Stakeholder model: Turn growth killers into growth makers

Introduction: The stakeholder model

Telecoms operators’ attempts to build new sources of revenue have been a core focus of STL Partners’ research activities over the years. We’ve looked at many telecoms case studies, adjacent market examples, new business models and technologies and other routes to explore how operators might succeed. We believe the STL stakeholder model usefully and holistically describes telcos’ main stakeholder groups and the ideal relationships that telcos need to establish with each group to achieve valuable growth. It should be used in conjunction with other elements of STL’s portfolio which examine strategies needed within specific markets and industries (e.g., healthcare) and telcos’ operational areas (e.g., telco cloud, edge, leadership and culture).

This report outlines the stakeholder model at a high level, identifying seven groups and three factors within each group that summarise the ideal relationship. These stakeholder and influencer groups include:

  1. Management
  2. People
  3. Customer propositions
  4. Partner and technology ecosystems
  5. Investors
  6. Government and regulators
  7. Society

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1. Management

Growth may not always start at the top of an organisation, but to be successful, top management will be championing growth, have the capabilities to lead it, and aligning and protecting the resources needed to foster it. This is true in any organisation but especially so in those where there is a strong established business already in place, such as telecoms. The critical balance to be maintained is that the existing business must continue to succeed, and the new growth businesses be given the space, time, skills and support they need to grow. It sounds straightforward, but there are many challenges and pitfalls to making it work in practice.

For example, a minor wobble in the performance of a multi-billion-dollar business can easily eclipse the total value of a new business, so it is often tempting to switch resources back to the existing business and starve the fledgling growth. Equally, perceptions of how current businesses need to be run can wrongly influence what should happen in the new ones. Unsuitable choices of existing channels to market, familiar but ill-fitting technologies, or other business model prejudices are classic bias-led errors (see Telco innovation: Why it’s broken and how to fix it).

To be successful, we believe that management needs to exhibit three broad behaviours and capabilities.

  1. Stable and committed long term vision for growth aligned with the Coordination Age.
  2. Suitable knowledge, experience and openness.
  3. Effective two-way engagement with stakeholders. (N.B. We cover the board and most senior management in this group. Other management is covered in the People stakeholder group.)

Management: Key management enablers of growth

management-leadership-vision-growth-indicators

Source: STL Partners

Stable and committed long-term vision for growth

The companies that STL has seen making more successful growth plays typically exhibit a long-term commitment to growth and importantly, learning too.

Two examples we have studied closely are TELUS and Elisa. In both cases, the CEO has held tenure in the long-term, and the company has demonstrated a clear and well managed commitment to growth.

In TELUS’s case, the primary area of growth targeted has been healthcare, and the company now generates somewhere close to 10% of its revenue from the new areas (it does not publish a number). It has been working in healthcare for over 10 years, and Darren Entwistle, its CEO, has championed this cause with all stakeholders throughout.

In Elisa’s case, the innovation has been developed in a number of areas. For example, how it couples all you can use data plans and a flat sales/capex ratio; a new network automation business selling to other telcos; and an industrial IoT automation business.

Again, CEO Veli-Matti Mattila has a long tenure, and has championed the principle of Elisa’s competitive advantage being in its ability to learn and leverage its existing IP.

…aligned with the Coordination Age

STL argues that the future growth for telcos will come by addressing the needs of the Coordination Age, and this in turn is being accelerated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and growing realisation of climate change.

Why COVID-19 and Climate change are accelerating the Coordination Age

COVID-19-and-Climate-change-Coordination-Age-STL

 

Source: STL Partners

The Coordination Age is based on the insight that most stakeholder needs are driven by a global need to make better use of resources, whether in distribution (delivery of resources when and where needed), efficiency (return on resources, e.g. productivity), and sustainability (conservation and protection of resources, e.g. climate change).

This need will be served through multi-party business models, which use new technologies (e.g. better connectivity, AI, and automation) to deliver outcomes to their customers and business ecosystems.

We argue that both TELUS and Elisa are early innovators and pathfinders within these trends.

Suitable knowledge, experience and openness

Having the right experience, character and composition in the leadership team is an area of constant development by companies and experts of many types.

The dynamics of the leadership team matter too. There needs to be leadership and direction setting, but the team must be able to properly challenge itself and particularly its leader’s strongest opinions in a healthy way. There will of course be times when a CEO of any business unit needs to take the helm, but if the CEO or one of the C-team is overly attached to an idea or course of action and will not hear or truly consider alternatives this can be extremely risky.

AT&T / Time Warner – a salutary tale?

AT&T’s much discussed venture into entertainment with its acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner is an interesting case in point here. One of the conclusions of our recent analysis of this multi-billion-dollar acquisition plan was that AT&T’s management appeared to take a very telco-centric view throughout. It saw the media businesses primarily as a way to add value to its telecoms business, rather than as valuable business assets that needed to be nurtured in their own right.

Regardless of media executives leaving and other expert commentary suggesting it should not neglect the development of its wider distribution strategy for the content powerhouse for example, AT&T ploughed on with an approach that limited the value of its new assets. Given the high stakes, and the personalised descriptions of how the deal arose through the CEOs of the companies at the time, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there was a significant bias in the management team. We were struck by the observation that it seemed like “AT&T knew best”.

To be clear, there can be little doubt that AT&T is a formidable telecoms operator. Many of its strategies and approaches are world leading, for example in change management and Telco Cloud, as we also highlight in this report.

However, at the time those deals were done AT&T’s board did not hold significant entertainment expertise, and whoever else they spoke with from that industry did not manage to carry them to a more balanced position. So it appears to us that a key contributing factor to the significant loss of momentum and market value that the media deals ultimately inflicted on AT&T was that they did not engineer the dynamics or character in their board to properly challenge and validate their strategy.

It is to the board’s credit that they have now recognised this and made plans for a change. Yet it is also notable that AT&T has not given any visible signal that it made a systemic error of judgement. Perhaps the huge amounts involved and highly litigious nature of the US market are behind this, and behind closed doors there is major change afoot. Yet the conveyed image is still that “AT&T knows best”. Hopefully, this external confidence is now balanced with more internal questioning and openness to external thoughts.

What capabilities should a management team possess?

In terms of telcos wishing to drive and nurture growth, STL believes there are criteria that are likely to signal that a company has a better chance of success. For example:

  • Insight into the realistic and differentiating capabilities of new and relevant markets, fields, applications and technologies is a valuable asset. The useful insight may exist in the form of experience (e.g. tenure in a relevant adjacent industry such as healthcare, or delivery of automation initiatives, working in relevant geographies, etc.), qualification (e.g. education in a relevant specialism such as AI), or longer term insight (which may be indicated by engagement with Research and Development or academic activities)

[The full range of management capabilities can be viewed in the report…..] 

 

2. People…

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Management
    • Stable and committed long-term vision for growth
    • …aligned with the Coordination Age
    • Suitable knowledge, experience and openness
    • Two-way engagement with stakeholders
  • People
    • Does the company have a suitable culture to enable growth?
    • Does the company have enough of the new skills and abilities needed?
    • Is the company’s general management collaborative, close to customers, and diverse?
  • Customer propositions
    • Nature of the current customer relationship
    • How far beyond telecoms the company has ventured
    • Investment in new sectors and needs
  • Partner and technology ecosystems
    • Successful adoption of disruptive technologies and business models
    • More resilient economics of scale in the core business
    • Technology and partners as an enabler of change
  • Investors
    • The stability of the investor base
    • Has the investor base been happy?
    • Current and forecast returns
  • Government and regulators
    • The tone of the government and regulatory environment
    • Current status of the regulatory situation
    • The company’s approach to government and regulatory relationships
  • Society
    • Brand presence, engagement and image
    • Company alignment with societal priorities
    • Media portrayal

Related research

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COVID-19: Now, next and after

Executive Summary

It won’t be over by Christmas

The Coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes. As well as the virus’s impact on health, shock and fear have rippled across the world. Everyday life is changing almost everywhere, with major impacts across the economy. It is having many of the same effects as a new world war, albeit a war against a common invisible enemy.

At the start of every world world war, people in the UK thought it would be over by Christmas. Coronavirus won’t be over by Christmas (December) 2020. Unchecked. Each person with COVID-19 infects about 3 people, on average. This means it is hugely infectious and can (re)infect populations rapidly. Hopefully, better healthcare treatments will be developed fast, and in time a vaccine too – though the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes this will take at least a year, and longer to immunise the population.

On this basis, unless several miracles happen, we think the world is likely to be dealing with some form of social distancing and other preventative and curative measures for a while. Given what we know today, here is our initial take on what telcos are doing now – and what they should do next, including four scenarios to help envisage a range of possibilities amid the current uncertainty.

Telcos and vendors can and should now do some great things

Telecoms is an essential service in today’s world. The initial focus of telcos has inevitably been on the short term crisis response: keeping the network working, adapting to new and changing patterns of customer behaviour, and trying to keep their employees and customers safe. Beyond that, telcos have been offering additional services and help to customers, and we outline some of the measures taken so far in this report (summarised below).

Beyond that, telco leaders must keep thinking and planning ahead. As a sector it is in a relatively strong position. Telecoms stocks are among those least impacted in the crisis, showing that shareholders see telecoms as a relatively safe haven with a more reliable future than many other sectors (e.g. travel, hospitality, etc.).

That’s not to say that all telcos will survive the crisis in the state they are in today. Some may be nationalised or struggle to finance debt or worse, though for the most part we imagine telcos will find state support where needed because of the importance of the service they deliver.

