Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker: 5G core deep dive

Deep dive: 5G core deployments 

In this July 2022 update to STL Partners’ Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker, we present granular information on 5G core launches. They fall into three categories:

  • 5G Non-standalone core (5G NSA core) deployments: The 5G NSA core (agreed as part of 3GPP Release in December 2017), involves using a virtualised and upgraded version of the existing 4G core (or EPC) to support 5G New Radio (NR) wireless transmission in tandem with existing LTE services. This was the first form of 5G to be launched and still accounts for 75% of all 5G core network deployments in our Tracker.
  • 5G Standalone core (5G SA core) deployments: The SA core is a completely new and 5G-only core. It has a simplified, cloud-native and distributed architecture, and is designed to support services and functions such as network slicing, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) and enhanced Machine-Type Communications (eMTC, i.e. massive IoT). Our Tracker indicates that the upcoming wave of 5G core deployments in 2022 and 2023 will be mostly 5G SA core.
  • Converged 5G NSA/SA core deployments: this is when a dual-mode NSA and SA platform is deployed; in most cases, the NSA core results from the upgrade of an existing LTE core (EPC) to support 5G signalling and radio. The principle behind a converged NSA/SA core is the ability to orchestrate different combinations of containerised network functions, and automatically and dynamically flip over from an NSA to an SA configuration, in tandem – for example – with other features and services such as Dynamic Spectrum Sharing and the needs of different network slices. For this reason, launching a converged NSA/SA platform is a marker of a more cloud-native approach in comparison with a simple 5G NSA launch. Ericsson is the most commonly found vendor for this type of platform with a handful coming from Huawei, Samsung and WorkingGroupTwo. Albeit interesting, converged 5G NSA/SA core deployments remain a minority (7% of all 5G core deployments over the 2018-2023 period) and most of our commentary will therefore focus on 5G NSA and 5G SA core launches.

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75% of 5G cores are still Non-standalone (NSA)

Global 5G core deployments by type, 2018–23

  • There is renewed activity this year in 5G core launches since the total number of 5G core deployments so far in 2022 (effective and in progress) stands at 49, above the 47 logged in the whole of 2021. At the very least, total 5G deployments in 2022 will settle between the level of 2021 and the peak of 2020 (97).
  • 5G in whichever form now exists in most places where it was both in demand and affordable; but there remain large economies where it is yet to be launched: Turkey, Russia and most notably India. It also remains to be launched in most of Africa.
  • In countries with 5G, the next phase of launches, which will see the migration of NSA to SA cores, has yet to take place on a significant scale.
  • To date, 75% of all 5G cores are NSA. However, 5G SA will outstrip NSA in terms of deployments in 2022 and represent 24 of the 49 launches this year, or 34 if one includes converged NSA/SA cores as part of the total.
  • All but one of the 5G launches announced for 2023 are standalone; they all involve Tier-1 MNOs including Orange (in its European footprint involving Ericsson and Nokia), NTT Docomo in Japan and Verizon in the US.

The upcoming wave of SA core (and open / vRAN) represents an evolution towards cloud-native

  • Cloud-native functions or CNFs are software designed from the ground up for deployment and operation in the cloud with:​
  • Portability across any hardware infrastructure or virtualisation platform​
  • Modularity and openness, with components from multiple vendors able to be flexibly swapped in and out based on a shared set of compute and OS resources, and open APIs (in particular, via software ‘containers’)​
  • Automated orchestration and lifecycle management, with individual micro-services (software sub-components) able to be independently modified / upgraded, and automatically re-orchestrated and service-chained based on a persistent, API-based, ‘declarative’ framework (one which states the desired outcome, with the service chain organising itself to deliver the outcome in the most efficient way)​
  • Compute, resource, and software efficiency: as a concomitant of the automated, lean and logically optimal characteristics described above, CNFs are more efficient (both functionally and in terms of operating costs) and consume fewer compute and energy resources.​
  • Scalability and flexibility, as individual functions (for example, distributed user plane functions in 5G networks) can be scaled up or down instantly and dynamically in response to overall traffic flows or the needs of individual services​
  • Programmability, as network functions are now entirely based on software components that can be programmed and combined in a highly flexible manner in accordance with the needs of individual services and use contexts, via open APIs.​

Previous telco cloud tracker releases and related research

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

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How can telcos be loved?

Why should telcos care about being a ‘loved brand’?

If you are from an engineering or financial background, it can be tempting to look at branding and think it is a trivial or ‘soft’ aspect of business. This is valid in the sense that perceptions are inherently subjective, but this subjectivity does not mean that such perceptions are unimportant. People respond very strongly and instinctively to emotional stimuli. These responses are deep in our nature. We have evolved to quickly learn the characteristics of things that we want to repeat; the things we like. This extends to social behaviours too: Who do we want to be with, and be seen to be with? Which ‘tribe’ are we in, and who do we associate with?

Businesses have learnt a lot about this, because it has proved hugely valuable to the best practitioners, and the study and practices of marketing, advertising and branding have developed significantly in the past seventy years as a result. To be a ‘loved brand’ is a shorthand description of the ideal state.

What is a loved brand and what are the advantages?

Loved brands create strong emotional bonds with their customers, through a set of values and beliefs that customers can identify with and incorporate into their daily lives. In theory, businesses with loved brands have a range of advantages over others, which over time create significant financial benefits.

Business advantages for loved brands

Source: STL Partners

They enable businesses to charge a premium over other competitors as consumers pay less notice to the price of products sold by the loved brand.

  1. Loved brands can charge a premium over other competitors as consumers pay less notice to the price of products sold by the loved brand. Apple iPhones are generally more expensive than competitors’ phones with similar feature sets. However, many Apple customers remain loyal with the status of owning the latest iPhone outweighing the additional cost.
  2. The emotional bonds with loved brands can become so robust that their customers do not consider their competitors and forcefully defend the brand. Customers are even willing to forgive the brand for making some mistakes.In 2010, Ferrari recalled more than one thousand Italia 458 cars after reports that a design fault could cause them to catch fire.Despite the obvious negative publicity, which would have had a catastrophic consequence on many manufacturers, Ferrari’s strong emotional connection with its customers protected their position in the luxury car market.
  3. Customers become valuable promotors of loved brands on their social networks, pushing the benefits and encouraging others to join. Tesla provides a great illustration of this advantage, where many of the customers are not only delighted with their new electric vehicle, but they are also strong advocates in persuading their friends and family to purchase a Tesla for themselves.
  4. Loved brands attract the best talent, which helps the business to sustain its success.

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Loved brands
    • Why should telcos care about being a ‘loved brand’?
    • What is a loved brand and what are the advantages?
  • Challenges for telcos in being a loved brand
    • How are telcos viewed by their customers?
    • Why do telcos find it hard to be loved?
  • Common telco strategies that have had limited success to date
    • Focus on having the best network
    • Offering the lowest prices in the market
    • Differentiating on customer relationship
    • Offering content bundles
    • Launching new service innovation and diversification strategies
  • What strategies could telcos adopt to succeed going forward?
  • Case study 1: TELUS brand positioning
  • Case study 2: o2 Priority Moments
  • Case study 3: MTN – sustainable economic value
  • Case study 4: Telstra Health
  • Deep dive: What learnings can be drawn from successful strategies adopted by Orange
    • What has Orange done?
    • What has been the impact on Orange’s results?
    • How has strategy contributed to Orange being a loved brand?
    • What lessons are there for other operators?
  • How do others develop and sustain “the love”?
  • Recommendations for being a loved brand in the new era for telecoms
  • Index

Related research

 

MWC 2022: Sensing the winds of change

What did STL’s analysts find at MWC 2022?

This report is a collection of our analyst’s views of what they saw at the 2022 Mobile World Congress (MWC 2022). It comprises our analysts’ perspectives on its major themes:

  • How the industry is changing overall
  • The impact of the metaverse
  • New enterprise and consumer propositions
  • Progress towards telco cloud
  • Application of AI, automation and analytics (A3)

We would like to thank our partners at the GSMA for a good job done well. The GSMA say that there were 60,000 attendees this year, which is down from the 80-100k of 2019 but more than credible given the ongoing COVID-19 situation. It was nonetheless a vibrant and valuable event, and a great opportunity to see many wonderful people again face to face, and indeed, meet some great new ones.

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MWC 2022 in context of its time

It is impossible to write about MWC 2022 without putting it context of its time. It has taken place three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24th, 2022.

Speakers made numerous direct and indirect mentions of the war, and it was clear that a sense of sadness was felt by everyone we spoke to. This slightly offset the enthusiasm and warmth that we and many others felt on being back together in person, with our clients and the industry.

Broad support for the Ukraine was visible among many delegates and there was no Russian delegation. While totally appropriate, the Fira was a little poorer for that as one of the joys of MWC is its truly global embodiment of a vibrant industry.

