge market. Plus, industrial solution providers, such as Bosch and Siemens, are similarly investing in their own edge services. Telcos are also dealing with technical and business challenges as they venture into the new market and trying to position themselves and identifying their strategies accordingly.

Telcos that fail to develop a strategic approach to the edge could risk losing their share of the growing market as non-telco first movers continue to develop the technology and dictate the market dynamics. This report looks into what telcos should consider regarding their edge strategies and what roles they can play in the market.

Following this introduction, we focus on:

  1. Edge terminology and structure, explaining common terms used within the edge computing context, where the edge resides, and the role of edge computing in 5G.
  2. An overview of the edge computing market, describing different types of stakeholders, current telecoms operators’ deployments and plans, competition from hyperscale cloud providers and the current investment and consolidation trends.
  3. Telcos challenges in addressing the edge opportunity: technical, organisational and commercial challenges given the market
  4. Potential use cases and business models for operators, also exploring possible scenarios of how the market is going to develop and operators’ likely positioning.
  5. A set of recommendations for operators that are building their strategy for the edge.

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What is edge computing and where exactly is the edge?

Edge computing brings cloud services and capabilities including computing, storage and networking physically closer to the end-user by locating them on more widely distributed compute infrastructure, typically at smaller sites.

One could argue that edge computing has existed for some time – local infrastructure has been used for compute and storage, be it end-devices, gateways or on-premises data centres. However, edge computing, or edge cloud, refers to bringing the flexibility and openness of cloud-native infrastructure to that local infrastructure.

In contrast to hyperscale cloud computing where all the data is sent to central locations to be processed and stored, edge computing local processing aims to reduce time and save bandwidth needed to send and receive data between the applications and cloud, which improves the performance of the network and the applications. This does not mean that edge computing is an alternative to cloud computing. It is rather an evolutionary step that complements the current cloud computing infrastructure and offers more flexibility in executing and delivering applications.

Edge computing offers mobile operators several opportunities such as:

  • Differentiating service offerings using edge capabilities
  • Providing new applications and solutions using edge capabilities
  • Enabling customers and partners to leverage the distributed computing network in application development
  • Improving networkperformance and achieving efficiencies / cost savings

As edge computing technologies and definitions are still evolving, different terms are sometimes used interchangeably or have been associated with a certain type of stakeholder. For example, mobile edge computing is often used within the mobile network context and has evolved into multi-access edge computing (MEC) – adopted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) – to include fixed and converged network edge computing scenarios. Fog computing is also often compared to edge computing; the former includes running intelligence on the end-device and is more IoT focused.

These are some of the key terms that need to be identified when discussing edge computing:

  • Network edge refers to edge compute locations that are at sites or points of presence (PoPs) owned by a telecoms operator, for example at a central office in the mobile network or at an ISP’s node.
  • Telco edge cloud is mainly defined as distributed compute managed by a telco  This includes running workloads on customer premises equipment (CPE) at customers’ sites as well as locations within the operator network such as base stations, central offices and other aggregation points on access and/or core network. One of the reasons for caching and processing data closer to the customer data centres is that it allows both the operators and their customers to enjoy the benefit of reduced backhaul traffic and costs.
  • On-premise edge computing refers to the computing resources that are residing at the customer side, e.g. in a gateway on-site, an on-premises data centre, etc. As a result, customers retain their sensitive data on-premise and enjoy other flexibility and elasticity benefits brought by edge computing.
  • Edge cloud is used to describe the virtualised infrastructure available at the edge. It creates a distributed version of the cloud with some flexibility and scalability at the edge. This flexibility allows it to have the capacity to handle sudden surges in workloads from unplanned activities, unlike static on-premise servers. Figure 1 shows the differences between these terms.

Figure 1: Edge computing types

definition of edge computing

Source: STL Partners

Network infrastructure and how the edge relates to 5G

Discussions on edge computing strategies and market are often linked to 5G. Both technologies have overlapping goals of improving performance and throughput and reducing latency for applications such as AR/VR, autonomous vehicles and IoT. 5G improves speed by increasing spectral efficacy, it offers the potential of much higher speeds than 4G. Edge computing, on the other hand, reduces latency by shortening the time required for data processing by allocating resources closer to the application. When combined, edge and 5G can help to achieve round-trip latency below 10 milliseconds.

While 5G deployment is yet to accelerate and reach ubiquitous coverage, the edge can be utilised in some places to reduce latency where needed. There are two reasons why the edge will be part of 5G:

  • First, it has been included in the 5Gstandards (3GPP Release 15) to enable ultra-low latency which will not be achieved by only improvements in the radio interface.
  • Second, operators are in general taking a slow and gradual approach to 5G deployment which means that 5G coverage alone will not provide a big incentive for developers to drive the application market. Edge can be used to fill the network gaps to stimulate the application market growth.

The network edge can be used for applications that need coverage (i.e. accessible anywhere) and can be moved across different edge locations to scale capacity up or down as required. Where an operator decides to establish an edge node depends on:

  • Application latency needs. Some applications such as streaming virtual reality or mission critical applications will require locations close enough to its users to enable sub-50 milliseconds latency.
  • Current network topology. Based on the operators’ network topology, there will be selected locations that can meet the edge latency requirements for the specific application under consideration in terms of the number of hops and the part of the network it resides in.
  • Virtualisation roadmap. The operator needs to consider virtualisation roadmap and where data centre facilities are planned to be built to support future network
  • Site and maintenance costs. The cloud computing economies of scale may diminish as the number of sites proliferate at the edge, for example there is a significant difference in maintaining 1-2 large data centres to maintaining 100s across the country
  • Site availability. Some operators’ edge compute deployment plans assume the nodes reside in the same facilities as those which host their NFV infrastructure. However, many telcos are still in the process of renovating these locations to turn them into (mini) data centres so aren’t yet ready.
  • Site ownership. Sometimes the preferred edge location is within sites that the operators have limited control over, whether that is in the customer premise or within the network. For example, in the US, the cell towers are owned by tower operators such as Crown Castle, American Tower and SBA Communications.

The potential locations for edge nodes can be mapped across the mobile network in four levels as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: possible locations for edge computing

edge computing locations

Source: STL Partners

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Recommendations for telco operators at the edge
    • Four key use cases for operators
    • Edge computing players are tackling market fragmentation with strategic partnerships
    • What next?
  • Table of Figures
  • Introduction
  • Definitions of edge computing terms and key components
    • What is edge computing and where exactly is the edge?
    • Network infrastructure and how the edge relates to 5G
  • Market overview and opportunities
    • The value chain and the types of stakeholders
    • Hyperscale cloud provider activities at the edge
    • Telco initiatives, pilots and plans
    • Investment and merger and acquisition trends in edge computing
  • Use cases and business models for telcos
    • Telco edge computing use cases
    • Vertical opportunities
    • Roles and business models for telcos
  • Telcos’ challenges at the edge
  • Scenarios for network edge infrastructure development
  • Recommendation
  • Index

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Cloud gaming: What is the telco play?