On a more positive note, the near term future will see an enhanced focus on addressing some big problems, such as accelerating the transformation of healthcare and making it and other critical functions such as logistics even more robust and resilient.

STL Partners believes that the crisis will further accelerate the evolution of the Coordination Age, as customers and governments will accept, change and learn new behaviours (such as online ordering, remote delivery, automated services, etc.) fast in the context of an environment in which they simply have to do so. The crisis will also place the importance of critical and sometimes limited resources (e.g. food, healthcare, communications) firmly in the spotlight, along with issues such as potential conflicts between the use of data and privacy.

It’s too early to say whether highly controlled economies like China will do better than less controlled ones. Yet the strengths of a coordinated response to a problem (such as how a national health service can organise and plan collectively) will become clearer, and is likely to shape regulation that prioritises desired outcomes in a more pragmatic way, potentially bringing regulated collaboration back into fashion somewhat compared to pure competition in some sectors.

True leaders think ahead

Despite all the near term focus that a crisis brings, the challenge of addressing future problems should not just be dropped. We recommend that telcos and vendors shouldn’t abandon their longer term ambitions to develop new services and solutions in order to deal with the crisis. By analogy, the countries that are doing best in the COVID-19 response today are those that were best prepared for a viral pandemic, i.e. those that have planned how to scale up testing and hospital capacity, and have previously outlined a pandemic response strategy. Likewise, the telcos that will do best will continue to offer resilient support to their communities, and develop new solutions for customer problems.

Perhaps the best that could happen is that telcos and other service providers could ultimately find this crisis a stimulant to accelerate internal and business model change. For this to happen, the change needs to come from the top, and leaders in telecoms need to set the example of looking to do everything possible to help deal with the crisis, while maintaining a strong forward looking outlook.

STL Partners will continue to research how to do that realistically in the new context. We believe that Coronavirus will change how services evolve. For example, some 5G capital investments are likely to proceed with greater caution in the near term. Our initial thoughts on this is that, rather than bin all development, telcos should use this as an opportunity to better develop their understanding of customer needs, and develop the non-network capabilities and offerings to support consumers and other sectors to prepare the ground better for when 5G does arrive.

Short-term: Some smart offers to copy

Telcos are broadly offering customer support in four ways:

  • Supporting healthcare, government and other critical care customers: prioritising communications and resources for first line responders and healthcare facilities, offering population movement statistics, participating in national tests, and providing other services (e.g. bulk SMS updates to patients and healthcare communities)
  • Business customers: support for home working such as increased capacity on collaboration services, support on business continuity
  • Consumer customers: quite a wide range of offers, varying from suspending data bundle usage caps, to providing free calls for pensioners, free calls to the worst hit countries, waiving roaming charges and late payment relief for COVID-19 impacted customers
  • Shops and customer premise visits: a range of measures to ensure customer and employee safety, including shutting shops entirely, keeping some open, and introducing social distancing

Mid term: Adjust, but don’t forget the future

For the next few months, humans will interact differently. People and businesses will want to survive, and will be keen to return to ‘normal’ – but they won’t be able to.

Thus new habits, such as home working, and work and social video conferencing, will become more deeply embedded behaviours. New support structures to care remotely for the isolated will evolve, potentially with lasting effects. Telcos will need to support these behaviours with appropriate service and capacity, and with considerate offers as they have started to do as the crisis bites. Telcos should not behave like or risk being seen as profiteers during the crisis. Such action would be wrong – and a PR disaster.

They will need to continue to focus on the needs of critical sectors such as  healthcare, government, security and logistics, and maintain a close relationship with government to assist the centralised efforts to combat COVID-19 and support the pandemic relief effort.

Long term: Four possible scenarios

When the future is as uncertain as it is now, scenarios are a useful way to envisage possible alternatives and enrich planning. We’ve therefore outlined four scenarios for the recovery stage:

  • Scenario 1: Back to (almost) normal. A cautiously optimistic scenario in which all economies recover reasonably swiftly without much impact on the global order. Global trade recovers gradually, and activities like 5G investments are merely delayed at the outset.
  • Scenario 2: Fragmented recovery. A moderately pessimistic scenario in which some economies are much more significantly damaged than others. Recovery takes longer and global initiatives are less successful because of lower collaboration. 5G take-up is patchy, nation by nation.
  • Scenario 3: Weak and distanced. The most pessimistic scenario in which nations have become much more insular and distrustful, and economic and social recovery is much slower. Economic realities have significantly delayed 5Ginvestments in most nations.
  • Scenario 4: Stronger than before. The most optimistic scenario. Collaboration and cooperation are enhanced, and the broadly successful response and recovery to the crisis has refocused strategic thoughts on the importance of resilience in the long-term. 5G is close to the trajectory it would have been on before the crisis and accelerating fast.

Introduction

World War C

The Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world in 2020 is a truly disruptive ‘black swan’ event. It is impacting people’s lives in almost every nation and will continue to do so for many years ahead.

STL Partners, like all our customers and partners, families and friends, is feeling the impact already. We are lucky enough to be able to continue to work because the nature of our work is relatively unaffected by virtual working. Many in the global economy are not so lucky, and many others have been even more directly impacted by the illness. Our thoughts and best wishes are with you all.

Our job is to try to help others make better decisions to shape the future of their businesses. We believe that COVID-19 will change the global economy in a way that will impact all previous strategies and plans. This analysis is therefore intended to help preparations and planning for the next few months and years. Yet certainty is in short supply, and the situation is changing all the time. We do not claim to have all the answers and will update our analysis when it makes sense.

The scale and speed of this pandemic is unprecedented in the lives of the few alive today under the age of 102. Even so, when the so-called “Spanish Flu” swept the world in 1918, road and air travel were relative novelties, information spread slowly and its distribution was highly limited.

Today, the virus has spread much faster – but so too has news, information and research relating to it. The primary challenges for economies and societies as a whole are:

  • Supporting the frontline medical battle for the lives of the severely infected.
  • How the available information can be used to manage the disease to best effect by governments and authorities.
  • How other technological and economic developments such as globalised food chains and online information and entertainment services can help to sustain the rest of the population until the virus and the fear and disruption it has brought are defeated, or at least brought under control.
  • Operational and financial support to maintain economies and employment wherever possible.

Coronavirus and the Coordination Age

STL Partners has written at length about the Coordination Age – our view that the world economy now needs on-demand solutions enabled by the emergence of new technologies like AI, virtualisation, 5G, etc. These solutions must deliver outcomes (e.g. in healthcare) in a resource efficient way.

This age impacts all industries, but in the forefront are healthcare and logistics, which are also those most under test by Coronavirus. Succeeding against COVID-19 will require a massive and sustained effort of coordination, in this case mostly orchestrated by governments and health authorities.

Telcos and the telecoms industry will not solve this, but they can be major enablers of success. They can also have a major role in helping societies deal with the crisis and rebuilding and reshaping themselves after it has passed. This report starts to sketch out how this might happen.

Three stages and three questions for telcos

To simplify the analysis of what could happen, we’ve split the near future into three stages, and have structured the report correspondingly:

  • Now: shock and lockdown. Dealing with the initial global spread of the pandemic.
  • Next: finding a new, temporary normal. Coping with the longer-term impacts of social isolation, healthcare, and economic damage.
  • After: rebuilding and reshaping. What will be the lasting changes, what will need to be rebuilt?

In each case, we outline our best views on the ‘certainties’ – or at least more certain outcomes, and explore different scenarios where uncertainty is currently prime.

Throughout, we address three questions about what actions telcos and the industry should take:

  • What do telcos need to do to survive?
  • What can telcos do to help their customers?
  • How can telcos help the immediate response, then rebuild and reshape society?

Now: Shock and lockdown

The problems that need to be solved

A health crisis is a hard reminder of the need to serve the greater good of our societies. We need other people and organisations to survive and thrive, especially in today’s highly globalised and connected world. In this regard, there is an over-riding responsibility for those in positions of power to direct that power in service of the integrity of society and the economy – how we exchange goods and services to maintain our lives.

In such moments, the pursuit of competitive gains which is the normal function of companies and markets becomes secondary to the overall well-being of the society and the economy that supports it. This is a fundamental – albeit temporary – suspension of ‘business as usual’.

Telcos have a long history of providing support in times of crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic is the broadest and most systemic global crisis of our times. The fundamental functions and sectors that the industry needs to support are:

  • Healthcare – sustaining and protecting the healthcare system in a time of critical demand and pressure
  • Logistics – ensuring that supply and delivery chains are enabled to operate and deliver the goods (e.g. food and medical supplies) and services (e.g. water, power, hygiene) required for the healthy function of society
  • Government – ensuring that governments and responsible authorities are enabled to function and make decisions to best manage, control and mitigate the impact of the virus and the accompanying fear and disruption
  • General communications – ensuring that the public, businesses and others can stay in touch with each other to provide information, economic, medical and emotional support, and maintain employment.

Immediate actions

Following airline safety advice

The classic airline safety advice is to fit your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.

We expect that telcos will be putting in place their contingency plans for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – though of course, the exact circumstances cannot have been foreseen.

Clearly, maintaining the core functions of telecommunications networks will be the priority – doubling down on enabling and protecting data and voice communications across the network, especially to mission-critical establishments like hospitals, and  other healthcare and state facilities.

