Elisa Automate: Growing value with sisu

Elisa’s transformation journey

Almost every telco aspires to innovate and become a ‘digital services player’, selling more than just data, voice, messages, and entertainment services, but few have made significant inroads to this aim.

Yet Elisa, the market leader in Finland, which has a population of only just over 5.5 million people, can stake a claim to having achieved more than most.

The Finnish word ‘sisu’ has no direct English translation. It means a spirit of determination, independence and fortitude, and is considered by some Finns to be the heart of Finnish character.

Elisa and the other Finnish telcos certainly have plenty of sisu. They have resolutely charted their own course and prospered, with Elisa quadrupling its market valuation over the last ten years.

Elisa’s share price has quadrupled since 2009 

Source: Yahoo Finance

The genesis of Elisa Automate

Elisa’s overall strategy was based on a sound but uncommon piece of customer insight: nobody knows what a megabit of data actually is, so it is crazy to price data services based on the volume of data used. So Elisa and the other players in the Finnish market moved to unlimited data packages prices by speed (see report Sense check: Can data growth save telco revenues?).

The consequences of this decision have been that Finnish customers use a lot of data, and secondly, Finnish operators have built out coverage so that they can enjoy using it whenever and wherever.

This means that Elisa has to deliver a lot of data across its network.

Elisa’s data traffic has grown massively

Source: Elisa

Elisa has grown its revenues and EBIT too

Source: Elisa

Necessity can be the mother of invention

To manage profitability in a market where use and therefore data volume is effectively unlimited, Elisa had to tie its costs firmly to its revenues, and to do so elected to keep the ratios of capex and opex to revenue flat. This requires a very clear focus on cost management, and a determination to take every step possible to do so.

Elisa’s capex/revenue ratio is surprisingly low and stable

Elisa capex ratio

 

Source: Elisa

Out of this need came a powerful drive for automation: not to simply cut costs or reduce headcount, but to make the company as efficient as possible.

The result is Elisa Automate, a fully automated Network Operations Centre (NOC), one of three new business concepts that it is selling to others (in this case, telcos), along with Elisa SmartFactory and its video conferencing aggregation service.

Elisa is clearly succeeding, and not just in its financial results. For example, 18% of Finnish business customers say that it is the most innovative IT actor in its market, compared to 6% for CGI and 5% for Fujitsu.

STL Partners has long watched Elisa’s progress with a high degree of fascination. Elisa and its Finnish peers are a little like the Galapagos Islands of telecoms evolution but marked extraordinary by their distinctive approaches rather than extreme geographical isolation.

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Elisa: creating an innovator
  • Building a stable foundation for innovation
  • Making the most of Finland’s advantages
  • The genesis of Elisa Automate
  • The early drivers of automation
  • The move towards ‘zero touch’
  • Augmenting human intelligence
  • Automation supports rapid mobile service revenue growth
  • Commercialising the opportunity
  • The value proposition
  • Customer spotlight: Orange Spain
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  1. Elisa’s share price has quadrupled since 2009
  2. Elisa’s data traffic has grown massively
  3. Elisa has grown its revenues and EBIT too
  4. Elisa’s Capex/Revenue ratio is surprisingly low and stable
  5. Elisa shares data showing network performance improvements through automation

Why CFOs must start to drive telecoms business model change

The telecoms operator’s conundrum – how to break the service innovation status quo

Telco CFOs need to upweight telecoms R&D investments to drive differentiating service innovations. If they don’t, telcos will recede further into the category of low yield, low growth commodities.

The relationship between a company’s financial and commercial model is complex:

  • The financial model determines the commercial model of a company – what commercial goals it is able to pursue and how it is able to pursue them
  • But the commercial model also feeds directly back into the financial model of the business and determines how resources are allocated

The interrelatedness of commercial and financial models means that change is sometimes difficult – a ‘chicken and egg’ situation occurs in which each model relies on change in the other before it can change.

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This ‘chicken and egg’ situation is apparent within the telecoms industry:

  • Business owners within operators want their organisation to become more agile, more flexible, more innovative which implies having resources that can be (re)deployed quickly, but they find it hard to secure budget owing to the huge and slow capital investment programmes involved in upgrading networks
  • Finance departments at the same organisations want to deploy resources efficiently to maximise returns and capital investment in the existing business model (infrastructure that drives connectivity revenue) has a much stronger ROI than speculative operating expenditure in platforms and services that have (so far) proved unsuccessful

The result is status quo: the same financial model drives the same commercial model at a time when returns for core services are reducing every year.

 

We start by mapping out the relationship between financial and commercial models…

In this framework, we use R&D operating expenditure (vertical axis) as a proxy for service innovation. We recognise that this is not perfect as service innovation requires much more than R&D. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that service innovation is unlikely to be sustained without material R&D expenditure.

Capital investment (horizontal axis) is a proxy for infrastructure build – developing assets which will generate returns over a long period of time such as buildings, manufacturing plants, telecoms networks.

Telcos are classic ‘Moat builders’, making money from capital investment in infrastructure and putting little into telecoms R&D investments.

The Internet giants and tech players typically start out as ‘service differentiators’, keeping capital investment light and instead focusing on flexible operating expenditure to drive service innovation. Increasingly however, they are investing capital in cloud computing infrastructure, to construct moats to protect their services – giving them cheaper distribution and better customer experience than smaller competitors.

A framework for understanding capex versus R&D spending

Source: STL Partners

…which reveals that telcos are moat builders and are radically out-invested in service innovation by tech players

Historically, for telecoms operators service innovation resulted from network capital investment because voice and messaging services were integrated into there were no alternative sources for communications – a customer had to use the service provider by the telecoms operator:

  • Telcos effectively outsourced innovation to Network Equipment Players (NEPs)
  • There was no need to invest significantly in R&D

Now, services are independent of the network (thanks to the internet) – telco customers can use communication (and other) services provided by dozens of third-parties and value has shifted to companies (such as the internet giants and tech companies) that invest in service innovation.

Telcos still invest only in infrastructure but value is increasingly in network-independent services so they are missing out on value-creation and are instead competing on price on the only commodity service that third-parties cannot substitute: connectivity.

R&D and Capex % of Revenue, 2017

Source: Company accounts, STL Partners analysis

Proof point: Internet players are vastly more valuable than telecoms operators

Revenue and Market Capitalisation 2017. Telco v Internet

Source: Company accounts, stock market data, STL Partners analysis

Seven internet giants’ market capitalisation is bigger than 165 telecoms operators combined because:

Service innovation + moats  Revenue + profit growth  Future value creation

In other words, telcos’ current business model (financial and commercial models) are not deemed to be strong value creators.

The result is that capital markets demand that operators hand profits back to investors in the form of high-dividend yields so that they can invest in higher-growth companies.

In the rest of this report, we outline why CFOs need to drive business model change that will enable telcos to compete more effectively as ‘Service differentiators’, and four steps they should take to start this process – fundamentally increasing telecoms R&D investments.

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Telcos in health – Part 1: Where is the opportunity?

Why is healthcare an attractive sector?

  • Healthcare systems – particularly in developed markets – must find ways to treat ageing populations with chronic illnesses in a more cost effective way.
  • Resource strained health providers have very limited internal IT expertise. This means healthcare is among the least digitised sectors, with high demand for end-to-end solutions.
  • The sensitive nature of health data means locally-regulated telcos may be able to build on positions of trust in their markets.
  • In emerging markets, there are huge populations with limited access to health insurance, information and treatment. Telcos may be able to leverage their brands and distribution networks to address these needs.
  • This report outlines how the digital health landscape is addressing these challenges, and how telcos can help

Four tech trends are supporting healthcare transformation – all underpinned by connectivity and integration for data sharing

These four trends are not separate – they all interrelate. The true value lies in enabling secure data transfer across the four areas, and presenting data and insights in a useful way for end-users, e.g. GPs don’t have the time to look at ten pages of a patient’s wearable data, in part because they may be liable to act on additional information.

Digital health solutions break down into three layers

Digital health solutions in 3 layers

This report explores how telcos can address opportunities across these three layers, as well as how they can partner or compete with other players seeking to support healthcare providers in their digital transformation.

Our follow up report looks at nine case studies of telcos’ healthcare propositions: Telcos in health – Part 2: How to crack the healthcare opportunity

Can telcos create a compelling smart home?

Telcos role in smart homes

Part of STL Partners’ (Re)connecting with Consumers stream, this report analyses the role of telcos in the smart home market, which is now growing steadily in many developed countries, as consumers seek to bolster security, improve energy efficiency, adopt electric cars and further automate appliances. In most developed markets, there are scores of companies pitching often incompatible smart home products and services to householders, resulting in a fragmented mess in which consumers are often left to figure out what might work with what.

This fragmentation spells opportunity for both telcos and the major Internet platforms – both sets of companies can use their role as a supplier of a key part of the smart home proposition (connectivity and computing devices respectively) as a springboard into the smart home solutions space.