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Drivers for cloud gaming services

Although many people still think of PlayStation and Xbox when they think about gaming, the console market represents only a third of the global games market. From its arcade and console-based beginnings, the gaming industry has come a long way. Over the past 20 years, one of the most significant market trends has been growth of casual gamers. Whereas hardcore gamers are passionate about frequent play and will pay more to play premium games, casual gamers play to pass the time. With the rapid adoption of smartphones capable of supporting gaming applications over the past decade, the population of casual/occasional gamers has risen dramatically.

This trend has seen the advent of free-to-play business models for games, further expanding the industry’s reach. In our earlier report, STL estimated that 45% of the population in the U.S. are either casual gamers (between 2 and 5 hours a week) or occasional gamers (up to 2 hours a week). By contrast, we estimated that hardcore gamers (more than 15 hours a week) make up 5% of the U.S. population, while regular players (5 to 15 hours a week) account for a further 15% of the population.

The expansion in the number of players is driving interest in ‘cloud gaming’. Instead of games running on a console or PC, cloud gaming involves streaming games onto a device from remote servers. The actual game is stored and run on a remote compute with the results being live streamed to the player’s device. This has the important advantage of eliminating the need for players to purchase dedicated gaming hardware. Now, the quality of the internet connection becomes the most important contributor to the gaming experience. While this type of gaming is still in its infancy, and faces a number of challenges, many companies are now entering the cloud gaming fold in an effort to capitalise on the new opportunity.

5G can support cloud gaming traffic growth

Cloud gaming requires not just high bandwidth and low latency, but also a stable connection and consistent low latency (jitter). In theory, 5G promises to deliver stable ultra-low latency. In practice, an enormous amount of infrastructure investment will be required in order to enable a fully loaded 5G network to perform as well as end-to-end fibre5G networks operating in the lower frequency bands would likely buckle under the load if lots of gamers in a cell needed a continuous 25Mbps stream. While 5G in millimetre-wave spectrum would have more capacity, it would require small cells and other mechanisms to ensure indoor penetration, given the spectrum is short range and could be blocked by obstacles such as walls.

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A complicated ecosystem

As explained in our earlier report, Cloud gaming: New opportunities for telcos?, the cloud gaming ecosystem is beginning to take shape. This is being accelerated by the growing availability of fibre and high-speed broadband, which is now being augmented by 5G and, in some cases, edge data centres. Early movers in cloud gaming are offering a range of services, from gaming rigs, to game development platforms, cloud computing infrastructure, or an amalgamation of these.

One of the main attractions of cloud gaming is the potential hardware savings for gamers. High-end PC gaming can be an extremely expensive hobby: gaming PCs range from £500 for the very cheapest to over £5,000 for the very top end. They also require frequent hardware upgrades in order to meet the increasing processing demands of new gaming titles. With cloud gaming, you can access the latest graphics processing unit at a much lower cost.

By some estimates, cloud gaming could deliver a high-end gaming environment at a quarter of the cost of a traditional console-based approach, as it would eliminate the need for retailing, packaging and delivering hardware and software to consumers, while also tapping the economies of scale inherent in the cloud. However, in STL Partners’ view that is a best-case scenario and a 50% reduction in costs is probably more realistic.

STL Partners believes adoption of cloud gaming will be gradual and piecemeal for the next few years, as console gamers work their way through another generation of consoles and casual gamers are reluctant to commit to a monthly subscription. However, from 2022, adoption is likely to grow rapidly as cloud gaming propositions improve.

At this stage, it is not yet clear who will dominate the value chain, if anyone. Will the “hyperscalers” be successful in creating a ‘Netflix’ for games? Google is certainly trying to do this with its Stadia platform, which has yet to gain any real traction, due to both its limited games library and its perceived technological immaturity. The established players in the games industry, such as EA, Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony (PlayStation), have launched cloud gaming offerings, or are, at least, in the process of doing so. Some telcos, such as Deutsche Telekom and Sunrise, are developing their own cloud gaming services, while SK Telecom is partnering with Microsoft.

What telcos can learn from Shadow’s cloud gaming proposition

The rest of this report explores the business models being pursued by cloud gaming providers. Specifically, it looks at cloud gaming company Shadow and how it fits into the wider ecosystem, before evaluating how its distinct approach compares with that of the major players in online entertainment, such as Sony and Google. The second half of the report considers the implications for telcos.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Cloud gaming: a complicated ecosystem
    • The battle of the business models
    • The economics of cloud gaming and pricing models
    • Content offering will trump price
    • Cloud gaming is well positioned for casual gamers
    • The future cloud gaming landscape
  • 5G and fixed wireless
  • The role of edge computing
  • How and where can telcos add value?
  • Conclusions

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Coordinating the care of the elderly

Are telcos ready to enable digital health?

The world has been talking about connected healthcare – the use of in-home and wearable systems to monitor people’s condition – for a long time. Although adoption to date has been piecemeal and limited, the rapid rise in the number of elderly people is fuelling demand for in-home and wearable monitoring systems. The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus is putting the world’s healthcare systems under huge strain, further underlining the need to reform the way in which many medical conditions are diagnosed and treated.

This report explores whether telcos now have the appetite and the tools they need to serve this very challenging, but potentially rewarding market. With the advent of the Coordination Age (see STL Partners report: Telco 2030: New purpose, strategy and business models for the Coordination Age), telcos could play a pivotal role in enabling the world’s healthcare systems to become more sustainable and effective.

This report considers demographic trends, the forces changing healthcare and the case for greater use of digital technologies to monitor chronic conditions and elderly people. It explores various implementation options and some of the healthcare-related activities of Tele2, Vodafone, Telefónica and AT&T, before drawing conclusions and recommending some high-level actions for telcos looking to support healthcare for the elderly.

This executive briefing builds on previous STL Partners reports including:

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Why healthcare needs to change

During the twentieth century, life expectancy in most countries in the world rose dramatically.  This was down to advances in medical science and diagnostic technology, as well as rising awareness about personal and environmental hygiene, health, nutrition, and education. Average global life expectancy continues to rise, increasing from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013.  In some countries, the increase in lifespans has been dramatic. The life expectancy for a Chilean female has risen to 82 years today from 33 years in 1910, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Figure 1: Across the world, average life expectancy is rising towards 80

raising lift expectancy to 2050

Source: The UN

Clearly, the increase in the average lifespan is a good thing. But longer life expectancy, together with falling birth rates, means the population overall is aging rapidly, posing a major challenge for the world’s healthcare systems. According to the WHO, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old will double from about 11% to 22% between 2000 and 2050, equivalent to a rise in the absolute number of people over 60 from 605 million to an extraordinary two billion. Between 2012 and 2050, the number of people over 80 will almost quadruple to 395 million, according to the WHO. That represents a huge increase in the number of elderly people, many of whom will require frequent care and medical attention. For both policymakers and the healthcare industry, this demographic time bomb represents a huge challenge.

