Telco edge platforms: Balancing speed vs value

Defining the edge

Edge computing has been hailed as key to help deliver the promises of 5G, enabling transformative use cases and experiences. Significantly for mobile service providers, deriving value from their networks and presence at the edge remains an aspiration for a new source of revenues and a more favourable position in the value chain. There is strong belief that this needs to exceed what was achieved with 3G and 4G, where OTT players built entire businesses through successful services using centralised platforms leveraging fast, ubiquitous internet access. Mobile operators remain hopeful that they can evolve from ‘dumb pipes’ and derive more value from dynamic connectivity services, value added platforms, and partnerships.

The edge means different things to different people, so it is useful to define terminology and clarify the scope of this report. We understand the edge to refer to compute, storage and networking infrastructure, facilities, software, and services which exist physically or architecturally between typically non-telco cloud data centres and end-devices. This report will focus on the ‘telco edge’ for both mobile and fixed line telecoms operators.  The term MEC (initially ETSI’s Mobile Edge Computing which evolved to Multi-access Edge Computing) has historically been used for telco edge predominantly with a focus on deployment in the access network, however as we will see its use has somewhat broadened as telcos initially deploy edge computing more centrally.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

The edge continuum spans between end devices and hyperscale cloud

It is common practice to define an edge continuum in a diagram such as below which shows the different edge locations between an end device and the hyperscaler cloud. Typically, the physical distance, the number of network hops, and network latency will increase the further the edge location shifts to the right.

The edge continuum

edge platform

In considering the telco edge, we will primarily be focussed on the network edge, consisting of data centres logically situated in telco’s access, transport, and core network facilities. The on-premise edge (sometimes referred to enterprise or private edge) may be offered by telcos and others to enterprises but is closely related to private 4G/5G networks and single tenant propositions which are out of scope of this report. STL has written about this in reports such as Private networks: Lessons so far and what next and Combining private 5G and edge computing: The revenue opportunity.

The network edge affords a wide range of choices to deliver edge services from within the network. Network edge also includes neutral host providers that offer facilities for multiple infrastructure providers, which support enterprise applications, as well as radio access networks. These may be offered by traditional telcos, tower infrastructure providers and others.

The regional edge sits outside telco networks at internet exchanges, carrier exchanges, interconnect points, co-location, and data centre facilities. Multiple parties can deploy infrastructure at such locations which are designed as neutral, well-connected locations for third party equipment.  For some use cases, these locations are considered as ‘close enough’ or ‘near enough’ edge sites.

Edge computing drivers and benefits vary depending on the use case

While low latency is often cited as the justification for moving application workloads from the cloud to the edge, there are other drivers such as reduced data transit, data sovereignty and improving redundancy. These factors may be just as relevant as low latency, or more so, depending on the specific use case.

Edge computing benefits

Migrating workloads from end-devices to the edge can also bring benefits such as reduced power consumption, allowing smaller form factors at lower costs, and enabling experiences that are simply not possible on existing devices due to heavy computational requirements. Processing in the cloud may have been previously dismissed due to its limitations or constraints. One consumer example would be Instagram or Snapchat real-time video filters with heavy machine learning processing requirements. The processing for these may move to the edge to improve and standardise performance across devices, by not relying on the end-device’s processing power. Partners

However, the public cloud is well established and here to stay, so it is prudent to view the edge as complementary to and an extension of the public cloud, offering characteristics which may be important for specific components of certain use cases.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Most telcos do not yet see demand for a fully distributed edge
    • The platform is an important piece of the edge, but the verdict is still out on which approach to take
    • Telcos need to guarantee multi-cloud and multi-edge orchestration for their customers
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
    • Defining the edge
    • The state of the edge
  • Cloud vs edge
    • Contrasting public cloud and public edge
    • Latency in fixed vs mobile networks
    • The rationale for telco edge
  • Telco edge propositions and use cases
    • Internal applications for telcos
    • External applications for telcos
    • Telco edge propositions based on telco’s capabilities
    • Potential use case opportunities for telco edge
  • Where is the telco edge?
    • Edge really means core for now
    • Challengers to the telco edge
  • Building the telco edge platform
    • Edge developers want a consistent and seamless experience
    • The potential providers of network edge platforms
    • Cloud-centric capabilities and business models are key the success of telco edge platforms
  • Overcoming challenges
    • Telco industry challenges
    • External challenges
  • Conclusion: What should telcos do?

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

The new telcos: A field guide

Introduction

The traditional industry view is that “telcos” are a well-defined and fairly cohesive group. Industry associations like GSMA, ETNO, CTIA and others have typically been fairly homogeneous collections of fixed or mobile operators, only really varying in size. The third-ranked mobile operator in Bolivia has not really been that different from AT&T or Vodafone in terms of technology, business model or vendor relationships.

Our own company, STL Partners used to have the brand “Telco 2.0”. However, our main baseline assumption then was that the industry was mostly made up the same network operators, but using a new 2.0 set of business models.

This situation is now changing. Telecom service providers – telcos – are starting to emerge in a huge variety of new shapes, sizes and backgrounds. There is fragmentation in technology strategy, target audiences, go-to-market and regional/national/international scope.

This report is not a full explanation of all the different strategies, services and technological architecture. Instead of analysing all of the “metabolic” functions and “evolutionary mechanisms”, this is more of a field-guide to all the new species of telco that the industry is starting to see. More detail on the enablers – such as fibre, 5G and cloud-based infrastructure – and the demand-side (such as vertical industries’ communications needs and applications) can be found in our other output.

The report provides descriptions with broad contours of motivation, service-offerings and implications for incumbents. We are not “taking sides” here. If new telcos push out the older species, that’s just evolution of those “red in tooth and claw”. We’re taking the role of field zoologists, not conservationists.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Field guides are collections/lists of natural & human phenomena

animal-species-telcos-stl-partners

Source: Amazon, respective publishers’ copyright

The historical landscape

The term “telco” is a little slippery to define, but most observers would likely agree that the “traditional” telecoms industry has mostly been made up of the following groups of CSPs:

  • MNOs: Countries usually have a few major mobile network operators (MNOs) that are typically national, or sometimes regional.
  • Fixed operators: Markets also have infrastructure-based fixed telcos, usually with one (or a small number) that were originally national state-owned monopolies, plus a select number of other licensed providers, often with greenfield FTTX fibre. Some countries have a vibrant array of smaller “AltNets”, or competitive carriers (originally known as CLECs in the US).
  • Converged operators: These combine fixed and mobile operations in the same business or group. Sometimes they are arms-length (or even in different countries), but many try to offer combined or converged service propositions.
  • Wholesale telcos: There is a tier of a few major international operators that provide interconnect services and other capabilities. Often these have been subsidiaries (or joint ventures) of national telcos.

In addition to these, the communications industry in each market has also often had an array of secondary connectivity or telecom service providers as a kind “supporting cast”, which generally have not been viewed as “telecom operators”. This is either because they fall into different regulatory buckets, only target niche markets, or tend to use different technologies. These have included:

  • MVNOs
  • Towercos
  • Internet Exchanges
  • (W)ISPs
  • Satellite operators

Some of these have had a strong overlap with telcos, or have been spun-out or acquired at various times, but they have broadly remained as independent organisations. Importantly, many of these now look much more like “proper telcos” than they did in the past.

Why are “new telcos” emerging now?

To some extent, many of the classes of new telco have been “hiding in plain sight” for some time. MVNOs, towercos and numerous other SPs have been “telcos in all but name”, even if the industry has often ignored them. There has sometimes been a divisive “them and us” categorisation, especially applied when comparing older operators with cloud-based communications companies, or what STL has previously referred to as “under the floor” infrastructure owners. This attitude has been fairly common within governments and regulators, as well as among operator executives and staff.