This may require operators to scale up network capacity at key points, although early data suggests most traffic growth from home-working and home-schooling may come at historical off-peak times. There is likely to be a shift from mobile to fixed broadband in many cases, with mobile use being concentrated in residential areas rather than urban centres and transport corridors. Mobile voice traffic is likely to rise substantially (in Spain, a 50% rise has been reported) as people speak to elder relatives and connect to conference calls and other services. Encouraging customers to shift usage to fixed-line telephony (which usually has extra capacity) could be wise.

Most cloud and enterprise facilities have been engineered to be highly resilient, but there is also likely to be increased demand in the distributed consumption of data in many societies as social isolation measures move populations into home-working environments and away from traditional daytime centres of communications localised on business.

How telcos can support and are supporting their customers

Many telcos are putting in place wider measures to support their customers.

Figure 1: How telcos are supporting their customers
overview telco coronavirus actions
Telco responses to Coronavirus

Source: Operator announcements, STL Partners

For healthcare, government and other critical support customers:

  • Prioritising connectivity for frontline healthcareresponders (AT&T, Verizon and others)
  • Offering bulk text upgrades to patients and healthcarecommunities (Vodafone)
  • Offering insights on population movements and statistics (Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica)
  • Collaborating in other hospital and healthcaretrials and programmes (China Mobile, China Telecom, TELUS)
  • Extending free hospital Wi-Fi (Globe)
  • Free-rating data on healthcaresites and apps

For these sectors and business more broadly, additional:

  • Conferencing lines, VPN capacity, and capacity / licenses for collaborationtools (BT)
  • Other home-working security(BT, NTT)
  • Cut price access to digital marketing services and conferencing for small businesses (Telstra)

For consumer customers, telco measures include:

  • Additional free data in bundles (Telefónica, Telstra, Dialog)
  • Removing caps on some limited data bundles (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, TELUS, Telstra, Dialog)
  • Additional entertainmentcontent in some packages (Telefónica, TELUS, Dialog)
  • Free or reduced tariff calls to the countries most impacted by COVID-19(Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile)
  • Free landline calls for pensioners (Telstra)
  • Free medical hotline service (Dialog)
  • Free data packages for families with school children without internet access or no data charges on educational services (Du, Etisalat, Dialog)
  • Waiving fees / suspension of service for non or late payment for impacted customers, or extending payment terms / credit (AT&T, Verizon, Telstra, Dialog)
  • Waiving all or some roamingfees for overseas customers (TELUS)
  • Encouraging the use of digital cash and health apps (Globe)

And in terms of shops and customer premises visits, telcos are taking a range of measures from:

  • Closing shops, or keeping some open to provide critical equipment (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, DTAG, TELUS)
  • Possibly stopping or limiting customer premises visits, or continuing but with new isolation/protection procedures in place (AT&T, Globe)

NB This is illustrative and not an exhaustive or comprehensive list. Please see our blog for links to some of the companies’ policies and articles relating to them at the time of research.

STL Partners is conducting a rapid survey of telco responses which can be found here. We will be updating and freely sharing what operators tell us over the next few weeks with details of the measures used so that other telcos can review what they can copy or learn from these measures to support their customers.

Help your employees

Again, many telcos in directly impacted environments have asked employees that can to work from home. We would also hope telcos are putting in place additional health measures to protect those employees that do need to make physical contact with customers and others, such as health advice and screening.

Starting to look ahead

Which sectors will be most affected?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the economy is very hard to predict at this stage, although there are certain sectors that are clearly already under immediate pressure, such as:

  • Consumer leisure and mass transport: cruise lines, passenger airlines, hotels and tourism as people shun travel and self-isolate
  • Consumer service industries such as cafes, bars, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers
  • Entertainment and mass gatherings such as sporting events, festivals, conferences and events, concerts, museums.

Wider impacts are anticipated in demand for other consumer goods and services, such as cars, clothes and other non-food and everyday items, and this knocks on to the value chains of those industries too.

This pattern is evident looking at the impact on FT.com share indices over the last month in Figure 2. Indeed, of the major sectors, telecommunications was the least devalued on the 16th March when we looked at this data (a day on which there was a 10% drop in global financial indicators).

Figure 2: Financial markets rate telecoms as one of the sectors of the economy least hit by Coronavirus
coronavirus impact on industries
Coronavirus impact on industries

NB Oil and gas sectors have recently faced additional pressures from an industry price war. Source: STL Partners, FT.com

Moody’s credit rating agency paints a similar picture of their estimated impact of the pandemic on the credit worthiness of industries by sector as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Moody’s credit rating impact of Coronavirus by industry

moody's covid-19 impact chart

Source: Moody’s

At this early stage it’s very hard to be sure of what the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on each sector. But there’s certainly some consistency between the logic of what is causing the impacts, and the degree to which markets and market rate-setters are reflecting likely changes in future value.

For telcos, the questions are: how can they support all sectors effectively during the crisis, and how can they help them recover and rebuild in due course. We will explore this a little further in subsequent sections.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • It won’t be over by Christmas
    • Telcos and vendors can and should now do some great things
    • True leaders think ahead
    • Short-term: Some smart offers to copy
    • Mid term: Adjust, but don’t forget the future
    • Long term: Four possible scenarios
  • Introduction
    • World War C
    • Coronavirus and the Coordination Age
    • Three stages and three questions for telcos
  • Now: Shock and lockdown
    • The problems that need to be solved
    • Immediate actions
    • Starting to look ahead
  • Next: Finding a new, temporary normal
    • Identify possible turning points
    • The problems that need to be solved
    • Mid-term actions
    • Planning and contingencies
    • Telcos and the rise of the surveillance society
  • After: Rebuild and reshape
      • Scenario-planning: Looking back from 2025
      • Scenario 1: Back to (almost) normal
      • Scenario 2: Fragmented recovery
      • Scenario 3: Weak and distanced
    • Scenario 4: Stronger than before


New age, new control points?

Why control points matter

This executive briefing explores the evolution of control points – products, services or roles that give a company disproportionate power within a particular digital value chain. Historically, such control points have included Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Intel’s processor architecture for personal computers (PCs), Google’s search engine and Apple’s iPhone. In each case, these control points have been a reliable source of revenues and a springboard into other lucrative new markets, such as productivity software (Microsoft) server chips (Intel), display advertising (Google) and app retailing (Apple).

Although technical and regulatory constraints mean that most telcos are unlikely to be able to build out their own control points, there are exceptions, such as the central role of Safaricom’s M-Pesa service in Kenya’s digital economy. In any case, a thorough understanding of where new control points are emerging will help telcos identify what their customers most value in the digital ecosystem. Moreover, if they move early enough to encourage competition and/or appropriate regulatory intervention, telcos could prevent themselves, their partners and their customers from becoming too dependent on particular companies.

The emergence of Microsoft’s operating system as the dominant platform in the PC market left many of its “partners” struggling to eke out a profit from the sale of computer hardware. Looking forward, there is a similar risk that a company that creates a dominant artificial intelligence platform could leave other players in various digital value chains, including telcos, at their beck and call.

This report explores how control points are evolving beyond simple components, such as a piece of software or a microprocessor, to become elaborate vertically-integrated stacks of hardware, software and services that work towards a specific goal, such as developing the best self-driving car on the planet or the most accurate image recognition system in the cloud. It then outlines what telcos and their partners can do to help maintain a balance of power in the Coordination Age, where, crucially, no one really wants to be at the mercy of a “master coordinator”.

The report focuses primarily on the consumer market, but the arguments it makes are also applicable in the enterprise space, where machine learning is being applied to optimise specialist solutions, such as production lines, industrial processes and drug development. In each case, there is a danger that a single company will build an unassailable position in a specific niche, ultimately eliminating the competition on which effective capitalism depends.

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Control points evolve and shift

A control point can be defined as a product, service or solution on which every other player in a value chain is heavily dependent. Their reliance on this component means the other players in the value chain generally have to accept the terms and conditions imposed by the entity that owns the control point. A good contemporary example is Apple’s App Store – owners of Apple’s devices depend on the App Store to get access to software they need/want, while app developers depend on the App Store to distribute their software to the 1.4 billion Apple devices in active use. This pivotal position allows Apple to levy a controversial commission of 30% on software and digital content sold through the App Store.

But few control points last forever: the App Store will only continue to be a control point if consumers continue to download a wide range of apps, rather than interacting with online services through a web browser or another software platform, such as a messaging app. Recent history shows that as technology evolves, control points can be sidestepped or marginalised. For example, Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Internet Explorer browser were once regarded as key control points in the personal computing ecosystem, but neither piece of software is still at the heart of most consumers’ online experience.

Similarly, the gateway role of Apple’s App Store looks set to be eroded over time. Towards the end of 2018, Netflix — the App Store’s top grossing app — no longer allowed new customers to sign up and subscribe to the streaming service within the Netflix app for iOS across all global markets, according to a report by TechCrunch. That move is designed to cut out the expensive intermediary — Apple. Citing data compiled by Sensor Tower, the report said Netflix would have paid Apple US$256 million of the US$853 million grossed by its 2018 the Netflix iOS app, assuming a 30% commission for Apple (however, after the first year, Apple’s cut on subscription renewals is lowered to 15%).

TechCrunch noted that Netflix is following in the footsteps of Amazon, which has historically restricted movie and TV rentals and purchases to its own website or other “compatible” apps, instead of allowing them to take place through its Prime Video app for iOS or Android. In so doing, Amazon is preventing Apple or Google from taking a slice of its content revenues. Amazon takes the same approach with Kindle e-books, which also aren’t offered in the Kindle mobile app. Spotify has also discontinued the option to pay for its Premium service using Apple’s in-app payment system.