We all hope for a speedy and peaceful resolution to that situation, and to see our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues again in peace soon. Sadly, as we write from and just after Barcelona, bombs and shells are falling on civilians on the same continent and the route to peace is not yet evident.

As this new and shocking war has come in Europe while COVID is still in a pandemic phase it is a reminder that change and challenge never ends. The telecoms industry responded well to COVID, and now it must again for this and all the challenges it will face in the future, which include further geopolitical risks and shocks and many more opportunities too.

The biggest opportunity for telecoms, and telcos in particular, is to build on the momentum of change rather than rest on its laurels. The threat is that it will settle for a low risk but ultimately lower value path of sticking to the same old same.  We look at the evidence for telcos successfully changing their mindset in New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets.

Connecting technologies

This is my 11th MWC. I came looking for what’s changed and what it means. This is what I found. Andrew Collinson, Managing Director, STL Partners Research.

Cross-dressing and role play

Trying to leave the war at the door, what else did we find at the Fira? One of the mind-bending tasks of walking through the cacophony of sights and sounds of a huge industry ecosystem on display is trying to make sense of what is going on. Who is here, and what are they trying to tell me?

First impressions count. The simple things about how companies present themselves initially mean a great deal. They often show the identity they are trying to project – who or what they are trying to be seen as more than all the detail put together. The first impression I got at MWC 2022 was that almost everyone was trying to dress like someone else.

Microsoft showed photos of cell towers on its stand while all the telco CEOs talked about the “new tech order” and becoming techcos. McKinsey talked about its ‘old friends’ in the telecoms industry and talked about sustainability on its hard-edged stand, while AWS had an advert on the frontage of the Fira and a stand in the “Four Years from Now” zone.

We’re all telcos / techcos now

We're all telcos techcos now

Source: STL Partners, AWS, Microsoft, McKinsey

It’s all about “connecting technologies”

Regular readers of STL’s material will have heard of the Coordination Age: our concept that there is a universal need for better use of resources which will be met in part by the application of connecting technologies (e.g. fibre, mobile, 5G, AI, automation, etc.).

Once upon a time, it was simply people that needed to be connected to each other. Now a huge variety of stuff needs connecting: e.g., devices, computer applications, business processes, business assets and people.

A big question in all this is whether operators have really understood how outdated their traditional operator centric view of the world has become as the industry has changed. Sure, new telecoms networks still need to be built and extended. But it isn’t just operators using licensed technologies that can do this anymore, and the value has increasingly moved to the players that can make all the stuff work: systems integrators and other technology and software players. We’ll cover operators’ mindsets more in the section titled New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets.

Private matters

Private networks was also a big area of focus at MWC 2022, and understandably so too as there is a lot of interest in the concept in various sectors, especially in ports and airports, mining, and manufacturing. Much of the interest for this comes from the hype around 5G which has attracted other industries to look at the technology. However, while there are some interesting developments in practice (for example Huawei and others at Shenzen port in China), many of the applications are at least as well served, and in some cases, better served by other connectivity technologies, e.g. Wi-Fi, wired connections, narrow-band IoT, and 3G / 4G, edge computing and combinations thereof. So 5G is far from the only horse in the race, and we will be looking closely at the boundary conditions and successful use cases for Private 5G in our future research.

Would you pay for “unexpected benefits”?

One great stumbling block for telcos and other business used to traditional business thinking has been “how do you make a business case for new technology?”

The classic telecoms route is to dig around for a cost-saving and revenue enhancement case and then try to bend the CFO’s ear until they give you some money to do your thing. This is fair enough, to a point.

The challenge is, what do you do when you don’t know what you are going to find and/or you can’t prove it? Or worse still, you can only prove it after everybody else in the market has proven it for you and you are then at a competitive disadvantage.

One story I saw and see elsewhere repeated endlessly is that of “unexpected benefits”. This was a phrase that Alison Kirkby, CEO Telia, used to describe what happened when the value of its population movement data was recognised by the Swedish Government during the COVID crisis. It had pulled together the data for one set of reasons, and suddenly this very compelling use came to light.

Another I heard from Qualcomm, which told of putting IoT driven shelf price signs in retail. Originally it was developed to help rapid repricing for consumers in store, then COVID struck a few weeks after installation. This meant people switched to online shopping and the stores were then mainly used by  pickers assembling orders for delivery. The retailer found that by using the signs to help the pickers assemble their loads faster they could make the process about a third more productive. That’s a lot in retail.

This is the reality of transformational business models and technologies. It is incredibly hard to foresee what is really going to work, and how. Even after some time with a new way of working new uses continue to emerge. That’s not to say that you can’t narrow it down a bit – and this is something we spend a lot of our time working on. However, a new thing I will be asking our analysts to help figure out is “how can you tell when and where there are likely to be unexpected benefits?”

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • MWC 2022 in context of its time
  • MWC 2022: Connecting technologies
    • Cross-dressing and role play
    • Would you pay for “unexpected benefits”?
    • Getting physical, getting heavy
    • Glasses are sexy (again)
    • Europe enviously eyes eastwards
  • New enterprise business: Opening, if not yet changed mindsets
    • Customer centricity: Starting to emerge
    • Becoming better partners: Talking the talk
    • New business models: Not quite there
  • The Metaverse: Does it really matter?
    • Can the Metaverse be trusted?
    • Exploding supply, uncertain quality
    • The non-fungible flexibility paradox
    • A coordinating role for telcos?
    • Don’t write it off, give it a go
  • Consumers: XR, sustainability and smarthome
    • Operators: Aiming for smart and sustainable
    • Vendors and techcos: Would you like AI with that?
    • More Metaverse, VR and AR
    • Other interesting finds: Commerce, identity, video
  • Telco Cloud: The painful gap between theory and practice
    • Brownfield operators are still on their virtualisation journey
    • Greenfield operators: Cloud native and automated from day one
    • Telcos on public could: Shall I, shant I?
  • AI and automation: Becoming adaptive
    • Looking out for good A3 use cases / case studies
    • Evidence of a maturing market?
    • Welcome signs of progress towards the Coordination Age

 

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VNFs on public cloud: Opportunity, not threat

VNF deployments on the hyperscale cloud are just beginning

Numerous collaboration agreements between hyperscalers and leading telcos, but few live VNF deployments to date

The past three years have seen many major telcos concluding collaboration agreements with the leading hyperscalers. These have involved one or more of five business models for the telco-hyperscaler relationship that we discussed in a previous report, and which are illustrated below:

Five business models for telco-hyperscaler partnerships

Source: STL Partners

In this report, we focus more narrowly on the deployment, delivery and operation by and to telcos of virtualised and cloud-native network functions (VNFs / CNFs) over the hyperscale public cloud. To date, there have been few instances of telcos delivering live, commercial services on the public network via VNFs hosted on the public cloud. STL Partners’ Telco Cloud Deployment Tracker contains eight examples of this, as illustrated below:

Major telcos deploying VNFs in the public cloud

Source: STL Partners

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Telcos are looking to generate returns from their telco cloud investments and maintain control over their ‘core business’

The telcos in the above table are all of comparable stature and ambition to the likes of AT&T and DISH in the realm of telco cloud but have a diametrically opposite stance when it comes to VNF deployment on public cloud. They have decided against large-scale public cloud deployments for a variety of reasons, including:

  • They have invested a considerable amount of money, time and human resources on their private clouddeployments, and they want and need to utilise the asset and generate the RoI.
  • Related to this, they have generated a large amount of intellectual property (IP) as a result of their DIY cloud– and VNF-development work. Clearly, they wish to realise the business benefits they sought to achieve through these efforts, such as cost and resource efficiencies, automation gains, enhanced flexibility and agility, and opportunities for both connectivityand edge compute service innovation. Apart from the opportunity cost of not realising these gains, it is demoralising for some CTO departments to contemplate surrendering the fruit of this effort in favour of a hyperscaler’s comparable cloud infrastructure, orchestration and management tools.
  • In addition, telcos have an opportunity to monetise that IP by marketing it to other telcos. The Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) marketed by Rakuten Symphony is an example of this: effectively, a telco providing a telco cloud platform on an NFaaS basis to third-party operators or enterprises – in competition to similar offerings that might be developed by hyperscalers. Accordingly, RCP will be hosted over private cloud facilities, not public cloud. But in theory, there is no reason why RCP could not in future be delivered over public cloud. In this case, Rakuten would be acting like any other vendor adapting its solutions to the hyperscale cloud.
  • In theory also, telcos could also offer their private telcoclouds as a platform, or wholesale or on-demand service, for third parties to source and run their own network functions (i.e. these would be hosted on the wholesale provider’s facilities, in contrast to the RCP, which is hosted on the client telco’s facilities). This would be a logical fit for telcos such as BT or Deutsche Telekom, which still operate as their respective countries’ communications backbone provider and primary wholesale provider

