Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker: Open RAN deep dive

Telco Cloud: Open RAN is a work in progress

This report accompanies the latest release and quarterly update of STL Partners ‘Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of VNFs (Virtual Network Functions), CNFs (cloud-native network functions) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. In this update we have added some additional categories to the database to reflect the different types of virtualised / open RAN:

  1. Open RAN / O-RAN: Fully open, disaggregated, virtualised / cloud-native, with CU / DU split
  2. vRAN: Virtualised CU/DU, with open interfaces but implemented as an integrated, single-vendor platform
  3. Cloud RAN: Single-vendor, virtualised / centralised BU, or CU only, with proprietary / closed interfaces

Cloud RAN is the most limited form of virtualised RAN: It is based on porting part or all of the functionality of the legacy, appliance-based BU into a Virtual Machine. vRAN and open RAN are much more significant, in both technology and business-model terms, breaking open all parts of the RAN to more competition and opportunities for innovation.

Accordingly, the report presents data on only open RAN and vRAN deployments however a granular analysis of each category of RAN deployment can be carried out using the Telco Cloud Tracker tool.

Access our online Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker tool here

Download the additional file for the full dataset of Telco Cloud deployments

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Open RAN and vRAN deployments, 2018 – 2022

Open-RAN-Deployments-Apr-2021-STL-Partners

Source: STL Partners

Open RAN and vRAN

Both Open RAN and vRAN are virtualised (with the exception of NTT DoCoMo as outlined in the report), but ‘open RAN’ implies full disaggregation of the different parts of the RAN (hardware, software and radio), and open interfaces between them. By contrast, vRAN incorporates the open interfaces but is generally deployed as a pre-integrated, single-vendor solution: hardware, software and radio supplied by the same vendor.

To date, there have been significantly more open RAN than vRAN deployments. But vRAN is emerging as a potentially competitive alternative to pure open RAN: offering the same operational benefits and – in theory – multi-vendor openness, but without the overhead of integrating components from multiple vendors, and a ‘single neck to choke’ if things go wrong. Deployments in 2020 were mostly small-scale and / or 4G, including trials which continued to carry live traffic after the trial period came to an end.

The stark contrast between 2021 and 2022 reflects a slight hiatus in commercial deployments as work intensified around integration and operational models, trials, performance optimisation, and cost economics. However, major deployments are expected in 2022, including greenfield networks 1&1 Drillisch (Germany) and DISH (US), Verizon, Vodafone UK, and MTN (Africa and ME).

Scope and content of the Tracker

The data in the latest update of our interactive tool and database covers the period up to March 2022, although reference is made in the report to events and deployments after that date. The data is drawn predominantly from public-domain information contained in news releases from operators and vendors, along with reputable industry media.

We apply the term ‘deployment’ to refer to the total set of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, and their associated management software and infrastructure, deployed at an operator – or at one or more of an operator’s opcos or natcos – in order to achieve a defined objective or support particular services (in the spreadsheet, we designate these as the ‘primary purpose’ of the deployment). For example, this could be:

  • to deploy a 5G standalone core
  • to launch a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) service
  • or to construct a ‘telco cloud’ or NFV infrastructure (NFVi): a cloud infrastructure platform on which virtualised network services can be introduced and operated.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive tool containing line-by-line analysis of over 900 individual deployments of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, which can be used to drill down by:

  • Region where deployed
  • Operator
  • Technology vendor
  • Primary purpose
  • Type of telco cloud function deployed
  • …and more filters

Telco Cloud Trial Deployment Tracker

Take a look at the trial of our interactive tool with live, commercial deployments of VNFs, CNFs and SDN technologies worldwide

Previous telco cloud tracker releases

Each new release of the tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in given regions from time to time:

 

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Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker: 5G standalone and RAN

Telco cloud 2.0, fuelled by 5G standalone and RAN, is on the starting grid

This report accompanies the latest release and update of STL Partners ‘Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of VNFs (Virtual Network Functions), CNFs (cloud-native network functions) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. It builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past nine years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

Access our Telco Cloud Tracker here

Download the additional file for the full dataset of Telco Cloud deployments

Scope and content of the Tracker

The data in the latest update of our interactive tool and database covers the period up to September 2021, although reference is made in the report to events and deployments after that date. The data is drawn predominantly from public-domain information contained in news releases from operators and vendors, along with reputable industry media.

We apply the term ‘deployment’ to refer to the total set of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, and their associated management software and infrastructure, deployed at an operator – or at one or more of an operator’s opcos or natcos – in order to achieve a defined objective or support particular services (in the spreadsheet, we designate these as the ‘primary purpose’ of the deployment). For example, this could be:

  • to deploy a 5G standalone core
  • to launch a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) service
  • or to construct a ‘telco cloud’ or NFV infrastructure (NFVi): a cloud infrastructure platform on which virtualised network services can be introduced and operated.

The Tracker is provided as an interactive tool containing line-by-line analysis of over 900 individual deployments of VNFs, CNFs or SDN technology, which can be used to drill down by:

  • Region where deployed
  • Operator
  • Technology vendor
  • Primary purpose
  • Category of NFV/SDN technology deployed
  • …and more filters

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5G standalone (SA) will hit an inflection point in 2022

5G standalone (SA) core is beginning to take off, with 19 deployments so far expected to be completed in 2022. The eventual total will be higher still, as will that of NSA core, as NSA 5G networks continue to be launched. As non-standalone (NSA) cores are replaced by SA, this will result in another massive wave of core deployments – probably from 2023/4 onwards.

Standalone 5G vs non-standalone 5G core deployments

STL-5G-standalone-core-cloud-tracker-2021

Source: STL Partners

 

Previous telco cloud tracker releases

Each new release of the tracker is global, but is accompanied by an analytical report which focusses on trends in given regions from time to time:

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Telco Cloud Europe update: Open RAN approaching tipping point

Telco Cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020

Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’

This report accompanies the ninth release of STL Partners’ ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’ database. This contains data on deployments of NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), SDN (Software Defined Networking) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs) in the networks of the leading telcos worldwide. This analytical report focuses on trends in Europe, set in global context.

For this update and hereafter, we have changed the name of the database from ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ to ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’. The name change reflects STL Partners’ new focus on ‘Telco Cloud’ as both a research stream and consultancy practice. But the change also corresponds to the fact that the telecoms industry has now embarked on the second phase of its journey towards more integrally software-based networks – the first phase of which went under the banner of ‘NFV’. This journey is not just about a migration towards ‘software in general’, but cloud-native software: based on design principles developed by the cloud industry, which have the potential to bring cloud-scale economics, programmability and automation to connectivity and connectivity-dependent services.

The Tracker database is provided as an interactive Excel tool containing line-by-line analysis of more than 760 individual deployments of NFV, SDN and CNFs, which can be used to drill down on trends by company and region.

We will produce further research and reports on different aspects of cloud-native software and its impact over the coming months.

Growth in 5G core offset by declines in other areas

Telco cloud deployments so far

After a slight drop in the overall number of deployments in 2019, 2020 is set to be a year of modest growth, as is illustrated by the figure below:

Total number of deployments worldwide, 2014 to July 2020

Source: STL Partners

The data for 2020 is split up into completed, ‘pending’ and estimated additional deployments. We have recorded 63 completed deployments between January and July 2020. Pending deployments (totalling 72) are those previously announced that we are expecting to be completed during 2020 but which – to our knowledge – had not yet gone live in the commercial network by the end of July. The estimated additional deployments are derived from extrapolating to the full year 2020 from the total of completed implementations in the first seven months. This results in around 45 further deployments. On this basis, the total for the year as a whole would reach around 180 deployments: just above the previous record year of 2018 (178).

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Telco cloud deployments on track for growth again in 2020
    • Ninth update of the ‘Telco Cloud Tracker’: from ‘NFV’ to ‘telco cloud’
    • Scope and content of the Tracker
  • 5G core drives new growth in 2020
    • Deployments are on the rise again
    • Growth has been consistent across almost all regions
    • Europe also on track to maintain its record of year-on-year growth
    • Deployments in Europe are still dominated by the major players, but smaller telcos are catching up
    • Vendors: Ericsson in close second place behind Cisco owing to strong presence in mobile core
  • Open RAN at a TIPping point in Europe
    • European telcos are playing a leading role in open RAN
  • Conclusion: Growth being driven by 5G – with open RAN waiting in the wings
    • Worldwide surge in NSA 5G core deployments
    • NSA 5GC is now nearly the leading VNF overall in Europe
    • … with cloud-native, SA 5GC coming down the pipeline
    • … and waiting in the wings: open RAN
    • These overlapping waves of innovation will make telco cloud mainstream

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NFV Deployment Tracker: Global review and update

Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!

This report is the fourth analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the third update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (to the end of June 2018).

The update extends the coverage of the Tracker worldwide: adding a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the African, Latin American and Middle East markets to the existing data set on Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. In addition, the spreadsheet contains updated and expanded data on deployments in the latter regions.

The expansion of the Tracker’s coverage worldwide presents an opportunity to gain an overview of global SDN and NFV development and deployment trends, and to assess the prospects for the technologies, and the services based on them, going forward.

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Previous editions and other NFV / SDN research

Scope of information provided by the Tracker

The data in the NFV Deployment Tracker is sourced primarily from public-domain information such as telco and vendor press releases and reliable press reports regarding successfully completed deployments and the launch of live, commercial services based on virtualised network functions (VNFs) or SDN. We have also obtained some confidential information direct from operators, which we are unable to present in the detailed break-down of deployments by operator. However, this information has been added to an aggregated data set, which is also provided in the spreadsheet.