In the case of Apple, Amazon and Google that means using the smartphone, the tablet and/or smart speakers as a segue into this market, while telcos can build on their connectivity offering, which is a fundament to the concept of a smart home that can be monitored and controlled from anywhere.

The challenge facing both sets of players is essentially delivering the systems-level integration required to simplify the consumer proposition into a seamless end-to-end offering that will appeal to the mass market. Without coherent coordination, the smart home will continue to characterised by of point solutions.

This report begins with an overview of the smart home sector and the competitive landscape, paying particular attention to the strategies of the major Internet platforms – Amazon, Apple and Google. It then goes on to discuss Deutsche Telekom’s and A&T’s contrasting strategies in this space, before making some recommendations for telcos.

This report builds on previous STL research, notably:

This report is the first in a series looking at smart home/connected consumer propositions from telcos. Future reports will analyse how the leading Asian telcos are targeting this market, while exploring related propositions, such as connected bikes and scooters, pet tracking and asset monitoring and insurance.

The smart home market

In an ideal world, a householder would be able to remotely monitor and control all the systems in their home, simply by pressing a button to activate and deactivate heating, air conditioning, alarms, locks, cameras and appliances, such as washing machines and automated vacuum cleaners. Although this concept, known as a smart home, has been around for many years, it is only now beginning to come of age. The smart home could also become an enabler for the sharing economy, making it easier for people to rent out their homes, monitor energy usage and take out appropriate insurance cover.

Up until very recently, most so-called smart home implementations amounted to partial solutions, enabling a householder to check their energy usage or a CCTV camera, rather than get a complete picture of what is happening in their property. In other words, most suppliers have focused on discrete point solutions designed for a fairly narrow use case.

While homes in developed markets have a growing number of connected devices (such as televisions, sound systems, printers, smart meters and burglar alarms), they rarely exchange information and typically can’t be managed through a single app or desktop interface.

This lack of coordination is a result of the diversity of the many different players supplying consumers with connected equipment and services for their homes, ranging from utilities and security companies to equipment makers and tech companies.

The smart home value chain

Indeed, a smart home value chain can be very complex and diverse. To make a home really smart, you would typically need:

  • A central hub that can aggregate and analyse related data, such as energy usage and room occupancy. This hub could be in the cloud or a device in the home.
  • Middleware that enables connected things to exchange data with each other and the hub.
  • A large number of connected appliances, devices and sensors, ranging from boilers and washing machines to door locks and smoke detectors.
  • Suitable connectivity for all the components, which could be WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth or a cellular technology.
  • A user interface or interfaces, such as a voice-activated speaker or a touchscreen tablet or smartphone, the householder can use to monitor and control their home.

Today, most telco-led smart home implementations take an ‘inside out’ approach in which the hub is located in the home: short range wireless technologies collect data from connected devices, which are aggregated in the hub and are then made available to the consumer via a smartphone app. In this scenario, the hub is generally connected to a fixed-line network via WiFi. However, 4G and 5G technologies, such as NB-IoT and LTE-M, could make it feasible to connect more devices directly to a cloud-based hub, which could ultimately allow smart homes to emerge in the many communities not served by fixed-line networks.

In some markets, these two approaches may be combined: cellular connectivity may be used to back-up WiFi, while some data and services will reside in both the cloud and on a local device in case the wide area connectivity fails or is tampered with.

For telcos providing the underlying fixed-line or cellular connectivity, the sheer variety of players touting smart home products and services makes the market both complex and challenging. Figure 1, an overview of the smart home ecosystem produced by the GSMA, highlights how many different angles there are on the smart home concept. However, even this chart is an over-simplification – the smart home market also overlaps with the personal transport market to some extent. Some of the potential use cases, such as charging electric vehicles, require coordination between the consumer’s home and vehicle.

Figure 1: The smart home ecosystem is complex and fragmented

smart home market

Source: GSMA Intelligence

Size of smart home market

Given the breadth of the smart home market and the blurred lines between it and other segments, sizing it in dollar terms is difficult. Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates worldwide consumer spending on smart home devices, systems and services totalled US$84 billion in 2017 and will reach almost US$96 billion in 2018.

However, ABI Research is more conservative, pegging the global smart home market at US$56 billion in 2018. The actual number will be down to what products and services are included and whether analysts are counting the total value of an appliance or just the embedded connectivity and processing power.

For example, should the total sale price of a washing machine with built-in WiFi be included? Or should analysts just count the value of the connectivity module? What if the WiFi is never activated? In any case, it is clear that the market is growing steadily as the cost of adding connectivity to consumer appliances and devices falls. The cost of adding a WiFi or cellular module to an appliance is in the region of US$10 to US$20, depending how many frequencies it supports and which radio technology is used.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary 
  • Introduction
  • The smart home market
  • Sizing the smart home space
  • How important are smart speakers?
  • The Internet players and their strategies
  • The Internet platforms jostle for position
  • Amazon bets big on Alexa
  • Google plays aggressive defence
  • Apple plays the premium game
  • Facebook struggles to differentiate
  • Utilities/security companies
  • Consumer electronics/appliances
  • The role of telcos in the smart home
  • Deutsche Telekom offers data protection
  • Does DT need its own voice?
  • Differentiation through data protection?
  • AT&T changes course
  • Conclusions
  • A major opportunity to cut complexity
  • Internet players don’t have a stranglehold

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The smart home ecosystem is complex and fragmented
  • Figure 2: Amazon and Google face growing competition in the smart speaker market
  • Figure 3: Alexa is integrated into the control panel of Amazon’s new microwave
  • Figure 4: The new Google Home Hub is designed to be fairly proactive
  • Figure 5: Facebook’s premium Portal has a rotating screen and a video camera
  • Figure 6: The Magenta Smarthome app can manage temperature, security and lighting
  • Figure 7: Deutsche Telekom’s growing smart home service
  • Figure 8: DT’s new smart speaker
  • Figure 9: Some of the functionality available from AT&T’s Digital Life service
  • Figure 10: AT&T’s LTE-M enabled button works with AWS to perform a specific task

Personal data: Treasure or trash?

Introduction

This report analyses how the Telefónica Group is looking to reshape the digital services market so that both telcos and individuals play a greater role in the management of personal data. Today, most Internet users share large amounts of personal information with the major online platforms: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Tencent and Alibaba. In many cases, this process is implicit and somewhat opaque – the subject of the personal data isn’t fully aware of what information they have shared or how it is being used. For example, Facebook users may not be aware that the social network tracks their location and can, in some cases, trace a link between offline purchases and its online advertising.

Beyond the tactical deployment of personal data to personalise their services and advertising, the major Internet players increasingly use behavioural data captured by their services to train machine learning systems how to perform specific tasks, such as identify the subject of an image or the best response to an incoming message. Over time, the development of this kind of artificial intelligence will enable much greater levels of automation saving both consumers and companies time and money.

Like many players in the digital economy and some policymakers, Telefónica is concerned that artificial intelligence will be subject to a winner-takes-all dynamic, ultimately stifling competition and innovation. The danger is that the leading Internet platforms’ unparalleled access to behavioural data will enable them to develop the best artificial intelligence systems, giving them an unassailable advantage over newcomers to the digital economy.

This report analyses Telefónica’s response to this strategic threat, as well as examining the actions of NTT DOCOMO, another telco that has sought to break the stranglehold of the Internet platforms on personal data. Finally, it considers whether Mint, a web service that has succeeded in persuading millions of Americans to share very detailed financial information, could be a model for telco’s personal data propositions.

As well as revisiting some of the strategic themes raised in STL Partners’ 2013 digital commerce strategy report, this report builds on the analysis in three recent STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore the role of telcos in digital commerce:

In pursuit of personal cloud services

For the best part of a decade, STL Partners has been calling for telcos to give customers greater control over their personal data. In doing so, telcos could differentiate themselves from most of the major Internet players in the eyes of both consumers and regulators. But now, the entire digital economy is moving in this direction, partly because the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies operating in the EU to give consumers more control and partly because of the outcry over the cavalier data management practices of some Internet players, particularly Facebook.

In a world in which everyone is talking about protecting personal data and privacy, is there still scope for telcos to differentiate themselves and strengthen their relationships with consumers?

In a strategy report published in October 2013, STL Partners argued that there were two major strategic opportunities for telcos in the digital commerce space:

  1. Real-time commerce enablement: The use of mobile technologies and services to optimise all aspects of commerce. For example, mobile networks can deliver precisely targeted and timely marketing and advertising to consumer’s smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
  2. Personal cloud: Act as a trusted custodian for individuals’ data and an intermediary between individuals and organisations, providing authentication services, digital lockers and other services that reduce the risk and friction in every day interactions. An early example of this kind of service is financial services web site Mint.com (profiled in this report). As personal cloud services provide personalised recommendations based on individuals’ authorised data, they could potentially engage much more deeply with consumers than the generalised decision-support services, such as Google, TripAdvisor, moneysavingexpert.com and comparethemarket.com, in widespread use today.