BT and Deutsche Telekom have also been among the telcos that have been most visibly hostile to the idea of running NFs powering their own public, mass-market services on the public and hyperscale cloud. And for most operators, this is the main concern making them cautious about deploying VNFs on the public cloud, let alone sourcing them from the cloud on an NFaaS basis: that this would be making the ‘core’ telco business and asset – the network – dependent on the technology roadmaps, operational competence and business priorities of the hyperscalers.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: VNF deployments on the hyperscale cloud are just beginning
    • Numerous collaboration agreements between hyperscalers and leading telcos, but few live VNF deployments to date
    • DISH and AT&T: AWS vs Azure; vendor-supported vs DIY; NaaCP vs net compute
  • Other DIY or vendor-supported best-of-breed players are not hosting VNFs on public cloud
    • Telcos are looking to generate returns from their telco cloud investments and maintain control over their ‘core business’
    • The reluctance to deploy VNFs on the cloud reflects a persistent, legacy concept of the telco
  • But NaaCP will drive more VNF deployments on public cloud, and opportunities for telcos
    • Multiple models for NaaCP present prospects for greater integration of cloud-native networks and public cloud
  • Conclusion: Convergence of network and cloud is inevitable – but not telcos’ defeat
  • Appendix

Related Research

 

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Are telcos smart enough to make money work?

Telco consumer financial services propositions

Telcos face a perplexing challenge in consumer markets. On the one hand, telcos’ standing with consumers has improved through the COVID-19 pandemic, and demand for connectivity is strong and continues to grow. On the other hand, most consumers are not spending more money with telcos because operators have yet to create compelling new propositions that they can charge more for. In the broadest sense, telcos need to (and can in our view) create more value for consumers and society more generally.

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As discussed in our previous research, we believe the world is now entering a “Coordination Age” in which multiple stakeholders will work together to maximize the potential of the planet’s natural and human resources. New technologies – 5G, analytics, AI, automation, cloud – are making it feasible to coordinate and optimise the allocation of resources in real-time. As providers of connectivity that generates vast amounts of relevant data, telcos can play an important role in enabling this coordination. Although some operators have found it difficult to expand beyond connectivity, the opportunity still exists and may actually be expanding.

In this report, we consider how telcos can support more efficient allocation of capital by playing in the financial services sector.  Financial services (banking) sits in a “sweet spot” for operators: economies of scale are available at a national level, connected technology can change the industry.

Financial Services in the Telecoms sweet spot

financial services

Source STL Partners

The financial services industry is undergoing major disruption brought about by a combination of digitisation and liberalisation – new legislation, such as the EU’s Payment Services Directive, is making it easier for new players to enter the banking market. And there is more disruption to come with the advent of digital currencies – China and the EU have both indicated that they will launch digital currencies, while the U.S. is mulling going down the same route.

A digital currency is intended to be a digital version of cash that is underpinned directly by the country’s central bank. Rather than owning notes or coins, you would own a deposit directly with the central bank. The idea is that a digital currency, in an increasingly cash-free society, would help ensure financial stability by enabling people to store at least some of their money with a trusted official platform, rather than a company or bank that might go bust. A digital currency could also make it easier to bring unbanked citizens (the majority of the world’s population) into the financial system, as central banks could issue digital currencies directly to individuals without them needing to have a commercial bank account. Telcos (and other online service providers) could help consumers to hold digital currency directly with a central bank.

Although the financial services industry has already experienced major upheaval, there is much more to come. “There’s no question that digital currencies and the underlying technology have the potential to drive the next wave in financial services,” Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal told investors in February 2021. “I think those technologies can help solve some of the fundamental problems of the system. The fact that there’s this huge prevalence and cost of cash, that there’s lack of access for so many parts of the population into the system, that there’s limited liquidity, there’s high friction in commerce and payments.”

In light of this ongoing disruption, this report reviews the efforts of various operators, such as Orange, Telefónica and Turkcell, to expand into consumer financial services, notably the provision of loans and insurance. A close analysis of their various initiatives offers pointers to the success criteria in this market, while also highlighting some of the potential pitfalls to avoid.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Potential business models
    • Who are you serving?
    • What are you doing for the people you serve?
    • M-Pesa – a springboard into an array of services
    • Docomo demonstrates what can be done
    • But the competition is fierce
  • Applying AI to lending and insurance
    • Analysing hundreds of data points
    • Upstart – one of the frontrunners in automated lending
    • Takeaways
  • From payments to financial portal
    • Takeaways
  • Turkcell goes broad and deep
    • Paycell has a foothold
    • Consumer finance takes a hit
    • Regulation moving in the right direction
    • Turkcell’s broader expansion plans
    • Takeaways
  • Telefónica targets quick loans
    • Growing competition
    • Elsewhere in Latin America
    • Takeaways
  • Momentum builds for Orange
    • The cost of Orange Bank
    • Takeaways
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Index

This report builds on earlier STL Partners research, including:

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Cloud gaming: What is the telco play?

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Drivers for cloud gaming services

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

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

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

5G can support cloud gaming traffic growth

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

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A complicated ecosystem

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

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

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

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

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

What telcos can learn from Shadow’s cloud gaming proposition

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

Table of Contents

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

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Cashing in on the end of cash

Introduction

As the rapid expansion of the digital economy threatens to sweep away coins and notes, telcos could be one of the major players in the transition to a cashless society. In the emerging Coordination Age (see STL Partners report: Telco 2030: New purpose, strategy and business models for the Coordination Age), telcos are well placed to help consumers and companies interact and transact far more efficiently and effectively than they have in the past.

This report explores what the global shift away from cash means for telcos and their partners. It identifies the factors driving the transition from cash payments to electronic transactions, considering the perspective of governments, banks, merchants and consumers, before explaining why cash might cling on at the margins.

The report then outlines the progress mobile operators are making in payments and financial services, drawing on examples from Africa, Asia and Europe. It also considers some of the partnerships telcos are striking with Internet players to help overcome some of the obstacles curbing greater use of mobile payment services, before drawing conclusions and making recommendations.

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This executive briefing builds on previous STL Partners reports including:

Calling time on cash

Despite the widespread adoption of the Internet and the subsequent rapid growth of online commerce, almost 90% of global retail1 still takes place at a physical point of sale in a store or at market stall. Although many traditional high streets and shopping malls are struggling, the value of point of sales transactions continues to grow, as an expanding middle class spends money at everything from coffee shops and restaurants to leisure centres and theme parks.

As you would expect, growth in developing markets tends to be markedly quicker than in developed. In India, point of sale transactions (using all payment mechanisms) are set to rise from US$893 billion in 2018 to US$1.36 trillion in value in 2022 (growth of 53%), according to leading payment processor Worldpay. Whereas in the U.S., point of sale transactions are set to grow from US$7.96 trillion in 2018 to US$10.33 trillion in value in 2022 (growth of 30%), according to Worldpay.

Even with the expansion of the digital economy, many transactions worldwide still involve the face-toface exchange of coins and/or notes. Cash is used to complete almost one third of payments (by value) at point of sale worldwide today, according to payments technology company Worldpay. But it predicts that figure will fall to 17% in 2022 – a dramatic change in just four years. Worldpay projects “that cash will be supplanted by debit cards as the leading point of sale payment method in 2019, falling to fourth place in 2022 behind debit cards, credit cards, and eWallets.”

These trends reflect the fact that using cash is expensive, cumbersome, inefficient and opaque. Cash may eventually become an anachronism. At least, that is what many large stakeholders in the public and private sectors are hoping. There are multiple drivers steering governments, banks, merchants, consumers and banks away from cash.

Why governments don’t like cash

Governments have several inter-related reasons for wanting to reduce the use of cash:

  • Tackle the black market: As cash is untraceable, it can facilitate crime, such as the trading of illegal or smuggled goods, and even terrorism. Governments periodically try and crack down on people who use large amounts of cash. In 2016, the government of India, for example, suddenly announced it was replacing 500 and 1,000 rupee notes (US$7.50 and US$15 respectively) with new notes in an effort to identify black marketers. People could exchange the old notes at banks, but those with large holdings had to account for the source of their cash. However, such measures only work up to a point: eradicating cash won’t eradicate crime. If necessary, criminals can always store and barter goods (e.g. drugs or guns), rather than hoarding cash.
  • Reduce corruption: In some countries, cash payments to and from the public sector are often vulnerable to being siphoned off by unscrupulous officials or other middlemen. Conversely, the digitisation of government benefit payments creates an electronic trail that reduces the risk of fraud and theft, and thereby ensures the money goes where it is intended. In 2010, when the Afghan National Police began using a mobile money service to pay salaries instead of cash, they discovered that 10 per cent of salaries were being paid to fictitious police officers, while some officers were not receiving their salaries in full, according to a report by CNN.
  • Greater transparency and less tax evasion: Cash-in-hand payments can result in lost tax revenue, as the recipients fail to declare their income or don’t pay VAT.
  • Reduce costs: If governments can distribute cash digitally, it can save both the public agency and the recipients both time and expenses: In Niger, converting a cash transfer programme to mobile money saved recipients over 20 hours, as they spent less time travelling and waiting for their transfers3.
  • Digital leadership: Some governments want to position their countries as digitally advanced and see the drive to get rid of cash as a means to digitise services and drive adoption of digital IDs, which are a key enabler of the digital vision.
  • Increase state control: Some authoritarian states are likely to see the digitisation of payments as an opportunity to enhance state power, or at least enhance security.

