Telco plays in live entertainment

Enhancing live entertainment

Live entertainment spans everything from a handful of people enjoying stand-up comedy in a pub to a football match attended by 100,000 fans. Although there are many different forms and formats of live entertainment, they share three inter-related characteristics – immediacy, interactivity and immersion. The performers make things happen and people tend to react, by clapping, shouting, singing or gesticulating at the performers or by interacting with each other. A compelling event will also be immersive in the sense that the spectators will focus entirely on the action.

For telcos, live events present specific challenges and opportunities. Simultaneously providing millions of people with high quality images and audio from live events can soak up large amounts of bandwidth on networks, forcing telcos to invest in additional capacity. Yet, it should be feasible to make a return on that investment: live events are an enormously popular form of entertainment on which people around the world are prepared to spend vast sums of money. This is a market where demand often outstrips supply: tickets for top tier sports events or music concerts can cost US$150 or more.

With the advent of 5G and Wi-Fi 6E, telcos have an opportunity to improve spectators’ enjoyment of live events both within a venue and in remote locations. Indeed, telcos could play a key role in enabling many more people to both participate in and appreciate live entertainment, thereby helping them to enjoy more fulfilling and enriching lives.

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The opportunities to use new technologies to enhance live events

Live entertainment

Source: STL Partners

More broadly, telecoms networks and related services have become fundamental to the smooth running of our increasingly digital economy. Our landmark report The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms explained how reliable and ubiquitous connectivity can enable companies and consumers to use digital technologies to efficiently allocate and source assets and resources. In the case of live entertainment, telcos can help people to make better use of their leisure time – a precious and very finite resource for most individuals.

This report begins by providing an overview of the live entertainment opportunity for telcos, outlining the services they could provide to support both professional and amateur events. It then considers the growing demand for high-definition, 360-degree coverage of live events, before discussing why it is increasingly important to deliver footage in real-time, rather than near real-time. Subsequent sections explore the expanding role of edge computing in facilitating live broadcasts and how augmented reality and virtual reality could be used to create more immersive and interactive experiences.

This report draws on the experiences and actions of AT&T, BT, NTT and Verizon, which are all very active in the coverage of live sports. It also builds on previous STL Partners research including:

Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Opportunities to enhance live entertainment
    • Amateur entertainment – a B2C play
  • Delivering high-definition/360-degree video
    • New broadcast technologies
    • Real-time encoding and compression
    • Traffic management and net neutrality
  • Real real-time coverage and stats
    • More data and more stats
    • Personalised advertising and offers
  • Edge computing and the in-event experience
    • Refereeing automation/support
    • In-venue security and safety
    • Wi-Fi versus 5G
  • Augmented reality – blurring the lines
  • Conclusions
    • Tech can enrich people’s experience of live events
    • The role of telcos
  • Index

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SDN / NFV: Early Telco Leaders in the Enterprise Market

Introduction

This report builds on a number of previous analyses of the progress and impact of SDN (Software-Defined Networking) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), both in the enterprise market and in telecoms more generally. In particular, this briefing aims to explore in more detail the market potential and dynamics of two new SDN / NFV-based enterprise services that were discussed as part of an analysis of revenue opportunities presented by ‘telco cloud’ services.

These two services are ‘Network as a Service’ (NaaS) and ‘enterprise virtual CPE’ (vCPE). ‘Network as a Service’ refers to any service that enables enterprise customers to directly configure the parameters of their corporate network, including via a user-friendly portal or APIs. This particularly involves the facility to scale up or down the bandwidth available on network links – either on a near-real-time or scheduled basis – and to establish new network connections on demand, e.g. between business sites and / or data centers. Examples of NaaS include AT&T’s Network On Demand portfolio and Telstra’s PEN service, both of which are discussed further below.

‘Enterprise virtual CPE’, as the name suggests, involves virtualizing dedicated networking equipment sited traditionally at the enterprise premises, so as to offer equivalent functionality in the form of virtual network appliances in the cloud, delivered over COTS hardware. Virtual network functions (VNFs) offered in this form typically include routing, firewalls, VPN, WAN optimization, and others; and the benefit to telcos of offering vCPE is that it provides a platform to easily cross- and upsell additional functionality, particularly in the areas of application and network performance and security.

The abbreviation ‘vCPE’ is also used for consumer virtual CPE, which involves replacing complicated routers, TV set-top boxes and gateway equipment used in the home with simplified devices running equivalent functions from the cloud. For the purposes of this report, when we use the term ‘vCPE’, we refer to the enterprise version of the term, unless otherwise stated.

The reason why this report focuses on NaaS and vCPE is that more commercial services of these types have been launched or are planned than is the case with any other SDN / NFV-dependent enterprise service. Consequently, the business models are becoming more evident, and it is possible to make an assessment of the revenue potential of these services.