Back in October 2013, STL Partners saw those two opportunities as inter-related — they could be combined in a single platform. The report argued that telcos should start with mobile commerce, where they have the strongest strategic position, and then use the resulting data, customer relationships and trusted brand to expand into personal cloud services, which will require high levels of investment.

Today, telcos’ traction in mobile commerce remains limited — only a handful of telcos, such as Safaricom, Turkcell, KDDI and NTT Docomo, have really carved out a significant position in this space. Although most telcos haven’t been able or willing to follow suit, they could still pursue the personal cloud value proposition outlined in the 2013 report. For consumers, effective personal cloud services will save time and money. The ongoing popularity of web comparison and review services, such as comparethemarket.com, moneysavingexpert.com and TripAdvisor, suggests that consumers continue to turn to intermediaries to help through them cut through the “marketing noise” on the Internet. But these existing services provide limited personalisation and can’t necessarily join the dots across different aspects of an individual’s lives. For example, TripAdvisor isn’t necessarily aware that a user is a teacher and can only take a vacation during a school holiday.

STL Partners believes there is latent demand for trusted and secure online services that act primarily on behalf of individuals, providing tailored advice, information and offers. This kind of personal cloud could evolve into a kind of vendor relationship management service, using information supplied by the individual to go and source the most appropriate products and services.

The broker could analyse a combination of declared, observed and inferred data in a way that is completely transparent to the individual. This data should be used primarily to save consumers time and give them relevant information that will enrich their lives. Instead of just putting the spotlight on the best price, as comparison web sites do, personal cloud services should put the spotlight on the ‘right’ product or service for the individual.

Ideally, a mature personal cloud service will enrich consumers’ lives by enabling them to quickly discover products, services and places that are near perfect or perfect for them. Rather than having to conduct hours of research or settle for second-best, the individual should be able to use the service to find exactly the right product or service in a few minutes. For example, an entertainment service might alert you to a concert by an upcoming band that fits closely with your taste in music, while a travel site will know you like quiet, peaceful hotels with sea views and recommend places that meet that criteria.

As a personal cloud service will need to be as useful as possible to consumers, it will need to attract as many merchants and brands as possible. In 2013, STL Partners argued that telcos could do that by offering merchants and brands a low risk proposition: they will be able to register to have their products and services included in the personal cloud for free and they will only have to pay commission if the consumer actually purchases one of their products and services. In the first few years, in order to persuade merchants and brands to actually use the site the personal cloud will have to charge a very low commission and, in some cases, none at all.

Since October 2013, much has changed. But the personal cloud opportunity is still valid and some telcos continue to explore how they can get closer to consumers. One of the most prominent of these is Madrid-based Telefónica, which has operations in much of Europe and across Latin America. The next chapter outlines Telefónica’s strategy in the personal data domain.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Recommendations for telcos
  • Introduction
  • In pursuit of personal cloud services
  • Telefonica’s personal data strategy
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Backing blockchains
  • Takeaways
  • What is Telefónica actually doing?
  • The Aura personal assistant
  • Takeaways
  • Telefonica’s external bets
  • Investment in Wibson
  • Partnership with People.io
  • The Data Transparency Lab
  • Takeaways
  • Will Telefónica see financial benefits?
  • Takeaways
  • What can Telefónica learn from DOCOMO?
  • DOCOMO’s Evolving Strategy
  • Takeaways
  • Mint – a model for a telco personal data play?
  • Takeaways

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Telefónica’s tally of active users of the major apps
  • Figure 2: Telefónica’s view of digital market openness in Brazil
  • Figure 3: Investors’ valuation of Internet platforms implies long-term dominance
  • Figure 4: Key metrics for Telefónica’s four platforms
  • Figure 5: How Wibson intends to allow individuals to trade their data
  • Figure 6: Telefónica’s digital services business is growing steadily
  • Figure 7: Telefónica’s pay TV business continues to expand
  • Figure 8: DOCOMO’s Smart Life division has struggle to grow
  • Figure 9: NTT DOCOMO’s new strategy puts more emphasis on enablers
  • Figure 10: DOCOMO continues to pursue the concept of a personal assistant
  • Figure 11: DOCOMO is using personal data to enable new financial services
  • Figure 12: Mint provides users with advice on how to manage their money
  • Figure 13: Intuit sees Mint as a strategically important engagement tool

Uber and Tesla: What telcos should do

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of Tesla and Uber, two of four Internet-based disruptors that might be able to break into the top tier of consumer Internet players, which is made up of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google. The other two challengers – Spotify and Netflix – were the subject of the recent STL Partners report: Can Netflix and Spotify make the leap to the top tier?

Tesla, Uber, Spotify and Netflix are defined by three key factors, which set them aside from their fellow challengers:

  • Rapid rise: They have become major mainstream players in a short space of time, building world-leading brands that rival those of much older and more established companies.
  • New thinking: Each of the four have challenged the conventions of the industries in which they operate, driving disruption and forcing incumbents to re-evaluate their business models.
  • Potential to challenge the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google: This rapid success has allowed the companies to gain dominant positions in their relative sectors, which they could use as a springboard to diversify their business models into parallel verticals. By pursuing these economies of scope, they are treading the path taken by the big four Internet companies.


This report explores how improvements in digital technologies and consumer electronics are changing the automotive market, enabling Tesla and Uber to rethink personal transport almost from the bottom up. In particular, it considers how self-driving vehicles could become a key platform within the digital economy, offering a range of commerce services linked to transportation and logistics. The report also explores how the high level of regulation in transportation, as in telecoms, is complicating Uber’s efforts to build economies of scale and scope.

The final section provides a high-level overview of the opportunities for telcos as the automobile becomes a major computing and connectivity platform, including partnership strategies, and the implications for telcos if Uber or Tesla were able to make the jump to become a tier one player.

The report builds on the analysis in two previous STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore how artificial intelligence is changing the automotive sector:

Self-driving disruption

Uber, the world’s leading ride-hailing app, and Tesla, the world’s leading producer of all-electric vehicles, could evolve to become tier one players in the digital economy, as the car could eventually become a major control point in the digital value chain. Both companies could use the disruption caused by the arrival of self-driving cars to become a broad digital commerce platform akin to that of Amazon or Google.  As well as matching individuals with journeys, Uber is gearing up to use self-driving vehicles to connect people with shops, restaurants, bars and many other merchants and service providers.  With a strong brand, Tesla could potentially play a similar role in the premium end of the market as Apple has done in the PC, tablet and smartphone sectors.

However, Uber and Tesla are just two of the scores of technology and automotive companies jostling for a preeminent position in a future in which the car is a major computing and connectivity platform. As well as investing heavily in the development of self-driving technologies, many of these companies are splurging on M&A to get the skills and competences they will need in the personal transportation market of the future.  For example, Intel bought Mobileye, a maker of autonomous-driving systems, for US$15.3 billion in March 2017. Delphi, a big auto parts maker, bought nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle start-up, for US$450 million, and has since reinvented itself as an autonomous vehicle company called Aptiv.

Self-driving vehicles will change the world and the way people live in a myriad of different ways, just as cars themselves transformed society during the 20th century. Some shops, hotels and restaurants could become mobile, while car parks, garages and even traffic lights could eventually become obsolete, potentially heralding new business opportunities for many kinds of companies, including telcos. But the most important change for Uber and Tesla will be a widespread shift from owning cars to sharing cars.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • How Uber and Tesla are creating new opportunities for telcos
  • Uber’s and Tesla’s future prospects
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Introduction
  • Self-driving disruption
  • Making car ownership obsolete
  • From here to autonomy
  • The convergence of car rental, taxi-hailing and car making
  • Business models beyond transport
  • Opportunities for telcos
  • Uber: At the bleeding edge
  • Uber’s chequered history
  • Uber looks beyond the car
  • Uber’s strengths and weaknesses: From fame to notoriety
  • Tesla: All electric dreams
  • Tesla’s strengths and weaknesses: Beautiful but small
  • Conclusions and lessons for telcos
  • The future of Uber and Tesla
  • The future of connected cars
  • Lessons from Uber and Tesla

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Self-driving vehicles will become commonplace by 2030
  • Figure 2: The two different routes to self-driving vehicles
  • Figure 3: The first self-driving cars could appear within two years
  • Figure 4: Money is pouring into ride hailing and self-driving companies
  • Figure 5: Waymo is way ahead with respect to self-driving disengagements
  • Figure 6: Uber’s vision of a “vertiport” serving a highway intersection
  • Figure 7: Uber believes VTOL can be much cheaper than helicopters
  • Figure 8: Uber’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis
  • Figure 9: Growth in Tesla’s automotive revenues has been subdued
  • Figure 10: Tesla’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Figure 11: Tesla loses money most quarters
  • Figure 12: Tesla is having to cut back on capex

RCS: Walking the commerce tightrope

Introduction

Thanks initially to WeChat in China and now Facebook in the west, mobile messaging is fast becoming a key platform for digital commerce, mounting a challenge to Google Search, Amazon’s Marketplace and other two-sided platforms.