However, in many cases, governments have to distribute or accept cash because many of their citizens still lack bank accounts. More than 60 million unbanked adults globally still receive government transfers, wages or pensions in cash, while 230 million unbanked adults work in the private sector and get paid in cash only, according to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution 2017.

Banks and merchants find cash costly

But the biggest driver behind the decline of cash could simply be the costs of the underlying infrastructure and merchants’ growing reluctance to accept cash. For a small retailer, bar or coffee shop, cash consumes time – it needs to be counted and taken to the bank. It also poses a security risk, whereas digital payments automatically end up in the merchant’s bank account and are very unlikely to go missing.

Cash is also a burden for the financial services ecosystem, which has to make ATMs and bank branches available. In the U.K., the Access to Cash Review, a report published in March 2019, warned: “As we stand, we have a cash infrastructure which is fast becoming unsustainable, with largely fixed costs, but where income is declining fast. Britain’s cash infrastructure costs around £5 billion a year to run, paid for predominantly by the retail banks, and run mostly by commercial operators. Much of this cost is currently fixed, whether in physical cash sorting centres or ATMs. But as cash use declines, the economics of the current cash model are becoming seriously challenged.”

Consumers’ mixed feelings about cash

Although some consumers may want to use cash to avoid taxes and maintain privacy, there are several reasons why they too might favour digital payments. Every deposit, withdrawal, transfer or payment made digitally creates a recorded financial history. These transparent transaction records can help protect customers’ rights – they can help prove that they have paid for a specific product or service. Moreover, using digital payments, rather than cash, can help individuals build a credit history, which could make it easier to get a loan. Digital records should also help consumers to monitor and budget their spending, although some studies have found that some forms of digital payments, such as contactless payment cards, can result in consumers spending more than if they were solely reliant on cash.

In the developing world, where credit scores are scarce, merchants are turning to digital mechanisms to help consumers pay in instalments for appliances, such as TVs, radios, lighting, cooking stoves and solar water pumps (all of which can increase household and agricultural productivity). In Kenya, for example, SunCulture enables farmers to pay for solar-powered irrigation pumps in instalments via a mobile money service. As a result, they can improve their productivity and, ultimately, their incomes. Farmers who use SunCulture have reported an average 300% increase in crop yield per year, according to a study by the mobile trade group GSMA.

A vicious circle for cash

While Worldpay point of sale data show cash is in steady decline, there are good reasons to believe it may actually be under-estimating the speed at which other payment methods will take over. In many markets, cash is approaching a potentially decisive tipping point. With consumers ambivalent and governments, merchants and banks all favouring alternatives, cash is in the grip of a vicious circle:

  • The deregulation of the banking system is increasing competition and putting pressure on banks to cut costs and close branches.
  • Small businesses find that the closure of bank branches makes it more expensive and riskier to handle cash. In some cases, merchants stop accepting cash or give people incentives to pay digitally.
  • As fewer merchants accept cash, consumers become increasingly reliant on digital alternatives.
  • As people use cash less and less, they make fewer visits to ATMs and bank branches.
  • Banks continue to close ATMs and branches, making it increasingly hard for anyone to keep using cash. Once the cash infrastructure in a specific locality has gone, everyone living in that area really much has to go digital.

If this vicious circle kicks in, providers of mobile payment services need to be ready for a very sharp fall in the usage of cash. In practice, that will mean upgrading back-end systems so they can handle large numbers of simultaneous transactions, while also preparing for a fresh competitive onslaught from new entrants hungry for potentially valuable transaction data.

 

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Calling time on cash
    • Why governments don’t like cash
    • Banks and merchants find cash costly
    • Consumers’ mixed feelings about cash
    • The rise of the electronic wallet
    • A vicious circle for cash
    • The convenience economy
    • Why cash might persist
  • Mobile operators’ financial services
    • M-Pesa makes mixed progress in Kenya
    • The importance of interoperability
    • Telcos as banks
  • Conversational commerce
  • Partnering with Internet players
    • Learning from China’s Internet platforms
    • Other partnerships between Internet players and telcos
  • Conclusions and recommendations

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Telco innovation: Why it is broken and how to fix it

Telcos have tried innovating in many verticals

Incumbent telecommunications providers have seen their margins fall as basic telecommunications services, both fixed and mobile, have been increasingly commoditised. The need to provide differentiated services to counteract this trend is widely recognised in the industry, yet despite considerable investment and many attempts, too often new services launched by operators have failed to deliver the anticipated results. Yet some, especially in mobile banking and related services, have proved successful. Why is this so?

This report focuses on product and service innovation for customers, rather than on innovation in sales, marketing, finance, operations or networks. It addresses the introduction of new and innovative services and not the repackaging of existing communications services, for example in new pricing and service bundles (see Figure 2).

It looks at examples from a range of services, covering most of the new types of services introduced by MNOs over the past decade. These include:

  • Messaging: RCS and its competitors
  • Mobile financial and insurance services: Orange Money / Orange Bank, Millicom/Tigo’s joint ventures
  • Health: O2 Telehealth, Telenor’s Tonic health service
  • Smart home: AT&T’s Digital Life, Deutsche Telekom’s Qivicon
  • Lifestyle: Turkcell’s range of apps and Vodacom’s Mezzanine

We have covered many of these individually in previous reports, looking at how they were developed and have evolved over time, and whether and why they are (or we expect them to be) successful.

This report seeks to identify the common factors that led to success or failure, in order to establish some best practices for telcos in innovation. While we recognise that there are often several causes of success and failure, in some cases a single failure can undo much good work.

Previous reports this one builds on include:

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Product development or true diversification: How ambitious should telcos be?

Historically, telcos have aimed to find new customers for existing telecoms services, where the their market is not yet saturated, or expanding geographically to achieve scale. However, most telecoms markets are now nearly saturated – at least in the areas that telcos can profitably reach – so true service innovation, corresponding to the right hand side on the figure below, is now a crucial component for long term revenue growth.

The seven telco innovations discussed in this report are shown on the figure below. It is worth noting the progression Orange has made in building on its experience with its mobile money service to providing full banking services. This is highlighted in the diagram by the arrow, and is discussed more fully in the body of this report.

Most telcos innovation falls in the product development category on the Ansoff matrix

Telco innovations plotted on the Ansoff matrix

Source: STL Partners. For more on market development opportunity, see STL Partners report Making big beautiful: Multinational telcos need the telco cloud

In theory, one of the most effective ways of maximising the chances of success, and achieving the scale required to make a significant impact on revenues and profitability, is for operators to select services that target a large part of their existing customer base.

However, our analysis of the telco innovations in this report shows that there is actually little correlation between the distance from telcos’ core customer base and level of success. This because by tying new products and services too closely to their existing customer bases, telcos are actually limiting their ability to scale. While this approach is intended to help them compete more effectively against their peers, by increasing loyalty for core telecoms services, in reality, any telco-driven product development innovation is likely to compete with network agnostic service providers. So while it may make sense to offer something only to existing customers at the start, to truly scale telcos need to reach a wider market.

Orange is a good example of this transition. While its mobile money services in Africa remain tied to its telecoms customer base, its move into full-fledge banking in France is separate from telecoms services. As it rolls out full banking services across its footprint, this separation is likely to become more entrenched.

Many of the examples discussed in the main body of the report, including AT&T’s Digital Life, Orange Money and O2’s Telehealth venture were set up as separate businesses, which allowed their initial development to progress well. But this was not enough on their own to make them successful.

How successful have telcos been?

Comparing telcos’ investments into service innovations shows that, too often, they have made bets on areas that seem like natural opportunities for new services, but failed to gain traction because they didn’t do a rigorous enough assessment of the conditions for success.