Rising demand for continuous healthcare

Of particular concern is the number of people that need continuous healthcare. About 15% of the world’s population suffers from various disabilities, with between 110 million and 190 million adults having significant functional difficulties, according to the WHO. With limited mobility and independence, it can be hard for these people to get the healthcare they need.

As the population ages, this number will rise and rise. For example, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which results in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia, is set to rise to 16 million by 2050 from five million today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The growth in the number of older people, combined with an increase in sedentary lifestyles and diets high in sugars and fats, also means many more people are now living with heart disease, obesity, diabetes and asthma. Furthermore, poor air quality in many industrial and big cities is giving rise to cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as asthma, and lung diseases. Around 235 million people are currently suffering from asthma and about 383,000 people died from asthma in 2015, according to the WHO.

Half of all American adults have at least one chronic condition with one in three adults suffering from multiple chronic conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Most other rich countries are experiencing similar trends, while middle-income countries are heading in the same direction. In cases where a patient requires medical interventions, they may have to travel to a hospital and occupy a bed, at great expense. With the growing prevalence of chronic conditions, a rising proportion of GDP is being devoted to healthcare. Only low-income countries are bucking this trend (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Spending on healthcare is rising except in low income countries

Public health as % of government spending WHO

Public health spending as % of GDP WHO

Source: The WHO

However, there is a huge difference in absolute spending levels between high-income countries and the rest of the world (see Figure 3). High-income countries, such as the U.S., spend almost ten times as much per capita as upper middle-income countries, such as Brazil. At first glance, this suggests the potential healthcare market for telcos is going to be much bigger in Europe, North America and developed Asia, than for telcos in Latin America, developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet these emerging economies could leapfrog their developed counterparts to adopt connected self-managed healthcare systems, as the only affordable alternative.

Figure 3: Absolute health spending in high income countries is far ahead of the rest

per capita health spending by country income levelSource: The WHO

The cost associated with healthcare services continues to rise due to the increasing prices of prescription drugs, diagnostic tools and in-clinic care. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of the nation’s US$3.3 trillion annual healthcare expenditure is spent on individuals with chronic and mental health conditions.

On top of that figure, the management of chronic conditions consumes an enormous amount of informal resources. As formal paid care services are expensive, many older people rely on the support of family, friends or volunteers calling at their homes to check on them and help them with tasks, such as laundry and shopping. In short, the societal cost of managing chronic conditions is enormous.

The particular needs of the elderly

Despite the time and money being spent on healthcare, people with chronic and age-related conditions can be vulnerable. While most elderly people want to live in their own home, there are significant risks attached to this decision, particularly if they live alone. The biggest danger is a fall, which can lead to fractures and, sometimes, lethal medical complications. In the U.S., more than one in four older people fall each year due to illness or loss of balance, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But less than half tell their doctor. One out of five falls causes a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury. In 2015, the total medical costs for falls was more than US$50 billion in the U.S. Beyond falls, another key risk is that older people neglect their own health. A 2016 survey of 1,000 U.K. consumers by IT solutions company Plextek, found that 42% of 35- to 44-year-olds are concerned that their relatives aren’t telling them they feel ill.

Such concerns are driving demand for in-home and wearable systems that can monitor people in real-time and then relay real-time location and mobility information to relatives or carers. If they are perceived to be reliable and comprehensive, such systems can provide peace of mind, making home-based care a more palatable alternative for both patients and their families.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Barriers to more in-home healthcare
  • Introduction
  • Why healthcare needs to change
    • Rising demand for continuous healthcare
    • The particular needs of the elderly
    • Shift to value-based care
    • Demands for personalised healthcare and convenience
  • How healthcare is changing
    • Barriers to more in-home healthcare
  • Implementation options
    • Working with wearables
    • Cameras and motion sensors
    • The connectivity
    • Analysing the data
  • How telcos are tackling healthcare
    • KPN: Covering most of the bases
    • Tele2 and Cuviva: Working through healthcare centres
    • Vodafone and Vision: An expensive system for Alzheimer’s
    • Telefónica’s Health Moonshot
    • AT&T: Leveraging a long-standing brand
  • Conclusions and recommendations
    • Recommendations

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5G: Bridging hype, reality and future promises

The 5G situation seems paradoxical

People in China and South Korea are buying 5G phones by the million, far more than initially expected, yet many western telcos are moving cautiously. Will your company also find demand? What’s the smart strategy while uncertainty remains? What actions are needed to lead in the 5G era? What questions must be answered?

New data requires new thinking. STL Partners 5G strategies: Lessons from the early movers presented the situation in late 2019, and in What will make or break 5G growth? we outlined the key drivers and inhibitors for 5G growth. This follow on report addresses what needs to happen next.

The report is informed by talks with executives of over three dozen companies and email contacts with many more, including 21 of the first 24 telcos who have deployed. This report covers considerations for the next three years (2020–2023) based on what we know today.

“Seize the 5G opportunity” says Ke Ruiwen, Chairman, China Telecom, and Chinese reports claimed 14 million sales by the end of 2019. Korea announced two million subscribers in July 2019 and by December 2019 approached five million. By early 2020, The Korean carriers were confident 30% of the market will be using 5G by the end of 2020. In the US, Verizon is selling 5G phones even in areas without 5G services,  With nine phone makers looking for market share, the price in China is US$285–$500 and falling, so the handset price barrier seems to be coming down fast.

Yet in many other markets, operators progress is significantly more tentative. So what is going on, and what should you do about it?

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5G technology works OK

22 of the first 24 operators to deploy are using mid-band radio frequencies.

Vodafone UK claims “5G will work at average speeds of 150–200 Mbps.” Speeds are typically 100 to 500 Mbps, rarely a gigabit. Latency is about 30 milliseconds, only about a third better than decent 4G. Mid-band reach is excellent. Sprint has demonstrated that simply upgrading existing base stations can provide substantial coverage.

5G has a draft business case now: people want to buy 5G phones. New use cases are mostly years away but the prospect of better mobile broadband is winning customers. The costs of radios, backhaul, and core are falling as five system vendors – Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE – fight for market share. They’ve shipped over 600,000 radios. Many newcomers are gaining traction, for example Altiostar won a large contract from Rakuten and Mavenir is in trials with DT.