The data is therefore limited to verified deployments: production implementations of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate and – as far as possible – up to date. We also include some information on deployments planned to be completed by the end of 2017 or by a date as yet unknown, where the information is in the public domain, and where the size and scope of the deployments merit their inclusion.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • The volume and pace of SDN / NFV deployments continues to grow…
  • …but some fundamental challenges remain
  • The focus of deployments varies region by region
  • Operator trends
  • Vendor trends
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the third update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the global data set
  • Constant growth – but SDN / NFV deployment is far from universal
  • Asia-Pacific ahead on number of deployments despite a slowdown in 2018
  • SD-WAN, SDN, core network functions and orchestration have driven the growth in 2018
  • Operator trends: Leading players rack up the deployments, leaving others lagging far behind
  • Vendor trends: a few major players dominate the scene – but telcos continue to look for alternatives
  • Conclusion 

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Growth in the number of SDN / NFV deployments per year, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 2: Breakdown of total deployments by region, 2012 to June 2018
  • Figure 3: Deployments by region, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: Global deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Deployments in Europe by leading category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 6: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 7: Deployments in North America by leading categories, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 8: Global deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 9: Total deployments of leading VNFs and functional components, Middle East
  • Figure 10: Leading VNFs and functional components, Latin America
  • 1Figure 11: Leading operators by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 12:  Leading vendors by number of deployments, global
  • Figure 13: Leading vendors by deployment category 25

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NFV Deployment Tracker: Asia takes the lead

Introduction

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

This report is the third analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the second update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (dated March 2018).

The update provides a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the Asia-Pacific market. Under ‘Asia-Pacific’, we include all of the countries of Central, Southern and South-East Asia, along with Oceania. In addition to the new set of data for Asia-Pacific, the spreadsheet contains updated and revised data on deployments in the European and North American regions.

In June 2018, the data set and analysis will be extended to all other regions worldwide, with the aim of providing the industry’s most comprehensive, authoritative source of information on live deployments of NFV and SDN.

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’ 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.

Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set

Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV

We have gathered data on 102 live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in Asia-Pacific between 2012 and 2018. These were completed by 33 telcos, including all of the major operators in China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Deployments have been more limited in India: seven in total, including two global implementations by Tata Communications. Altogether, the data includes information on 203 known Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), functional sub-components and supporting infrastructure elements that have formed part of these deployments.

This means that Asia-Pacific is the largest market for NFV and SDN, measured purely in terms of number of deployments. The Asia-Pacific totals outstrip the updated numbers for both Europe (89 deployments and 182 VNFs / functional components) and North America (62 deployments and 126 VNFs / functional components). The number of operators that have completed deployments is also higher than that in Europe or North America.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Asia-Pacific is the leading global SDN / NFV market
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the second update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the Asia-Pacific data set
  • Overall data and trends: Asia-Pacific is the largest global market for NFV
  • SDN, SD-WAN and core network functions have driven the growth
  • Operator trends: Innovators lead the way, closely followed by the Chinese giants
  • Vendor trends: SD-WAN and vCPE vendors lead the way
  • Conclusion

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total NFV and SDN deployments in Asia-Pacific, 2012 to 2018
  • Figure 2: Asia-Pacific deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 3: European deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 4: North American deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2018
  • Figure 5: Leading VNFs and functional components deployed in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 6: Leading Asia-Pacific operators by number of NFV / SDN deployments
  • Figure 7: Leading vendors by number of deployments

NFV Deployment Tracker – North America: SD-WAN tail wags NFV dog

Introduction

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

This report is the second analytical report in the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’ series and is intended as an accompaniment to the first update of the Tracker Excel spreadsheet (to December 2017).

The update provides a comprehensive set of data on live, commercial deployments of NFV and SDN in the North American market (including the US, Canada and the Caribbean). In addition, the spreadsheet contains updated and revised data on deployments in the European region.

In March 2018, the data set and analysis will be extended to all other regions worldwide, with the aim of providing the industry’s most comprehensive, authoritative source of information on live deployments of NFV and SDN.

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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’ 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 – NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017).

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Conclusion: strong growth in 2018 will be delivered by the continuing rise of SD-WAN and new consumer use cases
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to the first update of the ‘NFV Deployment Tracker’
  • Scope, definitions and importance of the data
  • Analysis of the North American data set
  • Overall data and trends
  • ‘Service-led Innovation’ has driven the deployments
  • ‘Technology Evolution’ deployments are less in evidence
  • Operator trends: AT&T and Verizon dispute first place, while other players focus on differentiated offers
  • Vendor trends: SD-WAN and vCPE vendors lead the way
  • Conclusion: A dynamic enterprise market – but consumer use cases still outstanding

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Total NFV and SDN deployments in North America, 2011 to 2017
  • Figure 2: North American deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 3: European deployments by higher-level category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 4: Leading North American operators by number of NFV / SDN deployments
  • Figure 5: Leading vendors by number of deployments (North America)

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NFV Deployment Tracker: Europe (September 2017)

This report is discussed in our free webinar recording: Keeping NFV on track – Assessing operator strategies and progress

Introduction

Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!

This report is the first of a new series of statistical and analytical reports tracking the progress of NFV and SDN: ‘The NFV Deployment Tracker’. The ‘Tracker’ builds on an extensive body of analysis by STL Partners over the past two years on NFV and SDN strategies, technology and market developments.

This service will be updated on a quarterly basis and will provide a steadily growing database on live deployments of NFV and SDN by telcos worldwide. The data is presented in an Excel spreadsheet, accompanied by an analytical report presenting the key statistics and trends observed during the quarter.

At launch, the Tracker provides data on the European market; December’s update will also include comprehensive data from the North American market; and in March 2018, we will extend the coverage to Asia and the Rest of the World – while up-to-date information on the markets already included will be added on a continuous basis.

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Scope of information provided by the Tracker

The data in the NFV Deployment Tracker is sourced primarily from public-domain information such as telco and vendor press releases and reliable press reports regarding successfully completed deployments and the launch of live, commercial services based on virtualised network functions (VNFs) or SDN. We have also obtained some confidential information direct from operators, which we are unable to present in the detailed break-down of deployments by operator. However, this information has been added to an aggregated data set, which is also provided in the spreadsheet.

The data is therefore limited to verified deployments: production implementations of NFV and SDN powering live services, where we can be confident that the data on the VNFs and IT components involved is accurate and – as far as possible – up to date. We also include some information on deployments planned to be completed by the end of 2017 or by a date as yet unknown, where the information is in the public domain, and where the size and scope of the deployments merit their inclusion.

In terms of size, the research has focused on Tier-One carriers, including the incumbent or former incumbent operators of every European state, along with leading competitive operators in major markets, Pan-European players and the leading cablecos. We have not included smaller local and regional players, Tier-Three providers and all but the largest Tier-Two carriers. We include all deployments within Europe, even if the parent company involved is headquartered outside of Europe (e.g. US-based Liberty Global, which owns cable assets across Europe). But we do not include deployments at non-European subsidiaries of Europe-based operator groups.

We have also not included activity around proofs of concept (PoCs), live tests or demonstrations of NFV and SDN. This is partly because a lot of this work never comes to fruition in terms of commercial deployments – at least not in quite the same combination of elements as the pre-commercial tests – and partly because the aim of the Tracker is to provide a reliable, comprehensive source of information on actual, commercial implementations of NFV and SDN, from which vendor and telco hype about the technologies has been eliminated.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: NFV still on the roadmap, but horizons of deployment stretch out
  • Welcome to the NFV Deployment Tracker
  • Scope and importance of the Tracker
  • European data: Steady but unspectacular growth in deployments
  • Conclusion: NFV still squarely on the roadmap, but navigating the landscape is taking longer than scheduled
  • Introduction
  • Welcome to The NFV Deployment Tracker!
  • Scope of information provided by the Tracker
  • Definitions
  • What counts as a deployment?
  • Why is this information important?
  • Analysis of the initial European data set
  • Overall data and trends
  • Winners, losers and low-hanging fruit
  • Vendor trends
  • Operator trends
  • Conclusion
  • NFV is still very much on the roadmap, but the horizon of deployment is stretching out further than anticipated

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Definition of main abbreviations used in this report
  • Figure 2: Total NFV and SDN deployments in Europe, 2009 to 2017
  • Figure 3: Deployments from 2009 to 2017 broken down by higher-level categories
  • Figure 4: Deployments by leading network function and infrastructure category, 2014 to 2017
  • Figure 5: Number of deployments by lead vendor
  • Figure 6: Leading operators in terms of number of deployments

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Brexit: Telecoms Strategy Implications – #1 Prioritise Transformation

Published here is our outline of what has happened in the UK, what still has to happen, and the near-term consequences.

The full report further outlines scenarios for how the saga may play out, and explores opportunities and threats for operators and technology partners in the UK, the EU and beyond.

Introduction: What actually happened in the UK?

Why was a vote called?

British Prime Minister David Cameron first considered a referendum on European Union membership in 2012, with the idea that it might be a way to generate support from Eurosceptic members of his own Conservative Party. In January 2013, Cameron made a two-fold promise that, should his party win a majority at the 2015 general election, the Government would attempt to negotiate more favourable arrangements for Britain’s EU membership, and subsequently hold a referendum to decide whether the UK should leave or remain part of the EU.

In May 2015, the Conservative Party won the general election, and David Cameron reaffirmed his pledge. By February this year, Cameron had announced the outcome of a renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership, and confirmed that a referendum would take place on 23 June. The question chosen to appear on the ballot paper was: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

The result

Figure 2: The EU referendum – how Britain voted

Source: Lord Ashcroft Polls, BBC

46.5 million voters were eligible to vote in the referendum, of which 33.6 million voted. At 72%, this represents a high turnout.

Of those voting, 17.41 million (52%) voted to ‘Leave’ and 16.14m (48%) voted to ‘Remain’ in the European Union, a majority of 1.27m in favour of leaving. Immediately after the result, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, to be effective once a new Conservative party leader was chosen.