To succeed in innovation, telcos must evaluate proposed new services or products much more painstakingly across three areas:

  1. User needs and requirements: that the product or service meets a real user need. This breaks down into two points:
    • The product or servicemust be easy to use and fit into users’ lifestyles.
    • And at the right price point. Most consumer products need a free tier to encourage customers to try and engage before paying (if ever). In some cases, the end user might not be the payer, so if that is the case then telcos need to identify the payer and ensure the product is relevant and valuable for them, too.
  2. Market structure and characteristics: clear vision of where the ROI is coming from. There are two main options for ROI – increased customer loyalty and new revenue.
    • For loyalty, telcos need a clear means of measuring whether the product or service is improving retention.
    • If telcos are seeking to build new revenue, they need to be realistic about how long it will take to achieve profitability and the size of the opportunity. Too often, telcos give up because they deem a new venture not valuable enough compared with the core business..
  3. Business structure: deciding on whether to develop something in house, to set up a joint venture, or acquire, and what the relationship is with the core business. The further away a new product or service is from the core business, the more independence it needs to develop and grow.

In this report, we compare the approaches of seven telco innovations, drawing on in-depth analysis from previous STL Partners reports, summarised in the table below.

Strategy is more important that degree of difficult for successful innovation

Assessment of quality of strategy and execution for telco innovationsSource: STL Partners

Our analysis shows that the difficulty of the innovation, i.e. whether it is product development or diversification into a new vertical, is less important to success than doing the difficult strategy and planning work outlined above.

For instance, while RCS is very closely tied to telcos’ existing customers and services, the necessary cooperation between telcos to bring it to market in a way that is valuable to consumers and potential enterprise customers was unrealistic from the start. By constrast, Tonic’s health insurance proposition is very different from Telenor’s core telecoms services, but Tonic’s clear vision and strategy, and ability to adapt to customer needs, have underpinned its early success in Bangladesh.

Read the full report to see a detailed assessment of each innovation across the three categories.

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Why fibre is on fire again

Introduction

Fibre to the home is growing at a near-explosive rate

Every company faces the problems of mature markets, disappointing revenues and tough decisions on investment. Everyone agrees that fibre delivers the best network experience, but until recently most companies rejected fibre as too costly.

Now, 15 of the world’s largest phone companies have decided fibre to the home is a solution. Why are so many now investing so heavily?

Here are some highlight statistics:

  • On 26th July 2018, AT&T announced it will pass 5 million locations with fibre to the home in the next 12 months, after reaching 3 million new locations in the last year.[1] Fibre is now a proven money-maker for the US giant, bringing new customers every quarter.
  • Telefónica Spain has passed 20 million premises – over 70% of the addressable population – and continues at 2 million a year.
  • Telefónica Brazil is going from 7 million in 2018 to 10 million in 2020.
  • China’s three giants have 344 million locations connected.[2]
  • Worldwide FTTH connections grew 23% between Q1 2017 and Q1 2018.[3]
  • In June 2018, China Mobile added 4.63 million broadband customers, nearly all FTTH.[4]
  • European FTTH growth in 2017 was 20%.[5]
  • In India, Mukesh Ambani intends to connect 50 million homes at Reliance Jio.[6]

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Even the most reluctant carriers are now building, including Deutsche Telekom and British Telecom. In 2015, BT Openreach CTO Peter Bell said FTTH was “impossible” for Britain because it was too expensive.[7] Now, BT is hiring 3,500 engineers to connect 3 million premises, with 10 million more homes under consideration.[8]

Credit Suisse believes that for an incumbent, “The cost of building fibre is less than the cost of not building fibre.”

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Fibre to the home is growing at a near-explosive rate
  • Why the change?
  • Strategies of leading companies
  • Frontrunners
  • Moving toward rapid growth
  • Relative newcomer
  • The newly converted
  • Alternate carriers
  • Naysayers
  • U.S. regionals: CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream
  • The Asian pioneers
  • Two technologies to consider
  • Ten-gigabit equipment
  • G.fast
  • The hard question: How many will decide to go wireless only?

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Paris area fibre coverage – Orange has covered most of the capital
  • Figure 2: European fibre growth
  • Figure 3: Top five European incumbents, stock price July 2016 – July 2018
  • Figure 4: DT CEO Tim Höttges and Bavarian Prime Minister Dr. Markus Söder announce a deal to fibre nearly all of Bavaria, part financed by the government

[1] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/11-fib/715-at-t-fiber-run-rate-going-from-3m-to-5m-year

[2] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/8-fnn/713-china-1-1b-4g-400m-broadband-328m-fibre-home-rapid-growth

[3] http://point-topic.com/free-analysis/world-broadband-statistics-q1-2018/

[4] https://www.chinamobileltd.com/en/ir/operation_m.php

[5] http://www.ftthcouncil.eu/documents/PressReleases/2018/PR%20Market%20Panorama%20-%2015-02-2018-%20FINAL.pdf

[6] https://www.fastnet.news/index.php/11-fib/703-india-unreal-jio-wants-50m-ftth-in-1100-cities

[7] G.fast Summit May 2015

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/01/bt-openreach-hire-3000-engineers-drive-to-fill-broadband-not-spots

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Consumer IoT: How telcos can create new value

Introduction: Trust is a must for consumer IoT – but is consumer IoT a must for telcos?

Lack of trust is a major barrier to mass-market consumer IoT adoption

There was an expectation two to three years ago that take-up of consumer Internet of Things (IoT) services was set to accelerate, and that we would soon witness the success of mass market consumer IoT offers in areas such as energy management (linked to roll-outs of smart metering), home automation and security, and health and wellness applications (linked to wearables such as smart watches, fitness trackers and medical condition sensors). It was also widely expected that telcos would play a leading role in this market.

Although growth has occurred in these product areas, it has generally been below expectations. Everett M. Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory shows how the different stages of public acceptance a new product goes through, with successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), so its market share (yellow) eventually reaches saturation level. Looking at this theory, STL believes that consumer IoT is still in the “early adopter” stage.

Figure 1: Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory

Source: Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations, image from Wikipedia

In addition to this, telcos have tended to play a peripheral part in the market thus far, limited largely to providing the wireless and broadband connectivity supporting third-party products developed by players focused on adjacent vertical markets. Already the focus of telcos’ IoT strategies seems to have been redirected to enterprise and industrial IoT applications, along with the rapidly maturing connected car and smart cities markets, judging from the wave of new product and partnership announcements in these areas at recent trade shows, such as this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite this, we believe that consumer IoT could still represent a large addressable market for telcos, based on data presented in chapter 3.

There are many reasons for the levelling of the expected consumer IoT growth curve, some of which we will explore in this report. In terms of definitions, we are limiting the term ‘consumer IoT’ to ‘consumer-centric’ applications and services, whether these are deployed primarily in the home (such as home automation and security) or on the person (e.g. wearables, and health and wellness). We will not directly discuss connected car / autonomous vehicle and smart cities applications, even though they relate to consumer services and experiences, as the dynamics of these services and their technological challenges are quite distinct. In addition, we will only tangentially discuss healthcare IoT, as it is far from clear what sort of ‘consumer’ business model will be established in this sector (as opposed to a public service model); although it is likely that remote health and social care will play an increasingly central role in a prospective ‘second wave’ of consumer IoT services, based on trustworthy processing of intimate personal data to enable really useful services.

In addition, we make a distinction between ‘connected’ devices and homes, on the one hand, and ‘smart’ devices / homes and IoT services, on the other. A home is not smart, nor an IoT service present, until the connected devices or ‘things’ involved, and the data they generate, are integrated as part of an app that the user controls. As shown in Figure 2, in the existing IoT business model, this involves delivery of the data from multiple devices and sensors to a cloud-based service, enabling collection, aggregation and analysis of the data, and remote and automated performance of actions on those devices based on the analysis and on the user’s preferences.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: Trust is king
  • Introduction: Trust is a must for consumer IoT – but is consumer IoT a must for telcos?
  • Lack of trust is a major barrier to mass-market consumer IoT adoption
  • Building trust with customers must be at the forefront of telcos’ consumer IoT offer and brand
  • Consumer IoT 1.0: opportunities and threats for telcos; telco strengths and weaknesses
  • Opportunities: The addressable market for telcos is potentially huge
  • Threats: do consumers buy it?
  • Established telco strengths can help offset the risks
  • Weaknesses: IoT exemplifies the challenges of digital innovation in general
  • Conclusion: consumer IoT is a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity that plays into telcos’ strengths
  • Deutsche Telekom’s consumer IoT platform and services
  • Deutsche Telekom and the Qivicon platform
  • Efforts to address the data security and privacy issues of consumer IoT 1.0
  • Avast: telcos can play a role as part of a cross-industry approach
  • Orange: transparency over use of data is key
  • Atomite: consumer consent and rewards for sharing data with third parties
  • Telefónica’s AURA: cognitive intelligence but an immature business model
  • Consumer IoT 2.0: A move to a (data) sharing economy
  • GDPR: A change in the rules that looks set to change business models
  • Databox: “privacy-aware data analytics platform”
  • IoT and the personal data economy: putting ‘me’ at the centre of my internet of things
  • Conclusion: Telcos need to be in the consumer IoT 1.0 game to win in consumer IoT 2.0
  • A massive potential market, with a large slice of the pie available to telcos…
  • … but do the risks outweigh the potential benefits?
  • Telcos need to play the consumer IoT 1.0 game to reach consumer IoT 2.0