However, there are now two groups of trends which are leading to the blurring of lines between “proper telcos” and other players:

  • Supply-side trends: The growing availability of the key building blocks of telcos – core networks, spectrum, fibre, equipment, locations and so on – is leading to democratisation. Virtualisation and openness, as well as a push for vendor diversification, is helping make it easier for new entrants, or adjacent players, to build telecom-style networks
  • Demand-side trends: A far richer range of telecom use-cases and customer types is pulling through specialist network builders and operators. These can start with specific geographies, or industry verticals, and then expand from there to other domains. Private 4G/5G networks and remote/underserved locations are good examples which need customisation and specialisation, but there are numerous other demand drivers for new types of service (and service provider), as well as alternative business models.

Taken together, the supply and demand factors are leading to the creation of new types of telcos (sometimes from established SPs, and sometimes greenfield) which are often competing with the incumbents.

While there is a stereotypical lobbying complaint about “level playing fields”, the reality is that there are now a whole range of different telecom “sports” emerging, with competitors arranged on courses, tracks, fields and hills, many of which are inherently not “level”. It’s down to the participants – whether old or new – to train appropriately and use suitable gear for each contest.

Virtualisation & cloudification of networks helps newcomers as well as existing operators

virtualisation-cloudification-networks-STL-Partners

Source: STL Partners

Where are new telcos likeliest to emerge?

Most new telcos tend to focus initially on specific niche markets. Only a handful of recent entrants have raised enough capital to build out entire national networks, either with fixed or mobile networks. Jio, Rakuten Mobile and Dish are all exceptions – and ones which came with a significant industrial heritage and regulatory impetus that enabled them to scale broadly.

Instead, most new service providers have focused on specific domains, with some expanding more broadly at a later point. Examples of the geographic / customer niches for new operators include:

  • Enterprise private 4G/5G networks
  • Rural network services (or other isolated areas like mountains, offshore areas or islands)
  • Municipality / city-level services
  • National backbone fibre networks
  • Critical communications users (e.g. utilities)
  • Wholesale-only / shared infrastructure provision (e.g. neutral host)

This report sets out…

..to through each of the new “species” of telcos in turn. There is a certain level of overlap between the categories, as some organisations are developing networking offers in various domains in parallel (for instance, Cellnex offering towers, private networks, neutral host and RAN outsourcing).

The new telcos have been grouped into categories, based on some broad similarities:

  • “Evolved” traditional telcos: operators, or units of operators, that are recognisable from today’s companies and brands, or are new-entrant “peers” of these.
  • Adjacent wireless providers: these are service provider categories that have been established for many years, but which are now overlapping ever more closely with “traditional” telcos.
  • Enterprise and government telcos: these are other large organisations that are shifting from being “users” of telecoms, or building internal network assets, towards offering public telecom-type services.
  • Others: this is a catch-all category that spans various niche innovation models. One particular group here, decentralised/blockchain-based telcos, is analysed in more detail.

In each case, the category is examined briefly on the basis of:

  • Background and motivation of operators
  • Typical services and infrastructure being deployed
  • Examples (approx. 3-4 of each type)
  • Implications for mainstream telcos

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Overview
    • New telco categories and service areas
    • Recommendations for traditional fixed/mobile operators
    • Recommendations for vendors and suppliers
    • Recommendations for regulators, governments & advisors
  • Introduction
    • The historical landscape
    • Why are “new telcos” emerging now?
    • Where are new telcos likeliest to emerge?
    • Structure of this document
  • “Evolved” traditional telcos
    • Greenfield national networks
    • Telco systems integration units
    • “Crossover” Mobile, Fixed & cable operators
    • Extra-territorial telcos
  • Adjacent wireless providers
    • Neutral host network providers
    • TowerCos
    • FWA Fixed Wireless Access (WISPs)
    • Satellite players
  • Enterprise & government telcos
    • Industrial / vertical MNOs
    • Utility companies offering commercial telecom services
    • Enterprises’ corporate IT network service groups
    • Governments & public sector
  • New categories
    • Decentralised telcos (blockchain / cryptocurrency-based)
    • Other “new telco” categories
  • Conclusions

Related Research

 

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

 

IoT security: The foundation for growth beyond connectivity

Introduction

The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) defines the IoT as “a cyber-physical ecosystem of interconnected sensors and actuators, which enable intelligent decision making.” In this ecosystem, the information or data flows among the various components of the IoT enable informed decision making for machines, objects, and the spaces in which they operate. Through this web of tightly interconnected cyber-physical systems, the IoT underpins a variety of applications such as smart cities, smart factories, smart agriculture and so forth.

While these applications touch all the areas of our living and working activities, bringing enormous benefits and possibilities, they also exacerbate system complexities and, in turn, significantly enlarge the domain of threats and risks. As a result, securing the IoT is a very complex task, involving the implementation of highly specialised security measures. In market terms, this complexity translates into rich ecosystems of skills and expertise, where there is not one player in charge of securing the IoT, but it is both a responsibility and an opportunity for all players in the value chain.

Thinking about IoT security, the fundamental objective is ensuring the trust between the provider of an IoT solution and the IoT solution adopter. Microsoft IoT Signals, a well-known survey of 3,000 organisations adopting the IoT, emphasizes this in its 2021 edition, where 91% of the organisations surveyed have security concerns about adopting the IoT. 29% of those organisations do not scale their IoT solution due to security concerns. These concerns hamper the benefits enterprises can gain from IoT solutions. For instance, in the same survey, more than 55% of organisations said they were becoming more efficient adopting the IoT, and 23% claimed that their IoT solution has a direct impact on revenue growth. These benefits come from the variety and volume of data gathered through the IoT to drive better informed operational decisions. The result is that IoT data becomes a fundamental and necessary asset that must be protected.

While managing security risks in IoT is often perceived as a necessary burden, this report will instead highlight securing the IoT as an opportunity. For telecoms operators, this opportunity may not always be directly evident in new revenues, but it is fundamental to the creation of trust between provider and the adopter of IoT services. That trust, built through IoT security services, provides a stronger foundation from which to develop new revenue-generating services beyond connectivity.

This report also argues that by building more comprehensive data insights services into their existing IoT platforms mobile network operators are in a strong position to bring that trust to enterprises. As operators expand their security offers from well-known security functions provided at connectivity level – almost embedded in an operator – to more sophisticated security services across the IoT architecture, they can position themselves as a partner and guide to enterprises as they likewise become more sophisticated in their security needs.

The report is structured in three main parts:

  1. Discussion of the key vulnerabilities in the IoT and responses to those defined by regulators and security bodies such as ENISA, NIST, IoT Security Foundation and others.
  2. Analysis of the roles mobile network operators are playing in the IoTsecurity services market.
  3. Analysis of the opportunities for mobile network operators in security services for the IoT.

The research is based on the author’s extensive experience in IoT security, and enriched by interviews with IoT security experts close to the world of mobile network operators. Finally, an understanding of the most authoritative guidelines and analysis (ENISA, NIST, IoTSF, GSMA, OWASP) on IoT security supports the research.

Enter your details below to download an extract of the report

 

Why IoT security is rising up the agenda

In the fervent debates on the development of the IoT, the security aspect is often hidden or avoided. This stems from a common view among IoT solution companies and end-users that security is a heavy point of discussion that hampers business enthusiasm. This perspective is both unhelpful and dangerous, actively hindering greater scale and trust in the IoT. We strongly believe the argument should be flipped around. Although IoT security is a fundamental risk for the development of the IoT, it is also the means through which to develop robust, reliable, and lucrative IoT solutions. Therefore, IoT security should become a priority in IoT strategy and project development.