Polling reports by voting constituency show a relatively consistent pattern of a ‘Leave’ majority in most of England and Wales, with a ‘Remain’ majority in London, Scotland, major university cities, and Northern Ireland. Surveys suggest that the ‘Remain’ voters were on average younger and better educated.

Why did the UK ‘Leave’ campaign win?

The reasons behind the victory of the ‘Leave’ campaign are complex and probably not yet fully understood – the result was as much of a shock in the UK as the rest of the world.

Nonetheless, to help set the outcome in context, we shall carefully try to piece together some insight into the ­­main drivers combining our understanding of the events, supported by findings from one published post-vote survey, hopefully without touching still sensitive nerves in the UK and elsewhere.

The primary reason given by ‘Leave’ voters was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be made in the UK”. More qualitatively, there are concerns too about the future intent of the EU to integrate even more deeply, and even many ‘Remain’ voters dislike the perceived distance and inefficiency of the EU itself.

Migration was also cited as the second most important reason to vote ‘Leave’, and there has recently been a significant increase in EU migrants coming to work in the UK. While some areas have felt the impact of the inflow of migrants more than others, net EU immigration amounted to 0.3% of the population last year. The voters’ concern was of ‘uncontrolled’ future migration.

The ‘Leave’ campaign tapped into and amplified into both democratic and migration concerns deftly with the clear and emotional central promise to ‘take back control’, and spoke in everyday language. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London joined the campaign in February, and gave it a better known and well liked face.

In contrast, the ‘Remain’ campaign lacked clarity and cohesion among its leaders and messages, particularly around controlling immigration. It was also neutralised on the issue of the likely economic damage of Brexit by the accusation of running ‘Project Fear’ – claims of impending disaster to scare voters onto its side.

The Labour half of the ‘Remain’ campaign was accused of lacking conviction.  The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn is now facing his own “Jexit”, as 172 Labour Members of Parliament (c.75%) delivered a non-binding “no confidence” vote on his leadership.   It has even been suggested that Mr Corbyn voted for Leave. (Ironically, a similar rumour suggests Boris Johnson voted ‘Remain’.)

While the overall tone of the campaign became rather toxic and facts became a casualty to both sides, the ‘Leave’ campaign cut through with its clearer message, emotional appeal, and better-worked rhetoric.

Many surveyed said they had come to the decision to support ‘Leave’ before all the campaigning of the last few weeks, based on the view that the benefits of taking back control of decisions and migration would be worth the (hotly disputed) risks of whatever economic consequences there may be. The argument is that in the medium term, the UK will be able to negotiate better trade deals outside Europe, no longer held back by the less agile EU, with its 27 different national interests to complicate every deal.

There is also a sizeable body of disaffected and disenfranchised voters in the UK, more typically (but not exclusively) less affluent and living in rural areas and small towns, who feel they have been talked down to and left behind by the metropolitan, educated elite, including politicians, business leaders, economists and other experts. The EU vote was an opportunity to protest, and the warnings of economic ruin by ‘the elite’ simply strengthened their resolve to give ‘the establishment’ – and ‘the elite’ – a metaphorical ‘kick’.

What are the consequences – in the UK and beyond?

UK politics will be in a muddle for a while, and it is far from clear what will happen

You might think that the vote has been cast, and that would be that: the UK is out of the EU. This is far from the case. There is considerable opposition to leaving, and many procedural opportunities for further twists and turns which we outline in this section. Our aim is to help explain why there may be a long delay before anything much more tangible happens, and some of the factors that might drive the emergence of different scenarios.

Before anything much more can be resolved, Britain needs a prime minister. Constitutionally, David Cameron remains in office until his successor takes over, but there are obvious limits to his authority as a ‘lame duck’. The logic of the constitution is such that the Conservative Party first needs to choose a new leader, who would automatically become prime minister by virtue of the Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

For exit to actually happen, the UK government must send the European Council a notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Once the notification is received, a clock is set running on the withdrawal process – the parties then have 2 years to negotiate terms. If there is no agreement within that time, the European treaties cease to apply to the withdrawing state in a so-called “hard exit”.

Cameron has stated that he will not give this notification, leaving this for his successor on the grounds that having resigned, he no longer has the legitimacy to take such a historic step. This means that the situation is currently on hold. Some lawyers argue that the Article 50 notification would need a vote in the House of Commons, which has a substantial majority in favour of remaining in the European Union, in a further complication. It may also be covered by the principle that the Westminster parliament only acts on Scottish affairs with the Scottish government’s consent, which is very unlikely to be given. This interpretation, however, is controversial.

Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party is in a similar state of crisis, as its MPs try to remove the party leader. Because that party’s rules require a full party conference to sack the leader, and then an election by the members, it is possible that they might not be able to remove him before the conference in September, unless he chooses to resign. Even then, he might stand for election as his own successor.

As a result, it is unlikely that much can be decided until the parties have resolved their own internal crises. Once this has happened, though, the UK will have an unelected prime minister and a parliament largely elected on a platform of staying in the EU. Therefore, it may be necessary to call a general election (since 2011, this needs a 2/3 majority of Parliament, so could be problematic in itself).

A prime minister unwilling to leave the EU might use this as a way to back down from the referendum, on the basis that the electorate had spoken once again and had evidently changed its mind. Alternatively, he or she could use it to seek a mandate to implement their chosen version of Brexit. In the event that the Article 50 notification is issued, it is almost certain that the Scottish Nationalist Party would seek a second referendum on independence from the UK.

The UK in general: a state of shock

It is hard to gauge the knock-on impact of the vote on the wider population, other than to say that the STL Partners team has never experienced such an emotive and divisive political issue. There are disagreements within families, between friends, within communities, and across the nation.

There have been increases in reported racist crimes and confrontations, and the vote and its political fall-out dominates the news coverage.

There is not rioting on the streets, but there is a sense of shock, anger and disbelief among many on all sides. Perhaps the ongoing drama of the political fall-out in Westminster and Brussels, and a general weariness with the whole situation, are diverting the tensions.

We hope that things will calm down quickly, but there may well be months of more stress ahead. In the long term, the divisions between the predominantly ‘Remain’ areas like London and Scotland, and strongly ‘Leave’ rural areas and towns need to be addressed, but the solutions are not obvious. This vote has merely highlighted and amplified the differences, and Brexit itself does not offer a solution.

Economic Uncertainty: threat and opportunity

The primary macro-economic impact so far has been a deep devaluation in sterling. This will move the balance of payments on current account, heavily in deficit (i.e. imports exceed exports) at the moment, towards balance, as UK exports get cheaper and imports dearer. The consequences of moving towards balance will depend on how this happens.

One possibility is that British exports might be quite price-elastic. In this case, export volumes would rise more than import prices, and the devaluation would therefore increase aggregate demand and GDP. However, if they are less price-elastic, the increase in export volumes might not be enough to outweigh the rise in import prices, and the impact would be negative.

It is historically quite common that economies going through a major devaluation experience both, in the so-called J-curve effect. In the short term, import prices rise immediately, but it takes time to increase export volumes, and there is a recession. In the medium term, exporters adjust to the new exchange rate and there is a recovery. Service exporters – a very important category – cannot simply sell more units (nobody consumes more corporate lawyering because it is cheap), but have to gain new customers or sell more complicated services to existing ones.

If exit itself is disruptive to trade with the EU because of ill-feeling on either side (as might seem likely) or regulatory/non-tariff barrier issues, this would also make for such a scenario. Another, much more negative possibility, would be a recession in the domestic economy that reduces demand for imports and drives the current account into balance that way.

A third, even worse possibility would be a financial markets-driven “sudden stop”, in which the inflow of financing into the UK (the capital account surplus) would slow down dramatically. The current account would move into balance because importers became credit-rationed, resulting in a deep and rapid recession. Much depends on what the actual UK-Europe trade relationship turns out to be, and on the price elasticity of demand for UK exports.

What is very likely is that at least 2 years of intense uncertainty are in prospect, and during this time we expect many UK (and some EU) investment decisions to go on hold. It may be more likely that the UK experiences a classical recession, led by investment decisions in cyclical sectors like construction, and that this leads to a smaller current account deficit, rather than a change in the current account leading to a recession. Heavy selling on the stock market has focused on cyclical and consumer stocks like banks, airlines, housebuilders, and supermarkets. This implies the market is pricing in such a scenario.

In the telecoms sector, the UK would feel the effect on sales of flagship smartphones in mobile and big TV bundles in fixed – i.e. big ticket discretionary spending, the sort of thing that is likely to go first. Virgin Media’s £3bn Project Lightning fibre roll-out is an investment that might be affected, as owners Liberty Global have other markets they could deploy the CAPEX in.

As for investment into the UK, the devaluation renders UK assets significantly cheaper, and permits buyers who finance themselves in the UK to lever up more – a given amount of foreign-denominated equity is now worth more in sterling, so a larger loan can be floated at the same leverage ratio. The fundamental decision is therefore whether this advantage is worth the macro risk. The possibility of a nasty shock – such as the failure of a systemically important financial firm – can’t be ruled out.

For telcos in particular, a crucial issue is that their infrastructure is almost exclusively sourced from markets that trade in dollars or euros, so capital spending will be under significant pressure. Infrastructure sourced from China is paid for in dollars. Ericsson reports significant exchange rate adjustments in its accounts, suggesting that it gets paid in dollars and converts to Swedish kroner, while Nokia (plus ex-Alcatel) is of course in the eurozone. As a result, capital investments in the UK are financed in foreign currency and repaid out of sterling cashflows, so they will be significantly more expensive in future.

Longer-term impact will be overwhelmingly determined by the future shape of UK-European trade. This ranges from neutral – in the case where the UK stays, or shifts to a “Norwegian” relationship under the EEA Treaty – to seriously negative – in the “no deal” case where the UK ends up operating under WTO most-favoured nation tariffs. These are as high as 16% in the automotive sector, one of the biggest UK export lines of business (this Wall Street Journal app is invaluable here). We explore these scenarios in greater detail in the Scenarios section below.