The high cost of 5G networks is an outdated myth. DT, Orange, Verizon, and AT&T are building 5G while cutting or keeping capex flat. Sprint’s results suggest a smart build can quickly reach half the country without a large increase in capital spending. Instead, the issue for operators is that it requires new spending with uncertain returns.

The technology works, mostly. Mid-band is performing as expected, with typical speeds of 100–500Mbps outdoors, though indoor performance is less clear yet. mmWave indoor is badly degraded. Some SDN, NFV, and other tools for automation have reached the field. However, 5G upstream is in limited use. Many carriers are combining 5G downstream with 4G upstream for now. However, each base station currently requires much more power than 4G bases, which leads to high opex. Dynamic spectrum sharing, which allows 5G to share unneeded 4G spectrum, is still in test. Many features of SDN and NFV are not yet ready.

So what should companies do? The next sections review go-to-market lessons, status on forward-looking applications, and technical considerations.

Early go-to-market lessons

Don’t oversell 5G

The continuing publicity for 5G is proving powerful, but variable. Because some customers are already convinced they want 5G, marketing and advertising do not always need to emphasise the value of 5G. For those customers, make clear why your company’s offering is the best compared to rivals’. However, the draw of 5G is not universal. Many remain sceptical, especially if their past experience with 4G has been lacklustre. They – and also a minority swayed by alarmist anti-5G rhetoric – will need far more nuanced and persuasive marketing.

Operators should be wary of overclaiming. 5G speed, although impressive, currently has few practical applications that don’t already work well over decent 4G. Fixed home broadband is a possible exception here. As the objective advantages of 5G in the near future are likely to be limited, operators should not hype features that are unrealistic today, no matter how glamorous. If you don’t have concrete selling propositions, do image advertising or use happy customer testimonials.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • 5G technology works OK
  • Early go-to-market lessons
    • Don’t oversell 5G
    • Price to match the experience
    • Deliver a valuable product
    • Concerns about new competition
    • Prepare for possible demand increases
    • The interdependencies of edge and 5G
  • Potential new applications
    • Large now and likely to grow in the 5G era
    • Near-term applications with possible major impact for 5G
    • Mid- and long-term 5G demand drivers
  • Technology choices, in summary
    • Backhaul and transport networks
    • When will 5G SA cores be needed (or available)?
    • 5G security? Nothing is perfect
    • Telco cloud: NFV, SDN, cloud native cores, and beyond
    • AI and automation in 5G
    • Power and heat

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What will make or break 5G growth?

5G is a long way from delivering on the hype

This report is a crib sheet outlining the 18 factors that STL Partners believes will have a significant impact on the development of the 5G market. We put forward our core assumption on how we expect each factor to affect the 5G market, and highlight the upside and downside risks to our assumption.

The purpose of the report is to pull together knowledge from across different areas – networks, enterprise services, consumer services, regulatory and commercial environments – to give a holistic view of what we think will influence 5G development. Although everyone in the industry has an eye on how 5G is developing, often this is from a relatively narrow view of the market. But the reality is that over the long term, 5G will not be just another G, but an amalgamation of many emerging and maturing network technologies, increasingly bespoke and fragmented enterprise and consumer demands, with high government expectations for contributions to economic growth. So to understand how quickly or slowly 5G will deliver on these promises, operators, vendors, customers and governments need to consider how a wide range of factors are playing out in their countries. By benchmarking their progress against our core assumptions, upside risks and downside risks, industry players can make a well-rounded assessment of whether they are ahead or behind in 5G development and identify ways to drive the market forward.

This report builds on STL’s extensive coverage of 5G and other enabling technologies:

Key factors influencing 5G development

We have organised the factors affecting 5G development into three categories:

  1. Primary drivers: We believe these will have the greatest impact on 5G development, owing to their influence over the cost and ease of deploying network infrastructure and services, and accessibility and value of 5G connectivity to end-users.
  2. Secondary drivers: These factors have a less direct impact on the 5G market development, especially over the short term, or will only influence a specific part of the market, such as fixed wireless access. However, in some instances telcos have more control over secondary factors than the primary ones, so depending on their strategies, secondary factors could have a disproportionate impact on 5G market development.
  3. Wildcards: These are factors which are less likely or predictable, but that if they do occur would have a decisive impact on how the 5G market (and wider telecoms industry) evolves.

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The 5G-aliser

Over the coming quarters, we will use these 5G factors as a means of measuring progress. The diagram below shows the inaugural 5G-aliser. The top row shows the supply and demand levels for 5G, the middle row shows the absolute level impact of each driver on 5G development, i.e. how important each driver is to 5G growth right now , and the bottom row shows the relative position of each driver. While our intention was to start all drivers at the same relative level, reflecting our core assumption as of March 2020, given the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have dropped this driver into the red already as we expect telcos’ first priority during the crisis to be on keeping their current operations running smoothly.

The 5G-aliser, March 2020

STL 5G-a-liser March 2020

Source: STL Partners

On a quarterly basis we will monitor the development of the 5G market and update the markers for each driver to reflect the emergence of upside or downside risks, and rising or falling importance of different growth drivers. Evidently, some factors are dependent on local market conditions, so we will also evaluate the drivers on a market by market basis, when important local developments occur.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Key takeaways
    • The 5G-aliser
  • Introduction
  • Key factors influencing 5G development
    • Primary drivers
    • Secondary factors
    • Wildcards
  • Conclusions

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Cloud gaming: New opportunities for telcos?

Gaming is following video to the cloud

Cloud gaming services enable consumers to play video games using any device with a screen and an Internet connection – the software and hardware required to play the game are all hosted on remote cloud services. Some reviewers say connectivity and cloud technologies have now advanced to a point where cloud gaming can begin to rival the experience offered by leading consoles, such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, while delivering greater interactivity and flexibility than gaming that relies on local hardware. Google believes it is now feasible to move gaming completely into the cloud – it has just launched its Stadia cloud gaming service. Although Microsoft is sounding a more cautious note, it is gearing up to launch a rival cloud gaming proposition called xCloud.

This report explores cloud gaming and models the size of the potential market, including the scale of the opportunity for telcos. It also considers the potential ramifications for telecoms networks. If Stadia, xCloud and other cloud gaming services take off, consumer demand for high-bandwidth, low latency connectivity could soar. At the same time, cloud gaming could also provide a key test of the business rationale for edge computing, which involves the deployment of compute power and data storage closer to the end users of digital content and applications. This allows the associated data to be processed, analysed and acted on locally, instead of being transmitted long distances to be processed at central data centres.