There are three considerations that are driving a fundamental shift in perceptions of security from a barrier to an enabler of IoT solutions, both among providers and adopters:

  1. Rising frequency and prevalence of avoidable large scale IoT security breaches.  There are plenty of examples of hacking of connected devices and large IoT systems that have dramatically compromised IoT solutions’ functioning, the business case linked to them, and relationships with customers. Recent examples include:
    • In May 2021, Colonial Pipe suffered a ransomware attack that impacted the computerised equipment monitoring the entire pipeline system from Texas to New Jersey, carrying 2.5 million barrel of oil a day. The entire system, based on a vast IoT solution of several sensors along the pipeline, was blocked. To re-boot the system, Colonial Pipeline paid 75 Bitcoin (the equivalent of $4.4 million at the time). (The solution to this type of breach is implementation of a remediation strategy.)
    • Consumer IoT devices are no less attractive than big corporations to hackers. In June 2021, the McAfee Advanced Threat Research identified a potential security vulnerability in the Peleton Bike+: “The ATR team recently disclosed a vulnerability (CVE-2021-3387) in the Peloton Bike+, which would allow a hacker with either physical access to the Bike+ or access during any point in the supply chain (from construction to delivery), to gain remote root access to the Peloton’s tablet. The hacker could install malicious software, intercept traffic and user’s personal data, and even gain control of the Bike’s camera and microphone over the internet.” The Peleton Bike+ vulnerability almost become a matter of national security in the US, considering that President Jo Biden is, apparently, a Peleton Bike+ user. (The security solution to this type of breach is software and system updates.)

2. Regulatory bodies are responding to the increasing incidence of IoT attacks with guidelines and regulations. Realising the danger of connected devices and systems developed with inappropriate security features, regulators worldwide are issuing specific procedures and policies in IoT security. In some cases these are mandatory and in other cases function as guidance and support.

    • Australia has created a voluntary code of practice, Securing the Internet of Things for Consumers, focussing on issues of authorisation, authentication, and access of IoTdata in consumer devices.
    • Singapore has issued the IoT Cyber Security Guide to support enterprises to develop secure IoT systems. Enterprises should also comply to IoT-related standards in sensors, sensor networks, and devices.
    • The United Kingdom has focussed on security around IoT devices with the first Code of Practice for Consumer IoT Security published in 2018.
    • The European Union is focussing on the development of an “IoT Trust” label for IoT consumer devices.
    • The United States launched legislation in 2020 – IoT Cybersecurity Improvements Act – which, through a combination of subsidies and project grants, incentivises companies that build and sell IoT solutions to develop them with a security-by-design

These initiatives are all specifically designed around IoT devices and systems. However, it is important to highlight that the relevant legal framework is wider. For example, in the European Union, the three key regulations applying to the sale and use of IoT devices and ecosystems are CE Marking (health and safety of products sold in the EU), GDPR, and the Network and Information Security Directive (NIS Directive). It is well known, but important to stress it, that violation of GDPR – data breaches and misuses of data – can cost up to EUR20 million. A similar legal framework exists in the United States, in which there are three Acts relevant for IoT devices: Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), the Cyber Security Information Sharing Act (CISA), and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Those who violate America’s Federal Trade Commission Act could face fines of $41,484 per violation, per day.

It is also worth noting that many of these regulations focus on the consumer IoT because it has been the weakest in terms of attention to security features, there is a direct link to data privacy (i.e. by hacking into IoT devices malicious actors can gain access to other digital profile data), and most consumers do not have the skill or resources to protect themselves.

3. The increasing business and economic impact of IoT data. Organisations of all kinds are increasingly relying on data for their strategy development, optimisation of processes, increasing engagement with customers and innovating their business models. The data needed for all these activities is increasingly machine generated by an IoT solution. To illustrate this value, there have been several studies on understanding the economic impact of IoT data. For example, in April 2019, GSMA Intelligence estimated that the economic impact of IoT on business productivity was in the order of $175bn, 0.2% of the global GDP. GSMA Intelligence also forecasted that by 2025 the economic impact would increase to $371bn, 0.34% of the global GDP, with IoT companies generating almost a trillion dollar in revenues. Ultimately, if a competitor or malicious actors gets hold of an organisation’s data, then they have accessed one of its most important assets. Therefore, as organisations become ever more data-driven in their strategic decision making, the importance of securing the systems gathering and storing that data will rise.

Defining IoT Security

The US NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) defines cyber-risk as “a function of the probability of a given threat source’s exercising any potential vulnerability and the resulting impact of that adverse event on the organisation.” The IoT security risk is one of many cyber-risks to any organisation and refers to the unforeseen exploitation of IoT system vulnerabilities to gain access to assets with the intent to cause harm.

A major challenge in assessing the IoT system vulnerabilities and threats comes from the technological complexity of an IoT solution and the diversity of applications and environments the IoT solution serves. Therefore, IoT security can be assessed in two levels. The first level regards the IoT architectural stack, which is common to different domains and applications. The second level is solution-specific and requires specialised services depending on the domain of applications.

The starting point of the analysis is a model of IoT architecture, illustrated in a simplified format in the diagram below.

Simplified IoT  architecture

Simplified-IoT-architecture-STL-Partners

Source: STL Partners

 

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Security can enable MNOs to build beyond connectivity in IoT
    • Next steps: Building on security in the Coordination Age
  • Introduction
    • Why IoT security is rising up the agenda
  • Defining IoT security
    • Key IoT vulnerabilities
    • Enterprises’ view on securing IoT
    • How to meet enterprise needs: Delivering security across three dimensions
  • Mobile operators’ roles in IoT security
    • Telco strategy comparison: IoT security offers vs dedicated business units
    • Assessing operators’ security services by function
    • Takeaways
  • Future growth trends for operators to capitalise on
    • eSIM and integrated eSIM (iSIM) capabilities
    • 5G private network security services
    • Managing encryption requirements
    • Blockchain in telecommunications
    • Secure communication through quantum information and communication technology

Related research

Enter your details below to download an extract of the report

 

Forecasting capacity of network edge computing

Telco edge build has been slower than expected

Telecoms operators have been planning the deployment of edge computing sites for at least the last three years.

Initially, the premise of (mobile) edge computing was to take advantage of the prime real estate telecoms operators had. Mobile operators, in particular, had undergone a process of evolving their network facilities from sites which housed purpose-built networking equipment to data centres as they adopted virtualisation. The consolidation of networking equipment meant there would be spare capacity in these data centres that could easily host applications for enterprises and developers.

That evolution has now been accelerated by the advent of 5G, a mobile generation built on a software-based architecture and IT principles. The result will be a proliferation of edge data centres that will be used for radio access network and core network hardware and software.

However, the reality is that it has taken time for telcos to deploy these sites. There are multiple reasons for this:

  1. Cost: There is a cost to renovate an existing telco site and ensure it meets requirements common for world-class data centres.
  2. Demand: Telcos are hesitant to take on the risk of building out the infrastructure until they are certain of the demand for these data centres.
  3. 5G roll-out: Mobile operators have been prioritising their 5G RAN roll-out in the last two years, over the investment in edge data centres.
  4. Partnership decisions: The discussion around who to partner with to build the edge data centres has become more complicated, because of the number of partners vying for the role and the entrance of new partners (e.g. hyperscalers) which has slowed down decision-making

Download the additional file to view the accompanying spreadsheet

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Early adopters have taken significant strides in their edge strategy in 2021

2020 and 2021 have been seen as inflection points as a number of leading telecoms operators have launched edge sites: e.g. AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, SK Telecom and Vodafone. Arguably, this was triggered by AWS announcing partnerships on AWS Wavelength with four telecoms operators in November 2019, with more recently announced (e.g. Telstra in 2021).