As explained in our June 2016 report, Google/Telcos’ RCS: Dark Horse or Dead Horse?, many of the world’s largest telcos are working with Google to develop and deploy multimedia communications services using the RCS specification. Like SMS, RCS is intended to work across networks, be network-based and be the default mobile messaging service, but it also goes far beyond SMS, by supporting rich features, such as video calling, location sharing, group chat and file sharing.  Proponents of RCS believe it can ultimately offer greater reach, reliability, privacy and security than online messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

The rollout of RCS-based services was one of the strategic options explored in STL Partners’ April 2017 report, Consumer communications: Can telcos mount a comeback?, which made different recommendations for different kinds of telcos. It argued that strong incumbent telcos in markets where the Internet players are also strong, such as AT&T, Verizon, BT and Deutsche Telekom, should seek to differentiate their communications proposition through reliability, security, privacy and reach, while also embedding communications into other services.

Building on those two reports, this executive briefing analyses the progress of RCS over the past two years, considering the development of business tools for the specification, while outlining Facebook Messenger’s, WhatsApp’s and Apple’s simultaneous push into the market for so-called conversational commerce, in which messaging and transactions are increasingly interwoven. It concludes by updating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis in the June 2016 report and the subsequent recommendations for telcos.

RCS: What has changed in the past two years?

New networks, more interoperability and rising usage

The RCS (Rich Communications Services) specification, the heir apparent to SMS, has been around for a decade. Whereas SMS’s functionality is limited by its usage of old-school mobile technology, RCS employs Internet protocols to provide a raft of features similar to those available from leading chat apps. However, up until now, RCS has had little impact on the mobile messaging market – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Apple’s iMessage and other chat apps have been accumulating hundreds of millions of users, diminishing the role of mobile operators in this key pillar of the communications market.

But RCS, which is steered by the GSMA, seems to be finally gaining some traction: In 2017, RCS launches almost doubled from 30 to 55 and have the potential to double again in 2018, according to the GSMA. In December 2017, for example, América Movil, Telefónica, Oi and AT&T launched RCS messaging services to subscribers across Latin America. Although it will only work on handsets running Android, GSMA Intelligence estimates approximately 60% of subscribers across the Latin American region will be able to get access to the RCS messaging service. América Movil and Telefónica also plan to launch RCS Messaging in the UK, Germany, Spain, Austria and Central and Eastern Europe. As a result of these launches, GSMA Intelligence expects the number of active monthly RCS users to grow to 350 million by the end of 2018, from 159 million at the start of the year. However, for a messaging service, daily active users are a far more important metric than monthly active users.

To support RCS, telcos either need to embed an Internet multimedia subsystem (IMS) into their networks or used a cloud-based system that sits outside the network. The latter option requires less upfront capex and enables a quicker deployment. In Latin America, the operators are using the Jibe RCS Cloud from Google and the Jibe RCS Hub, thereby ensuring interoperability so that subscribers can send RCS messages across networks. Subscribers from other networks connected to the hub will also be able to send RCS messages regardless of their geographic location. Operators’ RCS networks are also being interconnected in other parts of the Americas and Europe. América Móvil, Rogers Communications and Sprint have interconnected their networks across the Americas, while Deutsche Telekom, Telenor Group, Telia Company and Vodafone Group have interconnected in Europe, enabling subscribers in these regions to access advanced RCS across 22 networks in 17 countries.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • RCS: What has changed in the past two years?
  • New networks, more interoperability and rising usage
  • Consistency is king
  • Vodafone’s sustained support for RCS
  • Google is finally prioritising RCS
  • Android Messages overshadows Allo
  • Android device makers mostly on board
  • What will Apple do?
  • Competing for the business messaging market
  • Facebook pushes into business messaging
  • The Facebook brand loses its lustre
  • How will RCS fare in the business market?
  • Veon tries a different route
  • Conclusions and Recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Recommendations for telcos in mobile messaging
  • Figure 2: The companies supporting the RCS Universal Profile
  • Figure 3: RCS now has a feature set designed for business-to-person usage
  • Figure 4: Vodafone is using RCS to promote its new pet tracking service
  • Figure 5: The iPhone accounts for less than one-fifth of the smartphones in use today
  • Figure 6: The pros and cons of Apple’s strategic options for iMessage
  • Figure 7: SMS still leads the Internet-based services in some metrics
  • Figure 8:  Using Facebook Messenger to book an in-store appointment
  • Figure 9: Almost 1.5 billion people access Facebook every day
  • Figure 10: The emerging ecosystem around RCS messaging-as-a-platform
  • Figure 11: Next steps for telcos in all-IP communications
  • Figure 12: China Mobile’s SMS traffic per customer has stabilised
  • Figure 13: Messaging is generating less and less revenue for China Mobile

Making big beautiful: Multinational operators need the telco cloud

Telcos’ (economies of) scale in perspective

As a result of their wide regional or global footprints, multi-country operators typically generate tens of billions of USD in revenues. By this measure, telcos’ scale (as defined by their revenues) is indeed comparable with the likes of Google and Facebook (see Figure 2). However, we can consider scale through a different lens as well: defined by the number of users, it becomes evident that telcos are dwarfed relative to the large internet companies. When considering the number of users, the telecoms industry is more fragmented than the internet sector – resulting in the unfavourable comparison, since no one telco can achieve a similar customer-base.

The fragmented nature of the global telecommunications industry means that telcos tend to struggle to create so-called demand-side economies of scale. These economies of scale rely on network effects stemming from the value generated by having a large number of users. In such a case, there is both inherent value in the use of the service and value derived from other people’s use of the service.

The big success of the internet giants can, in part, be attributed to significant network effects. Telcos, on the other hand, are in a tougher position. Partly this is due to the nature of the services they traditionally provide. Unlike the internet giants who can reach anyone around the world with an internet connection, telcos are have largely been limited to serving users in the countries in which they operate networks.
Despite this, large operators should – in theory – be well-equipped to create so-called supply-side economies of scale due to the sheer size of their business. With telecoms being a high fixed-costs business, the cost of providing telco services per customer falls as the number of customers increases.

Figure 2: Some telcos are big – but they are unable to create the same network effects as the internet giants

So, have these large multinational telcos managed to create scale effects? Unfortunately, we find rather sobering evidence to the contrary. Figure 3 shows that multi-country operators tend to underperform the industry average. Large European multi-country operators – such as Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom – all underperform the telco global average operating margin of 17%. On the other hand, large single-market operators, namely AT&T and Verizon, achieve margins above the global average.

Figure 3: European giants struggle to create economies of scale

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Multinational telcos have struggled to create economies of scale
  • A Telco Cloud strategy can deliver scale economies for multinational operators
  • Introduction – Economies of scale in telecoms
  • International expansion has delivered a global footprint for some telcos
  • Telcos’ (economies of) scale in perspective
  • Multinational telcos need to revisit their approach to creating economies of scale
  • The dilemma of multinational telcos – can Telco Cloud help overcome it?
  • Telco Cloud: a brave new world?
  • The cost problem: multinational telcos need to create synergies across markets
  • The revenue problem: multinationals need to calibrate the right innovation model across markets
  • The traditional Opco-driven innovation has inherent problems
  • Centralisation of innovation isn’t the answer either
  • What is the right model for telcos?
  • Conclusions

Telcos and GAFA: Dancing with the disruptors

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: The business objectives differ somewhat by partnership strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contents:

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

Figures:

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

Music Lessons: How the music industry rediscovered its mojo

Introduction

The latest report in STL Partners’ Dealing with Disruption stream, this paper explores what telcos and their partners can learn from the music industry and its response to disruptive forces unleashed by the Internet.

Music was among the first industries to see its core product (compact discs) completely undermined by the Internet’s emergence as the primary distribution mechanism for content and software, throwing the record labels into a long standing struggle to maintain both relevance and revenues. After almost two decades of decline, sales of recorded music are growing again and, in developed markets, at least, the existential threat posed by piracy seems to have abated. Although the music industry still has problems aplenty, the success of streaming services has steadied the ship.

This report outlines how the music industry has regained its mojo, before considering the lessons for telcos and other digital service providers. The first section of the paper considers why music streaming has become so successful and whether the model will be sustainable. The second section of the paper explores the lessons companies from other sectors, notably telecoms, can draw from the ways in which the music industry responded to the Internet’s disruptive forces.

This paper builds on other entertainment-related reports published by STL Partners, including:

Apple’s pivot to services: What it means for telcos
Telco-Driven Disruption: Will AT&T, Axiata, Reliance Jio and Turkcell succeed?
Amazon: Telcos’ Chameleon-King Ally?
Can Telcos Entertain You? Vodafone and MTN’s Emerging Market Strategies (Part 2)
Can Telcos Entertain You? (Part 1)

Music bounces back

Over the past 20 years, the rise of the Internet has shaken the music industry to the core, obsolescing its distribution model, undermining its business model and enabling new forms of piracy. Yet, the major record labels have survived, albeit in a consolidated form, and the sector is now showing some tentative signs of recovery. In 2013, the global music industry began to grow again for the first time since the turn of the Millennium. It continues to recover and will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.5% between now and 2021, according to research by PwC, fuelled by growth in both the recorded music and the live music sectors (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The global music industry has returned to growth

The global music industry has returned to growth

Source: PWC and Ovum

For most of the past two decades, revenues from recorded music have been shrinking, leaving the industry increasingly reliant on ticket sales for live performances. Widespread piracy, together with the growing obsolesce of CDs, appeared to be turning recorded music into a form of advertising for concerts and tours.