Our briefing ‘New Revenue Growth from Telco Cloud’ (published in April 2016) modeled the potential impact of SDN / NFV-based services on the revenues of a large illustrative telco with a significant presence in both fixed and mobile, and enterprise and consumer, segments in a developed market similar to the UK. This concluded that such a telco introducing all of the SDN / NFV services that are expected to become commercially mature over the period 2017 to 2021 could expect to generate a monthly revenue uplift of some X% (actual figures available in full report) by the end of 2021 compared with the base case of failing to launch any such service.

Including only revenues directly attributable to the new services (as opposed to ‘core revenues’ – e.g. from traditional voice and data services – that are boosted by reduced churn and net customer additions deriving from the new services), vCPE and NaaS represent the two largest sources of new revenue: Y and Z percentage points respectively out of the total X% net revenue increase deriving from SDN / NFV, as illustrated in Figure 1 (Figure not shown – actual figures available in full report).

Figure 1: Telco X – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)

Figure not shown – available in full report

Source: STL Partners analysis

In terms of NaaS and vCPE specifically, the model assumes that Telco X will begin to roll out these services commercially in January and February 2017 respectively. This is a realistic timetable for some in our view, as several commercial NaaS and vCPE offerings have already been launched, and future launches have been announced, by telcos across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

In the rest of this briefing, we will:

  • present the main current and planned NaaS and vCPE services
  • analyze the market opportunities and competitive threats they are responding to
  • analyze in more detail the different types and combinations of NaaS and vCPE offerings, and their business models
  • assess these services’ potential to grow telco revenues and market share
  • and review how these offerings fit within operators’ overall virtualization journeys.

We will conclude with an overall assessment of the prospects for NaaS and vCPE: the opportunities, and also the risks of inaction.

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Current and planned NaaS and vCPE products
  • Opportunities and threats addressed by NaaS and vCPE
  • NaaS and vCPE: emerging offers and business models
  • Revenue growth potential of NaaS and vCPE
  • Relationship between SDN / NFV deployment strategy and operator type
  • Conclusion: NaaS and vCPE – a short-term window of opportunity to a long-term virtual future

 

  • Figure 1: Telco X – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)
  • Figure 2: Leading current and planned commercial NaaS and vCPE services
  • Figure 3: Cumulative NaaS and vCPE launches, 2013-16
  • Figure 4: Verizon SD-WAN as part of Virtual Network Services vCPE offering
  • Figure 5: COLT’s cloud-native VPN and vCPE
  • Figure 6: Evolution of vCPE delivery modes
  • Figure 7: SD-WAN-like NaaS versus SD-WAN
  • Figure 8: Base case shows declining revenues
  • Figure 9: Telco X – Telco Cloud services increase monthly revenues by X% on the base case by Dec 2021
  • Figure 10: NaaS and vCPE deployments by operator type and overall SDN / NFV strategy
  • Figure 11: Progression from more to less hybrid deployment of NaaS and vCPE across the telco WAN

Telco NFV & SDN Deployment Strategies: Six Emerging Segments

Introduction

STL Partners’ previous NFV and SDN research

This report continues the analysis of three previous reports in exploring the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) journeys of several major telcos worldwide, and adds insights from subsequent research and industry discussions.

The first two reports that STL Partners produced contained detailed discussion of the operators that have publicly engaged most comprehensively with NFV: Telefónica and AT&T.

Telefónica embarked on an ambitious virtualization program, dubbed ‘UNICA’, toward the start of 2014; but its progress during 2014 and 2015 was impeded by internal divisions, lack of leadership from top management, and disagreement over the fundamental technology roadmap. As a result, Telefónica has failed to put any VNFs (Virtualized Network Functions) into production; although it continues to be a major contributor to industry efforts to develop open NFV standards.

By contrast, AT&T’s virtualization program, the User-Defined Network Cloud (UDNC) – launched at the same time as Telefónica’s, in February 2014 – has already contributed to a substantial volume of live NFV deployments, including on-demand networking products for enterprise customers and virtual EPC (Enhanced Packet Core) supporting mobile data and connected car services. AT&T’s activities have been driven from board level, with a very focused vision of the overall transformation that is being attempted – organizational as much as technological – and the strategic objectives that underlie it: those of achieving the agility, scalability and cost efficiency required to compete with web-scale players in both enterprise and consumer markets.

The third report in the series – ‘7 NFV Hurdles: How DTAG, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast have tackled them’  – extended the analysis to the SDN and NFV deployment efforts of several other major operators. The report arrived at a provisional model for the stages of the SDN / NFV transformation process, outlined in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The SDN-NFV Transformation Process

The transformation process outlined in the chart suggests that elaborating the overall SDN architecture should ideally precede the NFV process: logically if not always chronologically. This is because it is essential to have a vision of the ‘final’ destination, even if – or especially as – operators are navigating their way through a shifting myriad of technology choices, internal change programs, engagements with vendor and open-source ecosystems, priorities and opportunities for virtualization, legacy system migration models, and processes for service and business remodeling.