Going forward, key questions remain on the trajectory of telco edge build:

  • How many edge data centres will telcos build and make available for consumer/enterprise applications?
  • How much capacity of telco edge computing will there be globally?
  • How much of telco edge computing will be used for distributed core network functions vs. consumer/enterprise applications?
  • What proportion of telco edge data centre capacity will be taken up by hyperscalers’ platforms?

This report seeks to forecast the capacity at telecoms operators’ edge data centres until 2025 and provide clarity on the nature and location of these sites. In other words, how many sites and servers will be available for running applications and where will these sites be located, both physically and logically in the telecoms operators’ networks.

Before reading this report, we would recommend reading STL Partners’ previous publications on telco edge computing to provide context for some of the key themes addressed, for example:

The report focuses on network edge computing sites

Edge computing comprises of a spectrum of potential location and technologies designed to bring processing power closer to the end-device and source of data, outside of a central data centre or cloud. This report focuses on forecasting capacity at the network edge – i.e. edge computing at edge data centres owned (and usually operated) by telecoms operators.

The initial version of the forecast models capacity at these sites for non-RAN workloads. In other words, processing for enterprise or consumer applications and the distributed core network functions required to support them. Future versions of the forecast will expand to RAN.

Forecast scope in terms of edge locations and workload types

The report covers two out of three scenarios for building the network edge

Table of content

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • There are 3 key factors determining telco edge data centre build out
  • Logically, most network edge will be in the transport aggregation layer
  • Geographically, we will see a shift in the concentration of network edge data centres
  • The limited capacity at network edge DCs will largely be used for edge applications
  • Most telecoms operators are taking a hybrid approach to building their edge
  • Conclusions and next steps
  • Appendix: Methodology

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

The Coordination Age Companies: The First Release

This is the first report in a series outlining companies that we think are lighting the path on the journey to the Coordination Age. Its goal is to deepen understanding of the Coordination Age and to inspire innovation and engagement in this crucial transition.

What is the Coordination Age?

The Coordination Age is STL Partners’ term for the new economic and technological era that the world is transitioning to. In the Coordination Age, the over-arching need of governments, companies and individuals is to make better use of the available resources to “make the world run better”. This means managing those resources to deliver better outcomes, better experiences, and less waste.

Connected technologies, including 5G, IoT, Artificial Intelligence, automation, Cloud and Edge Computing, are key tools to the efficient use, management and distribution of those resources. Resources include time, money, carbon, goods, water, land, buildings, raw materials, energy, and so on.

Why Coordination?

Managing resources better requires multiple partners to coordinate their actions and processes to deliver outcomes for maximum efficiency and effect. There does not need to be an all powerful, central ‘coordinator’. That is often neither desirable nor possible. Instead, there will be a multitude of interconnected processes and players that achieve coordination on demand to deliver the outcomes needed within the ecosystem overall.

Coordination, transformation and technology

Much of the action of coordination will be automated – processes or parties communicating with another automatically for the sake of speed, cost and efficiency, but the whole system will be under the control of people and organisations as it is now.

The Coordination Age is the master key to the puzzle of digital transformation. While the technologies have implied what is possible, the Coordination Age shows what it is for and why transformation is necessary, and what it will take to make it work in practice in real world ecosystems – the how.

Role of this report

This is the first report in a series outlining companies that we think are lighting the path on the journey to the Coordination Age. Its goal is to deepen understanding of the Coordination Age and to inspire innovation and engagement in this crucial transition.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

 

The Coordination Age 100: Inspiration for change

We aim to profile 100 companies across a number of industries as inspiration for new business models, how to transform a business to succeed in the Coordination Age; and/or as potential partners for the telecom industry. The Coordination Age is well underway and many companies have been built around driving this step change in our economy, or are transforming themselves to adapt to it. Some telcos have already started on the Coordination Age path as we have looked at this in Are telcos smart enough to make money work?, The roles of 5G & private networks and Can telcos create a compelling smart home?. However, for companies not already on this path, it’s hard to know where to start and what emerging technologies, business models and ecosystems driving that are Coordination Age.

What is a Coordination Age company?

  • A Coordination Age company delivers better use of resources to their customers by combining different technology resources such as connectivity (IoT, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, etc.)​, cloud/edge computing, AI and machine learning, and automation
  • It operates in a B2B2X environment, bringing together previously siloed data, processes, companies, and customers
  • A Coordination Age company usually operates across physical and digital worlds, but in some cases the resources can be predominantly digital too (e.g. in financial services or entertainment)

Benefits: better use of  / returns on resources

coordination age benefits

Table of content

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction – the Coordination Age and this report
  • What is the “Coordination Age 100”?
    • The Coordination Age 100: Inspiration for change
    • What is a Coordination Age company?
    • Coordination Age natives vs transformers
  • Ten company profiles
  • Coordination Age natives vs transformers
    • Coordination Age natives
      • Octopus Energy
      • Ocado
      • Booking.com
      • Babylon Health
      • Starling Bank
      • Upstart
    • Coordination Age transformers
      • Hitachi Rail
      • Rolls Royce
      • Orange Money/Orange Bank
      • Signify

 

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

 

Microsoft, Affirmed and Metaswitch: What does it mean for telecoms?

What is Microsoft doing, and should telcos be worried?

Over the past two years, Microsoft and its cloud business unit Azure have intensified and deepened their involvement in the telecoms vertical. In 2020, this included the acquisition of two leading independent vendors of cloud-native network software, Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch. This move surprised many industry observers, as it represented an intensification of Microsoft’s involvement in telco networking.

In addition, in September 2020, Microsoft announced its ‘Azure for Operators’ strategy. This packages up all the elements of Microsoft’s and Azure’s infrastructure and service offerings for the telecoms industry – including those provided by Affirmed and Metaswitch – into a more comprehensive, end-to-end portfolio organised around Microsoft’s concept of a ‘carrier-grade cloud’: a cloud that is truly capable of supporting and delivering the distinct performance and reliability that telcos require from their network functions, as opposed to the mainstream cloud devoted to enterprise IT.

In this report, our discussion of Microsoft’s strategy and partnership offer to telcos is our own interpretation based on our research, including conversations with executives from Microsoft, Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch.

We examine Microsoft’s activities in the telecoms vertical in the light of three central questions:

  • What is Microsoft doing in telecoms, and what are its intentions?
  • How should telcos respond to Microsoft’s moves and those of comparable hyperscale cloud providers? Should they consume the hyperscalers’ telco cloud products, compete against the hyperscalers, or collaborate with them?
  • And what would count as success for telcos in relationship to Microsoft and the other hyperscalers? Are there any lessons to be learned from what is happening already?

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Microsoft’s telecom timeline

The last couple of years has seen Microsoft and Azure increasing their involvement in telecoms infrastructure and software while building partnerships with telcos around the world. This march into telecoms stepped up a level with Microsoft’s acquisition in 2020 of two independent virtual network function (VNF) vendors with a strong presence in the mobile core, among other things: Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch. Microsoft was not previously known for its strength in telco network software, and particularly the mobile domain – prompting the question: what exactly was it doing in telecoms?

The graphic below illustrates some of the key milestones in Microsoft’s steady march into telecoms.

Microsoft’s move on telecoms

Microsoft’s five partnership and service models

Microsoft Azure’s key initiatives over the past two years have been to expand its involvement in telecoms, culminating in Microsoft’s acquisition of Affirmed and Metaswitch, and the launch of the Azure for Operators portfolio.