Any upside for the UK is dependent on a substantial re-orientation of trade to extra-European markets; two of the biggest, China and Brazil, have their own problems in the short term.

 

  • Executive summary (not published here)
  • Introduction: What happened?
  • Why was a vote called?
  • The result
  • Why did the UK ‘Leave’ campaign win?
  • What are the consequences?
  • UK politics will be in a muddle for a while
  • The UK in general: a state of shock
  • Economic Uncertainty: threat and opportunity
  • Possible scenarios (not published here)
  • Scenario 1 – Hard Exit
  • Scenario 2 – Boris Johnson’s Norway
  • Scenario 3 – No Exit
  • Scenario 4 – Rolling Crisis
  • Consequences for telecoms – in the UK, the EU, and beyond (not published here)
  • Regulation
  • Customers: Finserv
  • Customers: Automotive and Industrial
  • Customers: Media and TV
  • What should TMT leaders do? (not published here)
  • Don’t give up on transformation
  • It could happen to EU
  • The least disruptive possible outcome is a de-escalation
  • The danger of a run on the skills bank
  • Don’t catch a falling knife

 

  • Figure 1: Summary Scenario Impacts for the Telco Industry
  • Figure 2: The EU referendum – how Britain voted
  • Figure 3: BT slides, Equinix soars

Lag Kills! How App Latency Wrecks Customer Experience

Executive Summary

  • STL Partners’ analysis shows that while latency and app errors are only weakly correlated across the whole of Europe, once outlying operators (SFR, Wind and those in Germany) are removed, there is a strong positive correlation between the two: as latency increases so do app errors.
  • Intuitively, this makes sense: apps ‘time out’ waiting for responses causing errors and crashes.
  • Latency and app errors both negatively affect customer experience – customers are more likely to abandon apps as responsiveness and error rates increase:
    • 48% of users would uninstall or stop using an app if it regularly ran slowly.
    • 53% of users would uninstall or stop using an app if it regularly crashed, stopped responding or had errors.
  • Historically, customers have tended to hold the app developer responsible for errors (55% of users blame the app for problems and only 22% the mobile operator) but mobile operators have a significant impact on how quickly an app runs and how likely it is to experience an error and, as understanding of the operators’ role grows, users may well use this as a criterion when selecting their mobile service provider.
  • Performance among Europe’s operators for app latency and errors varies widely:
    • The worst-performing operator in Europe (3 Italy) experiences over three times the amount of requests with poor latency compared to the best-performer (Bouygues Telecom).
    • The worst-performing operator in Europe (O2 Germany) results in over twice the number of app errors than the best-performer (Bouygues Telecom again).
  • Improving customer experience is rapidly becoming a mantra of operators globally and for several players (in Europe at least) improving latency performance and reducing app errors caused by latency and other factors should be a key priority. For without improvement, poor performing operators will find themselves at a disadvantage and may struggle to retain existing customers and recruit new ones.

Introduction

Key objectives

Network latency is a key driver of user experience. In applications as diverse as e-commerce, VoIP, gaming, video or audio content delivery, search, online advertising, financial services, and the Internet of Things, increased latency has a direct and negative impact on customers. With higher latency, customers fail to complete tasks, leave applications, or experience application errors. This, in turn, results poorer core business KPIs for the application provider – lower ratings, fewer subscribers, or reduced advertising fees.

As we showed in a recent report titled Mobile app latency in Europe: French operators lead; Italian & Spanish lag, with the modern Internet dominated by flows of small packets on fast networks, latency accounts for the biggest share of total load times and tends to determine the actual data transfer rates users see. And, as web and mobile applications increasingly consist of large numbers of requests to independent ‘microservices’, jitter – the variation in latency – becomes a more significant threat to the consumer experience. Furthermore, we benchmarked major European mobile network operators (MNOs) on average latency and the rate of unacceptably high-latency events (over 500ms).

In this second report on latency, which again uses data provided by app analytics specialist Apteligent (formerly Crittercism), we look at the rate of app errors – evidently, something that could not impact user experience more directly – and its correlation with both latency, and the rate of unacceptable high-latency events. We explore how often apps fail across the same set of MNOs, test if latency is a driver of app errors, and then conclude whether or not our theory that it is a real driver of consumer experience is correct.

Source data and methodology

Our partner, Apteligent, collects a wide variety of analytics data from thousands of mobile apps used by hundreds of millions of people around the world in their every-day lives and work. To date, the primary purpose of the data has been to help app developers make better apps. We are now working with Crittercism to produce further insights from the data to serve the global community of mobile operators.

This data-set includes the average network latency experienced at the application layer, the percentage of network requests above 500ms round-trip time, the 5th and 95th percentiles, and the rate of application errors. All of these data points are useful in trying to understand the overall experience of customers using their mobile apps, and in particular the delays and problems they’ve experienced such as long screen wait times and applications failing to work.

We showed in the previous report how the longest round-trip delays or ‘app-lags’ (i.e. those over 500ms) are the most important KPI to look at when trying to understand customer experience. This is firstly because people really notice individual delays of this length. For people used to high speed broadband, it’s like going back to narrowband internet – it seems incredibly slow!

Importantly though, in modern apps, the distribution of delays is even more significant, as each app or web page typically makes multiple requests over the internet before it can load fully – and each of these requests will suffer some form of delay or latency.

A detailed explanation of this and of the collection methodology is available in the first report.

The Impact of latency on app errors

First glance: a positive correlation overall, but a weak one

The following chart shows the error rate per 10,000 app requests, plotted against the percentage of requests over 500ms round-trip time, by carrier. Each dot represents a week’s performance and we’ve looked at 12 weeks of data from 20 operators, from the week of 03/08/15 to the week beginning 19/10/2015. The hypothesis being that the more requests with unacceptable latency there are, the more app errors, because apps ‘time-out’ or key requests are not fulfilled in time causing an app error or, worse, a crash.

Figure 1: Latency and errors for the top 20 European MNOs over the last 12-weeks appear correlated, but there are some important outliers

Source: STL Partners, Apteligent

At first glance, there appears to be only a weak positive relationship between latency and error rates but there does seem to be a natural grouping found between the two hand-drawn dotted lines on the chart with the weeks above the upper boundary (potentially) being outliers, in which at least one other factor is driving application errors up.

The lower boundary seems to represent the underlying rate of app-errors that occur when there are no latency issues (between 20 and 50 errors per ten thousand plus an increasing error rate as higher latency kicks in. For example, when 10% of requests experience latency above 500ms, the minimum error rate is around 30 per 10,000 requests, rising to 50 at the 35% mark.

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Key objectives
  • Source data and methodology
  • The Impact of Latency on App Errors
  • First glance: a positive correlation overall, but a weak one
  • Outliers are specific countries and operators
  • Strong positive correlation between latency and app errors once outliers are excluded
  • App Errors: The Impact on Customer Experience
  • Latency and errors – both bad for the customer
  • Appendix: Country Analysis
  • France: A Clear Relationship
  • The UK: Strong Latency-Error Correlation
  • Spain: A mixed picture, but latency is still predictive of app errors
  • Italy: Wind is a super-outlier
  • Germany: Nothing but Outliers?
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game
  • About Apteligent (formerly Crittercism)

 

  • Figure 1: Latency and errors for the top 20 European MNOs over the last 12-weeks appear correlated, but there are some important outliers
  • Figure 2: 12-week average latency and app error performance by operator
  • Figure 3: After excluding the key outliers, high-latency events explain 75% of the app error rate across Europe’s top 20 operators
  • Figure 4: Expected number of errors when loading 20 web pages of Amazon
  • Figure 5: France shows both the best performers, and a very clear relationship between latency and app errors
  • Figure 6: The latency-error correlation is strongest in the UK
  • Figure 7: High variation in latency complicates the picture, but a third of app error variation is still driven by latency
  • Figure 8: Wind complicates the picture, but the trend is still there
  • Figure 9: Germany – is there any trend at all?
  • Figure 10: The source of the outliers – Germany in August

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

Introduction

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

The role of this report

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

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

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

Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020

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

Overview

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

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

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

Figure 1: Four European telecoms market scenarios for 2020

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

How each scenario is described

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

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

The European macro-economy – a key assumption

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

 

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

 

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

The European Telecoms market in 2020, Report 1: Evaluating 10 forces of change

Introduction

Telecoms – the times they are a changin’

The global telecoms market is experiencing change at an unprecedented pace.  As recently as 2012 , few would have predicted that consumer voice and messaging would be effectively ‘given away’ with data packages in 2015.  Yet today, the shift towards data as the ‘valuable’ part of the mobile bundle has been made in many European markets and, although many operators still allocate a large proportion of revenue to voice and messaging, the value proposition is clearly now ‘data-led’.

Europe, in particular, is facing great uncertainty

While returns on investment have steadily reduced in European telecoms, the market has remained structurally fragmented with a large number of disparate players – fixed-only; mobile-only; converged; wholesalers; enterprise-only; content-oriented players (cablecos); and so forth. Operators generally have continued to make steady economic returns for investors and have been considered ‘defensive stocks’ by the capital markets owing to an ability to generate strong dividend yields and withstand economic down-turns (although Telefonica’s woes in Spain will attest to the limitations of the telco business model to recession).

But the forces of change in Europe are growing and, as a company’s ‘Safe Harbor’ statement would put it, ‘past performance does not guarantee future results’. Strategists are puzzling over what the European telecoms industry might look like in 2020 (and how might that affect their own company) given the broad range of forces being exerted on it in 2015.