This report then goes on to outline the rollout of cloud gaming services by various telcos, including Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Sunrise in Switzerland, while also considering Apple’s strategy in this space. Finally, the conclusions section summarises how telcos around the world should be preparing for mass-market cloud gaming.

This report builds on previous executive briefings published by STL Partners, including:

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What is cloud gaming?

Up to now, keen gamers have generally bought a dedicated console, such as a Microsoft Xbox or Sony PlayStation, or a high-end computer, to play technically complex and graphically rich games. They also typically buy a physical copy of the game (a DVD), which they install on their console or in an optical disc drive attached to their PC. Alternatively, some platforms, such as Steam, allow gamers to download games from a marketplace.

Cloud gaming changes that paradigm by running the games on remote hardware in the cloud, with the video and audio then streamed to the consumer’s device, which could be a smartphone, a connected TV, a low-end PC or a tablet. The player would typically connect this device to a dedicated handheld controller, similar to one that they would use with an Xbox or a PlayStation.

There is also a half-way house between full cloud gaming and console gaming. This “lite” form of cloud gaming is sometimes known as “command streaming”. In this case, the game logic and graphics commands are processed in the cloud, but the graphics rendering happens locally on the device. This approach lowers the amount of bandwidth required (sending commands requires less bandwidth than sending video) and is less demanding from a latency perspective (no encoding/ decoding of the video stream). But the quality of graphics will be limited to the capabilities of the graphic processing unit on the end-user’s device. For keen players that want to play graphically rich games, command streaming wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the need to buy a console or a powerful PC.

As well as relocating and rejigging the computing permutations, cloud gaming opens up new business models. Rather than buying individual games, for example, the consumer could pay for a Netflix-style subscription service that would enable them to play a wide range of online video games, without having to download them. Alternatively, cloud gaming services could use a pay-as-you-go model, simply charging consumers by the minute or hour.

Today, these cloud gaming subscriptions can be relatively expensive. For example, Shadow, an existing cloud gaming service charges US$35 a month in the U.S., £32 a month in the U.K. and €40 a month in France and Germany (but there are significant discounts if the subscriber commits to 12 months). Shadow can support graphics resolution of 4K at 60 frames per second and conventional HD at 144 frames per second, which is superior to a typical console specification. It requires an Internet connection of at least 15 Mbps. Shadow is compatible with Windows 7/8/10, macOS, Android, Linux (beta), iOS (beta) and comes with a Windows 10 license, which can be used for other PC applications.

At those prices, Shadow is a niche offering. But Google is now looking to take cloud gaming mainstream by setting subscription charges at around US$10 a month – comparable to a Spotify or Netflix subscription, although the user will have to pay additional fees to buy most games. Google says its new Stadia cloud gaming service is accessible from any device that can run YouTube in HD at 30/60 frames per second (fps), as long as it has a fast enough connection (15–25Mbps). The consumer then uses a dedicated controller that can connect directly to their Wi-Fi, bypassing the device with the screen. All the processing is done in Google’s cloud, which then sends a YouTube video-stream to the device: the URL pinpoints which clip of the gameplay to request and receive.

In other words, Stadia will treat games as personalised YouTube video clips/web-pages that a player or viewer can interact with in real time. As a result, the gamer can share that stream easily with friends by sending them the URL. With permission from the gamer, the friend could then jump straight into the gameplay using their own device.

What is cloud gaming?

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • What is cloud gaming?
    • Why consumers will embrace cloud gaming
  • Ramifications for telecoms networks
    • Big demands on bandwidth
    • Latency
    • Edge computing
    • The network architecture underpinning Google Stadia
  • How large is the potential market?
    • Modelling the U.S. cloud gaming market
    • New business models
  • Telcos’ cloud gaming activities
    • Microsoft hedges its bets
    • Apple takes a different tack
  • Conclusions
    • Telcos without their own online entertainment offering
    • Telcos with their own online entertainment offering

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What edge developers want from telcos now

There is a clear opportunity for telcos to support edge application developers

STL Partners has been writing about edge computing since 2015. We’ve published reports including Edge computing: Five viable telco business models and Telco edge computing: Turning vision into practice. Although this is relatively nascent in the telecoms industry, the domain is maturing rapidly. Discussions are now centring around the “how” and the “when” rather than the “if” and the “why”.

In order to drive these conversations forward, telcos need to listen and learn from developers who will, eventually, be making use of their edge computing capabilities. There are developers who are deeply engaged with the issue of edge computing, seeing it as a game-changing capability for their own solution. But, they also have strong messages they want the telecommunications industry to hear. They have their own requirements and expectations for how edge computing should work. They want clarity around what capabilities it will have, how their application will work on the edge and how they will be charged for its usage. This paper looks to give several application developers at the forefront of edge computing development a platform to address the telecoms industry.

For our interview programme we have focused on four key industries:

  • AR/VR applications
  • Drones
  • Location based services
  • Video and application optimisation

The focus for this paper is on application developers who primarily serve enterprise markets. However, there is real opportunity and applicability for applications running at the edge in the consumer market as well. In particular, some of the AR/VR applications discussed are currently industry focused but could and will eventually be used by consumers as well.

Our hope with this paper is that it will stimulate discussions within the edge computing community as a whole, including all key stakeholders. We also pull out the key practical implications for telcos in terms of business models, the technology they should look to be developing and the partnerships they may wish to establish.

 

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The promise of industry 4.0 is being discussed broadly, and has been for several years. Much of the promise of increased productivity and reduced waste comes from the automation of processes that have typically required routine, often physical, human intervention. STL Partners has evaluated some of these use cases at length, as well as forecasting the value they can bring to the industry, in an upcoming report focused on the manufacturing industry.

However, there is also much promise in applications that, rather than replacing humans, look to increase their safety, efficiency and productivity. And this kind of use case can span outside of manufacturing, into industries such as mining, utilities, construction, architecture and beyond. One of these use cases is using AR/VR/MR (mixed reality) technology to overlay information for workers. This can span from simpler applications such as improving people management through applications that provide information on the order of tasks that should be performed to more complex applications like using augmented reality to visualise 3D CAD models. Benefits of these kinds of solutions include:

  1. Increased productivity of workers. For example, instead of needing to refer to manuals or instructions before returning to the task at hand, instructions can be overlaid on smart glasses so they can be referred to as the task is being completed.
  2. Increase productivity of experts. VR/AR applications can essentially upskill cheaper labour either through the additional information they can receive through the application or through the ability to more closely collaborate with experts who are not physically in the same place as them.
  3. Tasks performed with more accuracy. If workers can be upskilled through the use of overlaid information, then they are less likely to need to redo tasks because mistakes have been made.
  4. Better health, safety and compliance. Overlays on the smart glasses can warn workers of hazards and enable them to more safely handle challenging situations. Where video is stored, compliance to health and safety standards can be proven.