But in 2015, global recorded music revenues began to grow again. In 2016, they rose a relatively healthy 5.9% to US$15.7 billion (about one third of the industry’s total revenue), according to a report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). For music industry executives, that growth marks an important milestone. “We got here through years of hard work,” Michael Nash, executive vice president of digital strategy at Universal records, told the Guardian in April 2017, adding that the music industry was still going through a “historical transformation. The only reason we saw growth in the past two years, after some 15 years of substantial decline, is that music has been one of the fastest adapting sectors in the digital world.”

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Music bounces back
  • What has changed?
  • Is streaming the final word in music distribution
  • Lessons to learn from music’s recovery

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The global music industry has returned to growth
  • Figure 2: The way people buy recorded music is changing dramatically
  • Figure 3: YouTube pays particularly low rates per stream
  • Figure 4: YouTube is a major destination for music lover
  • Figure 5: Music is one of the slowest growing entertainment segments
  • Figure 6: Spotify’s losses continue to grow despite the growth in revenues
  • Figure 7: Spotify’s subscription service is growing rapidly
  • Figure 8: Concert ticket revenues are up sevenfold since 1996 in North America
  • Figure 9: Major concert tickets sell for an average of $77 apiece

Problem: Telecoms technology inhibits operator business model change (Part 1)

Introduction

Everyone loves to moan about telcos

‘I just can’t seem to get anything done, it is like running through treacle.’

‘We gave up trying to partner with operators – they are too slow.’

‘Why are telcos unable to make the most basic improvements in their service offerings?’

‘They are called operators for a reason: they operate networks. But they can’t innovate and don’t know the first thing about marketing or customer service.’

Anyone within the telecoms industry will have heard these or similar expressions of dissatisfaction from colleagues, partners and customers.  It seems that despite providing the connectivity and communications services that have truly changed the world in the last 20 years, operators are unloved.  Everyone, and I think we are all guilty of this, feels that operators could do so much better.  There is a feeling that these huge organisations are almost wilfully seeking to be slow and inflexible – as if there is malice in the way they do business.

But the telecoms industry employs millions of people globally. It pays quite well and so attracts talent. Many, for example, have already enjoyed success in other industries. But nobody has yet, it seems, been able to make a telco, let alone the industry, fast, agile, and innovative.

Why not?

A structural problem

In this report, we argue that nobody is at fault for the perceived woes of telecoms operators.  Indeed, the difficulty the industry is facing in changing its business model is a result of financial and operational processes that have been adopted and refined over years in response to investor requirements and regulation.  In turn, investors and regulators have created such requirements as a result of technological constraints that have applied, even with ongoing improvements, to fixed and mobile telecommunications for decades. In essence, operators are constrained by the very structures that were put in place to ensure their success.

So should we give up?

If the limitations of telecoms operators is structural then it is easy to assume that change and development is impossible.  Certainly sceptics have plenty of empirical evidence for this view.  But as we outline in this report and will cover in more detail in a follow up to be published in early February 2016 (Answer: How 5G + Cloud + NFV can create the ‘agile telco’), changes in technology should have a profound impact on telecoms operators ability to become more flexible and innovative and so thrive in the fast-paced digital world.

Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets

Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK

Improving customer experience has become something of a mantra within telecoms in the last few years. Many operators use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as a way of measuring their performance, and the concept of ‘putting the customer first’ has gained in popularity as the industry has matured and new customers have become harder to find. Yet customer satisfaction remains low.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) publishes annual figures for customer satisfaction based on extensive consumer surveys. Telecommunications companies consistently come out towards the bottom of the range (scoring 65-70 out of 100). By contrasts internet and content players such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Netflix have much more satisfied customers and score 80+ – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies

 

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/the-american-customer-satisfaction-index); STL Partners analysis

The story in the UK is similar.  The UK Customer Satisfaction Index, using a similar methodology to its US counterpart, places the Telecommunications and Media industry as the second-worst performer across 13 industry sectors scoring 71.7 in 2015 compared to a UK average of 76.2 and the best-performing sector, Non-food Retail, on 81.6.

Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance

Most concerning for the telecoms industry is the work that ACSI has undertaken showing that customer satisfaction is linked to the financial performance of the overall economy and the performance of individual sectors and companies. The organisation states:

  • Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of company financial performance. Stocks of companies with high ACSI scores tend to do better than those of companies with low scores.
  • Changes in customer satisfaction affect the general willingness of households to buy. As such, price-adjusted ACSI is a leading indicator of consumer spending growth and has accounted for more of the variation in future spending growth than any other single factor.

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/about-acsi/key-acsi-findings)  

In other words, consistently poor performance by all major players in the telecoms industry in the US and UK suggests aspirations of growth may be wildly optimistic. Put simply, why would customers buy more services from companies they don’t like? This bodes ill for the financial performance of telecoms operators going forward.

Senior management within telecoms knows this. They want to improve customer satisfaction by offering new and better services and customer care. But change has proved incredibly difficult and other more agile players always seem to beat operators to the punch. The next section shows why.

 

  • Introduction
  • Everyone loves to moan about telcos
  • A structural problem
  • So should we give up?
  • Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets
  • Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK
  • Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance
  • ‘One-function’ telecommunications technology stymies innovation and growth
  • Telecoms has always been an ‘infrastructure play’
  • …which means inflexibility and lack of innovation is hard-wired into the operating model
  • Why ‘Telco 2.0’ is so important for operators
  • Telco 2.0 aspirations remain thwarted
  • Technology can truly ‘change the game’ for operators

 

  • Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies
  • Figure 2: Historically, capital deployment has driven telecoms revenue
  • Figure 3: Financial & operational metrics for Infrastructure player (Vodafone) vs Platform (Google) & Product Innovator (Unilever)

The Open Source Telco: Taking Control of Destiny

Preface

This report examines the approaches to open source software – broadly, software for which the source code is freely available for use, subject to certain licensing conditions – of telecoms operators globally. Several factors have come together in recent years to make the role of open source software an important and dynamic area of debate for operators, including:

  • Technological Progress: Advances in core networking technologies, especially network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), are closely associated with open source software and initiatives, such as OPNFV and OpenDaylight. Many operators are actively participating in these initiatives, as well as trialling their software and, in some cases, moving them into production. This represents a fundamental shift away from the industry’s traditional, proprietary, vendor-procured model.
    • Why are we now seeing more open source activities around core communications technologies?
  • Financial Pressure: However, over-the-top (OTT) disintermediation, regulation and adverse macroeconomic conditions have led to reduced core communications revenues for operators in both developed and emerging markets alike. As a result, operators are exploring opportunities to move away from their core, infrastructure business, and compete in the more software-centric services layer.
    • How do the Internet players use open source software, and what are the lessons for operators?
  • The Need for Agility: In general, there is recognition within the telecoms industry that operators need to become more ‘agile’ if they are to succeed in the new, rapidly-changing ICT world, and greater use of open source software is seen by many as a key enabler of this transformation.
    • How can the use of open source software increase operator agility?

The answers to these questions, and more, are the topic of this report, which is sponsored by Dialogic and independently produced by STL Partners. The report draws on a series of 21 interviews conducted by STL Partners with senior technologists, strategists and product managers from telecoms operators globally.

Figure 1: Split of Interviewees by Business Area

Source: STL Partners

Introduction

Open source is less optional than it once was – even for Apple and Microsoft

From the audience’s point of view, the most important announcement at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this year was not the new versions of iOS and OS X, or even its Spotify-challenging Apple Music service. Instead, it was the announcement that Apple’s highly popular programming language ‘Swift’ was to be made open source, where open source software is broadly defined as software for which the source code is freely available for use – subject to certain licensing conditions.

On one level, therefore, this represents a clever engagement strategy with developers. Open source software uptake has increased rapidly during the last 15 years, most famously embodied by the Linux operating system (OS), and with this developers have demonstrated a growing preference for open source tools and platforms. Since Apple has generally pushed developers towards proprietary development tools, and away from third-party ones (such as Adobe Flash), this is significant in itself.

An indication of open source’s growth can be found in OS market shares in consumer electronics devices. As Figure 2 shows below, Android (open source) had a 49% share of shipments in 2014; if we include the various other open source OS’s in ‘other’, this increases to more than 50%.

Figure 2: Share of consumer electronics shipments* by OS, 2014

Source: Gartner
* Includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs

However, one of the components being open sourced is Swift’s (proprietary) compiler – a program that translates written code into an executable program that a computer system understands. The implication of this is that, in theory, we could even see Swift applications running on non-Apple devices in the future. In other words, Apple believes the risk of Swift being used on Android is outweighed by the reward of engaging with the developer community through open source.