Skating ahead of the puck

As control points evolve and shift, some of today’s Internet giants, notably Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook, are skating where the puck is heading, acquiring the new players that might disrupt their existing control points. In fact, the willingness of today’s Internet platforms to spend big money on small companies suggests they are much more alert to this dynamic than their predecessors were. Facebook’s US$19 billion acquisition of messaging app WhatsApp, which has generated very little in the way of revenues, is perhaps the best example of the perceived value of strategic control points – consumers’ time and attention appears to be gradually shifting from traditional social into messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, or hybrid-services, such as Instagram, which Facebook also acquired.

In fact, the financial and regulatory leeway Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Apple enjoy (granted by long-sighted investors) almost constitutes another control point. Whereas deals by telcos and media companies tend to come under much tougher scrutiny and be restricted by rigorous financial modelling, the Internet giants are generally trusted to buy whoever they like.

The decision by Alphabet, the owner of Google, to establish its “Other Bets” division is another example of how today’s tech giants have learnt from the complacency of their predecessors. Whereas Microsoft failed to anticipate the rise of tablets and smart TVs, weakening its grip on the consumer computing market, Google has zealously explored the potential of new computing platforms, such as connected glasses, self-driving cars and smart speakers.

In essence, the current generation of tech leaders have taken Intel founder Andy Grove’s famous “only the paranoid survive” mantra to heart. Having swept away the old order, they realise their companies could also easily be side-lined by new players with new ways of doing things. Underlining this point, Larry Page, founder of Google, wrote in 2014:Many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, making only incremental changes. This incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, where change tends to be revolutionary, not evolutionary. People thought we were crazy when we acquired YouTube and Android and when we launched Chrome, but those efforts have matured into major platforms for digital video and mobile devices and a safer, popular browser.”

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • What constitutes a control point?
    • Control points evolve and shift
    • New kinds of control points
  • The big data dividend
    • Can incumbents’ big data advantage be overcome?
    • Data has drawbacks – dangers of distraction
    • How does machine learning change the data game?
  • The power of network effects
    • The importance of the ecosystem
    • Cloud computing capacity and capabilities
    • Digital identity and digital payments
  • The value of vertical integration
    • The machine learning super cycle
    • The machine learning cycle in action – image recognition
  • Tesla’s journey towards self-driving vehicles
    • Custom-made computing architecture
    • Training the self-driving software
    • But does Tesla have a sustainable advantage?
  • Regulatory checks and balances
  • Conclusions and recommendations

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5G and MVNOs: Slicing up the wholesale market

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: Thick vs thin MVNOs and resellers

Thick vs. thin MVNOs and resellers

Source: Mobilise Consulting

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

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

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

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

Contents:

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

Figures:

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

Will a big bet on banking pay for Orange – and other telcos?

Introduction

This report analyses Orange’s launch of Orange Bank at the end of 2017, examining the strategy behind the new services, considering why Orange decided to launch a bank independently and exploring the ways in which the business model could be relevant to other telcos.

In examining the business case, the report looks at what Orange learnt from its previous mobile money initiatives, what its long-term strategy is, why it chose to launch a new banking service and how it was aided or impeded by regulatory changes in the industry.

The report is structured into the following sections:

  • The first part of the report outlines consumer behaviour changes and regulatory intervention in the payments industry. This explains why the current climate is aiding the launch of new mobile banking services by telcos and other innovative players.
  • The second section considers the strength of the banks’ position in the consumer payments market, and how leveraging customer data and digital services can provide opportunities in this area, with a particular focus on telcos.
  • The third and final section examines the Orange Bank proposition in detail, mobile money strategies from operators in developed and developing markets, and how Orange’s approach can inform similar telco strategies, while also suggesting ways for telcos to differentiate themselves from the competition.

How consumer financial services is changing

Smartphones drive fintech adoption

Digital financial services, part of the broader fintech trend[1], have been gaining traction among consumers for some time. By some measures, about one quarter[2] of the global population are already using some kind of fintech innovation, while fintech start-ups have secured $45 billion in funding since 2015.

In France, for example, 793.4 million online banking payments were made last year, according to the European Central Bank, an increase from 586.2 million in 2014. Ernst & Young (EY) predicts the number of customers going online to open an account in France will surge nearly six-fold to 17 million in the next ten years. In addition, there has been an increase in bank licences being issued to non-traditional banks in international markets. In the UK, for example, there has been a steady influx of licences issued since the financial regulators relaxed rules for new entrants in 2013, according to the Bank of England. Overall, there has been a shift in industry perspectives about the feasibility of launching new banking products and competing with the incumbents.

Fintech providers are benefitting from the global adoption of smartphones, which is growing at an extraordinary pace: today there are about 4 billion smartphone connections, nearly double the figure of three years ago[3]. As consumers are increasingly using smartphones for many aspects of their lives, brands, tech companies and whole industries are finding they are required to innovate to stay relevant, and banking is no exception to this rule. In many cases, incumbent financial services players have been slow to adapt to the rise of the smartphones, opening up an opportunity for newer, more agile players, such as challenger banks or mobile operators wielding new technologies and innovative banking concepts.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Technology and regulation rock banking
  • Recommendations and takeaways
  • Introduction
  • How consumer financial services is changing
  • Smartphones drive fintech adoption
  • New regulation to shake up payments industry
  • Banks under pressure to innovate
  • Orange Bank, a mobile-first proposition
  • Incumbents’ response to Orange Bank
  • Telcos’ track record in financial services
  • The developing world
  • The developed world
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Orange Bank looks promising
  • Telcos have multiple options in the banking market
  • Recommendations and takeaways

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Orange Bank provides customers with a breakdown of their spending
  • Figure 2: Orange Bank is clearly differentiated from existing banking services
  • Figure 3: Many reviews of the Orange Bank App are critical
  • Figure 4: The global mobile money industry is still expanding quickly

[1] Fintech is defined by STL Partners as “technology that improves and disrupts financial services”, as outlined in Fintech: Definition and Landscape Overview, June 2016

[2] Frost & Sullivan, AI and Big Data Technologies Transforming Financial Services, September 2017

[3] GSMA Intelligence, 2017

Indoor wireless: A new frontier for IoT and 5G

Introduction to Indoor Wireless

A very large part of the usage of mobile devices – and mobile and other wireless networks – is indoors. Estimates vary but perhaps 70-80% of all wireless data is used while fixed or “nomadic”, inside a building. However, the availability and quality of indoor wireless connections (of all types) varies hugely. This impacts users, network operators, businesses and, ultimately, governments and society.

Whether the use-case is watching a YouTube video on a tablet from a sofa, booking an Uber from a phone in a company’s reception, or controlling a moving robot in a factory, the telecoms industry needs to give much more thought to the user-requirements, technologies and obstacles involved. This is becoming ever more critical as sensitive IoT applications emerge, which are dependent on good connectivity – and which don’t have the flexibility of humans. A sensor or piece of machinery cannot move and stand by a window for a better signal – and may well be in parts of a building that are inaccessible to both humans and many radio transmissions.

While mobile operators and other wireless service providers have important roles to play here, they cannot do everything, everywhere. They do not have the resources, and may lack site access. Planning, deploying and maintaining indoor coverage can be costly.

Indeed, the growing importance and complexity is such that a lot of indoor wireless infrastructure is owned by the building or user themselves – which then brings in further considerations for policymakers about spectrum, competition and more. There is a huge upsurge of interest in both improved Wi-Fi, and deployments of private cellular networks indoors, as some organisations recognise connectivity as so strategically-important they wish to control it directly, rather than relying on service providers. Various new classes of SP are emerging too, focused on particular verticals or use-cases.

In the home, wireless networks are also becoming a battleground for “ecosystem leverage”. Fixed and cable networks want to improve their existing Wi-Fi footprint to give “whole home” coverage worthy of gigabit fibre or cable connections. Cellular providers are hoping to swing some residential customers to mobile-only subscriptions. And technology firms like Google see home Wi-Fi as a pivotal element to anchor other smart-home services.

Large enterprise and “campus” sites like hospitals, chemical plants, airports, hotels and shopping malls each have complex on-site wireless characteristics and requirements. No two are alike – but all are increasingly dependent on wireless connections for employees, visitors and machines. Again, traditional “outdoors” cellular service-providers are not always best-placed to deliver this – but often, neither is anyone else. New skills and deployment models are needed, ideally backed with more cost—effective (and future-proofed) technology and tools.

In essence, there is a conflict between “public network service” and “private property” when it comes to wireless connectivity. For the fixed network, there is a well-defined “demarcation point” where a cable enters the building, and ownership and responsibilities switch from telco to building owner or end-user. For wireless, that demarcation is much harder to institutionalise, as signals propagate through walls and windows, often in unpredictable and variable fashion. Some large buildings even have their own local cellular base stations, and dedicated systems to “pipe the signal through the building” (distributed antenna systems, DAS).

Where is indoor coverage required?