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory
  • Figure 2: Consumer IoT 1.0
  • Figure 3: Consumer concerns about connected devices
  • Figure 4: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for telcos in consumer IoT
  • Figure 5: Connected home installed base and penetration EU and North America, 2013–19
  • Figure 6: Companies most trusted with personal data
  • Figure 7: The Qivicon consumer IoT platform
  • Figure 8: Orange ‘Trust Badge’ – what personal and usage data is collected, and why
  • Figure 9: Key functionality of the Meeco personal data portal

MobiNEX: The Mobile Network Experience Index, H1 2016

Executive Summary

In response to customers’ growing usage of mobile data and applications, in April 2016 STL Partners developed MobiNEX: The Mobile Network Experience Index, which ranks mobile network operators by key measures relating to customer experience. To do this, we benchmark mobile operators’ network speed and reliability, allowing individual operators to see how they are performing in relation to the competition in an objective and quantitative manner.

Operators are assigned an individual MobiNEX score out of 100 based on their performance across four measures that STL Partners believes to be core drivers of customer app experience: download speed, average latency, error rate and latency consistency (the proportion of app requests that take longer than 500ms to fulfil).

Our partner Apteligent has provided us with the raw data for three out of the four measures, based on billions of requests made from tens of thousands of applications used by hundreds of millions of users in H1 2016. While our April report focused on the top three or four operators in just seven Western markets, this report covers 80 operators drawn from 25 markets spread across the globe in the first six months of this year.

The top ten operators were from Japan, France, the UK and Canada:

  • Softbank JP scores highest on the MobiNEX for H1 2016, with high scores across all measures and a total score of 85 out of 100.
  • Close behind are Bouygues FR (80) and Free FR (79), which came first and second respectively in the Q4 2015 rankings. Both achieve high scores for error rate, latency consistency and average latency, but are slightly let down by download speed.
  • The top six is completed by NTT DoCoMo JP (78), Orange FR (75) and au (KDDI) JP (71).
  • Slightly behind are Vodafone UK (65), EE UK (64), SFR FR (63), O2 UK (62) and Rogers CA (62). Except in the case of Rogers, who score similarly on all measures, these operators are let down by substantially worse download speeds.

The bottom ten operators all score a total of 16 or lower out of 100, suggesting a materially worse customer app experience.

  • Trailing the pack with scores of 1 or 2 across all four measures were Etisalat EG (4), Vodafone EG (4), Smart PH (5) and Globe PH (5).
  • Beeline RU (11) and Malaysian operators U Mobile MY (9) and Digi MY (9) also fare poorly, but benefit from slightly higher latency consistency scores. Slightly better overall, but still achieving minimum scores of 1 for download speed and average latency, are Maxis MY (14) and MTN ZA (12).

Overall, the extreme difference between the top and bottom of the table highlights a vast inequality in network quality customer experience across the planet. Customer app experience depends to a large degree on where one lives. However, our analysis shows that while economic prosperity does in general lead to a more advanced mobile experience as you might expect, it does not guarantee it. Norway, Sweden, Singapore and the US market are examples of high income countries with lower MobiNEX scores than might be expected against the global picture. STL Partners will do further analysis to uncover more on the drivers of differentiation between markets and players within them.

 

MobiNEX H1 2016 – included markets

MobiNEX H1 2016 – operator scores

 Source: Apteligent, OpenSignal, STL Partners analysis

 

  • About MobiNEX
  • Changes for H1 2016
  • MobiNEX H1 2016: results
  • The winners: top ten operators
  • The losers: bottom ten operators
  • The surprises: operators where you wouldn’t expect them
  • MobiNEX by market
  • MobiNEX H1 2016: segmentation
  • MobiNEX H1 2016: Raw data
  • Error rate
  • Latency consistency
  • Download speed
  • Average latency
  • Appendix 1: Methodology and source data
  • Latency, latency consistency and error rate: Apteligent
  • Download speed: OpenSignal
  • Converting raw data into MobiNEX scores
  • Setting the benchmarks
  • Why measure customer experience through app performance?
  • Appendix 2: Country profiles
  • Country profile: Australia
  • Country profile: Brazil
  • Country profile: Canada
  • Country profile: China
  • Country profile: Colombia
  • Country profile: Egypt
  • Country profile: France
  • Country profile: Germany
  • Country profile: Italy
  • Country profile: Japan
  • Country profile: Malaysia
  • Country profile: Mexico
  • Country profile: New Zealand
  • Country profile: Norway
  • Country profile: Philippines
  • Country profile: Russia
  • Country profile: Saudi Arabia
  • Country profile: Singapore
  • Country profile: South Africa
  • Country profile: Spain
  • Country profile: United Arab Emirates
  • Country profile: United Kingdom
  • Country profile: United States
  • Country profile: Vietnam

 

  • Figure 1: MobiNEX scoring breakdown, benchmarks and raw data used
  • Figure 2: MobiNEX H1 2016 – included markets
  • Figure 3: MobiNEX H1 2016 – operator scores breakdown (top half)
  • Figure 4: MobiNEX H1 2016 – operator scores breakdown (bottom half)
  • Figure 5: MobiNEX H1 2016 – average scores by country
  • Figure 6: MobiNEX segmentation dimensions
  • Figure 7: MobiNEX segmentation – network speed vs reliability
  • Figure 8: MobiNEX segmentation – network speed vs reliability – average by market
  • Figure 9: MobiNEX vs GDP per capita – H1 2016
  • Figure 10: MobiNEX vs smartphone penetration – H1 2016
  • Figure 11: Error rate per 10,000 requests, H1 2016 – average by country
  • Figure 12: Error rate per 10,000 requests, H1 2016 (top half)
  • Figure 13: Error rate per 10,000 requests, H1 2016 (bottom half)
  • Figure 14: Requests with total roundtrip latency > 500ms (%), H1 2016 – average by country
  • Figure 15: Requests with total roundtrip latency > 500ms (%), H1 2016 (top half)
  • Figure 16: Requests with total roundtrip latency > 500ms (%), H1 2016 (bottom half)
  • Figure 17: Average weighted download speed (Mbps), H1 2016 – average by country
  • Figure 18: Average weighted download speed (Mbps), H1 2016 (top half)
  • Figure 19: Average weighted download speed (Mbps), H1 2016 (bottom half)
  • Figure 20: Average total roundtrip latency (ms), H1 2016 – average by country
  • Figure 21: Average total roundtrip latency (ms), H1 2016 (top half)
  • Figure 22: Average total roundtrip latency (ms), H1 2016 (bottom half)
  • Figure 23: Benchmarks and raw data used

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

Innovation Leaders: A Surprisingly Successful Telco API Programme

Introduction

The value of APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are a central part of the mobile and cloud-based app economy. On the web, APIs serve to connect back-end and front-end applications (and their data) to one another. While often treated as a technical topic, APIs also have tremendous economic value. This was illustrated very recently when Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement over the use of Oracle-owned Java APIs during the development of Google’s Android operating system. Even though Google won the case, Oracle’s quest for around $9 billion showed the huge potential value associated with widely-adopted APIs.

The API challenge facing telcos…

For telcos, APIs represent an opportunity to monetise their unique network and IT assets by making them available to third-parties. This is particularly important in the context of declining ‘core’ revenues caused by cloud and content providers bypassing telco services. This so-called “over the top” (OTT) threat forces telcos to both partner with third-parties as well as create their own competing offerings in order to dampen the decline in revenues and profits. With mobile app ecosystems maturing and, increasingly, extending beyond smartphones into wearables, cars, TVs, virtual reality, productivity devices and so forth, telcos need to embrace these developments to avoid being a ‘plain vanilla’ connectivity provider – a low-margin low-growth business.

However, thriving in this co-opetitive environment is challenging for telcos because major digital players such as Google, Amazon, Netflix and Baidu, and a raft of smaller developers have an operating model and culture of agility and fast innovation. Telcos need to become easier to collaborate with and a systematic approach to API management and API exposure should be central to any telco partnership strategy and wider ‘transformation programme’.

…and Dialog’s best-practice approach

In this report, we will analyse how Dialog, Sri Lanka’s largest operator, has adopted a two-pronged API implementation strategy. Dialog has systematically exposed APIs:

  1. Externally in order to monetise in partnership with third-parties;
  2. Internally in order to foster agile service creation and reduce operational costs.