As a result of these initiatives, we believe there are five models of partnership and service delivery that Microsoft is now proposing to operators, addressing the opportunities arising from a convergence of network, cloud and compute. Altogether, these five models are:

Five business models for partnerships

  • A classic telco-vendorrelationship (e.g. with Affirmed or Metaswitch) – helping telcos to evolve their own cloud-native network functions (CNFs), and cloud infrastructure and operations
  • The delivery and management of VNFs and CNFs as a cloud service, or ‘Network Functions-as-a-Service’ (NFaaS)
  • Enabling operators to pursue a hybrid-cloud operating model supporting the delivery of their own vertical-specific and enterprise applications and services, or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • Rolling out Azure edge-cloud data centres into telco and enterprise edge locations to serve as a cloud delivery platform for third-party application developers providing low latency-dependent and high-bandwidth services, or ‘Network-as-a-Cloud Platform’ (NaaCP)
  • Using such Azure edge clouds – in enterprise and neutral facilities alongside telco edge locations – as the platform for full-fledged ‘net compute’ services, whether these are developed collaboratively with operators or not.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Microsoft wants to be a win-win partner
    • What should telcos and others do?
    • Next steps
  • Introduction
    • What is Microsoft doing, and should telcos be worried?
  • What has Microsoft done?
    • Microsoft’s telecom timeline
  • What is Microsoft’s strategy?
    • Microsoft’s five partnership and service models
    • The ‘Azure for Operators’ portfolio completes the set
    • 5G, cloud-native and net compute: Microsoft places itself at the heart of telco industry transformation
    • Cellular connectivity – particularly 5G – is pivotal
  • Telco-hyperscaler business models: What should telcos do?
    • Different hyperscalers have different telco strategies: comparison between Azure, AWS and Google Cloud
    • What should telcos do? Compete, consume or collaborate?
  • Microsoft’s ecosystem partnership model: What counts as success for telcos?
    • More important to grow the ecosystem than share of the value chain
    • Real-world examples: AT&T versus Verizon
  • Conclusion: Telcos should stay in the net compute game – and Microsoft wants be a partner
  • Appendix 1: Analysis of milestones of Microsoft’s journey into telecoms
  • Appendix 2: Opportunities and risks of different types of telco-hyperscaler partnership
  • Index

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Growing B2B revenues from edge: Five new telco services

=======================================================================================

Download the additional file on the left for the PPT chart pack accompanying this report

=======================================================================================

Edge computing has sparked significant interest from telcos

Edge computing brings cloud capabilities such as data processing and storage closer to the end user, device, or the source of data. There are two main opportunity areas for telcos in edge computing. Firstly, telcos have an opportunity to provide edge computing via edge data centres at sites on the telecoms network – network edge, sometimes referred to as multi-access edge computing. Secondly, telcos can offer edge-enabled services through compute platforms at the customer premises – on-premise edge.

Although there is an opportunity for telcos to offer new services and an enhanced customer experience to their consumer customer base, much of the edge computing opportunity for telcos is in the B2B segment. We have covered the general strategy operators are taking for edge computing in our previous report Telco edge computing: What’s the operator strategy? and through insights on our Edge Hub. Within enterprise, edge offers a chance for operators to move beyond offering connectivity services and extend into the platform and application space.

However, the market is still young; enterprises are still at an early stage of understanding the potential benefits of edge computing. There is limited availability of network edges; telcos are still deploying sites and few have begun to offer mechanisms to access the edge compute infrastructure within them. As a result, developers are only just starting to build applications to leverage this new infrastructure.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Telcos are still grappling with defining the opportunity. Since adoption is so nascent, many feel that they are not able to prove the commercial case to unlock significant investment. Some operators are pushing ahead by building out edge infrastructure, securing partnerships and launching edge computing services. Nonetheless, even these operators are keeping an open mind to edge and waiting to see what unfolds as the market matures. What is clear is that, with the hyperscalers and others moving into the edge, telcos are increasingly keen to capitalise on the edge opportunity and solidify their position in the market before it’s too late.The sweet spot opportunity for edge is highly dependent on telcos’ starting points: some have existing capabilities within B2B networking and cloud, partnerships, and strong customer relationships. But for other telcos, the B2B business is at a very early stage. Meanwhile, edge infrastructure build differs across telcos, with some choosing to partner with hyperscalers to create the hardware and software stack within edge data centres while others are opting to build their own stack.

It is therefore critical for telcos to:

  1. Assess whether they can leverage existing B2Bservices, customers and partners versus where they need to invest to fill the gaps
  2. Understand which factors may affect how successful they are in offering new edgeservices
  3. Prioritise which servicesthey could offer to B2B customers

In this report, we focus on answering the following questions:

Which B2B services can edge computing add value to? And how ready are telcos to take new edge services to market?

In order to better understand how operators are thinking about edge services and what they are looking to offer today, we interviewed eight technology and strategy leaders working in operators primarily across Europe.

To ensure an open and candid dialogue, we have anonymised their contributions. We would like to take the opportunity to thank those who participated in this research. A summary of the interviewee profiles is provided in the Appendix.

Telcos’ B2B businesses today

As consumer revenues come under increasing pressure, operators are looking to their B2B businesses to provide a new source of revenue growth. The maturity of their B2B businesses today varies from those who have a limited offering focussed primarily on phones, SIMs and basic connectivity (particularly mobile-only telcos, e.g. Three UK), to those who are providing full vertical applications or taking on the role of systems integrator (often incumbents or telcos with fixed networks, e.g. DTAG, Vodafone). Many telcos are looking for opportunities to take on more of the latter role, by expanding their B2B offerings and increasing their foothold in the value chain e.g. by offering managed services. Particularly with the arrival of 5G, they see greater potential to grow revenues through B2B services compared with B2C.

Maturity levels of telcos’ B2B business

Table of content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Strategic principles for B2B telco edge
    • Telcos’ B2B businesses today
    • Three telco strategies for B2B edge
    • On-premise edge and network edge are separate opportunities
    • Telcos are open to partnering with the hyperscalers for edge
  • Five types of B2B edge services
    • Edge-to-cloud networking
    • Private edge infrastructure
    • Network edge platforms
    • Multi-edge and cloud orchestration
    • Vertical solutions
  • Evaluating the opportunity: How should telcos prioritise?
    • It’s not just about technology
    • However, significant value creation does not come easy
    • Telcos should consider new business models to ensure success
  • Next steps for telcos in building B2B edge services
    • Prioritise services to monetise edge
    • Evaluate the role of partners
    • Work closely with customers given that edge is still nascent
  • Appendix
    • Interviewee overview
  • Index

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Growing B2B2X: Taking telcos beyond connectivity and 5G

==================================================================================

Download the additional file on the left for the PPT chart pack accompanying this report

==================================================================================

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

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

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

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

How 5G can cut 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030

===============================================================

The chartpack for this report is available to download as an additional file

Explore this research further by joining our free webinar 5G’s role in reducing carbon emissions on Tuesday November 10th. View the webinar here.

===============================================================

Transitioning towards a carbon-neutral world

Carbon reduction targets have been set at global, regional, and many national levels to tackle climate change. The Paris Agreement was the first universal, legally binding global climate change agreement. Adopted in December 2015, close to 190 countries agreed the long-term target to limit the increase in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The EU also has a binding target to cut emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, as well as achieving at least a 32% share for renewable energy and at least a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency.

This report will focus on the way in which technology, in particular 5G, can enable individuals, businesses, the energy industry and governments to accelerate the transition to zero carbon emissions.

This analysis is based on desk research, an interview programme and survey with industry leaders, as well as detailed economic modelling to quantify the benefits that 5G can bring, and the contribution it can make to achieving carbon emissions targets.