There are numerous sub-divisions of “indoors”, each of which brings its own challenges, opportunities and market dynamics:

• Residential properties: houses & apartment blocks
• Enterprise “carpeted offices”, either owned/occupied, or multi-tenant
• Public buildings, where visitors are more numerous than staff (e.g. shopping malls, sports stadia, schools), and which may also have companies as tenants or concessions.
• Inside vehicles (trains, buses, boats, etc.) and across transport networks like metro systems or inside tunnels
• Industrial sites such as factories or oil refineries, which may blend “indoors” with “onsite”

In addition to these broad categories are assorted other niches, plus overlaps between the sectors. There are also other dimensions around scale of building, single-occupant vs. shared tenancy, whether the majority of “users” are humans or IoT devices, and so on.

In a nutshell: indoor wireless is complex, heterogeneous, multi-stakeholder and often expensive to deal with. It is no wonder that most mobile operators – and most regulators – focus on outdoor, wide-area networks both for investment, and for license rules on coverage. It is unreasonable to force a telco to provide coverage that reaches a subterranean, concrete-and-steel bank vault, when their engineers wouldn’t even be allowed access to it.

How much of a problem is indoor coverage?

Anecdotally, many locations have problems with indoor coverage – cellular networks are patchy, Wi- Fi can be cumbersome to access and slow, and GPS satellite location signals don’t work without line- of-sight to several satellites. We have all complained about poor connectivity in our homes or offices, or about needing to stand next to a window. With growing dependency on mobile devices, plus the advent of IoT devices everywhere, for increasingly important applications, good wireless connectivity is becoming more essential.

Yet hard data about indoor wireless coverage is also very patchy. UK regulator Ofcom is one of the few that reports on availability / usability of cellular signals, and few regulators (Japan’s is another) enforce it as part of spectrum licenses. Fairly clearly, it is hard to measure, as operators cannot do systematic “drive tests” indoors, while on-device measurements usually cannot determine if they are inside or outside without being invasive of the user’s privacy. Most operators and regulators estimate coverage, based on some samples plus knowledge of outdoor signal strength and typical building construction practices. The accuracy (and up-to-date assumptions) is highly questionable.

Indoor coverage data is hard to find

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Likely outcomes
  • What telcos need to do
  • Introduction to Indoor Wireless
  • Overview
  • Where is indoor coverage required?
  • How much of a problem is indoor coverage?
  • The key science lesson of indoor coverage
  • The economics of indoor wireless
  • Not just cellular coverage indoors
  • Yet more complications are on the horizon…
  • The role of regulators and policymakers
  • Systems and stakeholders for indoor wireless
  • Technical approaches to indoor wireless
  • Stakeholders for indoor wireless
  • Home networking: is Mesh Wi-Fi the answer?
  • Is outside-in cellular good enough for the home on its own?
  • Home Wi-Fi has complexities and challenges
  • Wi-Fi innovations will perpetuate its dominance
  • Enterprise/public buildings and the rise of private cellular and neutral host models
  • Who pays?
  • Single-operator vs. multi-operator: enabling “neutral hosts”
  • Industrial sites and IoT
  • Conclusions
  • Can technology solve MNO’s “indoor problem”?
  • Recommendations

Figures:

  • Indoor coverage data is hard to find
  • Insulation impacts indoor penetration significantly
  • 3.5GHz 5G might give acceptable indoor coverage
  • Indoor wireless costs and revenues
  • In-Building Wireless face a dynamic backdrop
  • Key indoor wireless architectures
  • Different building types, different stakeholders
  • Whole-home meshes allow Wi-Fi to reach all corners of the building
  • Commercial premises now find good wireless essential
  • Neutral Hosts can offer multi-network coverage to smaller sites than DAS
  • Every industrial sector has unique requirements for wireless

Big data analytics – Time to up the ante

Introduction

Recent years have seen an explosion in the amount of data being generated by people and devices, thanks to more advanced network infrastructure, widespread adoption of smartphones and related applications, and digital consumer services. With the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), the amount of data being captured, stored, searched and analysed will only continue to increase. Such is the volume and variety of the data that it is beyond traditional processing software and is therefore referred to as ‘big data’.

Big data is of a greater magnitude and variety than traditional data, it comes from multiple sources and can be comprised of various formats, generated, stored and utilised in batches and/or in real-time. There is much talk and discussion around big data and analytics and its potential in many sectors, including telecommunications. As Figure 1 shows, analysis of big data can give an improved basis upon which to base human-led and automated decisions by providing better insight and allowing greater understanding of the situation being addressed.

Figure 1: Using Big Data can result in richer data insights

Source: STL Partners

This report analyses how telcos are pursuing big data analytics, and how to be successful in this regard.  This report seeks to answer the following questions:

  • When does data become ‘big’ and why is it an important issue for telcos?
  • What is the current state of telco big data implementations?
  • Who is doing what in terms of intelligent use of data and analytics?
  • How can big data analytics improve internal operational efficiencies?
  • How can big data be used to improve the relationship between telcos and their customers?
  • Where are the greatest revenue opportunities for telcos to employ big data, e.g. B2B, B2C?
  • Which companies are leading the way in enabling telcos to successfully realise big data strategies?
  • What is required in terms of infrastructure, dedicated teams and partners for successful implementation?

This report discusses implementations of big data and examines how the market will develop as telco awareness, understanding and readiness to make use of big data improves.  It provides an overview of the opportunities and use cases that can be realised and recommends what telcos need to do to achieve these.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Big data analytics is important
  • …but it’s not a quick win
  • …it’s a strategic play that takes commitment
  • How is ‘big data analytics’ different from ‘analytics’?
  • Opportunities for telcos: typically internal then external
  • Market development and trends
  • Challenges and restrictions in practice
  • What makes a successful big data strategy?
  • Next steps
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • An overview of big data analytics
  • Volume, variety and velocity – plus veracity and value
  • The significance of big data for telcos and their future strategies
  • Market development and trends
  • Challenges and restrictions
  • Optimisation and efficiency versus data monetisation
  • Telcos’ big data ecosystem
  • Case studies and results 
  • Early results
  • Big data analytics use cases
  • Examples of internal use-cases
  • Examples of external use cases
  • Findings, conclusions and recommendations

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Using Big Data can result in richer data insights
  • Figure 2: The data-centric telco: infusing data to improve efficiency across functions
  • Figure 3: Options for telcos’ big data implementations
  • Figure 4: Telco’s big data partner ecosystem
  • Figure 5: The components of a telco-oriented big data

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Introduction

Why healthcare?

Healthcare is one of the few sectors where, in every country, there is a huge and ongoing need. This demand will only rise as populations age and grow, exacerbating significant pain points relating to costs and funding models, and unmet needs. Meanwhile, the combination of cost pressures, the sensitive nature of health data and the complexity of healthcare systems have left it as one of the least digitised sectors. Thus, many telcos have identified healthcare as a sector where there is significant opportunity to drive efficiency through new services leveraging their network infrastructure and customer reach.

In some respects, telcos are well positioned to fill the healthcare sector’s needs. For example, enabling doctors to offer virtual care to patients through secure messaging or video chats, and to share electronic health records with patients and other doctors more easily, seem like low hanging fruit. However, in practice this is much more complicated; hospitals, primary care providers (general practitioners, family doctors), specialised clinics (e.g. mental health, physiotherapy) and pharmacies all store patient records in different systems (that are not necessarily digitised), and have different views on how to securely share data between each other. Every healthcare system also has a unique funding model, ranging from predominantly privately funded through insurance providers or out of pocket payments, like the United States, to single payer models like the UK, where the National Health Service accounts for more than 80% of healthcare spending, and budgets – including IT solutions – are closely tied to electoral and economic cycles.

These synergies have prompted a number of telcos to launch consumer health services or to pursue opportunities in the health IT market. Besides TELUS, AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Telefónica, NTT DoCoMo, Telstra, Deutsche Telekom AG and BT have all been active in healthcare. We explore their strategies and differences in comparison with TELUS’ approach on page 33. Why TELUS? This report focuses on TELUS Health, which has one of the longest and the most committed investment into the healthcare sector by a telco that we are aware of. We see it as a leading example of how telcos can build a business in healthcare, as well as in other sectors that are not instinctively linked to telecoms.

To put the Canadian healthcare market, which TELUS entered ten years ago, into context:

  • Canada’s healthcare system is fragmented between 13 provincial/territorial systems and the federal level.
  • The payer model is split between the government (70%) for necessary hospital and physician services and private insurers (30%) for supplemental care and drug prescriptions.
  • Healthcare spending accounted for 11.1% of GDP in 2016, on par with other developed countries globally.
  • The huge geographical distances mean that the 19% of Canadians living in rural areas have very limited access to specialist care.
  • Adoption of electronic medical record (EMR) systems among family doctors and specialised clinics started from a low base of 20% in 2006, rising to 62% in 2013 and 80% by 2017.

Why TELUS got into healthcare: a viable growth opportunity

Starting in 2005, led by the CEO Darren Entwistle, TELUS executives came to a consensus that just focusing on connectivity would not be enough to sustain long term revenue growth for telecoms companies in Canada, so the telco began a search into adjacent areas where it felt there were strong synergies with its core assets and capabilities. TELUS initially considered options in many sectors with similar business environments to telecoms – i.e. high fixed costs, capex intensive, highly regulated – including financial services, healthcare and energy (mining, oil).

In contrast with other telcos in Canada and globally, TELUS made a conscious decision not to focus on entertainment, anticipating that regulatory moves to democratise access to content would gradually erode the differentiating value of exclusive rights.