Whilst some technology companies, especially the likes of Facebook, Google and Netflix, are well known for their activities in open source, Apple is a company famous for its proprietary approach to both hardware and software. This, combined with similar activities by Microsoft (who open sourced its .NET framework in 2014), suggest that open source is now less optional than it once was.

Open source is both an old and a new concept for operators

At first glance, open source also appears to now be less optional for telecoms operators, who traditionally procure proprietary software (and hardware) from third-party vendors. Whilst many (but not all) operators have been using open source software for some time, such as Linux and various open source databases in the IT domain (e.g. MySQL), we have in the last 2-3 years seen a step-change in operator interest in open source across multiple domains. The following quote, taken directly from the interviews, summarises the situation nicely:

“Open source is both an old and a new project for many operators: old in the sense that we have been using Linux, FreeBSD, and others for a number of years; new in the sense that open source is moving out of the IT domain and towards new areas of the industry.” 

AT&T, for example, has been speaking widely about its ‘Domain 2.0’ programme. Domain 2.0 has the objectives to transform AT&T’s technical infrastructure to incorporate network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), to mandate a higher degree of interoperability, and to broaden the range of alternative suppliers available across its core business. By 2020, AT&T hopes to virtualise 75% of its network functions, and it sees open source as accounting for up to 50% of this. AT&T, like many other operators, is also a member of various recently-formed initiatives and foundations around NFV and SDN, such as OPNFV – Figure 3 lists some below.

Figure 3: OPNFV Platinum Members

Source: OPNFV website

However, based on publicly-available information, other operators might appear to have lesser ambitions in this space. As ever, the situation is more complex than it first appears: other operators do have significant ambitions in open source and, despite the headlines NFV and SDN draw, there are many other business areas in which open source is playing (or will play) an important role. Figure 4 below includes three quotes from the interviews which highlight this broad spectrum of opinion:

Figure 4: Different attitudes of operators to open source – selected interview quotes

Source: STL Partners interviews

Key Questions to be Addressed

We therefore have many questions which need to be addressed concerning operator attitudes to open source software, adoption (by area of business), and more:

  1. What is open source software, what are its major initiatives, and who uses it most widely today?
  2. What are the most important advantages and disadvantages of open source software? 
  3. To what extent are telecoms operators using open source software today? Why, and where?
  4. What are the key barriers to operator adoption of open source software?
  5. Prospects: How will this situation change?

These are now addressed in turn.

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Open source is less optional than it once was – even for Apple and Microsoft
  • Open source is both an old and a new concept for operators
  • Key Questions to be Addressed
  • Understanding Open Source Software
  • The Theory: Freely available, licensed source code
  • The Industry: Dominated by key initiatives and contributors
  • Research Findings: Evaluating Open Source
  • Open source has both advantages and disadvantages
  • Debunking Myths: Open source’s performance and security
  • Where are telcos using open source today?
  • Transformation of telcos’ service portfolios is making open source more relevant than ever…
  • … and three key factors determine where operators are using open source software today
  • Open Source Adoption: Business Critical vs. Service Area
  • Barriers to Telco Adoption of Open Source
  • Two ‘external’ barriers by the industry’s nature
  • Three ‘internal’ barriers which can (and must) change
  • Prospects and Recommendations
  • Prospects: An open source evolution, not revolution
  • Open Source, Transformation, and Six Key Recommendations
  • About STL Partners and Telco 2.0
  • About Dialogic

 

  • Figure 1: Split of Interviewees by Business Area
  • Figure 2: Share of consumer electronics shipments* by OS, 2014
  • Figure 3: OPNFV Platinum Members
  • Figure 4: Different attitudes of operators to open source – selected interview quotes
  • Figure 5: The Open IT Ecosystem (incl. key industry bodies)
  • Figure 6: Three Forms of Governance in Open Source Software Projects
  • Figure 7: Three Classes of Open Source Software License
  • Figure 8: Web Server Share of Active Sites by Developer, 2000-2015
  • Figure 9: Leading software companies vs. Red Hat, market capitalisation, Oct. 2015
  • Figure 10: The Key Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Source Software
  • Figure 11: How Google Works – Failing Well
  • Figure 12: Performance gains from an open source activation (OSS) platform
  • Figure 13: Intel Hardware Performance, 2010-13
  • Figure 14: Open source is more likely to be found today in areas which are…
  • Figure 15: Framework mapping current telco uptake of open source software
  • Figure 16: Five key barriers to telco adoption of open source software
  • Figure 17: % of employees with ‘software’ in their LinkedIn job title, Oct. 2015
  • Figure 18: ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Agile’ Software Development Methodologies Compared
  • Figure 19: Four key cultural attributes for successful telco transformation

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of five global online entertainment platforms – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix.

It also explores how improvements in digital technologies, consumer electronics and bandwidth are changing the online entertainment market, while explaining the ongoing uncertainty around net neutrality. The report then considers how well each of the five major entertainment platforms is prepared for the likely technological and regulatory changes in this market. Finally, it provides a high level overview of the implications for telco, paving the way for a forthcoming STL Partners report going into more detail about potential strategies for telcos in online entertainment.

The rise and rise of online entertainment

As in many other sectors, digital technologies are shaking up the global entertainment industry, giving rise to a new world order. Now that 3.2 billion people around the world have Internet access, according to the ITU, entertainment is increasingly delivered online and on-demand.

Mobile and online entertainment accounts for US$195 million (almost 11%) of the US$1.8 trillion global entertainment market today. By some estimates, that figure is on course to rise to more than 13% of the global entertainment market, which could be worth US$2.2 trillion in 2019.

Two leading distributors of online content – Google and Facebook – have infiltrated the top ten media owners in the world as defined by ZenithOptimedia (see Figure 1). ZenithOptimedia ranks media companies according to all the revenues they derive from businesses that support advertising – television broadcasting, newspaper publishing, Internet search, social media, and so on. As well as advertising revenues, it includes all revenues generated by these businesses, such as circulation revenues for newspapers or magazines. However, for pay-TV providers, only revenues from content in which the company sells advertising are included.

Figure 1 – How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners

Source: ZenithOptimedia, May 2015/STL Partners

ZenithOptimedia says this approach provides a clear picture of the size and negotiating power of the biggest global media owners that advertisers and agencies have to deal with. Note, Figure 1 draws on data from the financial year 2013, which is the latest year for which ZenithOptimedia had consistent revenue figures from all of the publicly listed companies. Facebook, which is growing fast, will almost certainly have climbed up the table since then.

Figure 1 also shows STL Partners’ view of the extent to which each of the top ten media owners is involved in the four key roles in the online content value chain. These four key roles are:

  1. Programme: Content creation. E.g. producing drama series, movies or live sports programmes.
  2. Package: Content curation. E.g. packaging programmes into channels or music into playlists and then selling these packages on a subscription basis or providing them free, supported by advertising.
  3. Platform: Content distribution. E.g. Distributing TV channels, films or music created and curated by another entity.
  4. Pipe: Providing connectivity. E.g. providing Internet access

Increasing vertical integration

Most of the world’s top ten media owners have traditionally focused on programming and packaging, but the rise of the Internet with its global reach has brought unprecedented economies of scale and scope to the platform players, enabling Google and now Facebook to break into the top ten. These digital disruptors earn advertising revenues by providing expansive two-sided platforms that link creators with viewers. However, intensifying competition from other major ecosystems, such as Amazon, and specialists, such as Netflix, is prompting Google, in particular, to seek new sources of differentiation. The search giant is increasingly investing in creating and packaging its own content.  The need to support an expanding range of digital devices and multiple distribution networks is also blurring the boundaries between the packaging and platform roles (see Figure 2, below) – platforms increasingly need to package content in different ways for different devices and for different devices.

Figure 2 – How the key roles in online content are changing

Source: STL Partners

These forces are prompting most of the major media groups, including Google and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, to expand across the value chain. Some of the largest telcos, including Verizon and BT, are also investing heavily in programming and packaging, as they seek to fend off competition from vertically-integrated media groups, such as Comcast and Sky (part of 21st Century Fox), who are selling broadband connectivity, as well as content.

In summary, the strongest media groups will increasingly create their own exclusive programming, package it for different devices and sell it through expansive distribution platforms that also re-sell third party content. These three elements feed of each other – the behavioural data captured by the platform can be used to improve the programming and packaging, creating a virtuous circle that attracts more customers and advertisers, generating economies of scale.

Although some leading media groups also own pipes, providing connectivity is less strategically important – consumers are increasingly happy to source their entertainment from over-the-top propositions. Instead of investing in networks, the leading media and Internet groups lobby regulators and run public relations campaigns to ensure telcos and cablecos don’t discriminate against over-the-top services. As long as these pipes are delivering adequate bandwidth and are sufficiently responsive, there is little need for the major media groups to become pipes.

The flip-side of this is that if telcos can convince the regulator and the media owners that there is a consumer and business benefit to differentiated network services (or discrimination to use the pejorative term), then the value of the pipe role increases. Guaranteed bandwidth or low-latency are a couple of the potential areas that telcos could potentially pursue here but they will need to do a significantly better job in lobbying the regulator and in marketing the benefits to consumers and the content owner/distributor if this strategy is to be successful.