A framework for thinking through the carbon emissions challenge

The main mechanisms through which technology (including 5G) can reduce carbon emissions arising from our consumption of energy, fall under one of three categories:

  1. Green electricity generation: increasing the proportion of electricity generated from renewable energy sources
  2. Transition to electricity: as electricity becomes greener, moving away from energy that is directly delivered through combustion of fossil fuels towards delivery through electricity
  3. Energy efficient consumption: reducing the amount of energy required to achieve the same outcomes – either by not consuming energy when it is not needed or doing so more efficiently
A framework for outlining the key mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions

Source: STL Partners

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Greener electricity generation

Generating ‘greener’ electricity is a fundamental part of any carbon emissions reduction strategy. Energy analysts forecast that it will still take decades for a substantial amount of the grid to be powered by renewable energy sources. The chart below demonstrates the current prevalence of coal and gas in our electricity networks, with some contribution from nuclear and hydropower. By 2030, we will need rapid growth of wind and solar, but it only becomes a significant proportion of world supply by 2040.

Forecasts predict that future electricity generation will come from growth in solar and wind

Source: DNV

Renewable energy generation must grow enough to meet three challenges:

  • Replace current electricity generation from fossil fuels
  • Provide electricity to power directly supplied by fossil fuels as these transition to electric power (see transition discussion below)
  • Meet future demand arising from economic growth.

Moving from fossil fuels to wind and solar energy presents new challenges for balancing the electricity supply system. Due to the variable nature of these renewables (it’s not always sunny or windy) and our limited ability to store energy (with current battery technologies), the growing dependence on renewables means that supply cannot be controlled to meet demand. New business models enabled by millions of connected devices (washing machines, electric vehicle chargers) will allow us to reverse the market model such that demand meets supply.

Further in this report we describe in more detail how 5G networks will enable the acceleration of greener energy supply by:

  • Improving the cost competitiveness of renewables (in particular, by reducing operating costs).
  • Ensuring that renewables can contribute to the bulk of our energy needs, by supporting new business models ensuring energy demand across millions of appliances is managed in response to the fluctuating nature of renewables supply.

Transition to electricity

The second major mechanism to reduce carbon emissions is transitioning to using electricity as the primary source of energy for applications that currently rely on fossil fuel combustion. The two big transitions are the move from:

  • fossil-fuelled cars and trucks to electric vehicles
  • gas boilers to electric heat pumps.

Using electricity to power these appliances and processes is more energy efficient than burning fossil fuels and can therefore deliver an overall reduction in energy use and carbon emissions even if the grid is only partly ‘decarbonised’.

However, this will create a seismic change in energy consumption. Taking the UK as an example, the energy used for heating space and water is almost double that used for total electricity consumption in the country. Space and water heating is largely fuelled by gas today. Meanwhile, transport used over two exajoules of energy in 2018. Shifting these to electricity will put unprecedented burden on our electricity networks.

Comparing UK energy consumption for space heating, water heating and transport to total electricity consumption (2018)

Source: UK National Statistics

As well as the need to meet demand with supply discussed above, the other consequence of moving away from fossil fuels is that it may be more difficult to keep the electricity grid stable. Historically, turbines from traditional power generation stations have provided inertia, which has helped to maintain a buffer when demand for power changes over a short time. Power station turbines’ rotational inertia effectively absorbs and releases energy in response to fluctuating demand, resulting in grid frequency variations. To keep the grid stable and mitigate blackouts, frequency needs to avoid deviating by more than 1-2% from the target of 50 or 60 Hertz. Removing traditional thermal turbine generation means that solutions must be developed to provide highly-reliable sub-second responses – precisely the type of requirements for which 5G was developed.

5G networks can enable the acceleration of this transition from direct fossil fuels to increasingly renewable electricity by:

  • Improving the performance and cost-effectiveness of electric-powered alternatives (for example, by making electric vehicles much cheaper to buy and as convenient to refuel as fossil fuel vehicles through optimised battery lease-and-swap networks)
  • Providing high-reliability, low latency connectivity to the energy suppliers and users committed to maintaining stable frequency across the electricity grid
  • Ensuring that renewables can contribute to the bulk of our energy needs, by supporting new business models ensuring energy demand across millions of appliances is managed in response to the fluctuating nature of renewables supply (for example, by charging electric vehicles or heating domestic hot water when renewable supply is at its peak).

This report is part of a series of research on the role of 5G in accelerating digital transformation. Other reports within the portfolio include:

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

 

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.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

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

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

ngena SD-WAN: scaling innovation through partnership

Introducing ngena

This report focusses on ngena, a multi-operator alliance founded in 2016, which offers multi-national networking services aimed at enterprise customers. ngena is interesting to STL Partners for several reasons:

First, it represents a real, commercialised example of operators working together, across borders and boundaries, to a common goal – a key part of our Coordination Age vision.

Second, ngena’s SDN product is an example of a new service which was designed around a strong, customer-centric proposition, with a strong emphasis on partnership and shared vision – an alternative articulation, if you like, of Elisa’s cultural strategy.

Third, it was born out of Deutsche Telekom, the world’s sixth-largest telecoms group by revenue, which operates in more than fifty countries. This makes it a great case study of an established operator innovating new enterprise services.

And lastly, it is a unique example of a telco and technology company (in this case Cisco) coming together in a mutually beneficial creative partnership, rather than settling into traditional buyer-supplier roles.

Over the coming pages, we will explore ngena’s proposition to customers, how it has achieved what it has to date, and to what extent it has made a measurable impact on the companies that make up the alliance. The report explains STL Partners’ independent view, informed by conversations with Marcus Hacke, Founder and Managing Director, as well as others across the industry.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Shifting enterprise needs

Enterprises throughout the world are rapidly digitising their operations, and in large part, that involves the move to a ‘multicloud’ environment, where applications and data are hosted in a complex ecosystem of private data centres, campus sites, public clouds, and so on.

Digital enterprises need to ensure that data and applications are accessible from any location, at any time, from any device, and any network, reliably and without headaches. A large enterprise such as a retail bank might have physical branches located all over the place – and the same data needs to be accessible from any branch.

Traditionally, this sort of connectivity was achieved over the wide area network (WAN), with enterprises investing in private networks (often virtual private networks) to ensure that data remained secure and reliably accessible. Traditional WAN architectures work well – but they are not known for flexibility of the sort required to support a multicloud set-up. The network topology is often static, requiring manual intervention to deploy and change, and in our fast-changing world, this becomes a bottleneck. Enterprises are still faced with several challenges:

Key enterprise networking challenges

Source: STL Partners, SD-WAN mini series

The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present

This is where, somewhere around 2014, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) came on the scene. SD-WAN improves on traditional WAN by applying the principles of software-defined networking (SDN). Networking hardware is managed with a software-based controller that can be hosted in the cloud, which opens up a realm of possibilities for automation, smart traffic routing, optimisation, and so on – which makes managing a multicloud set-up a whole lot easier.

As a result, enterprises have adopted SD-WAN at a phenomenal pace, and over the past five years telecoms operators and other service providers worldwide have rushed to add it to their managed services portfolio, to the extent that it has become a mainstream enterprise service:

Live deployments of SD-WAN platforms by telcos, 2014-20 (global)

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker
Includes only production deployments; excludes proof of concepts and pilots
Includes four planned/pending deployments expected to complete in 2020

The explosion of deployments between 2016 and 2019 had many contributing factors. It was around this time that vendor offerings in the space became mature enough for the long tail of service providers to adopt more-or-less off-the shelf. But also, the technology had begun to be seen as a “no-brainer” upgrade on existing enterprise connectivity solutions, and therefore was in heavy demand. Many telcos used it as a natural upsell to their broader suite of enterprise connectivity solutions.

The challenge of building a connectivity platform

While SD-WAN has gained significant traction, it is not a straightforward addition to an operator’s enterprise service portfolio – nor is it a golden ticket in and of itself.