By 2007, health had emerged as TELUS’ preferred option for a ‘content play’, supported by four key factors which remain crucial to TELUS’ ongoing commitment to the healthcare sector, nearly a decade later. These are:

  1. Strong correlation with TELUS’ socially responsible brand. TELUS has always prioritised social responsibility as a core company value, consistently being recognised by Canadian, North American and global organisations for its commitment to sustainability and philanthropy. For example, in 2010, the Association for Fundraising Professionals’ named it the most outstanding philanthropic corporation in the world. Thus, investing into the healthcare, with the aim of improving efficiency and health outcomes through digitisation of the sector, closely aligns with TELUS’ core values.
  2. Healthcare’s low digital base. Healthcare was and remains one of the least digitised sectors both in Canada and globally. This is due to a number of factors, including the complexity and fragmented nature of healthcare systems, the difficulty of identifying the right payer model for digital solutions, and cultural resistance among healthcare workers who are already stretched for time and resources.
  3. Personal commitment from the CEO, Darren Entwistle. TELUS’ CEO since he joined the company in 2000, Based on personal experiences with the flaws in the Canadian healthcare system, Darren Entwistle forged his conviction that there was a business case for TELUS to drive adoption of digital health records and other ehealth solutions that could help minimise such errors, which was crucial in winning and maintaining shareholders’ support for investment into health IT.
  4. Healthcare is a growing sector. An ageing population means that the burden on Canada’s healthcare system has and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. As people live longer, the demands on the healthcare system are also shifting from acute care to chronic care. For example, data from the OECD and the Canadian Institute for Health Information show that the rate of chronic disease among patients over 65 years old is double that of those aged 45-64 (see figure 3). Meanwhile, funding is not increasing at the same rate as demand, convincing TELUS of the need for the type of digital disruption that has occurred in many other sectors.

That all four of TELUS’ reasons for investing in healthcare remain equally relevant in 2017 as in 2007 is key to its unwavering commitment to the sector. Darren Entwistle refers to healthcare as a ‘generational investment’, saying that over the long term, TELUS may shift into a healthcare company that offers telecoms services, rather than the other way around.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Healthcare can be a viable investment opportunity…
  • …But there are risks
  • Introduction
  • Why TELUS got into healthcare: a viable growth opportunity
  • How TELUS got into healthcare: buying a way in
  • Overview of the Canadian healthcare system
  • The payer model
  • Access to healthcare and demographics
  • TELUS’ objectives and evidence of success in healthcare
  • Build a new revenue stream
  • Synergy: supporting telecoms revenues
  • Differentiate brand among consumers
  • Drive better health outcomes
  • Understanding TELUS Health’s strategy
  • TELUS Health’s three step strategy
  • eHealth market challenges: how is TELUS responding?
  • Comparing TELUS with other telcos: a deeper dive
  • Lessons for other telcos
  • Challenges of the digital health market
  • Healthcare is a long-term play
  • Healthcare matrix: mapping the healthcare sector for telcos

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Snapshot of TELUS Health business
  • Figure 2: Public vs. private healthcare services in Canada
  • Figure 3: Rate of chronic disease rises dramatically among seniors
  • Figure 4: TELUS Health’s reach in the healthcare market
  • Figure 5: TELUS Health is outpacing TELUS in revenue growth
  • Figure 6: TELUS Health’s contribution to TELUS revenues
  • Figure 7: Healthcare investment contributes to improving customer loyalty
  • Figure 8: How do consumers feel about TELUS?
  • Figure 9: TELUS vs. other Canadian telcos’ consumer brand score and rank
  • Figure 10: BC pilot of HHM shows reduction in hospital admissions
  • Figure 11: TELUS acquisitions
  • Figure 12: Methodology for building collaborative solutions
  • Figure 13: List of collaborative solutions and end-users
  • Figure 14: Roadmap for eClaims solution
  • Figure 15: Roadmap for PharmaSpace solution
  • Figure 16: Roadmap for Mobile EMR solution
  • Figure 17: Patient engagement is central to TELUS Health’s target growth opportunities
  • Figure 18: Home health monitoring overview
  • Figure 19: Results of HHM trials across two health authorities in British Colombia
  • Figure 20: Healthcare in TELUS ad campaigns
  • Figure 21: Sample of TELUS Health investments and partnerships
  • Figure 22: Telco digital health strategies
  • Figure 23: Healthcare Matrix scoring criteria
  • Figure 24: Where are telcos’ strengths in digital health?

Regulation: A Good Case for Change (at last)

Introduction

As one of the most regulated sectors of the economy, telecoms services are the product of a complex mix of market forces and a multitude of rules governing everything from prices to the availability of spectrum. Many of these rules date from the days when an incumbent telco, often state-owned, was the dominant player in the market and needed to be carefully scrutinised by regulators. However, some of these rules, such as those governing Net Neutrality, are relatively new and relate to telcos’ role as the gateway to the Internet, which has become so fundamental to modern life. For more on this topic, please see STL Partners’ recent report: Net Neutrality 2021: IoT, NFV and 5G ready?

As telcos’ profitability has come under increasing pressure, they are lobbying hard for greater regulatory freedom. This report outlines and analyses telcos’ various campaigns to improve the business case for infrastructure investment and level the playing field with Internet players, such as Google and Facebook. It also considers whether telcos are actually putting their money where their mouth is. Is the current regulatory and competitive climate actually prompting them to cut back on investment? What will be the impact on 5G?

For their part, governments are increasingly aware of the need to stimulate new investments and new solutions in the digital economy. Greater digitisation could help solve important socio-economic problems. For example, most governments believe that digital technologies can improve the business environment, and support lower-cost, but effective, healthcare, education and security services, that will make their economies function and grow. The EU, for example, is trying to build a Digital Single Market, while the Indian government’s Digital India initiative aims to make all public services available online.

Thus governments need telcos and tech companies to succeed. Given that telcos are typically more national than global in their outlook and organisation, they tend to seem a more natural partner for national governments than the giant Internet players, such as Google and Apple.

In light of these factors, this report explores whether policymakers’ priorities are changing and how regulatory principles and competition policy are evolving. In particular, it considers whether policymakers and regulators are now taking a tougher stance with the major Internet platforms. Finally, the report analyses several areas of uncertainty – arenas in which telcos and others are likely to concentrate their lobbying efforts in future, and gives our high level analysis of areas of potential for telcos – and regulators – to make progress.

 

  • Introducton
  • Executive Summary
  • The regulatory constraints on telcos
  • Telcos’ lobbying efforts
  • More than just talk?
  • Policymakers change their priorities
  • Taking a tougher line with Internet players
  • Conclusions and areas of uncertainty

 

  • Figure 1: EBIT margins for various segments of the digital economy
  • Figure 2: ROCE in various segments of the digital value chain
  • Figure 3: Western Europe isn’t investing enough in telecoms infrastructure
  • Figure 4: Europe’s big five have stepped up capital spending
  • Figure 5: Vodafone & Telecom Italia invest more than 20% of revenues
  • Figure 6: The capital intensity of European telcos has been rising
  • Figure 7: Europe’s large telcos are seeing ROCE fall
  • Figure 8: Europe lags behind on LTE availability
  • Figure 9: In the UK, mobile operators already share infrastructure
  • Figure 10: The EU alleges Google uses Android to unfairly promote its apps
  • Figure 11: The key issues in telecoms regulation & their relative importance
  • Figure 12: The flywheel that can be driven by ROCE-aware regulation

Net Neutrality 2021: IoT, NFV and 5G ready?

Introduction

It’s been a while since STL Partners last tackled the thorny issue of Net Neutrality. In our 2010 report Net Neutrality 2.0: Don’t Block the Pipe, Lubricate the Market we made a number of recommendations, including that a clear distinction should be established between ‘Internet Access’ and ‘Specialised Services’, and that operators should be allowed to manage traffic within reasonable limits providing their policies and practices were transparent and reported.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the decade-long legal and regulatory wrangling is still rumbling on, albeit with rather more detail and nuance than in the past. Some countries have now implemented laws with varying severity, while other regulators have been more advisory in their rules. The US, in particular, has been mired in debate about the process and authority of the FCC in regulating Internet matters, but the current administration and courts have leaned towards legislating for neutrality, against (most) telcos’ wishes. The political dimension is never far away from the argument, especially given the global rise of anti-establishment movements and parties.

Some topics have risen in importance (such as where zero-rating fits in), while others seem to have been mostly-agreed (outright blocking of legal content/apps is now widely dismissed by most). In contrast, discussion and exploration of “sender-pays” or “sponsored” data appears to have reduced, apart from niches and trials (such as AT&T’s sponsored data initiative), as it is both technically hard to implement and suffers from near-zero “willingness to pay” by suggested customers. Some more-authoritarian countries have implemented their own “national firewalls”, which block specific classes of applications, or particular companies’ services – but this is somewhat distinct from the commercial, telco-specific view of traffic management.

In general, the focus of the Net Neutrality debate is shifting to pricing issues, often in conjunction with the influence/openness of major web and app “platform players” such as Facebook or Google. Some telco advocates have opportunistically tried to link Net Neutrality to claimed concerns over “Platform Neutrality”, although that discussion is now largely separate and focused more on bundling and privacy concerns.