To be sure, Google has deployed some fibre networks in the US and is now acting as an MVNO, reselling airtime on mobile networks in the US. But these efforts are part of its public relations effort – they are primarily designed to showcase what is possible and put pressure on telcos to improve connectivity rather than mount a serious competitive challenge.

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The rise and rise of online entertainment
  • Increasing vertical integration
  • The world’s leading online entertainment platforms
  • A regional breakdown
  • The future of online entertainment market
  • 1. Rising investment in exclusive content
  • 2. Back to the future: Live programming
  • 3. The changing face of user generated content
  • 4. Increasingly immersive games and interactive videos
  • 5. The rise of ad blockers & the threat of a privacy backlash
  • 6. Net neutrality uncertainty
  • How the online platforms are responding
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Google is the leading generator of online entertainment traffic in most regions
  • How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 1: How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners
  • Figure 2: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 3: Google leads in most regions in terms of entertainment traffic
  • Figure 4: YouTube serves up an eclectic mix of music videos, reality TV and animals
  • Figure 5: Facebook users recommend videos to one another
  • Figure 6: Apple introduces apps for television
  • Figure 7: Netflix, Google, Facebook and Amazon all gaining share in North America
  • Figure 8: YouTube & Facebook increasingly about entertainment, not interaction
  • Figure 9: YouTube maintains lead over Facebook on American mobile networks
  • Figure 10: US smartphones may be posting fewer images and videos to Facebook
  • Figure 11: Over-the-top entertainment is a three-way fight in North America
  • Figure 12: YouTube, Facebook & Netflix erode BitTorrent usage in Europe
  • Figure 13: File sharing falling back in Europe
  • Figure 14: iTunes cedes mobile share to YouTube and Facebook in Europe
  • Figure 15: Facebook consolidates strong upstream lead on mobile in Europe
  • Figure 16: YouTube accounts for about one fifth of traffic on Europe’s networks
  • Figure 17: YouTube & BitTorrent dominate downstream fixed-line traffic in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 18: Filesharing and peercasting apps dominate the upstream segment
  • Figure 19: YouTube stretches lead on mobile networks in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 20: YouTube neck & neck with Facebook on upstream mobile in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 21: YouTube has a large lead in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Figure 22: YouTube fends off Facebook, as Netflix gains traction in Latam
  • Figure 23: How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 24: YouTube’s live programming tends to be very niche
  • Figure 25: Netflix’s ranking of UK Internet service providers by bandwidth delivered
  • Figure 26: After striking a deal with Netflix, Verizon moved to top of speed rankings

How BT beat Apple and Google over 5 years

BT Group outperformed Apple and Google

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

Figure 1:  BT’s Share Price over 5 Years

Source: www.stockcharts.com

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

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

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

So what has happened at BT, then?

Sound basic financials despite falling revenues

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

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

[Figure 2]

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

BT pays off its debts

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

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

 

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

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

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

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

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

 

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

Baidu, Xiaomi & DJI: China’s Fast Growing Digital Disruptors

Introduction

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

In our previous report, Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors, we analysed China’s two largest digital ecosystems – Alibaba, which shares many similarities with Amazon, and Tencent, which is somewhat similar to Facebook. It explored the intensifying arms race between these two groups in China, their international ambitions and the support they might need from telcos and other digital players.

This executive briefing covers Baidu, China’s answer to Google and the anchor for a third digital ecosystem, and the fast-growing smartphone maker, Xiaomi, which has the potential to build a fourth major ecosystem. It also takes a close look at DJI, the world-leading drone manufacturer, which is well worth watching for its mid-to-long term potential to create another major ecosystem around consumer robotics.

Context: sizing up China’s disruptors

As U.S. companies have demonstrated time and time again, a large and dynamic domestic market can be a springboard to global dominance. Can China’s leading digital disruptors, which also benefit from a large and dynamic domestic market, also become major players on the global stage?

Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, which run China’s leading digital ecosystems, have all developed in a digital economy that has been partially protected by cultural and linguistic characteristics, together with government policies and regulations. As a result, Google, Facebook and Amazon haven’t been able to replicate their global dominance in China. Of the big four global disruptors, only Apple can be said to be have a major presence in China.

Thanks to their strong position in China, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are among the leading Internet companies globally, as measured by market capitalisation (see Figure 2). As China’s economy slows (although it will still grow about 7% this year, according to government figures), many of China’s digital players are putting more focus on international growth. Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors of this report outlined how Alibaba is gaining traction in other major middle income countries, notably Russia, whereas Tencent is trying, with limited success, to expand outside of China

Figure 2:  China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies

Source: Source: Morgan Stanley, Capital IQ, Bloomberg via KPCB

Of the five companies covered in the two parts of this report, search specialist Baidu is the least international – its revenues are almost all generated in China and its services aren’t much used outside its home country. Innovative and fast growing handset maker Xiaomi is still heavily dependent on China, but is seeing strong sales in other developing markets. The most international of the three is DJI, the world’s leading drone maker, which is making major inroads into the U.S. and Western Europe – the heartland of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

As discussed in Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors, international telcos, media companies and banks all have a strategic interest in encouraging more digital competition globally. Today, the big four U.S.-based disruptors dominate the digital economy in North America, Western Europe, Latin America and much of the developing world, limiting the mindshare and market share available to other players.

Many telcos are particularly concerned about Apple’s and Facebook’s ever-strengthening position in digital communications – a core telecoms service. They also fret about Google’s and Amazon’s power in digital commerce and content. On the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, telcos might want to support Xiaomi’s challenge to Apple, while backing Tencent’s efforts to make messaging app WeChat an international service and Alibaba’s growing rivalry with Amazon (both aspects are covered in the previous report).

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Context: sizing up China’s disruptors
  • Baidu – China’s low cost Google
  • Why Baidu is important
  • Baidu’s business models
  • How big an impact will Baidu have outside China?
  • Threats to Baidu
  • Xiaomi – Apple without the margins?
  • Why Xiaomi is important
  • Business model
  • Xiaomi’s likely International impact
  • Threats to Xiaomi
  • DJI – more than a flight of fancy
  • Why DJI is important
  • DJI’s business model
  • Threats to DJI
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • Baidu, Xiaomi and DJI could all build major ecosystems
  • Implications for telcos and other digital players

 

  • Figure 1: Baidu is significantly smaller than Tencent, Alibaba and Facebook
  • Figure 2: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publically-listed Internet companies
  • Figure 3: Baidu is in the world’s top 15 media owners
  • Figure 4: Baidu is one of the world’s leading app developers
  • Figure 5: Baidu’s clean and uncluttered home page resembles that of Google
  • Figure 6: Baidu is beginning to monetise its millions of mobile users
  • Figure 7: IQiyi has broken into the top ten iOS apps worldwide
  • Figure 8: 2014 was a banner year for Baidu’s top line
  • Figure 9: Mobile now generates almost 50% of Baidu’s revenues
  • Figure 10: Baidu says its mobile browser is popular in Indonesia
  • Figure 11: Xiaomi is a rising star in the smartphone market
  • Figure 12: The slimline Mi Note has won plaudits for its design
  • Figure 13: The $15 Mi Band: A lot of technology for not a lot of money
  • Figure 14: One of Ninebot’s products – an electric unicycle
  • Figure 15: Xiaomi is turning its MIUI into a digital commerce platform
  • Figure 16: Xiaomi even has fan sites in markets where its handsets aren’t readily available
  • Figure 17: Drones’ primary job today is aerial photography
  • Figure 18: DJI majors on ease-of-use
  • Figure 18: DJI claims its Inspire One can transmit video pictures over 2km
  • Figure 20: DJI’s Go app delivers a real-time video feed to a smartphone or tablet
  • Figure 21: Baidu’s frugal innovation

Microsoft: Pivoting to a Communications-Centric Business

Introduction: From Monopoly to Disruption

For many years, Microsoft was an iconic monopolist, in much the same way as AT&T had been before divestment. Microsoft’s products were ubiquitous and often innovative, and its profitability enormous. It was familiar, yet frequently scorned as the creator of a dreary monoculture with atrocious security properties. Microsoft’s mission statement could not have been simpler: a computer in every office and in every home. This achieved, though, its critics have often seen it as an organisation in search of an identity, experimenting with mobile, search, maps, hardware and much else without really settling on a new direction.

Going to the numbers, for the last two years, there has been steady erosion of the once phenomenally high margins, although revenue is still steadily rising. Since Q3 2013, revenue at Microsoft grew an average of 3.5% annually, but the decline in margins meant that profits barely grew, with a CAGR of 0.66%. Telcos will be familiar with this kind of stagnation, but telcos would be delighted with Microsoft’s 66% gross margins. Note, that getting into hardware has given Microsoft a typical hardware vendor’s Christmas spike in revenue.