First, it is no longer enough to offer SD-WAN alone. The trend – based on demand – is for it to be offered alongside a portfolio of other SDN-based cloud connectivity services, over an automated platform that enables customers to pick and choose predefined services, and quickly deploy and adapt networks without the effort and time needed for bespoke customer deployments. The need this addresses is obvious, but the barrier to entry in building such a platform is a big challenge for many operators – particularly mid-size and smaller telcos.

Second, there is the economic challenge of scaling a platform while remaining profitable. Platform-based services require continuous updating and innovation, and it is questionable whether many telecoms operators are up to have the financial strength to do so – a situation you find for nearly all IT cloud platforms.

Last – and by no means least – is the challenge of scaling across geographies. In a single-country scenario, where most operators (at least in developed markets) will already have the fixed network infrastructure in place to cover all of a potential customer’s branch locations, SD-WAN works well. It is difficult, from a service provider’s perspective, to manage network domains and services across the whole enterprise (#6 above) if that enterprise has locations outside of the geographic bounds of the service provider’s own network infrastructure. There are ways around this – including routing traffic over the public Internet, and other operators’ networks, but from a customer point-of-view, this is less than ideal, as it adds complexity and limits flexibility in the solution they are paying for.

There is a need, then, for a connectivity platform “with a passport”: that can cross borders between operators, networks and markets without issue. ngena, or the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance, aims to address this need.

Table of Contents

  • Executive summary
    • What is ngena?
    • Why does ngena matter?
    • Has ngena been successful?
    • What does ngena teach us about successful telco innovation?
    • What does this mean for other telcos?
    • What next?
  • Introduction
  • Context: Enterprise needs and SD-WAN
    • Shifting enterprise needs
    • The rise of SD-WAN: 2014 to present
    • The challenge of building a connectivity platform
  • ngena: Enterprise connectivity with a passport
    • A man with a vision
    • The ngena proposition
  • How successful has ngena been?
    • Growth in alliance membership
    • Growth in ngena itself
    • Making money for the partners
  • What does ngena teach us about successful innovation culture in telecoms?
    • Context: the need to disrupt and adapt in telecoms
    • Lessons from ngena
  • What does this mean for other telcos?
      • Consider how you support innovation
      • Consider how you partner for mutual benefit
      • What next?

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Telco edge computing: What is the operator strategy?

To access the report chart pack in PPT download the additional file on the left

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.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

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

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

5G network slicing: How to secure the opportunity

Network slicing is central to unlocking the 5G opportunity

There has understandably been a lot of talk and hype about 5G and network slicing in the telecoms industry. It promises to bring greater speeds, lower latency, greater capacity, ultra-reliability, greater flexibility in the network operations and more. It also pledges to support high device densities and to enable new services, new business and operational models as well as new vertical opportunities.

Given that the rollout of 5G networks is expected to involve a significant investment of hundreds of billions of dollars, there is a need to look at how it might address new business opportunities that previous generations of cellular networks could not. Many, including us, have argued that the consumer business case for 5G is limited, and that the enterprise segment is likely to represent the greater opportunity.

One highly anticipated aspect of 5G is that it will be built on virtualised infrastructure. Network functions will run as software in datacentres, rather than on dedicated appliances as in the past. This will mean that operators can deploy and make changes to functions with far greater flexibility than ever before. It also offers the promise of enabling multiple logical end-to-end networks – each intended to meet specific needs – to be “spun-up”, operated and retired as required, over the same shared hardware. Traditionally, achieving such a multi-service outcome would have required building dedicated stand-alone networks, which was rarely a viable proposition.  This capability is the essence of network slicing.

Figure 1: Diagram of network slicing

5G network slicing diagram

Source: STL Partners

This report will explore the concept of network slicing and what it means for enterprise customers. It will have a particular focus on one aspect of network slicing through the enterprise perspective, that being security. The first section will cover how we define network slicing whilst the second will dive into what the enterprise security-related concerns are. We will then assess the implications of these concerns in the third section, before identifying ways that telcos can address these concerns in order to accelerate the adoption of network slicing.

Our findings in this report are informed by a wider STL Partners research programme that STL Partners has conducted with telcos and enterprises across several verticals, including transport, defence, utilities, logistics and smart cities.

Enterprise security concerns with network slicing are rooted in the fear of the new and unknown

Network slicing is inherently complex. Multiple networks being created over common infrastructure, each serving different customers, use cases and devices means that management and orchestration of network slices is something that telcos are still grappling with. It not only represents a change in technology but also a shift in the way that the network lifecycle is managed, which is new and unfamiliar to telcos and their enterprise customers. Current security protocols will not necessarily be equipped to cover many of the new dimensions that network slicing brings. This new shift in the way things work will result in various enterprise security concerns. Changes in the network architecture with slicing, with multiple logical networks each having their own resources and sharing others, also poses questions of how the security architecture needs to evolve in order to address new risks.

Enterprise customers define security as not only about preventing services being compromised by intentional malicious attacks, but also about preventing service degradation or disruption due to unintentional operational or technical failures and/or negligence, unplanned breakdowns etc. Due to the interdependence of slices, even if a fault occurrence happens, it could consume resources in one slice, just like an attack would, which would affect the reliability or lifecycle of other network slices that share the same resources. Regardless of how the performance of a slice gets affected, whether it is by a malicious attack, a natural disaster, a bug or unintentional negligence, the consequences are ultimately the same. These are all, in some way, related to security. Therefore, when considering security, we need to think beyond potential intentional malicious attack but also unintentional negligence and unplanned events.

What if my network slice gets compromised? What if another slice gets compromised? What if another slice is eating up resources?

We outline these three key questions that enterprises have around their security concerns, as potential tenants of network slices, in the body of the report.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
    • Network slicing is central to unlocking the 5G opportunity
    • Dynamic, virtualised, end-to-end networks on shared resource
    • Slicing might come about in different ways
    • Slicing should bring great benefits…
  • Enterprise security concerns with network slicing are rooted in the fear of the new and unknown
    • What if my network slice gets compromised?
    • What if another network slice is compromised?
    • What if another network slice is eating up resources?
  • Security concerns will slow adoption if not addressed early and transparently
    • Concerns and misconceptions can be addressed through better awareness and understanding
    • As a result, enterprises project concerns about public networks’ limitations onto slicing
    • The way that network slicing is designed actually enhances security, and there are additional measures available on top.
  • Telcos must act early and work more closely with customers to drive slicing adoption
    • Ensure that the technology works and that it is secure and robust
    • Organise and align internally on what network slicing is and where it fits internally before addressing enterprise customers
    • Engage in an open dialogue with enterprise customers and directly address any concerns via a ‘hand holding’ approach
    • Don’t wait for maturity to start testing and rolling out pilots to support the transition and learning process
  • Conclusion

5G and MVNOs: Slicing up the wholesale market

Introduction

How will 5G MNVO models differ from what’s gone before? MVNOs occupy an important set of market niches in the mobile industry, ranging from low-cost generic consumer propositions by discount retail brands, through to some of the most advanced mobile offers, based on ingenious service-level innovation.

The importance and profile of MVNOs varies widely by country and target market segments.  Worldwide, there are around 250 million consumer subscribers using virtual operators’ branded services. IoT-focused MVNOs add many more. In many developed markets, MVNOs account for around 10-15% of subscribers, although in less-mature markets they are often not present at all, or are below 5%.

In Europe, the most mature region, there are around 100m subscribers, focused particularly on German and UK markets. Globally, MVNO revenues are estimated at around $70bn annually – a figure expected to grow to over $100bn in coming years, as markets such as China – which already has over 60m MVNO subscribers – gain more traction, bolstered by regulatory enthusiasm. IoT-centric and enterprise MVNOs are also growing in importance and sophistication, particularly for cross-border connectivity management.