At the same time, there is still some interest in differential treatment of Internet traffic in terms of Quality of Service (QoS) – and also, a debate about what should be considered “the Internet” vs. “an internet”. The term “specialised services” crops up in various regulatory instruments, notably in the EU – although its precise definition remains fluid. In particular, the rise of mobile broadband for IoT use-cases, and especially the focus on low-latency and critical-communications uses in future 5G standards, almost mandate the requirement for non-neutrality, at some levels at least. It is much less-likely that “paid prioritisation” will ever extend to mainstream web-access or mobile app data. Large-scale video streaming services such as Netflix are perhaps still a grey area for some regulatory intervention, given the impact they have on overall network loads. At present, the only commercial arrangements are understood to be in CDNs, or paid-peering deals, which are (strictly speaking) nothing to do with Net Neutrality per most definitions. We may even see pressure for regulators to limit fees charged for Internet interconnect and peering.

This report first looks at the changing focus of the debate, then examines the underlying technical and industry drivers that are behind the scenes. It then covers developments in major countries and regions, before giving recommendations for various stakeholders.

STL Partners is also preparing a broader research piece on overall regulatory trends, to be published in the next few months as part of its Executive Briefing Service.

What has changed?

Where have we come from?

If we wind the clock back a few years, the Net Neutrality debate was quite different. Around 2012/13, the typical talking-points were subjects such as:

  • Whether mobile operators could block messaging apps like WhatsApp, VoIP services like Skype, or somehow charge those types of providers for network access / interconnection.
  • If fixed-line broadband providers could offer “fast lanes” for Netflix or YouTube traffic, often conflating arguments about access-network links with core-network peering capacity.
  • Rhetoric about the so-called “sender-pays” concept, with some lobbying for introducing settlements for data traffic that were reminiscent of telephony’s called / caller model.
  • Using DPI (deep packet inspection) to discriminate between applications and charge for “a la carte” Internet access plans, at a granular level (e.g. per hour of view watched, or per social-network used).
  • The application of “two-sided business models”, with Internet companies paying for data capacity and/or quality on behalf of end-users.

Since then, many things have changed. Specific countries’ and regions laws’ will be discussed in the next section, but the last four years have seen major developments in the Netherlands, the US, Brazil, the EU and elsewhere.

At one level, the regulatory and political shifts can be attributed to the huge rise in the number of lobby groups on both Internet and telecom sides of the Neutrality debate. However, the most notable shift has been the emergence of consumer-centric pro-Neutrality groups, such as Access Now, EDRi and EFF, along with widely-viewed celebrity input from the likes of comedian John Oliver. This has undoubtedly led to the balance of political pressure shifting from large companies’ lawyers towards (sometimes slogan-led) campaigning from the general public.

But there have also been changes in the background trends of the Internet itself, telecom business models, and consumers’ and application developers’ behaviour. (The key technology changes are outlined in the section after this one). Various experiments and trials have been tried, with a mix of successes and failures.

Another important background trend has been the unstoppable momentum of particular apps and content services, on both fixed and mobile networks. Telcos are now aware that they are likely to be judged on how well Facebook or Spotify or WeChat or Netflix perform – so they are much less-inclined to indulge in regulatory grand-standing about having such companies “pay for the infrastructure” or be blocked. Essentially, there is tacit recognition that access to these applications is why customers are paying for broadband in the first place.

These considerations have shifted the debate in many important areas, making some of the earlier ideas unworkable, while other areas have come to the fore. Two themes stand out:

  • Zero-rating
  • Specialised services

Content:

  • Executive summary
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • What has changed?
  • Where have we come from?
  • Zero-rating as a battleground
  • Specialised services & QoS
  • Technology evolution impacting Neutrality debate
  • Current status
  • US
  • EU
  • India
  • Brazil
  • Other countries
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations

Connectivity for telco IoT / M2M: Are LPWAN & WiFi strategically important?

Introduction

5G, WiFi, GPRS, NB-IoT, LTE-M & LTE Categories 1 & 0, SigFox, Bluetooth, LoRa, Weightless-N & Weightless-P, ZigBee, EC-GSM, Ingenu, Z-Wave, Nwave, various satellite standards, optical/laser connections and more….. the list of current or proposed wireless network technologies for the “Internet of Things” seems to be growing longer by the day. Some are long-range, some short. Some high power/bandwidth, some low. Some are standardised, some proprietary. And while most devices will have some form of wireless connection, there are certain categories that will use fibre or other fixed-network interfaces.

There is no “one-size fits all”, although some hope that 5G will ultimately become an “umbrella” for many of them, in the 2020 time-frame and beyond. But telcos, especially mobile operators, need to consider which they will support in the shorter-term horizon, and for which M2M/IoT use-cases. That universe is itself expanding too, with new IoT products and systems being conceived daily, spanning everything from hobbyists’ drones to industrial robots. All require some sort of connectivity, but the range of costs, data capabilities and robustness varies hugely.

Two over-riding question themes emerge:

  • What are the business cases for deploying IoT-centric networks – and are they dependent on offering higher-level management or vertical solutions as well? Is offering connectivity – even at very low prices/margins – essential for telcos to ensure relevance and differentiate against IoT market participants?
  • What are the longer-term strategic issues around telcos supporting and deploying proprietary or non-3GPP networking technologies? Is the diversity a sensible way to address short-term IoT opportunities, or does it risk further undermining the future primacy of telco-centric standards and business models? Either way telcos need to decide how much energy they wish to expend, before they embrace the inevitability of alternative competing networks in this space.

This report specifically covers IoT-centric network connectivity. It fits into Telco 2.0’s Future of the Network research stream, and also intersects with our other ongoing work on IoT/M2M applications, including verticals such as the connected car, connected home and smart cities. It focuses primarily on new network types, rather than marketing/bundling approaches for existing services.

The Executive Briefing report IoT – Impact on M2M, Endgame and Implications from March 2015 outlined three strategic areas of M2M business model innovation for telcos:

  • Improve existing M2M operations: Dedicated M2M business units structured around priority verticals with dedicated resources. Such units allow telcos to tailor their business approach and avoid being constrained by traditional strategies that are better suited to mobile handset offerings.
  • Move into new areas of M2M: Expansion along the value chain through both acquisitions and partnerships, and the formation of M2M operator ‘alliances.’
  • Explore the Internet of Things: Many telcos have been active in the connected home e.g. AT&T Digital Life. However, outsiders are raising the connected home (and IoT) opportunity stakes: Google, for example, acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in 2014.
Figure 2: The M2M Value Chain

 

Source: STL Partners, More With Mobile

In the 9 months since that report was published, a number of important trends have occurred in the M2M / IoT space:

  • A growing focus on the value of the “industrial Internet”, where sensors and actuators are embedded into offices, factories, agriculture, vehicles, cities and other locations. New use-cases and applications abound on both near- and far-term horizons.
  • A polarisation in discussion between ultra-fast/critical IoT (e.g. for vehicle-to-vehicle control) vs. low-power/cost IoT (e.g. distributed environmental sensors with 10-year battery life). 2015 discussion of IoT connectivity has been dominated by futuristic visions of 5G, or faster-than-expected deployment of LPWANs (low-power wide-area networks), especially based on new platforms such as SigFox or LoRa Alliance.
  • Comparatively slow emergence of dedicated individual connections for consumer IoT devices such as watches / wearables. With the exception of connected cars, most mainstream products connect via local “capillary” networks (e.g. Bluetooth and WiFi) to smartphones or home gateways acting as hubs, or a variety of corporate network platforms. The arrival of embedded SIMs might eventually lead to more individually-connected devices, but this has not materialised in volume yet.
  • Continued entry, investment and evolution of a broad range of major companies and start-ups, often with vastly different goals, incumbencies and competencies to telcos. Google, IBM, Cisco, GE, Intel, utility firms, vehicle suppliers and 1000s of others are trying to carve out roles in the value chain.
  • Growing impatience among some in the telecom industry with the pace of standardisation for some IoT-centric developments. A number of operators have looked outside the traditional cellular industry suppliers and technologies, eager to capitalise on short-term growth especially in LPWAN and in-building local connectivity. In response, vendors including Huawei, Ericsson and Qualcomm have stepped up their pace, although fully-standardised solutions are still some way off.

Connectivity in the wider M2M/IoT context

It is not always clear what the difference is between M2M and IoT, especially at a connectivity level. They now tend to be used synonymously, although the latter is definitely newer and “cooler”. Various vendors have their own spin on this – Cisco’s “Internet of Everything”, and Ericsson’s “Networked Society”, for example. It is also a little unclear where the IoT part ends, and the equally vague term “networked services” begins. It is also important to recognise that a sizeable part of the future IoT technology universe will not be based on “services” at all, although “user-owned” devices and systems are much harder for telcos to monetise.

An example might be a government encouraging adoption of electric vehicles. Cars and charging points are “things” which require data connections. At one level, an IoT application may simply guide drivers to their closest available power-source, but a higher-level “societal” application will collate data from both the IoT network and other sources. Thus data might also flow from bus and train networks, as well as traffic sensors, pollution monitors and even fitness trackers for walking and cycling, to see overall shifts in transport habits and help “nudge” commuters’ behaviour through pricing or other measures. In that context, the precise networks used to connect to the end-points become obscured in the other layers of software and service – although they remain essential building blocks.

Figure 3: Characterising the difference between M2M and IoT across six domains

Source: STL Partners, More With Mobile

(Note: the Future of Network research stream generally avoids using vague and loaded terms like “digital” and “OTT”. While concise, we believe they are often used in ways that guide readers’ thinking in wrong or unhelpful directions. Words and analogies are important: they can lead or mislead, often sub-consciously).