UAV/drones: Struggling to scale

Forecasts for the drone market have been optimistic in predicting take-up of the technology across different industries. There are proven cases of how drones can deliver benefits across different sectors, for example:

  • Delivering packages, such as Amazon’s Prime Air
  • Monitoring critical infrastructure, such as bridges and utility lines
  • Surveying land and the condition of crop in agricultural settings

Outside of delivery, most drone use cases centre on the ability to capture data that has historically been costly, time consuming or dangerous to do so and make sense of it by creating meaningful maps or interpret the data to identify anomalies. For example, France-based start-up Donecle is enabling automated aircraft inspections through drones to improve efficiencies and reduce the time planes spend in the hangar. Software companies such as Pix4D, DroneDeploy and Bentley are the market leaders for providing photogrammetry tools to translate imagery from drones into practical models.

However, adoption is slower than expected. This is partly due to the nascency of the technology; most drones are limited to 30 minutes of flight time, which restricts the amount of data that can be collected in a single session. Regulation for commercial use is inhibiting use, by putting constraints on how large the drone is, when it can fly and how high, as well as mandating the need for pilot qualifications to fly drones.

Ultimately, the challenge is that, until there is a way to continuously collect data and monitor assets/infrastructure, industries and governments will not be able to access the true benefit of using drones. To make a real economic difference, drones must enable a significant volume of data that is not currently accessible. The current model relies on an individual to manually programme the drone to fly and collect the data, then connect it to a PC, to transfer the data and finally upload it to the photogrammetry software to extract insights. Atrius, a start-up we interviewed who is developing data centre units to enable autonomous drones, likened this to using a bucket to collect oil from an oil field and driving back to the refinery to process it into fuel rather than using a pipeline. Instead of using manual processes, data collection and transformation from drones needs to be autonomous – from the drone knowing when to set off and where to go, to interpreting the data and distributing it to the relevant recipients and systems.

Video and application optimisation

The way in which content, video and applications are optimised to improve performance, scalability and security has evolved. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • Application and web page content is increasingly personalised and dynamic – caching static content at the edge is not sufficient.
  • Real-time video streaming is growing in entertainment, as well as enterprise/government applications (e.g. police body cameras) – performance here cannot be improved by moving the content closer to the end-viewer, video has to be optimised as it is captured.
  • Content is being enriched with augmented reality – for example overlaying live statistics on players when streaming a basketball game.

This is driving a need for edge computing and the ability to run workloads closer to the end user, rather than simply cache content or applications in a CDN. Two of our case studies come from this domain, although have very different propositions: the start-up Section provides a platform deploying workloads for developers at the edge and Smart Mobile Labs’ solutions optimise real-time video streaming.

Location-based services

Location-based services leverage information about a user’s location in order to provide targeted information, advertising or offers. Radius Networks provides these types of solutions for the retail and fast food industry. Specifically, they enable solutions such as:

  • Table service. Often used in fast food restaurants, when a customer has ordered they are given a beacon and can go and sit at a table. Staff are able to track the customer and bring their food to them when it has been prepared.
  • Curbside pickup of groceries. When a customer orders groceries in advance and drives to the store to pick it up, their location can be tracked in order for staff to be ready to hand them their order as soon as they arrive in the carpark. This ensures minimum wait time while also minimising the amount of time food is taken out of optimal storage conditions such as a fridge or a freezer.
  • Asset tracking. Assets such as products or machinery can be tracked throughout a store. This can ensure expensive stock or items are not lost and can help with logistical difficulties such as locating a specific package or item in a large warehouse.

There are current technical limitations that come with location-based services, but Radius Networks believes that edge computing can help solve them.

This report looks at the four use case categories in depth, including the types of services application developers are offering, why they need edge computing, and the opportunity for telecoms operators.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • AR/VR for industry
    • Application introduction (AR/VR for industry)
    • 1000 Realities: Edge computing for remote AR assistance
    • Light: edge for heavy duty computing with CAD models
    • Arvizio: edge for dynamic collaboration between remote parties
    • Challenges and implications for telcos
  • UAV/drones
    • Commercial drones are struggling to achieve wide scale adoption
    • Enter edge computing: enabling autonomous drones
    • Atrius’ experience: edge is necessary, and the network is key
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Video and application optimisation
    • The changing nature of video and application optimisation
    • Benefits of the telecom edge
    • Edge use cases in video / application optimisation
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Location-based services
    • There are current technical limitations that come with location-based services – and edge can help solve them
    • Edge computing and location-based services: how it works
    • Challenges and implications for operators
  • Monetisation opportunities for telcos
  • Conclusions: practical next steps for operators

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How telcos can flex their physical strength

Telcos can learn from Amazon

This executive briefing explores how and why Amazon is expanding its physical footprint in its home market of North America. Although Amazon was born on the Internet, physical assets from lockers and retail stores to fulfilment centres and airplanes are absolutely fundamental to its mission to provide the most convenient means of accessing as many physical and digital products and services as possible.

Flagging the many parallels with telecoms, this report analyses the way in which Amazon is melding its physical and digital propositions to generate as many economies of scale and economies of scope as possible. For each example, the report considers the potential lessons for telcos.

Like Amazon, telcos have an extensive range of physical and digital assets and capabilities. But unlike Amazon, telcos tend to focus these assets on a single purpose, rather than serving multiple purposes and multiple groups of customers.

This report gives a high level overview of how telcos could do much more with their remaining data centres, their core and access networks, their retail stores, vehicle fleets, devices and apps. Indeed, each of these assets could help telcos to secure a major role in the Coordination Age – a new era in which telcos and their partners could move beyond providing connectivity to help the public and private sector better coordinate the use of key resources and assets, such as road space, fresh water, energy and farm land.

Finally, the report also flags the potential for telcos outside of North America to partner with Amazon. Beyond its home market, Amazon still has little in the way of physical assets, whereas telcos in Europe and Asia have large physical footprints that could be better utilised.

Note, this high-level report will be supplemented by future reports that will analyse in-depth how telcos can make better use of each category of asset, as STL Partners did in this report exploring best practice in the rollout of apps: Telcos’ apps: What works?

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Amazon: Coordinating convenience

As telcos explore new opportunities emerging in the Coordination Age, they could learn a lot from Amazon, a company that has mastered the coordination of complex digital and physical supply chains. Born on the Internet, Amazon is associated in most people’s minds with the rise of online shopping – buying goods with a click of a button from the comfort of your armchair. Although one might assume that Amazon keeps costs down by minimising its capital spending and its physical footprint, its approach is far more nuanced than that. Indeed, Amazon is building out a broad physical presence across North America that belies the notion that success in digital commerce is all about data, algorithms and slick software. Despite its relentless pursuit of automation, Amazon employs approximately 647,500 full-time and part-time staff, most of them working in fulfilment centres and other logistical facilities.