While many MVNOs are aimed at lower-end consumers, with discounted packages under retail, banking or other brands, plenty more are more sophisticated and higher-ARPU propositions. Some fixed/cable operators want a mobile wholesale offer to expand into quad-play bundles. Increasingly, the MVNO model is going far beyond mass-market consumer offers, towards IoT and enterprise use-cases, that can add extra services and functions in the network or SIM.

Some 4G-only mobile operators have 3G MVNO arrangements for customers moving beyond their infrastructure footprint. Google has its pioneering Fi MVNO service, which switches users between multiple telcos’ infrastructures – and which is perhaps a testbed for its broader core/NFV ambitions. A variety of frequent-travellers or enterprise users seek customised plans with extra features, that mass-market MNOs cannot provide. In addition, many IoT connections are also provided by third parties that repackage MNOs’ network connectivity, often to provide global coverage across multiple underlying networks, tailored to specific segments or verticals. For example, Cubic Telecom, an automotive-focused CSP, is part-owned by Audi.

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Operating with a variety of different business models and technical architectures, MVNOs are also relevant to mobile markets’ competitive functioning, especially as larger networks consolidate. Regulators vary in the degree to which they encourage virtual operators’ establishment and operation.

Some MVNOs, described as “full” or “thick” operate their own core networks, while other “light” or “thin” providers are essentially resellers, usually with their own billing platform but little more. Confusingly, some avoid the use of the term MVNO, especially in the IoT arena, often just describing themselves as offering “managed connectivity” or similar phrases.

Figure 1: Thick vs thin MVNOs and resellers

Thick vs. thin MVNOs and resellers

Source: Mobilise Consulting

This all presents a challenge for normal mobile operators – at one level, they want the extra reach and scale, using MVNOs as channels into extra customer groups they cannot easily reach themselves. They may even want their own MVNO operations in countries outside their licensed footprint – TurkCell and China Mobile are examples of this. But they also worry that as MVNOs go beyond resale, they start to capture additional value in certain lucrative niches, or worse, become an “abstraction layer”, aggregating and commoditising multiple underlying networks, facilitating arbitrage – especially by using eSIM or multi-IMSI approaches. Google Fi has raised eyebrows in this regard, and Apple has long been feared for wanting to create an MVNO/AppStore hybrid to resell network capacity.

That said, even simple MVNO operations are not that simple. Setting up billing systems, legal agreements, network integrations and other tasks is still complex for a non-telecoms firm like a retailer or sports/entertainment brand. A parallel ecosystem of specialised software vendors, systems-integrators and “MVNO platforms” has evolved, with subtly-different types of organisation called MVNA (mobile virtual network aggregator) and MVNE (mobile virtual network enabler) doing the technical heavy-lifting for brands or other marketing organisations to develop specialised – and often tiny – MVNOs.

What is uncertain is how much of this changes with 5G – either because of innate technical challenges of the new architecture, or because of parallel evolutions like network virtualisation. These could prove to be both enablers and inhibitors for different types of MVNO, as well as changing the competitive / cannibalisation dynamics for their host providers.

This briefing document describes the current state-of-play of the MVNO landscape, and the shifts in both business model and technology that are ongoing. It considers the different types of MVNO, and how they are likely to intersect with the new 5G world that is set to emerge over the next decade.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Why (and where) are MVNOs important?
  • Different types of MVNO
  • Full and “Thick” MVNOs, MVNEs and MVNAs
  • MVNO opportunities: what changes with 5G?
  • Consumer MVNOs – more of the same, just faster?
  • The rise of enterprise, verticals and IoT – catalysed by 5G?
  • MVNOs and network slicing
  • 5G challenges for MVNOs: network and business
  • Technology: It’s not just 5G New Radio
  • 5G New Radio
  • 5G New Core and network slicing
  • Devices, 5G and MVNOs
  • Other technology components
  • What happened with 4G’s and MVNOs?
  • VoLTE was a surprising obstacle for MVNOs
  • Growing interest in full MVNO models
  • 5G MVNOs: Business and regulatory issues
  • Cannibalisation: The elephant in the room?
  • Can MNOs’ wholesale departments handle 5G?
  • Can MVNOs operate network slices?
  • Regulatory impacts on MVNOs with 5G
  • What do enterprises and IoT players want from 5G and MVNOs?
  • Hybrid MNOs / MVNOs
  • Conclusions 

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Thick vs. thin MVNOs and resellers
  • Figure 2: MVNO segments and examples
  • Figure 3: 5G predicted timeline, 2018-2026
  • Figure 4: 5G New Core network architecture
  • Figure 5: Do MNOs need to reinvent the wholesale function?
  • Figure 6: MVNO relationships are part of the future B2B/vertical service spectrum

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe 2018 Update

Introduction

Welcome to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’

This is a brief extract from the report which is an accompaniment to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ Excel spreadsheet (to the end of September 2018). The update covers all of the global market data. However, the analytical report focuses more narrowly on European deployments, set in global context. We review the progress made over the past year and analyse the drivers of the deployments observed and the challenges faced by leading European telcos.

Scope, definitions and importance of the data

Detailed explanation of the scope of the information provided in the Tracker, definitions of terms (including how we define a live ‘deployment’ in general, and definitions of frequently used NFV / SDN acronyms) and an account of why we think it is important to track the progress of NFV / SDN are provided in the first analytical report of the series – so we will not repeat them here.[1]

We define ‘European’ deployments as those that take place in Europe, whether:

  1. in a single European market (e.g. a European incumbent deploying in its domestic market)
  2. across multiple, designated European markets (e.g. telcos with opcos in several European countries) or on a Pan-European basis; or
  3. on a global basis by telcos based in Europe.

Some of the deployments in category two may also extend to other global regions (e.g. Telefonica deployments across both its European and Latin American opcos) – in which case they are also included in the totals for those other regions. Conversely, some European deployments are undertaken by telcos based in other regions, e.g. operators with opcos in one or more European markets alongside their domestic market.

However, in this analysis we do not count global deployments by non-Europe-based telcos as ‘European’, even if they extend to parts of the European territory. We assign implementations of genuinely global NFV or SDN platforms to the telco’s region of origin, as this provides a more useful and verifiable way to track the development and commercialisation of NFV / SDN technology by telcos in each region of the world[2].

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report

Analysis of the European data set

NFV deployments grow in volume but not depth

We have gathered data on 126 live, commercial deployments of SDN and NFV in Europe between 2012 and September 2018. These were completed by 30 telco groups in 30 countries in the continent, together with Pan-European or global deployments carried out by some of the same European operators. The data on the deployments includes information on 260 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments, i.e. an average of just over two components per deployment.

The volume of deployments has grown steadily year on year since 2012, as illustrated by the chart below:

Figure 4: Growth in the number of European SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to September 2018

Source: STL Partners

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: SDN / NFV deployments grow in breadth if not depth
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the fourth update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the European data set
  • NFV deployments grow in volume but not depth
  • Growth has been driven by proprietary vendor platforms and mobile cores
  • New operators enter the fray – but deployments by leading NFV pioneers slow down
  • Vendor trends: major players dominate the scene, with little impact as yet for open-source or telco self-builds
  • Conclusion: SDN / NFV deployments are getting broader but not deeper

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Growth in the number of European SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to September 2018
  • Figure 2: Growth in the number of SDN / NFV deployments worldwide, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 3: SDN / NFV deployments by region in the first nine months of 2018
  • Figure 4: European deployments by primary purpose, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 5: Deployments of leading VNFs and functional components in Europe, 2014 to September 2018
  • Figure 6: Leading operators by number of SDN / NFV deployments in Europe
  • Figure 7: Leading vendors by total number of deployments in Europe
  • Figure 8: Vendor vs open-source / operator self-build components, global, 2015 to September 2018

[1] NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017)

Enter your details below to request an extract of the report