The focus of this report

This report re-examines some of the analysis undertaken on the players above, along with some additional players, to derive a more fine-grained understanding of the virtualization journeys of different types of telco.

We examine these journeys in relation to five dimensions and the analysis focuses on the choices operators have made in these areas, and how things have turned out so far. This, in turn, allows us to pinpoint six telco segments for SDN and NFV deployment.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to SDN and NFV. However, because the operators we examine have a similar rationale for engaging in SDN- and NFV-led transformation and display sufficient commonality in their approach to deployment, STL Partners has been able to make three core best-practice implementation recommendations.

 

  • Executive summary
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • STL Partners’ previous NFV and SDN research
  • The focus of this report
  • Virtualization journeys: 6 telco segments
  • The Story So Far: AT&T and Telefónica
  • ‘NFV Business Model Transformation Pioneers’: BT, China Mobile, NTT and Verizon
  • ‘Smart Piper Incumbent’: AT&T and Deutsche Telekom
  • ‘Fly Blind Incumbent’: Telefónica and Swisscom
  • ‘Agile Adopter’: Tele2
  • ‘Utilitarian adopters’: Vodafone and SingTel
  • ‘Cableco 2.0’: Comcast and Liberty Global
  • Conclusion and Best Practice Recommendations

7 NFV Hurdles: How DTAG, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast Have Tackled Them

Introduction

This report is one of a series analyzing the progress made by leading operators in the application of NFV and SDN, and the lessons learned so far. The two most recent reports, AT&T: Fast Pivot to the NFV Future and Telefónica’s NFV: An Empire Divided? provided insights into those companies’ successes and challenges in this regard. These reports also build on the insights from our Telco 2.0 Transformation and Enterprise Cloud and ICT Research Streams.

No other Tier One operator has committed itself publicly to ambitious virtualization targets along the lines of Telefónica or AT&T. However, this does not mean that operators are not planning, or indeed have not already embarked on, similar transformation programs, with virtualization thus far proceeding mainly on an element-by-element and service-by-service basis. The migration to increasingly software-defined networks (SDNs) and the implementation of network functions virtualization (NFV) are now an unavoidable direction of the road ahead; and no operator that seriously intends to survive in the long term is not already drawing up a roadmap.

This report examines some of the potential road blocks in the way of NFV, which account in part for the caution displayed by other big operators about embarking on major virtualization programs and broadcasting what they are doing. These questions are discussed in relation to Deutsche Telekom, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom, and Comcast, and how those operators have addressed some of the challenges.

Our next report will bring together high level recommendations for operators based on these and other analyses, to outline a roadmap for best practice in this particular aspect of the transformation of the telecoms industry to new business models.

What’s holding back NFV?

1. Operators have been laying the SDN foundations

One of the reasons why no other Tier One operator is emulating either Telefónica’s or AT&T’s approach is that many operators have been taking their time to elaborate and implement their overall SDN, NFV and cloud strategies. Many potential and actual approaches to the dual challenge of SDN and NFV exist, depending on the overall strategic objectives. The approach favored by some of the operators reviewed here has been to elaborate the SDN framework as a precursor to virtualizing particular network functions – although there are different paths that can be followed in working through the technological challenges; and in practice, the roadmap is never fully plotted out until the twists and turns of the journey have been charted.

The logical reason why SDN has been seen by many as a preliminary to NFV is that, put briefly, SDN offers more flexible and efficient ways to design, test, build and operate IP networks. It does this by separating out the intelligence about how the network operates, and how traffic flows, from the networking device, and placing it in a single controller with a perspective of the entire network. Taking the ‘intelligence’ out of many individual components also means that it is possible to build and buy those components for less, thus reducing some costs in the network.

Like SDN, NFV splits the control functions from the data forwarding functions. However, while SDN typically does this for the switches making up a local-area network, for example in a data center, NFV focuses specifically on wide-area network functions like routing, firewalls, load balancing, CPE, etc. Both SDN and NFV aim to leverage developments in Common Off The Shelf (COTS) hardware, such as generic server platforms utilizing multi-core CPUs, or merchant switch systems-on-chips, which are used to host and deliver those functions as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs).

Figure 1: Moving to SDN sets the scene for NFV

Source: STL Partners

SDN can consequently be viewed a prerequisite for NFV: enabling virtualized network functions (VNFs) to be deployed in the most effective and resource-efficient way as part of an overall network management framework in which infrastructure and computing resources are allocated dynamically to support fluctuating service usage and network demand.