Rather than minimising costs, Amazon is looking to maximise convenience. Indeed, Amazon is gradually increasing its spending on fulfilment, which has climbed from 13% of sales in 2016 to 14% in 2017 and 15% in 2018.

Figure 1: Amazon’s fulfilment costs are rising

Amazon's fulfilment costs by segment

Source: Amazon

Amazon’s physical assets

In the Coordination Age, digital technologies are being used to coordinate the efficient use of physical assets and resources. While Google is focused on using its world-class software expertise to coordinate the use of physical assets owned by others, Amazon is betting that its expertise in managing physical assets (as well as developing software) will give it a competitive edge over its rival. As telecoms operators also own a broad mix of digital and physical assets, Amazon’s strategy provides a potential playbook for telcos. By straddling the physical and digital worlds, Amazon believes it can bring greater value to both consumers and companies.

One of the ways in which Amazon is increasing convenience for customers is by reducing the latency in its distribution network – it is building out an increasingly dense network of physical assets to reduce delivery times, so that consumers regard Amazon as first port of call for an even wider range of products and services. Amazon wants to sell people what they want, exactly when they want it. For Amazon, as with telcos, high quality coverage of major population centres is vital.

To that end, Amazon is building up a major physical presence in North America – its home market. Amazon’s balance sheet now shows US$45 billion of property and equipment in the U.S. with a further US$16.7 billion in the rest of the world. That compares with US$27.5 billion of property and equipment on the balance sheet of Target Corp., a retailer with more than 1,800 stores across the U.S. Figure 2 shows the value of the property and equipment assets in Amazon’s North America division is growing far faster than those in its International division. That suggests Amazon can’t afford to pursue an asset-heavy strategy across the world and could be open to partnerships with telcos with data centres, retail stores and phone boxes in markets beyond North America.

Figure 2: Amazon’s physical asset base in North America is growing fast

Value of Amazons physical assets by segment

Source: Amazon annual reports

As Figure 2 shows, the physical footprint of Amazon Web Services is also growing rapidly, underlining Amazon’s relentless expansion in online entertainment and cloud computing, as well as retail and logistics (see Figure 3). Indeed, Amazon is highly active in the six distinct market segments shown in Figure 3, underlining how Amazon is comfortable handling a vast range of physical goods and digital bits and bytes. It also operates its own network infrastructure, including undersea cables, and wind farms.

Figure 3 might suggest Amazon is a conglomerate, but it has integrated its propositions across multiple markets in a way that traditional conglomerates wouldn’t contemplate, building extraordinary synergies across six distinct markets over the past 20 years.

Amazon has built these synergies by moving fluidly between B2B2C propositions, B2B propositions and B2C propositions. Amazon is both a retailer and a marketplace for physical goods, and a supplier of cloud services and apps to both consumers and businesses.  As a result, it sometimes competes directly with is customers, but in a way that its customers seem to accept. Most famously, Amazon competes with Netflix in the video-on-demand market, while hosting Netflix on Amazon Web Services (telcos do something similar by serving third party MVNOs).

Figure 3: The milestones of Amazon’s expansion across six segments

Table of Amazon's milestones across six segments

Source: STL Partners

The rest of this report compares Amazon’s physical assets against those of telecoms operators, to draw some parallels on how telcos could make better use of their vast physical assets.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Amazon: Coordinating convenience
    • Amazon’s physical footprint
    • Comparing Amazon with telcos
    • Whatever you want, however you want it
    • Exploiting end-user devices
    • Better consumer apps
  • How telcos can better harness their assets
    • Partnerships with Amazon

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Moving beyond the lab: How to make blockchain pay

Is 2019 the year blockchain hype for telecoms becomes reality?

STL Partners has been exploring blockchain for several years, producing a report in May 2018 focusing on how telcos can make money from blockchain. This report looks to return to this question one year on.

The conclusions from this report have been informed by an interview programme undertaken by STL Partners and sponsored by Huawei with 11 telcos and blockchain technology vendors.

As successful blockchain proofs of concept (PoCs) begin to emerge, this report looks to answer the key question:

Which blockchain use cases should telcos prioritise and how can they turn them into real revenue or cost saving opportunities?

Worldwide blockchain revenues are sharply increasing – telcos should consider how they can get a slice of the pie.

Worldwide blockchain market forecast, 2017-2024

Telecom Blockchain Market Forecast

Source: Wintergreen Research

Private blockchains may offer greater opportunities for telecom operators

Public, permissionless blockchain has been the most high profile category, because of the association with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but telcos should be equally mindful of the opportunities brought by permissioned or private blockchains. Here, telcos may find a richer right to play, along with avoiding some of the blockchain pitfalls like the issue of scalability.

    • Public blockchain: Anyone can participate in the consensus system and anyone can view the blockchain.
    • Public, permissioned blockchain: Only those approved can participate in the consensus system but anyone can view the blockchain. The participants’ digital identities must match their real-world identities.
    • Private, permissioned blockchain: Only those approved can participate in the consensus system and view the blockchain. For example, using blockchain within a consortium, whereby only members are able to view and participate.

Blockchain PoCs are becoming more prevalent but most telcos are still in the exploratory phase

Based on the discussions of our interview programme, we found that most telecoms operators were still at an early stage of trying to understand blockchain as a technology and its potential implications on business opportunities and processes. Despite interviewing many of the leading telcos, very few are further than evaluating PoCs.

Maturity of telecoms blockchain use cases

Blockchain telecom use cases at each stage

Source: STL Partners

Telecoms operators should evaluate use cases at a business level to ensure they move beyond the lab

The majority of interviewees either had blockchain as a personal passion project or were part of R&D – senior management engagement was limited

In order to ensure that blockchain solutions become commercialised, telcos should consider the following factors:

  1. Focus on a key functionality. Different types of telecom blockchain use cases will require different frameworks and skill sets. Building expertise in one blockchain domain, such as Clear which focuses entirely on blockchain-based settlement solutions, could help telcos and technology companies to develop an effective strategy to commercialise their solution.
  2. Internal vs external use cases. Internal use cases will provide benefits to the telco themselves such as cost savings from improved operational efficiencies, whereas external use cases will enable telcos to provide benefits to other users. Telcos should decide which of these best suits their business interests to further develop use cases.
  3. Set out clear business drivers and benefits. Because blockchain technology is still evolving, there is a tendency among those exploring potential use cases to get bogged down in how they will work – who runs the nodes, what goes on the blockchain – and forget to build a clear view of how they will deliver value and to whom.
  4. Ease of implementation. Some telecom blockchain use cases may be more or less difficult to implement, due to aspects such as the maturity of the blockchain technology, collaboration between multiple parties (a key area blockchain is well suited to but one which requires an ecosystem to be established) or market maturity. Telcos should therefore consider how significant these are when deciding on which use cases they can feasibly develop.