Figure 1:  MS revenue is growing steadily but margin erosion undermines it

Source: Microsoft 10-K, STL Partners

Over the long term, the pattern is clearer, as are the causes. Figure 2 shows Microsoft’s annual revenue and gross margin since the financial year 1995. From 1995 to 2010, gross margins were consistently between 80 and 90 per cent, twice the 45% target HP traditionally defined as “fascinating”. It was good to be king. However, in the financial year 2010, there is a clear inflection point: margins depart from the 80% mark and never return, falling at a 3.45% clip between 2010 and 2015.

The event that triggered this should be no surprise. Microsoft has traditionally been discussed in parentheses with Apple, and Apple’s 2010 was a significant one. It was the first year that Apple began using the A-series processors of its own design, benefiting from the acquisition of PA Semiconductor in 2008. This marked an important strategic shift at Apple from the outsourced, design- and brand-centric business to vertical integration and investment in manufacturing, a strategy associated with Tim Cook’s role as head of the supply chain.

Figure 2: The inflection point in 2010

Source: Microsoft 10-K, STL Partners

The deployment of the A4 chip made possible two major product launches in 2010 – the iPhone 4, which would sell enormously more than any of the previous iPhones, and the iPad, which created an entirely new product category competing directly with the PC. Another Apple product launch that year, which also competed head-on with Microsoft, wasn’t quite as dramatic but was also very significant – the MacBook line began shipping with SSDs rather than hard disks, and the very popular 11” MacBook Air was added as an entry-level option. At the time, the PC industry and hence Microsoft was heavily committed to the Intel-backed netbooks, and the combination of the iPad and the 11” Air essentially destroyed the netbook as a product category.

The problems started in the consumer market, but the industry was beginning to recognise that innovations had begun to take hold in consumer and then diffuse into the enterprise. Further, the enterprise franchise centred on the Microsoft Business division and what was then termed Server & Tools[1] were both threatened by the increasing adoption of Apple products.

Microsoft had to respond, and it did so with a succession of dramatic initiatives. One was to rethink Windows as a tablet- or phone-optimised operating system, in Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. Another was to acquire Nokia’s smartphone business, and to diversify into hardware via the Xbox and Surface projects. And yet a third was to embrace the cloud. Figure 3 shows the results.

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • From Monopoly to Disruption
  • The push into mobile fails…but what about the cloud?
  • Changing Platforms: from Windows to Office
  • The Skype Acquisition: a missed opportunity?
  • Skype for Business and Office 365: the new platform
  • The rise of the consumer cloud
  • Bing may just about be breaking even…but the real story here is consumer cloud
  • Scaling out in the cloud
  • Conclusions: towards a communications-centric Microsoft

 

  • Figure 1: MS revenue is growing steadily but margin erosion undermines it
  • Figure 2: The inflection point in 2010
  • Figure 3: Revenue by product category at Microsoft, last 2 years
  • Figure 4: Cloud and the Enterprise drive profitability at Microsoft
  • Figure 5: Cloud is the driver of growth at Microsoft
  • Figure 6: Internally-developed hardware and cloud services are improving their margins
  • Figure 7: The Nokia Devices & Services business slides into loss
  • Figure 8: In 2011, an unifying API appeared critical for Skype’s future within Microsoft
  • Figure 9: Cloud is now over $8bn a year in revenue
  • Figure 10: Spot the deliberate mistake. No mention of Bing’s profitability or otherwise
  • Figure 11: Bing was a money pit for years, but may have begun to improve
  • Figure 12: The app store and consumer cloud businesses are performing superbly

Google’s MVNO: What’s Behind it and What are the Implications?

Google’s core business is under pressure

Google, the undisputed leader in online advertising and tech industry icon, has more problems than you might think. The grand narrative is captured in the following chart, showing basic annual financial metrics for Google, Inc. between 2009 and 2014.

Figure 1: Google’s margins have eroded substantially over time

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K filing

This is essentially the classic problem of commoditisation. The IT industry has been structurally deflationary throughout its existence, which has always posed problems for its biggest successes – how do you maintain profitability in a business where prices only ever fall? Google is growing in terms of volume, but its margins are sliding, and as a result, profitability is growing much more slowly than revenue. Since 2010, the operating margin has shrunk from around 35% to around 25%, a period during which a major competitor emerged (Facebook) and Google initiated a variety of major investments, research projects, and flirted with manufacturing hardware (through the Motorola acquisition).

And it could get worse. In its most recent 10-K filing, Google says: “We anticipate downward pressure on our operating margin in the future.” It cites increasing competition and increased expenditures, while noting that it is becoming more reliant on lower margin products: “The margin on the sale of digital content and apps, advertising revenues from mobile devices and newer advertising formats are generally less than the margin on revenues we generate from advertising on our websites on traditional formats.”

Google remains massively dependent on a commoditising advertising business

Google is very, very dependent on selling advertising for revenue. It does earn some revenue from content, but most of this is generated from the ContentID program, which places adverts on copyrighted material and shares revenue with the rightsholder, and therefore, amounts to much the same thing. Over the past two years, Google has actually become more advert-dominated, as Figure 2 shows. Advertising revenues are not only vastly greater than non-advertising revenues, they are growing much faster and increasing as a share of the total. Over- reliance on the fickle and fast changing advertising market is obviously risky. Also, while ad brokering is considered a high-margin business, Google’s margins are now at the same level as AT&T’s.

Figure 2: Not only is Google overwhelmingly dependent on advertising, advertising revenue is growing faster than non-advertising

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

The growth rate of non-advertising revenue at Google has slowed sharply since last year. It is now growing more slowly than either advertising on Google properties, or in the Google affiliate network (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Google’s new-line businesses are growing slower than the core business

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

At the same time, the balance has shifted a little between Google’s own properties (such as Google.com) and its affiliate network. Historically, more and more Google revenue has come from its own inventory and less from placing ads on partner sites. Costs arise from the affiliate network because Google pays out revenue share to the partner sites, known as traffic-acquisition costs or TACs. Own-account ad inventory, however, isn’t free – Google has to create products to place advertising in, and this causes it to incur R&D expenditures.

In a real sense, R&D is the equivalent to TAC for the 60-odd per cent of Google’s business that occurs on its own web sites. Google engineering excellence, and perhaps economies of scale, mean that generating ad inventory via product creation might be a better deal than paying out revenue share to hordes of bloggers or app developers, and Figure 4 shows this is indeed the case. R&D makes up a much smaller percentage of revenue from Google properties than TAC does of revenue from the affiliate network.

Figure 4: R&D is a more efficient means of generating ad inventory than affiliate payouts

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

Note, that although TAC might well be rising, the spike for Q4 2014 is probably a seasonal effect – Q4 is likely to be a month when a lot of adverts get clicked across the web.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Google’s core business is under pressure
  • Google remains massively dependent on a commoditising advertising business
  • Google spends far more on R&D and capex than Apple
  • But while costs soar, Google ad pricing is falling
  • Google also has very high running costs
  • The threats from Facebook and Apple are real
  • Google MVNO: a strategic initiative
  • What do you need to make a mini-carrier?
  • The Google MVNO will launch into a state of price war
  • How low could the Google MVNO’s prices be?
  • Google’s MVNO: The Strategic Rationale
  • Option 1: Ads
  • Option 2: Straightforward carrier business model
  • Option 3: Android-style strategic initiative vs MNOs
  • Option 4: Anti-Apple virus, 2.0
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Google’s margins have eroded substantially over time
  • Figure 2: Not only is Google overwhelmingly dependent on advertising, advertising revenue is growing faster than non-advertising
  • Figure 3: Growth in Google’s new-line businesses is now slower than in the core business
  • Figure 4: R&D is a more efficient means of generating ad inventory than affiliate payouts
  • Figure 5: Google spends a lot of money on research
  • Figure 6: Proportionately, Google research spending is even higher
  • Figure 7: Google’s dollar capex is almost identical to vastly bigger Apple’s
  • Figure 8: Google is startlingly capex-intensive compared to Apple, especially for an ad broker versus a global manufacturing titan
  • Figure 9: Google’s ad pricing is declining, and volume growth paused for most of 2014
  • Figure 10: Google is a more expensive company to run than Apple
  • Figure 11: The aircraft hangar Google leases from NASA
  • Figure 12: Facebook is pursuing quality over quantity in ad placement
  • Figure 12: Facebook is gradually closing the gap on Google in digital advertising
  • Figure 14: Despite a huge revenue quarter, Facebook’s Q4 saw a sharp hit to margin
  • Figure 15: Facebook’s margin hit is explained by the rise in R&D spending
  • Figure 16: Apple’s triumph – a terrible Q4 for the Android ecosystem
  • Figure 17: Price disruption in France and in the United States
  • Figure 18: Price disruption in the US – this is only the beginning
  • Figure 19: Defending AT&T and Verizon Wireless’ ARPU comes at a price
  • Figure 20: Modelling the service price of a mini-carrier
  • Figure 21: A high WiFi offload rate could make Google’s pricing aggressive
  • Figure 21: Handset subsidies are alive and well at T-Mobile