STL Partners believes there are 12 questions that need to be considered when considering what the European telecoms market might look like in 2020:

  1. How will regulation of national markets and the wider European Union progress?
  2. How will government policies and the new EC Digital Directive impact telecoms?
  3. How will competition among traditional telecoms players develop?
  4. How strong will new competitors be and how will they compete with operators?
  5. What is the revenue and margin outlook for telecoms core services?
  6. Will new technologies such as NFV, SDN, and eSIM, have a positive or negative effect on operators?
  7. How will the capital markets’ attitude towards telecoms operators change and how much capital will be available for investment by operators?
  8. How will the attitudes and behaviours of customers – consumer and enterprise – evolve and what bearing might this have on operators’ business models?
  9. How will the vision and aspirations of telecoms senior managers play out – will digital services become a greater focus or will the ‘data pipe’ model prevail? How important will content be for operators? What will be the relative importance of fixed vs mobile, consumer vs enterprise?
  10. Will telcos be able to develop the skills, assets and partnerships required to pursue a services strategy successfully or will capabilities fall short of aspirations?
  11. What M&A strategy will telco management pursue to support their strategies: buying other telcos vs buying into adjacent industries? Focus on existing countries only vs moves into other countries or even a pan-European play?
  12. How effective will the industry be in reducing its cost base – capex and opex – relative to the new competitors such as the internet players in consumer services and IT players in enterprise services?

Providing clear answers to each of these 12 questions and their combined effect on the industry is extremely challenging because:

  • Some forces are, to some extent at least, controllable by operators whereas other forces are largely outside their control;
  • Although some forces are reasonably well-established, many others are new and/or changing rapidly;
  • Establishing the interplay between forces and the ‘net effect’ of them together is complicated because some tend to create a domino effect (e.g. greater competition tends to result in lower revenues and margins which, in turn, means less capital being available for investment in networks and services) whereas other forces can negate each other (e.g. the margin impact of lower core service revenues could be – at least partially – offset by a lower cost base achieved through NFV).

The role of this report

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

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

  • Identify the key forces of change in Europe and provide a useful means of classifying them within a simple and logical 2×2 framework (this report);
  • Help readers refine their thoughts on how Europe might develop by outlining four alternative ‘futures’ that are both sufficiently different from each other to be meaningful and internally consistent enough to be realistic (Report 2);
  • Provide a ‘prediction’ for the future European telecoms market based on the responses of two ‘wisdom of crowds’ votes conducted at a recent STL Partners event for senior managers from European telcos plus our STL Partners’ own viewpoint (Report 2).
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Telecoms – the times they are a changin’
  • Europe, in particular, is facing great uncertainty
  • The role of this report
  • Understanding and classifying the forces of change
  • External (market) forces
  • Internal (telco) forces
  • Summary: The impact of internal and external forces over the next 5 years
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: O2’s SIM-only pay monthly tariffs – many with unlimited voice and messaging bundled in
  • Figure 2: A framework for classifying telco market forces: internal and external
  • Figure 3: Telefonica dividend yield vs Spanish 10-year bond yield
  • Figure 4: Customer attitudes to European telecoms brands – 2003 vs 2015
  • Figure 5: Summarising the key skills, partnerships, assets and culture needed to realise ambitions
  • Figure 6: SMS Price vs. penetration of Top OTT messaging apps in 2012
  • Figure 7: Summary of how internal and external forces could develop in the next 5 years

Winning Strategies: Differentiated Mobile Data Services

Introduction

Verizon’s performance in the US

Our work on the US cellular market – for example, in the Disruptive Strategy: “Uncarrier” T-Mobile vs VZW, AT&T, and Free.fr  and Free-T-Mobile: Disruptive Revolution or a Bridge Too Far?  Executive Briefings – has identified that US carrier strategies are diverging. The signature of a price-disruption event we identified with regard to France was that industry-wide ARPU was falling, subscriber growth was unexpectedly strong (amounting to a substantial increase in penetration), and there was a shakeout of minor operators and MVNOs.

Although there are strong signs of a price war – for example, falling ARPU industry-wide, resumed subscriber growth, minor operators exiting, and subscriber-acquisition initiatives such as those at T-Mobile USA, worth as much as $400-600 in handset subsidy and service credit – it seems that Verizon Wireless is succeeding while staying out of the mire, while T-Mobile, Sprint, and minor operators are plunged into it, and AT&T may be going that way too. Figure 1 shows monthly ARPU, converted to Euros for comparison purposes.

Figure 1: Strategic divergence in the US

Figure 1 Strategic Divergence in the US
Source: STL Partners, themobileworld.com

We can also look at this in terms of subscribers and in terms of profitability, bringing in the cost side. The following chart, Figure 2, plots margins against subscriber growth, with the bubbles set proportional to ARPU. The base year 2011 is set to 100 and the axes are set to the average values. We’ve named the four quadrants that result appropriately.

Figure 2: Four carriers, four fates

Figure 2 Four carriers four fate
Source: STL Partners

Clearly, you’d want to be in the top-right, top-performer quadrant, showing subscriber growth and growing profitability. Ideally, you’d also want to be growing ARPU. Verizon Wireless is achieving all three, moving steadily north-west and climbing the ARPU curve.

At the same time, AT&T is gradually being drawn into the price war, getting closer to the lower-right “volume first” quadrant. Deep within that one, we find T-Mobile, which slid from a defensive crouch in the upper-left into the hopeless lower-left zone and then escaped via its price-slashing strategy. (Note that the last lot of T-Mobile USA results were artificially improved by a one-off spectrum swap.) And Sprint is thrashing around, losing profitability and going nowhere fast.

The usual description for VZW’s success is “network differentiation”. They’re just better than the rest, and as a result they’re reaping the benefits. (ABI, for example, reckons that they’re the world’s second most profitable operator on a per-subscriber basis  and the world’s most profitable in absolute terms.) We can restate this in economic terms, saying that they are the most efficient producer of mobile service capacity. This productive capacity can be used either to cut prices and gain share, or to increase quality (for example, data rates, geographic coverage, and voice mean-opinion score) at higher prices. This leads us to an important conclusion: network differentiation is primarily a cost concept, not a price concept.

If there are technical or operational choices that make network differentiation possible, they can be deployed anywhere. It’s also possible, though, that VZW is benefiting from structural factors, perhaps its ex-incumbent status, or its strong position in the market for backbone and backhaul fibre, or perhaps just its scale (although in that case, why is AT&T doing so much worse?). And another possibility often mooted is that the US is somehow a better kind of mobile market. Less competitive (although this doesn’t necessarily show up in metrics like the Herfindahl index of concentration), supposedly less regulated, and undoubtedly more profitable, it’s often held up by European operators as an example. Give us the terms, they argue, and we will catch up to the US in LTE deployment.

As a result, it is often argued in lobbying circles that European markets are “too competitive” or in need of “market repair”, and therefore, the argument runs, the regulator ought to turn a blind eye to more consolidation or at least accept a hollowing out of national operating companies. More formally, the prices (i.e. ARPUs) prevailing do not provide a sufficient margin over operators’ fixed costs to fund discretionary investment. If this was true, we would expect to find little scope for successful differentiation in Europe.

Further, if the “incumbent advantage” story was true of VZW over and above the strategic moves that it has made, we might expect to find that ex-incumbent, converged operators were pulling into the lead across Europe, benefiting from their wealth of access and backhaul assets. In this note, we will try to test these statements, and then assess what the answer might be.

How do European Operators compare?

We selected a clutch of European mobile operators and applied the same screen to identify what might be happening. In doing so we chose to review the UK, German, French, Swedish, and Italian markets jointly with the US, in an effort to avoid a purely European crisis-driven comparison.

Figure 3: Applying the screen to European carriers

Figure 3 Applying the screen to European carriers

Source: STL Partners

Our first observation is that the difference between European and American carriers has been more about subscriber growth than about profitability. The axes are set to the same values as in Figure 2, and the data points are concentrated to their left (showing less subscriber growth in Europe) not below them (less profitability growth).

Our second observation is that yes, there certainly are operators who are delivering differentiated performance in the EU. But they’re not the ones you might expect. Although the big converged incumbents, like T-Mobile Germany, have strong margins, they’re not increasing them and on the whole their performance is average only. Nor is scale a panacea, which brings us to our next observation.

Our third observation is that something is visible at this level that isn’t in the US: major opcos that are shrinking. Vodafone, not a company that is short of scale, gets no fewer than three of its OpCos into the lower-left quadrant. We might say that Vodafone Italy was bound to suffer in the context of the Italian macro-economy, as was TIM, but Vodafone UK is in there, and Vodafone Germany is moving steadily further left and down.

And our fourth observation is the opposite, significant growth. Hutchison OpCo 3UK shows strong performance growth, despite being a fourth operator with no fixed assets and starting with LTE after first-mover EE. Their sibling 3 Sweden is also doing well, while even 3 Italy was climbing up until the last quarter and it remains a valid price warrior. They are joined in the power quadrant with VZW by Telenor’s Swedish OpCo, Telia Mobile, and O2 UK (in the last two cases, only marginally). EE, for its part, has only marginally gained subscribers, but it has strongly increased its margins, and it may yet make it.

But if you want really dramatic success, or if you doubt that Hutchison could do it, what about Free? The answer is that they’re literally off the chart. In Figure 4, we add Free Mobile, but we can only plot the first few quarters. (Interestingly, since then, Free seems to be targeting a mobile EBITDA margin of exactly 9%.)

The distinction here is between the pure-play, T-Mobile-like price warriors in the lower right quadrant, who are sacrificing profitability for growth, and the group we’ve identified, who are improving their margins even as they gain subscribers. This is the signature of significant operational improvement, an operator that can move traffic more efficiently than its competitors. Because the data traffic keeps coming, ever growing at the typical 40% annual clip, it is necessary for any operator to keep improving in order to survive. Therefore, the pace of improvement marks operational excellence, not just improvement.