STL Partners believes that this two-pronged strategy has been instrumental in Dialog’s API success and that other operators should explore a similar strategy when seeking to launch or expand their API activities.

Dialog Axiata has steadily increased the number of API calls (indexed)

Source: Dialog Axiata

In this report, we will first cover the core lessons that can be drawn from Dialog’s approach and success and then we will outline in detail how Dialog’s Group CIO and Axiata Digital’s CTO, Anthony Rodrigo, and his team implemented APIs within the company and, subsequently, the wider Axiata Group.

 

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • The value of APIs
  • The API challenge facing telcos…
  • …and Dialog’s best-practice approach
  • 5 key ‘telco API programme’ lessons
  • Background: What are APIs and why are they relevant to telcos?
  • API basics
  • API growth
  • The telecoms industry’s API track record is underwhelming
  • The Dialog API Programme (DAP)
  • Overview
  • Ideamart: A flexible approach to long-tail developer engagement
  • Axiata MIFE – building a multipurpose API platform
  • Drinking your own champagne : Dialog’s use of APIs internally
  • Expanding MIFE across Axiata opcos and beyond
  • Conclusion and outlook

 

  • Figure 1: APIs link backend infrastructure with applications
  • Figure 2: The explosive growth of open APIs
  • Figure 3: How a REST API works its magic
  • Figure 4: DAP service layers
  • Figure 5: Five APIs are available for Idea Pro apps
  • Figure 6: Idea Apps – pre-configured API templates
  • Figure 7: Ideadroid/Apptizer allows restaurants to specify food items they want to offer through the app
  • Figure 8: Ideamart’s developer engagement stats compare favourably to AT&T, Orange, and Vodafone
  • Figure 9: Steady increase in the number of API calls (indexed)
  • Figure 10: Dialog Allapps on Android
  • Figure 11: Ideabiz API platform for enterprise third-parties
  • Figure 12: Dialog Selfcare app user interface
  • Figure 13: Dialog Selfcare app functions – share in total number of hits
  • Figure 14: Apple App Store – Dialog Selfcare app ratings
  • Figure 15: Google Play Store – Dialog Selfcare app ratings
  • Figure 16: MIFE enables the creation of a variety of digital services – both internally and externally

MobiNEX: The Mobile Network Experience Index, Q4 2015

Executive Summary

In response to customers’ growing usage of mobile data and applications, STL Partners has developed MobiNEX: The Mobile Network Customer Experience Index, which benchmarks mobile operators’ network speed and reliability by measuring the consumer app experience, and allows individual players to see how they are performing in relation to competition in an objective and quantitative manner.

We assign operators an individual MobiNEX score based on their performance across four measures that are core drivers of customer app experience: download speed; average latency; error rate; latency consistency (the percentage of app requests that take longer than 500ms to fulfil). Apteligent has provided us with the raw data for three out of four of the measures based on billions of requests made from tens of thousands of applications used by hundreds of millions of users in Q4 2015. We plan to expand the index to cover other operators and to track performance over time with twice-yearly updates.

Encouragingly, MobiNEX scores are positively correlated with customer satisfaction in the UK and the US suggesting that a better mobile app experience contributes to customer satisfaction.

The top five performers across twenty-seven operators in seven countries in Europe and North America (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, US) were all from France and the UK suggesting a high degree of competition in these markets as operators strive to improve relative to peers:

  • Bouygues Telecom in France scores highest on the MobiNEX for Q4 2015 with consistently high scores across all four measures and a total score of 76 out of 100.
  • It is closely followed by two other French operators. Free, the late entrant to the market, which started operations in 2012, scores 73. Orange, the former national incumbent, is slightly let down by the number of app errors experienced by users but achieves a healthy overall score of 70.
  • The top five is completed by two UK operators: EE (65) and O2 (61) with similar scores to the three French operators for everything except download speed which was substantially worse.

The bottom five operators have scores suggesting a materially worse customer app experience and we suggest that management focuses on improvements across all four measures to strengthen their customer relationships and competitive position. This applies particularly to:

  • E-Plus in Germany (now part of Telefónica’s O2 network but identified separately by Apteligent).
  • Wind in Italy, which is particularly let down by latency consistency and download speed.
  • Telefónica’s Movistar, the Spanish market share leader.
  • Sprint in the US with middle-ranking average latency and latency consistency but, like other US operators, poor scores on error rate and download speed.
  • 3 Italy, principally a result of its low latency consistency score.

Surprisingly, given the extensive deployment of 4G networks there, the US operators perform poorly and are providing an underwhelming customer app experience:

  • The best-performing US operator, T-Mobile, scores only 45 – a full 31 points below Bouygues Telecom and 4 points below the median operator.
  • All the US operators perform very poorly on error rate and, although 74% of app requests in the US were made on LTE in Q4 2015, no US player scores highly on download speed.

MobiNEX scores – Q4 2015

 Source: Apteligent, OpenSignal, STL Partners analysis

MobiNEX vs Customer Satisfaction

Source: ACSI, NCSI-UK, STL Partners

 

  • Introduction
  • Mobile app performance is dependent on more than network speed
  • App performance as a measure of customer experience
  • MobiNEX: The Mobile Network Experience Index
  • Methodology and key terms
  • MobiNEX Q4 2015 Results: Top 5, bottom 5, surprises
  • MobiNEX is correlated with customer satisfaction
  • Segmenting operators by network customer experience
  • Error rate
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Key findings
  • Latency consistency: Requests with latency over 500ms
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Key findings
  • Download speed
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Key findings
  • Average latency
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Key findings
  • Appendix: Source data and methodology
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game
  • About Apteligent

 

  • MobiNEX scores – Q4 2015
  • MobiNEX vs Customer Satisfaction
  • Figure 1: MobiNEX – scoring methodology
  • Figure 2: MobiNEX scores – Q4 2015
  • Figure 3: Customer Satisfaction vs MobiNEX, 2015
  • Figure 4: MobiNEX operator segmentation – network speed vs network reliability
  • Figure 5: MobiNEX operator segmentation – with total scores
  • Figure 6: Major Western markets – error rate per 10,000 requests
  • Figure 7: Major Western markets – average error rate per 10,000 requests
  • Figure 8: Major Western operators – percentage of requests with total roundtrip latency greater than 500ms
  • Figure 9: Major Western markets – average percentage of requests with total roundtrip latency greater than 500ms
  • Figure 10: Major Western operators – average weighted download speed across 3G and 4G networks (Mbps)
  • Figure 11: Major European markets – average weighted download speed (Mbps)
  • Figure 12: Major Western markets – percentage of requests made on 3G and LTE
  • Figure 13: Download speed vs Percentage of LTE requests
  • Figure 14: Major Western operators – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 15: Major Western markets – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 16: MobiNEX benchmarks

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)

Mobile app latency in Europe: French operators lead; Italian & Spanish lag

Latency as a proxy for customer app experience

Latency is a measure of the time taken for a packet of data to travel from one designated point to another. The complication comes in defining the start and end point. For an operator seeking to measure its network latency, it might measure only the transmission time across its network.

However, to objectively measure customer app experience, it is better to measure the time it takes from the moment the user takes an action, such as pressing a button on a mobile device, to receiving a response – in effect, a packet arriving back and being processed by the application at the device.

This ‘total roundtrip latency’ time is what is measured by our partner, Crittercism, via embedded code within applications themselves on an aggregated and anonymised basis. Put simply, total roundtrip latency is the best measure of customer experience because it encompasses the total ‘wait time’ for a customer, not just a portion of the multi-stage journey

Latency is becoming increasingly important

Broadband speeds tend to attract most attention in the press and in operator advertising, and speed does of course impact downloads and streaming experiences. But total roundtrip latency has a bigger impact on many user digital experiences than speed. This is because of the way that applications are built.

In modern Web applications, the business logic is parcelled-out into independent ‘microservices’ and their responses re-assembled by the client to produce the overall digital user experience. Each HTTP request is often quite small, although an overall onscreen action can be composed of a number of requests of varying sizes so broadband speed is often less of a factor than latency – the time to send and receive each request. See Appendix 2: Why latency is important, for a more detailed explanation of why latency is such an important driver of customer app experience.

The value of using actual application latency data

As we have already explained, STL Partners prefers to use total roundtrip latency as an indicator of customer app experience as it measures the time that a customer waits for a response following an action. STL Partners believes that Crittercism data reflects actual usage in each market because it operates within apps – in hundreds of thousands of apps that people use in the Apple App Store and in Google Play. This is a quite different approach to other players which require users to download a specific app which then ‘pings’ a server and awaits a response. This latter approach has a couple of limitations:

1. Although there have been several million downloads of the OpenSignal and Actual Experience app, this doesn’t get anywhere near the number of people that have downloaded apps containing the Crittercism measurement code.