A perhaps more fundamental – even ‘existential’ – reason why SDN can be seen as ‘coming before’ NFV is that the SDN framework defines what the communications network actually is in the new software-centric and IP-centric universe. Once network functionality is stripped out of the dedicated hardware that has traditionally run it and is pushed out into the cloud in the form of virtualized functions, then the telecoms network itself has in effect become merely a virtual network that anyone can in theory replicate with relative ease. SDN is the glue that binds all of the distributed, cloud-based functionality together and makes it operate as (if it were) a traditional telecoms network: delivering equivalent and ultimately superior levels of performance to networks running on dedicated hardware.

SDN is, then, in both senses – operational and existential – what enables operators to remain in control of the new virtualized networks. Operators have therefore been understandably cautious about embarking on NFV before their SDN frameworks are in place. And this process is being protracted still further because the industry in general has still not reached agreement on open SDN and NFV standards.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • What’s holding back NFV?
  • 1. Operators have been laying the SDN foundations
  • 2. Operators have started from the enterprise and the cloud
  • 3. Operators are having to negotiate fundamental architectural issues as they go along
  • 4. OSS / BSS evolution and integration: Swisscom and Comcast
  • 5. Security
  • 6. Limited-scope NFV
  • 7. Skill sets and culture change
  • 2015: the year the foundations of NFV were laid?

 

  • Figure 1: Moving to SDN sets the scene for NFV
  • Figure 2: The new network is built out of the cloud-based SDN
  • Figure 3: Multi-vendor VNF integration process for Vodafone Italy’s VoLTE deployment
  • Figure 4: Collapsing classic BSS / OSS hierarchies through SDN and NFV
  • Figure 5: Re-engineering the cable network
  • Figure 6: The Emerging SDN-NFV Transformation Process

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telcos can and do disrupt

In the digital economy, innovative start-ups, such as Spotify, Twitter, Instagram and the four big Internet platforms (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) are generally considered to be the main agents of disruption. Start-ups tend to apply digital technologies in innovative new ways, while the major Internet platforms use their economies of scale and scope to disrupt markets and established businesses. These moves sometimes involve the deployment of new business models that can fundamentally change the modus operandi of entire industries, such as music, publishing and video gaming.

However, these digital natives don’t have a monopoly on disruption. So-called old economy companies do sometimes successfully disrupt either their own sector or adjacent sectors. In some cases, incumbents are actually well placed to drive disruption. As STL Partners has detailed in earlier reports, telcos, in particular, have many of the assets required to disrupt other industries, such as financial services, electronic commerce, healthcare and utilities. As well as owning the underlying infrastructure of the digital economy, telcos have extensive distribution networks and frequent interactions with large numbers of consumers and businesses.

Although established telcos have generally been cautious about pursuing disruption, several have succeeded in creating entirely new value propositions, effectively disrupting either their core business or adjacent industry sectors. In some cases, disruptive moves by telcos have primarily been defensive in that their main objective is to reduce churn in the core business. In other cases, telcos have gone on the offensive, moving into new markets in search of new revenues (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos

Source: STL Partners

 

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

Offensive, major financial impact 

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

SK Planet – an ambitious mobile commerce play

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


Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The value of “Smart Pipes” to mobile network operators

Preface

Rationale and hypothesis for this report

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

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

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

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

Sponsorship and editorial independence

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

About Tellabs

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

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

Executive Summary

Mobile operators no longer growth stocks

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

Two ‘smart pipes’ strategies available to operators

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

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

Porter

Strategy

Telco 2.0 strategy

Nature of smartness

Characteristics

Cost leadership

Happy Pipe

Smart network

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

Differentiation

Full-service Telco 2.0

Smart services

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

Source: STL Partners

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

Smart network strategy good, smart services strategy better

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

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

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

Telco 2.0 strategy

Nature of smartness

Cash Returns on Invested Capital

As-is – Telco 1.0

Low – relatively dumb

5.8%

Happy Pipe

Smart network

7.4%

Full-service Telco 2.0

Smart services

13.3%

Source: STL Partners

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

Opportunity Type

Approach

Typical Services

Core Services

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

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

Vertical industry solutions (SI)

Delivery of ICT projects and support to vertical enterprise sectors.

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

Infrastructure services

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

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

Embedded communications

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

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

Third-pary business enablers

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

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

Own-brand OTT services

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

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


Source: STL Partners

Regional approaches to smartness vary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implementing a Telco 2.0 strategy is important but challenging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and recommendations

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

Category

Importance for delivering smart strategy

Relative ease of implementation

Must get right

High

Easy

Strive for new role

High

Difficult

Housekeeping

Low

Easy

Forget

Low

Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Report Contents

 

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

Report Figures

 

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