Figure 4: Free Mobile, a disruptive force that’s literally off the charts

Figure 4 Free Mobile a disruptive force thats literally off the charts

Source: STL Partners

We can also look at this at the level of the major multinational groups. Again, Free’s very success presents a problem to clarity in this analysis – even as part of a virtual group of independents, the ‘Indies’ in Figure 5, it’s difficult to visualise. T-Mobile USA’s savage price cutting, though, gets averaged out and the inclusion of EE boosts the result for Orange and DTAG. It also becomes apparent that the “market repair” story has a problem in that there isn’t a major group committed to hard discounting. But Hutchison, Telenor, and Free’s excellence, and Vodafone’s pain, stand out.

Figure 5: The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals

Figure 5 The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report we analyse why and how these operators (3UK, Telenor Sweden and Free Mobile) are managing to achieve such differentiated performance, identify the common themes in their strategic approaches and the lessons from comparison to their peers, and the important wider consequences for the market.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Applying the Screen to European Mobile
  • Case study 1: Vodafone vs. 3UK
  • 3UK has substantially more spectrum per subscriber than Vodafone
  • 3UK has much more fibre-optic backhaul than Vodafone
  • How 3UK prices its service
  • Case study 2: Sweden – Telenor and its competitors
  • The network sharing issue
  • Telenor Sweden: heavy on the 1800MHz
  • Telenor Sweden was an early adopter of Gigabit Ethernet backhaul
  • How Telenor prices its service
  • Case study 3: Free Mobile
  • Free: a narrow sliver of spectrum, or is it?
  • Free Mobile: backhaul excellence through extreme fixed-mobile integration
  • Free: the ultimate in simple pricing
  • Discussion
  • IP networking metrics: not yet predictive of operator performance
  • Network sharing does not obviate differentiation
  • What is Vodafone’s strategy for fibre in the backhaul?
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Strategic divergence in the US
  • Figure 2: Four carriers, four fates
  • Figure 3: Applying the screen to European carriers
  • Figure 4: Free Mobile, a disruptive force that’s literally off the charts
  • Figure 5: The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals
  • Figure 6: Although Vodafone UK and O2 UK share a physical network, O2 is heading for VZW-like territory while VF UK is going nowhere fast
  • Figure 7: Strategic divergence in the UK
  • Figure 8: 3UK, also something of an ARPU star
  • Figure 9: 3UK is very different from Hutchison in Italy or even Sweden
  • Figure 10: 3UK has more spectrum on a per-subscriber basis than Vodafone
  • Figure 11: Vodafone’s backhaul upgrades are essentially microwave; 3UK’s are fibre
  • Figure 12: 3 Europe is more than coping with surging data traffic
  • Figure 13: 3UK service pricing
  • Figure 14: The Swedish market shows a clear winner…
  • Figure 15: Telenor.se is leading on all measures
  • Figure 16: How Swedish network sharing works
  • Figure 17: Network sharing does not equal identical performance in the UK
  • Figure 18: Although extensive network sharing complicates the picture, Telenor Sweden has a strong position, especially in the key 1800MHz band
  • Figure 19: If the customers want more data, why not sell them more data?
  • Figure 20: Free Mobile, network differentiator?
  • Figure 21: Free Mobile, the price leader as always
  • Figure 22: Free Mobile succeeds with remarkably little spectrum, until you look at the allocations that are actually relevant to its network
  • Figure 23: Free’s fixed-line network plans
  • Figure 24: Free leverages its FTTH for outstanding backhaul density
  • Figure 25: Free: value on 3G, bumper bundler on 4G
  • Figure 26: The carrier with the most IPv4 addresses per subscriber is…
  • Figure 27: AS_PATH length – not particularly predictive either
  • Figure 28: The buzzword count. “Fibre” beats “backhaul” as a concern
  • Figure 29: Are Project Spring’s targets slipping?

 

Europe’s brutal future: Vodafone and Telefonica hit hard

Introduction

 

Even in the UK and Germany, the markets with the brightest future, STL Partners forecasts a respective 19% and 20% decline in mobile core services (voice, messaging and data) revenues by 2020. The UK has less far to fall simply because the market has already contracted over the last 2-3 years whereas the German market has continued to grow.

We forecast a decline of 34% in France over the same period.

In Italy and, in particular, Spain we forecast a brutal decline of 47% and 61% respectively. Overall, STL Partners anticipates a reduction of 36% or €30 billion in core mobile service revenues by 2020. This equates to around €50 billion for Europe as a whole.

 

Like the medical profession, we don’t always like being correct when our diagnoses are pessimistic. So it is with some regret that we note that our forecasts are being borne out by the latest reports from southern Europe. Vodafone has been forced into a loss for H1 2012, after it wrote down the value of its Spanish and Italian OpCos by £5.9bn. Here’s why:

eurobloodbath.png

The writedown is of course non-cash, and those of us who remember Chris Gent’s Vodafone will be familiar with the sensation. But the reasons for it could not be more real. Service revenue has fallen sickeningly, down 7.9% across Europe, 1.4% across the group.

Vodafone has enjoyed a decent performance from the company’s assets in Africa, Asia, Turkey, and the Pacific, and a hefty dividend from Verizon Wireless. It is the performance in Europe which is dreadful and the situation in southern Europe especially bad.

For while service revenue in Gernany was up 1.8%, it was down a staggering 12.8% in both Spain and Italy. And margins were sacrificed for volume; EBITDA was down 16.6% in Italy, and 13.8% in “Other Southern Europe”, that is to say mostly Greece and Portugal. Even the UK saw service revenues fall -2.1%, while the Netherlands was down -1.9%. Vodafone’s investments across Europe seem to have landed in an arc of austerity running from the Norwegian Sea to the Aegean, the long way around.

Vodafone’s enterprise line of business has helped the Italian division defy gravity for a while. Until recently, OneNet was racking up the same 6% growth rates in Italy that it saw in Germany and contributing substantially to service revenue, even though the wider business was shrinking. In Q2, service revenue in Italy was down 4.1% but enterprise was up 5.8%.

But strategy inevitably beats tactics. Tellingly, the half-year statement from Vodafone management went a little coy about enterprise’s performance. Numbers are only given for Germany and Turkey, and for group-wide One Net seats. They are good, but you wonder about the numbers that aren’t given. We are told that One Net is “performing well” in Italy, but that’s not a number.

Meanwhile, Telefonica saw its European revenues fall 6.4% year-on-year. The problem is in Spain, where the plummet was 12.9%. Mobile was worse still, with revenues thumped downwards by 16.2%.

The damage, for both carriers, is concentrated in mobility, in southern Europe, and in voice and messaging. Telefonica blames termination rate cuts (as does Vodafone – both carriers are big enough that they tend to terminate more calls from other carriers than they pay out on), but this isn’t really going to wash. As Vodafone’s own statement makes clear, MTRs are coming down everywhere. And Telefonica’s wireline revenues were horrible, too, down 9.6%.

But the biggest hit to revenue for Vodafone was in messaging, and then in voice. Data revenue is growing. In the half to 30th September 2011, Vodafone.es subscribers generated £156 million in messaging revenues. In the corresponding half this year, it was £99 million. Part of this is accounted for by movement in the euro-sterling exchange rate, so Vodafone reports it as a 30% hit to messaging and a 20% hit to voice. Italy saw an 11.4% hit to messaging and a 16% hit to voice. The upshot to Vodafone is a 29.7% cut to the division’s operating profits. Brutal indeed.

Obviously, a lot of this is being driven by the European economic crisis. It is more than telling that Vodafone’s German and Turkish operations are powering ahead, while it’s not just the Mediterranean economies under the European Union’s “troika” management (EC, ECB and IMF) that are suffering. The UK, under its own voluntary austerity plan, was down 2.1% for Telefonica, and the Netherlands, having gone from being the keenest pupil in the class to another austerity case in the space of one unexpectedly bad budget, is off 1.9%. Even if you file Turkey under “emerging market”, the comparison between the Mediterranean disaster area, the OK-ish position in North-Western Europe, and the impressive (£2.4bn) dividend from Verizon Wireless in the States is compelling.

But disruption is a fact. We should not expect that things will snap back as soon as the macro-economy takes a turn for the better. One of the reasons for our grim prediction was that as well as weak economies, the Southern European markets exhibited surprisingly high prices for mobile service.

The impact of the crisis is likely to permanently reset customer behaviour, technology adoption, and price expectations. The Southern price premium is likely to be permanently eroded, whether by price war or by regulatory action. Customers are observably changing their behaviour in order to counter-optimise the carriers’ tariff plans.

Vodafone observes plummeting messaging revenues, poor voice revenues, and heavy customer retention spending, specifically on handset subsidies for smartphones. In fact, Vodafone admits that it has tried to phase out subsidy in Spain and been forced to turn back. This suggests that customers are becoming very much more aware of the high margin on SMS, are rationing it, and are deliberately pressing for any kind of smartphone in order to make use of alternatives to SMS. Once they are hooked on WhatsApp, they are unlikely to go back to carrier messaging if the economy looks up.

Another customer optimisation Vodafone encounters is that the customers love their integrated fixed/mobile plan. Unfortunately, this may mean they are shifting data traffic off the cellular network in the home-zone and onto WLAN. Further, as Vodafone is a DSL unbundler, the margin consequences of moving revenue this way may not be so great. In Italy, although the integrated tariffs sold well, a “fall in the non-ULL customer base” is blamed for a 5.6% drop in fixed service revenue. Are the customers fleeing the reseller lines because Vodafone can’t match TI or Fastweb’s pricing, or is it that the regulatory position means margins on unbundled lines are worse?