2. Because the Crittercism code is embedded within apps, it directly measures the latency experienced by users when using those apps1. A dedicated measurement app fails to do this. It could be argued that a dedicated app gives the ‘cleanest’ app reading – it isn’t affected by variations in app design, for example. This is true but STL Partners believes that by aggregating the data for apps such variation is removed and a representative picture of total roundtrip latency revealed. Crittercism data can also show more granular data. For example, although we haven’t shown it in this report, Crittercism data can show latency performance by application type – e.g. Entertainment, Shopping, and so forth – based on the categorisation of apps used by Google and Apple in their app stores.

A key premise of this analysis is that, because operators’ customer bases are similar within and across markets, the profile of app usage (and therefore latency) is similar from one operator to the next. The latency differences between operators are, therefore, down to the performance of the operator.

Why it isn’t enough to measure average latency

It is often said that averages hide disparities in data, and this is particularly true for latency and for customer experience. This is best illustrated with an example. In Figure 2 we show the distribution of latencies for two operators. Operator A has lots of very fast requests and a long tail of requests with high latencies.

Operator B has much fewer fast requests but a much shorter tail of poor-performing latencies. The chart clearly shows that operator B has a much higher percentage of requests with a satisfactory latency even though its average latency performance is lower than operator A (318ms vs 314ms). Essentially operator A is let down by its slowest requests – those that prevent an application from completing a task for a customer.

This is why in this report we focus on average latency AND, critically, on the percentage of requests that are deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ from a customer experience perspective.

Using latency as a measure of performance for customers

500ms as a key performance cut-off

‘Good’ roundtrip latency is somewhat subjective and there is evidence that experience declines in a linear fashion as latency increases – people incrementally drop off the site. However, we have picked 500ms (or half a second) as a measure of unsatisfactory performance as we believe that a delay of more than this is likely to impact mobile users negatively (expectations on the ‘fixed’ internet are higher). User interface research from as far back as 19682 suggests that anything below 100ms is perceived as “instant”, although more recent work3 on gamers suggests that even lower is usually better, and delay starts to become intrusive after 200-300ms. Google experiments from 20094 suggest that a lasting effect – users continued to see the site as “slow” for several weeks – kicked in above 400ms.

Percentage of app requests with total roundtrip latency above 500ms – markets

Five key markets in Europe: France, Germany, Italy, and the UK.

This first report looks at five key markets in Europe: France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. We explore performance overall for Europe by comparing the relative performance of each country and then dive into the performance of operators within each country.

We intend to publish other reports in this series, looking at performance in other regions – North America, the Middle East and Asia, for example. This first report is intended to provider a ‘taster’ to readers, and STL Partners would like feedback on additional insight that readers would welcome, such as latency performance by:

  • Operating system – Android vs Apple
  • Specific device – e.g. Samsung S6 vs iPhone 6
  • App category – e.g. shopping, games, etc.
  • Specific countries
  • Historical trends

Based on this feedback, STL Partners and Crittercism will explore whether it is valuable to provide specific total roundtrip latency measurement products.

Contents

  • Latency as a proxy for customer app experience
  • ‘Total roundtrip latency’ is the best measure for customer ‘app experience’
  • Latency is becoming increasingly important
  • STL Partners’ approach
  • Europe: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • UK: EE, O2, Vodafone, 3
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Germany: T-Mobile, Vodafone, e-Plus, O2
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • France: Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom, Free
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Italy: TIM, Vodafone, Wind, 3
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Spain: Movistar, Vodafone, Orange, Yoigo
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • About STL Partners and Telco 2.0
  • About Crittercism
  • Appendix 1: Defining latency
  • Appendix 2: Why latency is important

 

  • Figure 1: Total roundtrip latency – reflecting a user’s ‘wait time’
  • Figure 2: Why a worse average latency can result in higher customer satisfaction
  • Figure 3: Major European markets – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 4: Major European markets – percentage of requests above 500ms
  • Figure 5: The location of Google and Amazon’s European data centres favours operators in France, UK and Germany
  • Figure 6: European operators – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 7: European operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 8: Customer app experience is likely to be particularly poor at 3 Italy, Movistar (Spain) and Telecom Italia
  • Figure 9: UK Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 10: UK operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 11: German Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 12: German operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 13: French Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 14: French operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 15: Italian Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 16: Italian operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 17: Spanish Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 18: Spanish operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 19: Breakdown of HTTP requests in facebook.com, by type and size

Telco 1.0: Death Slide Starts in Europe

Telefonica results confirm that global telecoms revenue decline is on the way

Very weak Q1 2014 results from Telefonica and other European players 

Telefonica’s efforts to transition to a new Telco 2.0 business model are well-regarded at STL Partners.  The company, together with SingTel, topped our recent Telco 2.0 Transformation Index which explored six major Communication Service Providers (AT&T, Verizon, Telefonica, SingTel, Vodafone and Ooredoo) in depth to determine their relative strengths and weaknesses and provide specific recommendations for them, their partners and the industry overall.

But Telefonica’s Q1 2014 results were even worse than recent ones from two other European players, Deutsche Telekom and Orange, which both posted revenue declines of 4%.  Telefonica’s Group revenue came in at €12.2 billion which was down 12% on Q1 2013.  Part of this was a result of the disposal of the Czech subsidiary and weaker currencies in Latin America, in which around 50% of revenue is generated.  Nevertheless, the negative trend for Telefonica and other European players is clear.

As the first chart in Figure 1 shows, Telefonica’s revenues have followed a gentle parabola over the last eight years.  They rose from 2006 to 2010, reaching a peak in Q4 of that year, before declining steadily to leave the company in Q1 2014 back where it started in Q1 2006.

The second chart, however, adds more insight.  It shows the year-on-year percentage growth or decline in revenue for each quarter.  It is clear that between 2006 and 2008 revenue growth was already slowing down and, following the 2008 economic crisis in which Spain (which generates around quarter of Telefonica’s revenue) was hit particularly hard, the company’s revenue declined in 2009.  The economic recovery that followed enabled Telefonica to report growth again in 2010 and 2011 before the underlying structural challenges of the telecoms industry – the decline of voice and messaging – kicked in, resulting in revenue decline since 2012.

Figure 1: Telefonica’s growth and decline over the last 8 years

Telco 2.0 Telefonica Group Revenue

Source: Telefonica, STL Partners analysis

One thing is clear: the only way is down for most CSPs and for the industry overall

The biggest concern for Telefonica and something that STL Partners believes will be replicated in other CSPs over the next few years is the accelerating nature of the decline since the peak.  It seems clear that Telco 1.0 revenues are not going to decline in a steady fashion but, once they reach a tipping point, to tumble away quickly as:

  • Substitute voice and messaging products and alternate forms of communication scale;
  • CSPs fight hard to maintain customers, revenue and share in voice, messaging and data products, via attractive bundles

The results of the European CSPs confirms STL Partners belief that the outlook for the global industry in the next few years is negative overall.  It is clear that telecoms industry maturity is at different stages globally:

  • Europe: in decline
  • US: still growing but very close to the peak
  • Africa, Middle East, Latin America: slowing growth but still 2(?) years before peak
  • Asia: mixed, some markets growing, others in decline

Given these different mixes, STL Partners reaffirms its forecast of 2012 that overall the industry will contract by up to 10% between 2013 and 2017 as core Telco 1.0 service revenue decline accelerates once more and more countries get beyond the peak.  This is illustrated for the mobile industry in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2: Near-term global telecoms decline is assured; longer-term growth is dependent on management actions now

Global mobile telcoms revenue

Source: STL Partners

Upturn in telecoms industry fortunes after 2016 dependent on current activities

If the downturn to 2016 is a virtual certainty, the shape of the recovery beyond this, which STL Partners (tentatively) forecasts, is not. The industry’s fortunes could be much better or worse than the forecast owing to the importance of transformation activities which all players (CSPs, Network Equipment Providers, IT players, etc.) need to make now.

The growth of what we have termed Human Data (personal data for consumers and business customers, including some aspects of Enterprise Mobility), Non-Human Data (connection of devices and applications – Internet of Things, Machine2Machine, Infrastructure as a Service, and some Enterprise Mobility) and Digital Services (end-user and B2B2X enabling applications and services) requires CSPs and their partners to develop new skills, assets, partnerships, customer relationships and operating and financial models – a new business model.

As IBM found in moving from being hardware manufacturer to a services player during the 1990’s, transforming the business model is hard.  IBM was very close to bankruptcy in the early 90’s before disrupting itself and re-emerging as a dominant force again in recent years.  CSPs and NEPs, in particular, are now seeking to do the same and must act decisively from 2013-2016 if they are to enjoy a rebirth rather than continued and sustained decline.