In Moving beyond the lab: How to make blockchain pay these four factors are explored in detail. The report then sets out eight of the most promising use cases that telcos could implement to turn promise into money-making reality.

Report Contents

  • Executive summary
  • Telecoms and blockchain: the current landscape
  • Why are so many telco blockchain use cases staying in the lab?
  • How will telcos make blockchain a (money-making) reality?
    • Example 1: Inter-carrier network services
    • Example 2: Edge compute marketplace
    • Example 3: Telco mobile wallet
    • Example 4: Supply chain management
    • Example 5: Telco credit scoring
    • Example 6: IoT micropayments
    • Example 7: IoT DDOS prevention
    • Example 8: Roaming Conclusions
  • Conclusions

Predicting the future: Where next for SD-WAN?

Introduction

This document is the third in a mini-series of three reports which seek to explore SD-WAN technology from an enterprise perspective, covering the challenges that SD-WAN is designed to address, the differing types of SD-WAN product on the market today, and how we envisage SD-WAN-type services evolving in future.

The first two reports in the series are:

Future evolution of SD-WAN

Any decision made about SD-WAN aspects or management must be taken not just in context of enterprises’ current networking challenges, but also in context of how those challenges, as well as networking technology, are likely to evolve. This report assesses where we expect the industry to go next.

At STL Partners, we believe that SD-WAN under its current definition is not an end in itself. All indications are that enterprises are becoming increasingly cloud-centric, and we see no sign of this trend reversing. SD-WAN will no doubt be a key component of the multicloud ecosystem – but it will require an evolution beyond the confines of what is currently being packaged and sold.

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In short, existing SD-WAN services are just the first step on a longer journey towards integrated, software-driven WAN operations and networking on a broader scale. Enterprises and vendors planning SD-WAN rollout would do well to consider how that evolution could unfold.

As with any new technology, there are multiple pathways that this evolution could follow – none of which are yet well-understood. STL Partners has identified three emerging evolution pathways, which we explain in detail below. The options are:

  1. SD-WAN used as the first step towards SD-Branch: SD-WAN is deployed as a stepping stone technology towards more advanced, integrated management of enterprises’ LANs and branches alongside the WAN.
  2. SD-WAN sold “as a Service”: SD-WAN starts to be offered as a more fully cloud-based software service, free from vendor or hardware-based constraints.
  3. SD-WAN used as an enabling component of edge/IoT platforms: SD-WAN features and infrastructure are integrated with service providers’ edge computing and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, with sales focus on enterprise automation and process optimisation, rather than the SD-WAN component itself.

These options are of course not mutually exclusive and are likely in practice to be adopted in some combination of the different elements. It is quite feasible, for example, that some service providers will start to “upsell” their existing SD-WAN customers onto a more integrated “SD-Branch” offering (#1) – and to sell a flavour of this same offering as a cloud-based software option (#2). Indeed, we have already seen this happening in the marketplace.

In addition, all three options share two things in common:

  • A move towards cloud-centricity: Their focus is on the LAN and branch, WAN (delivered in an even more flexible, cloud-native way), the edge (and edge computing and IoT), respectively.
  • Increasing use of AI technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are pouring into all areas of technology and network infrastructure is no exception. The dynamic nature of traffic patterns over SD-WAN make it a prime candidate for this kind of tech to enable, say, security threat detection or traffic routing optimisation. Whichever direction SD-WAN takes, it is sure to make use of AI/ML.

In this report, we detail each of the three options, with particular reference to how they might benefit both enterprise customers, and those who will provide such SD-WAN services.

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Telcos and enterprise verticals: 5G is not the only opportunity

Introduction

This report outlines key challenges within selected industry verticals, and how telcos can help resolve them with three emerging networking technologies – 5G, IoT and edge computing.

This research builds on many previous reports:

Enterprise services evolve alongside communications and information technologies

The early days of 2G/3G

  • Basic M2M connectivity
  • Early versions of private networks, bypassing the internet for sensitive data transfer

Improving mobility and capacity with 4G and fibre

  • Better connectivity drives demand for video-conferencing and more sophisticated UCaaS
  • Mobile and fixed data connectivity is powerful enough to enable greater enterprise mobility and support the shift towards cloud-based services
  • Different verticals increasingly require bespoke solutions for unique needs – which are easier to deliver through the cloud

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Greater flexibility and frictionless experiences with 5G, IoT and edge computing

  • Increasing complexity of connectivity, IoT, cloud and IT ecosystems are driving demand for flexible yet seamless solutions:
    • Mobile connectivity across geographies without onerous roaming charges
    • Seamless mobile connectivity across multiple networks and technologies, especially in remote areas
    • Frictionless remote set-up of IoT devices shipped directly from manufacturer to live environment
    • Ability to migrate to new technologies seamlessly (e.g. public sector move from TETRA to cellular)
    • All of the above controlled and monitored on user-friendly, cloud-based dashboards
  • The shift from product to service-based business models means a growing number of enterprises want to embed connectivity into their offer to customers
    • i.e. demand for greater control over wholesale connectivity solutions
    • remote maintenance, asset-tracking, etc.

5G applications will arrive at different times…

evolution of 5G technology eMBB, URLLC, private 5G, massiv IoT

Source: STL Partners

…in the meantime, other technologies can help address enterprise needs

The interdependencies between 5G, IoT and edge computing

Source: STL Partners

The problem with 5G for enterprises

  • Most enterprises are not looking at 5G in isolation, but as one of many technologies that will help resolve pain points around efficiency and innovation. The Internet for Things (I4T) and edge computing are two other key technologies that many enterprises need, and which telcos could potentially provide
  • In the long term, STL Partners does not expect 5G connectivity on its own to deliver growth for telcos. So to grow enterprise revenues, telcos should also develop I4T and edge computing solutions
  • But developing expertise in 5G, I4T and edge computing will be expensive and complex to manage
  • Therefore, telcos should start by targeting their investments to meet specific enterprise pain points

This report helps telcos assess how to target their investments by highlighting key pain points in a selection of industry verticals, and how relevant 5G, I4T and edge computing are for solving them.

Sectors with strong demand for all three technologies hold the highest potential value, but this will be difficult for telcos to capture owing to strong competition in I4T and edge computing from other technology companies.

This report covers a selection of verticals that STL Partners has developed knowledge of through research and consulting activities: manufacturing, construction, utilities, agriculture, transport, automotive, healthcare, and sports, media and entertainment. 

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