Vodafone’s response to all this is its RED tariff plan. This essentially represents a Telco 2.0 Happy Pipe strategy, providing unlimited voice and messaging in order to slow down the adoption of alternative communications, and setting data bundles at levels intended to be above the expected monthly usage, so the subscribers feel able to use them, but not far enough above it that the bandwidth-hog psychology takes hold.

vf-red.png

With regard to devices, RED offers three options with tiered pricing: SIM only, basic smartphone, and iPhone. The idea is to make the subsidy costs more evident to the customer, to slow up the replacement cycle on flagship smartphones via SIM-only, and to channel the smartphone hunters into the cheaper devices. Overall, the point is to drive data and smartphone adoption down the diffusion curve, so as to help the transition from a metered voice-centric to a data-centric business model.

The CEO, Vittorio Colao, says as much:

The reason why the whole industry is on a difficult trend…is because we historically voice priced really high and data priced really low.

Vodafone’s competitors face a serious challenge. They are typically still very dependent on prepaid voice minutes, a market which is suffering. Even in Northern Europe, it’s off 10%. Telcos loved PAYG because everything in it is incremental. Now, the challenge is how to create a RED-like tariff for the PAYG market.

Euro Voice Brutal Image 2 Chart Euro 5 Oct 2012.png

Those in North and South America, MENA and Asia-Pacific may be looking at Europe and breathing a sigh of relief. But don’t fool yourself. SMS revenues in the US are down for the first time driven by volume and price declines. One rather worrying outcome of last week’s Digital Arabia event was that operators in the region seem to be under the impression that the decline for them is still several years out and destined to be a relatively gentle softening of the market. There’s more here on our initial take on what they need to do to avoid complacency and start to build new business models more quickly.

The value of “Smart Pipes” to mobile network operators

Preface

Rationale and hypothesis for this report

It is over fourteen years since David Isenberg wrote his seminal paper The Rise of the Stupid Network in which he outlined the view that telephony networks would increasingly become dumb pipes as intelligent endpoints came to control how and where data was transported. Many of his predictions have come to fruition. Cheaper computing technology has resulted in powerful ‘smartphones’ in the hands of millions of people and new powerful internet players are using data centres to distribute applications and services ‘over the top’ to users over fixed and mobile networks.

The hypothesis behind this piece of research is that endpoints cannot completely control the network. STL Partners believes that the network itself needs to retain intelligence so it can interpret the information it is transporting between the endpoints. Mobile network operators, quite rightly, will not be able to control how the network is used but must retain the ability within the network to facilitate a better experience for the endpoints. The hypothesis being tested in this research is that ‘smart pipes’ are needed to:

  1. Ensure that data is transported efficiently so that capital and operating costs are minimised and the internet and other networks remain cheap methods of distribution.
  2. Improve user experience by matching the performance of the network to the nature of the application or service being used. ‘Best effort’ is fine for asynchronous communication, such as email or text, but unacceptable for voice. A video call or streamed movie requires guaranteed bandwidth, and real-time gaming demands ultra-low latency;
  3. Charge appropriately for use of the network. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Telco 1.0 business model – that of charging the end-user per minute or per Megabyte – is under pressure as new business models for the distribution of content and transportation of data are being developed. Operators will need to be capable of charging different players – end-users, service providers, third-parties (such as advertisers) – on a real-time basis for provision of broadband and guaranteed quality of service (QoS);
  4. Facilitate interactions within the digital economy. Operators can compete and partner with other players, such as the internet companies, in helping businesses and consumers transact over the internet. Networks are no longer confined to communications but are used to identify and market to prospects, complete transactions, make and receive payments and remittances, and care for customers. The knowledge that operators have about their customers coupled with their skills and assets in identity and authentication, payments, device management, customer care etc. mean that ‘the networks’ can be ‘enablers’ in digital transactions between third-parties – helping them to happen more efficiently and effectively.

Overall, smarter networks will benefit network users – upstream service providers and end users – as well as the mobile network operators and their vendors and partners. Operators will also be competing to be smarter than their peers as, by differentiating here, they gain cost, revenue and performance advantages that will ultimately transform in to higher shareholder returns.

Sponsorship and editorial independence

This report has kindly been sponsored by Tellabs and is freely available. Tellabs developed the initial concepts, and provided STL Partners with the primary input and scope for the report. Research, analysis and the writing of the report itself was carried out independently by STL Partners. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of STL Partners.

About Tellabs

Tellabs logo

Tellabs innovations advance the mobile Internet and help our customers succeed. That’s why 43 of the top 50 global communications service providers choose our mobile, optical, business and services solutions. We help them get ahead by adding revenue, reducing expenses and optimizing networks.

Tellabs (Nasdaq: TLAB) is part of the NASDAQ Global Select Market, Ocean Tomo 300® Patent Index, the S&P 500 and several corporate responsibility indexes including the Maplecroft Climate Innovation Index, FTSE4Good and eight FTSE KLD indexes. http://www.tellabs.com

Executive Summary

Mobile operators no longer growth stocks

Mobile network operators are now valued as utility companies in US and Europe (less so APAC). Investors are not expecting future growth to be higher than GDP and so are demanding money to be returned in the form of high dividends.

Two ‘smart pipes’ strategies available to operators

In his seminal book, Michael Porter identified three generic strategies for companies – ‘Cost leadership’, ‘Differentiation’ and ‘Focus’. Two of these are viable in the mobile telecommunications industry – Cost leadership, or Happy Pipe in STL Partners parlance, and Differentiation, or Full-service Telco 2.0. No network operators have found a Focus strategy to work as limiting the customer base to a segment of the market has not yielded sufficient returns on the high capital investment of building a network. Even MVNOs that have pursued this strategy, such as Helio which targeted Korean nationals in the US, have struggled.

Underpinning the two business strategies are related ‘smart pipe’ approaches – smart network and smart services:

Porter

Strategy

Telco 2.0 strategy

Nature of smartness

Characteristics

Cost leadership

Happy Pipe

Smart network

Cost efficiency – minimal network, IT and commercial costs.  Simple utility offering.

Differentiation

Full-service Telco 2.0

Smart services

Technical and commercial flexibility: improve customer experience by integrating network capabilities with own and third-party services and charging either end user or service provider (or both).

Source: STL Partners

It is important to note that, currently at least, having a smart network is a precursor of smart services.  It would be impossible for an operator to implement a Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy without having significant network intelligence.  Full-service Telco 2.0 is, therefore, an addition to a Happy Pipe strategy.

Smart network strategy good, smart services strategy better

In a survey conducted for this report, it was clear that operators are pursuing ‘smart’ strategies, whether at the network level or extending beyond this into smart services, for three reasons:

  • Revenue growth: protecting existing revenue sources and finding new ones.  This is seen as the single most important driver of building more intelligence.
  • Cost savings: reducing capital and operating costs.
  • Performance improvement: providing customers with an improved customer experience.

Assuming that most mobile operators currently have limited smartness in either network or services, our analysis suggests significant upside in financial performance from successfully implementing either a Happy Pipe or Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy.  Most mobile operators generate Cash Returns on Invested Capital of between 5 and 7%.  For the purposes of our analysis, we have a assumed a baseline of 5.8%.  The lower capital and operator costs of a Happy Pipe strategy could increase this to 7.4% and the successful implementation of a Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy would increase this to a handsome 13.3%:

Telco 2.0 strategy

Nature of smartness

Cash Returns on Invested Capital

As-is – Telco 1.0

Low – relatively dumb

5.8%

Happy Pipe

Smart network

7.4%

Full-service Telco 2.0

Smart services

13.3%

Source: STL Partners

STL Partners has identified six opportunity areas for mobile operators to exploit with a Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy.  Summarised here, these are outlined in detail in the report:

Opportunity Type

Approach

Typical Services

Core Services

Improving revenues and customer loyalty by better design, analytics, and smart use of data in existing services.

Access, Voice and Messaging, Broadband, Standard Wholesale, Generic Enterprise ICT Services (inc. SaaS)

Vertical industry solutions (SI)

Delivery of ICT projects and support to vertical enterprise sectors.

Systems Integration (SI), Vertical CEBP solutions, Vertical ICT, Vertical M2M solutions, and Private Cloud.

Infrastructure services

Optimising cost and revenue structures by buying and selling core telco ICT asset capacity.

Bitstream ADSL, Unbundled Local Loop, MVNOs, Wholesale Wireless, Network Sharing, Cloud – IaaS.

Embedded communications

Enabling wider use of voice, messaging, and data by facilitating access to them and embedding them in new products.

Comes with data, Sender pays delivery, Horizontal M2M Platforms, Voice, Messaging and Data APIs for 3rd Parties.

Third-pary business enablers

Enabling new telco assets (e.g. Customer data) to be leveraged in support of 3rd party business processes.

Telco enabled Identity and Authorisation, Advertising and Marketing, Payments. APIs to non-core services and assets.

Own-brand OTT services

Building value through Telco-owned online properties and ‘Over-the-Top’ services.

Online Media, Enterprise Web Services, Own Brand VOIP services.


Source: STL Partners

Regional approaches to smartness vary

As operators globally experience a slow-down in revenue growth, they are pursuing ways of maintaining margins by reducing costs.  Unsurprisingly therefore, most operators in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific appear to be pursuing a Happy Pipe/smart network strategy.  Squeezing capital and operating costs and improving network performance is being sought through such approaches as:

  • Physical network sharing – usually involving passive elements such as towers, air-conditioning equipment, generators, technical premises and pylons.
  • Peering data traffic rather than charging (and being charged) for transit.
  • Wi-Fi offload – moving data traffic from the mobile network on to cheaper fixed networks.
  • Distributing content more efficiently through the use of multicast and CDNs.
  • Efficient network configuration and provisioning.
  • Traffic shaping/management via deep-packet inspection (DPI) and policy controls.
  • Network protection – implementing security procedures for abuse/fraud/spam so that network performance is maximised.
  • Device management to ameliorate device impact on network and improve customer experience

Vodafone Asia-Pacific is a good example of an operator pursuing these activities aggressively and as an end in itself rather than as a basis for a Telco 2.0 strategy.  Yota in Russia and Lightsquared in the US are similarly content with being Happy Pipers.

In general, Asia-Pacific has the most disparate set of markets and operators.  Markets vary radically in terms of maturity, structure and regulation and operators seem to polarise into extreme Happy Pipers (Vodafone APAC, China Mobile, Bharti) and Full-Service Telco 2.0 players (NTT Docomo, SK Telecom, SingTel, Globe).

In Telefonica, Europe is the home of the operator with the most complete Telco 2.0 vision globally.  Telefonica has built and acquired a number of ‘smart services’ which appear to be gaining traction including O2 Priority Moments, Jajah, Tuenti and Terra.  Recent structural changes at the company, in which Telefonica Digital was created to focus on opportunities in the digital economy, further indicate the company’s focus on Telco 2.0 and smart services.  Europe too appears to be the most collaborative market.  Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, Telecom Italia and T-Mobile are all working together on a number of Telco 2.0 projects and, in so doing, seek to generate enough scale to attract upstream developers and downstream end-users.

The sheer scale of the two leading mobile operators in the US, AT&T and Verizon, which have over 100 million subscribers each, means that they are taking a different approach to Telco 2.0.  They are collaborating on one or two opportunities, notably with ISIS, a near-field communications payments solution for mobile, which is a joint offer from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.  However, in the main, there is a high degree of what one interviewee described as ‘Big Bell dogma’ – the view that their company is big enough and powerful enough to take on the OTT players and ‘control’ the experiences of end users in the digital economy.  The US market is more consolidated than Europe (giving the big players more power) but, even so, it seems unlikely that either AT&T or Verizon can keep customers using only their services – the lamented wall garden approach.

Implementing a Telco 2.0 strategy is important but challenging

STL Partners explored both how important and how difficult it is to implement the changes required to deliver a Happy Pipe strategy (outlined in the bullets above) and those needed for Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy, via industry interviews with operators and a quantitative survey.  The key findings of this analysis were:

  • Overall, respondents felt that many activities were important as part of a smart strategy.  In our survey, all except two activity areas – Femto/pico underlay and Enhanced switches (vs. routers) – were rated by more than 50% of respondents as either ‘Quite important’ or ‘Very important’ (see chart below).
  • Activities associated with a Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy were rated as particularly important:
  • Making operator assets available via APIs, Differentiated pricing and charging and Personalised and differentiated services were ranked 1, 2 and 3 out of the thirteen activities.
  • Few considered that any of the actions were dangerous and could destroy value, although Physical network sharing and Traffic shaping/DPI were most often cited here.
Smart Networks - important implementation factors to MNOs
Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 & Tellabs ‘Smart pipes’ survey, July 2011, n=107

NOTE: Overall ranking was based on a weighted scoring policy of Very important +4, Quite important +3, Not that important +2, Unimportant +1, Dangerous -4.

Overall, most respondents to the survey and people we spoke with felt that operators had more chance in delivering a Happy Pipe strategy and that only a few Tier 1 operators would be successful with a Full-Service Telco 2.0 strategy.  For both strategies, they were surprisingly sceptical about operators’ ability to implement the necessary changes.  Five reasons were cited as major barriers to success and were particularly big when considering a Full-Service Telco 2.0 strategy:

  1. Competition from internet players.  Google, Apple, Facebook et al preventing operators from expanding their role in the digital economy.
  2. Difficulty in building a viable ecosystem. Bringing together the required players for such things as near-field communications (NFC) mobile payments and sharing value among them.
  3. Lack of mobile operators skills.  The failure of operators to develop or exploit key skills required for facilitating transactions such as customer data management and privacy.
  4. Culture.  Being too wedded to existing products, services and business models to alter the direction of the super-tanker.
  5. Organisation structure. Putting in place the people and processes to manage the change.

Looking at the specific activities required to build smartness, it was clear that those required for a Full-service Telco 2.0/smart services strategy are considered the hardest to implement (see chart below):

  • Personalised and differentiated services via use of customer data – content, advertising, etc.
  • Making operator assets available to end users and other service providers – location, presence, ID, payments
  • Differentiated pricing and charging based on customer segment, service, QoS
Smart Networks - how challenging are the changes?
Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 & Tellabs ‘Smart pipes’ survey, July 2011, n=100

NOTE: Overall ranking was based on a weighted scoring policy of Very easy +5, Relatively straightforward +4, Manageable +3, Quite difficult +2, Very difficult -2.

Conclusions and recommendations

By comparing the relative importance of specific activities against how easy they are to implement, we were able to classify them into four categories:

Category

Importance for delivering smart strategy

Relative ease of implementation

Must get right

High

Easy

Strive for new role

High

Difficult

Housekeeping

Low

Easy

Forget

Low

Difficult

Rating of factors needed for Telco 2.0 'Smart Pipes' and 'Full Services' Strategies
Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 & Tellabs ‘Smart pipes’ survey, July 2011, n=100

Unfortunately, as the chart above shows, no activities fall clearly into the ‘Forget’ categories but there are some clear priorities:

  • A Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy is about striving for a new role in the digital economy and is probably most appropriate for Tier 1 MNOs, since it is going to require substantial scale and investment in new skills such as software and application development and customer data.  It will also require the development of new partnerships and ecosystems and complex commercial arrangements with players from other industries (e.g. banking). 
  • There is a cluster of smart network activities that are individually relatively straightforward to implement and will yield a big bang for the buck if investments are made – the ‘Must get right’ group:
  • More efficient network configuration and provisioning;
  • Strengthen network security to cope with abuse and fraud;
  • Improve device management (and cooperation with handset manufacturers and content players) to reduce the impact of smartphone burden on the network;

Although deemed more marginal in our survey, we would include as equally important:

  • Traffic shaping and DPI which, in many cases, underpins various smart services opportunities such as differentiated pricing based on QoS and Multicast and CDNs which are proven in the fixed world and likely to be equally beneficial in a video-dominated mobile one.

There is second cluster of smart network activities which appear to be equally easy (or difficult) to implement but are deemed by respondents to be lower value and therefore fall into a lower ‘Housekeeping’ category:

  • Wi-Fi offload – we were surprised by this given the emphasis placed on this by NTT Docomo, China Mobile, AT&T, O2 and others;
  • Peering (vs. transit) and Enhanced switches  – this is surely business-as-usual for all MNOs;
  • Femto/Pico underlay – generally felt to be of limited importance by respondents although a few cited its importance in pushing network intelligence to the edge which would enable MNOs to more easily deliver differentiated QoS and more innovative retail and wholesale revenue models;
  • Physical network sharing – again, a surprising result given the keenness of the capital markets on this strategy. 

 

Overall, it appears that mobile network operators need to continue to invest resources in developing smart networks but that a clear prioritisation of efforts is needed given the multitude of ‘moving parts’ required to develop a smart network that will deliver a successful Happy Pipe strategy.

A successful Full-Service Telco 2.0 strategy is likely to be extremely profitable for a mobile network operator and would result in a substantial increase in share price.  But delivering this remains a major challenge and investors are sceptical.  Collaboration, experimentation and investment are important facets of a Telco 2.0 implementation strategy as they drive scale, learning and innovation respectively.  Given the demands of investors for dividend yields, investment is only likely to be available if an operator becomes more efficient, so implementing a Happy Pipe strategy which reduces capital and operating costs is critical.

 

Report Contents

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Mobile network operator challenges
  • The future could still be bright
  • Defining a ‘smart’ network
  • Understanding operator strategies
  • Video: Case study in delivering differentiation and cost leadership
  • The benefits of Smart on CROIC
  • Implementing a ‘smart’ strategy
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Report Figures

 

  • Figure 1: Pressure from all sides for operators
  • Figure 2: Vodafone historical dividend yield – from growth to income
  • Figure 3: Unimpressed capital markets and falling employment levels
  • Figure 4: Porter and Telco 2.0 competitive strategies
  • Figure 5: Defining Differentiation/Telco 2.0
  • Figure 6 – The Six Opportunity Areas – Approach, Typical Services and Examples
  • Figure 7: Defining Cost Leadership/Happy Pipe
  • Figure 8: Defining ‘smartness’
  • Figure 9: Telco 2.0 survey – Defining smartness
  • Figure 10: NTT’s smart content delivery system – a prelude to mobile CDNs?
  • Figure 11: Vodafone India’s ARPU levels are now below $4/month, illustrating the need for a ‘smart network’ approach
  • Figure 12: China Mobile’s WLAN strategy for coverage, capacity and cost control
  • Figure 13: GCash – Globe’s text-based payments service
  • Figure 14: PowerOn – SingTel’s on-demand business services
  • Figure 15: Telefonica’s Full-service Telco 2.0 strategy
  • Figure 16: Vodafone – main messages are about being an efficient data pipe
  • Figure 17: Collaboration with other operators key to smart services strategy
  • Figure 18: Verizon Wireless and Skype offering
  • Figure 19: Content delivery with and without a CDN
  • Figure 20: CDN benefits to consumers are substantial
  • Figure 21: Cash Returns on Invest Capital of different Telco 2.0 opportunity areas
  • Figure 22: The benefits of smart to a MNO are tangible and significant
  • Figure 23: Telco 2.0 Survey – benefits of smart to MNOs
  • Figure 24: Telco 2.0 survey – MNO chances of success with smart strategies
  • Figure 25: Telco 2.0 survey – lots of moving parts required for ‘smartness’
  • Figure 26: Telco 2.0 survey – Differentiation via smart services is particularly challenging
  • Figure 27: Telco 2.0 survey – Implementing changes is challenging
  • Figure 28: Telco 2.0 survey – Prioritising smart implementation activities