Often, it seems that the word “digital” is just a convenient cover, to avoid admitting that a lot of services are based on the Internet and provided over generic data connections. But there is more to it than that. Some “digital services” are distinctly non-Internet in nature (for example, if delivered “on-net” from set-top boxes). New IoT and M2M propositions may never involve any interaction with the web as we know it. Some may actually involve analogue technology as well as digital. Hybrids where apps use some telco network-delivered ingredients (via APIs), such as identity or one-time SMS passwords are becoming important.

Figure 4: ‘Digital’ and IoT convergence

Source: STL Partners, More With Mobile

We will also likely see many hybrid solutions emerging, for example where dedicated devices are combined with smartphones/PCs for particular functions. Thus a “digital home” service may link alarms, heating sensors, power meters and other connections via a central hub/console – but also send alerts and data to a smartphone app. It is already quite common for consumer/business drones to be controlled via a smartphone or tablet.

In terms of connectivity, it is also worth noting that “M2M” generally just refers to the use of conventional cellular modems and networks – especially 2G/3G. IoT expands this considerably – as well as future 5G networks and technologies being specifically designed with new use-cases in mind, we are also seeing the emergence of a huge range of dedicated 4G variants, plus new purpose-designed LPWAN platforms. IoT also intersects with the growing range of local/capillary[1] network technologies – which are often overlooked in conventional discussions about M2M.

Figure 5: Selected Internet of Things service areas

Source: STL Partners

The larger the number…

…the less relevance and meaning it has. We often hear of an emerging world of 20bn, 50bn, even trillions of devices being “networked”. While making for good headlines and press-releases, such numbers can be distracting.

While we will definitely be living in a transformed world, with electronics around us all the time – sensors, displays, microphones and so on – that does not easily translate into opportunities for telecom operators. The correct role for such data and forecasts is in the context of a particular addressable opportunity – otherwise one risks counting toasters, alongside sensors in nuclear power stations. As such, this report does not attempt to compete in counting “things” with other analyst firms, although references are made to approximate volumes.

For example, consider a typical large, modern building. It’s common to have temperature sensors, CCTV cameras, alarms for fire and intrusion, access control, ventilation, elevators and so forth. There will be an internal phone system, probably LAN ports at desks and WiFi throughout. In future it may have environmental sensors, smart electricity systems, charging points for electric vehicles, digital advertising boards and more. Yet the main impact on the telecom industry is just a larger Internet connection, and perhaps some dedicated lines for safety-critical systems like the fire alarm. There may well be 1,000 or 10,000 connected “things”, and yet for a cellular operator the building is more likely to be a future driver of cost (e.g. for in-building radio coverage for occupants’ phones) rather than extra IoT revenue. Few of the building’s new “things” will have SIM cards and service-based radio connections in any case – most will link into the fixed infrastructure in some way.

One also has to doubt some of the predicted numbers – there is considerable vagueness and hand-waving inherent in the forecasts. If a car in 2020 has 10 smart sub-systems, and 100 sensors reporting data, does that count as 1, 10 or 100 “things” connected? Is the key criterion that smart appliances in a connected home are bought individually – and therefore might be equipped with individual wide-area network connections? When such data points are then multiplied-up to give traffic forecasts, there are multiple layers of possible mathematical error.

This highlights the IoT quantification dilemma – everyone focuses on the big numbers, many of which are simple spreadsheet extrapolations, made without much consideration of the individual use-cases. And the larger the headline number, the less-likely the individual end-points will be directly addressed by telcos.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Connectivity in the wider M2M/IoT context
  • The larger the number…
  • The IoT network technology landscape
  • Overview – it’s not all cellular
  • The emergence of LPWANs & telcos’ involvement
  • The capillarity paradox: ARPU vs. addressability
  • Where does WiFi fit?
  • What will the impact of 5G be?
  • Other technology considerations
  • Strategic considerations
  • Can telcos compete in IoT without connectivity?
  • Investment vs. service offer
  • Regulatory considerations
  • Are 3GPP technologies being undermined?
  • Risks & threats
  • Conclusion

 

  • Figure 1: Telcos can only fully monetise “things” they can identify uniquely
  • Figure 2: The M2M Value Chain
  • Figure 3: Characterising the difference between M2M and IoT across six domains
  • Figure 4: ‘Digital’ and IoT convergence
  • Figure 5: Selected Internet of Things service areas
  • Figure 6: Cellular M2M is growing, but only a fraction of IoT overall
  • Figure 7: Wide-area IoT-related wireless technologies
  • Figure 8: Selected telco involvement with LPWAN
  • Figure 9: Telcos need to consider capillary networks pragmatically
  • Figure 10: Major telco types mapped to relevant IoT network strategies

Do network investments drive creation & sale of truly novel services?

Introduction

History: The network is the service

Before looking at how current network investments might drive future generations of telco-delivered services, it is worth considering some of the history, and examining how we got where we are today.

Most obviously, the original network build-outs were synonymous with the services they were designed to support. Both fixed and mobile operators started life as “phone networks”, with analogue or electro-mechanical switches. (Earlier descendants were designed to service telegraph and pagers, respectively). Cable operators began as conduits for analogue TV signals. These evolved to support digital switches of various types, as well as using IP connections internally.

From the 1980s onwards, it was hoped that future generations of telecom services would be enabled by, and delivered from, the network itself – hence acronyms like ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and IN (Intelligent Network).

But the earliest signs that “digital services” might come from outside the telecom network were evident even at that point. Large companies built up private networks to support their own phone systems (PBXs). Various 3rd-party “value-added networks” (VAN) and “electronic data interchange” (EDI) services emerged in industries such as the automotive sector, finance and airlines. And from the early 1990s, consumers started to get access to bulletin boards and early online services like AOL and CompuServe, accessed using dial-up modems.

And then, around 1994, the first web browsers were introduced, and the model of Internet access and ISPs took off, initially with narrowband connections using modems, but then swiftly evolving to ADSL-based broadband. From 1990 onwards, the bulk of new consumer “digital services” were web-based, or using other Internet protocols such as email and private messaging. At the same time, businesses evolved their own private data networks (using telco “pipes” such as leased-lines, frame-relay and the like), supporting their growing client/server computing and networked-application needs.

Figure 1: In recent years, most digital services have been “non-network” based

Source: STL Partners

For fixed broadband, Internet access and corporate data connections have mostly dominated ever since, with rare exceptions such as Centrex phone and web-hosting services for businesses, or alarm-monitoring for consumers. The first VoIP-based carrier telephony service only emerged in 2003, and uptake has been slow and patchy – there is still a dominance of old, circuit-based fixed phone connections in many countries.

More recently, a few more “fixed network-integrated” offers have evolved – cloud platforms for businesses’ voice, UC and SaaS applications, content delivery networks, and assorted consumer-oriented entertainment/IPTV platforms. And in the last couple of years, operators have started to use their broadband access for a wider array of offers such as home-automation, or “on-boarding” Internet content sources into set-top box platforms.

The mobile world started evolving later – mainstream cellular adoption only really started around 1995. In the mobile world, most services prior to 2005 were either integrated directly into the network (e.g. telephony, SMS, MMS) or provided by operators through dedicated service delivery platforms (e.g. DoCoMo iMode, and Verizon’s BREW store). Some early digital services such as custom ringtones were available via 3rd-party channels, but even they were typically charged and delivered via SMS. The “mobile Internet” between 1999-2004 was delivered via specialised WAP gateways and servers, implemented in carrier networks. The huge 3G spectrum licence awards around 2000-2002 were made on the assumption that telcos would continue to act as creators or gatekeepers for the majority of mobile-delivered services.

It was only around 2005-6 that “full Internet access” started to become available for mobile users, both for those with early smartphones such as Nokia/Symbian devices, and via (quite expensive) external modems for laptops. In 2007 we saw two game-changers emerge – the first-generation Apple iPhone, and Huawei’s USB 3G modem. Both catalysed the wide adoption of the consumer “data plan”- hitherto almost unknown. By 2010, there were virtually no new network-based services, while the “app economy” and “vanilla” Internet access started to dominate mobile users’ behaviour and spending. Even non-Internet mobile services such as BlackBerry BES were offered via alternative non-telco infrastructure.

Figure 2: Mobile data services only shifted to “open Internet” plans around 2006-7

Source: Disruptive Analysis

By 2013, there had still been very few successful mobile digital-services offers that were actually anchored in cellular operators’ infrastructure. There have been a few positive signs in the M2M sphere and wholesaled SMS APIs, but other integrated propositions such as mobile network-based TV have largely failed. Once again the transition to IP-based carrier telephony has been slow – VoLTE is gaining grudging acceptance more from necessity than desire, while “official” telco messaging services like RCS have been abject failures. Neither can be described as “digital innovation”, either – there is little new in them.

The last two years, however, have seen the emergence of some “green shoots” for mobile services. Some new partnering / charging models have borne fruit, with zero-rated content/apps becoming quite prevalent, and a handful of developer platforms finally starting to gain traction, offering network-based features such as location awareness. Various M2M sectors such as automotive connectivity and some smart-metering has evolved. But the bulk of mobile “digital services” have been geared around iOS and Android apps, anchored in the cloud, rather than telcos’ networks.

So in 2015, we are currently in a situation where the majority of “cool” or “corporate” services in both mobile and fixed worlds owe little to “the network” beyond fast IP connectivity: the feared mythical (and factually-incorrect) “dumb pipe”. Connected “general-purpose” devices like PCs and smartphones are optimised for service delivery via the web and mobile apps. Broadband-connected TVs are partly used for operator-provided IPTV, but also for so-called “OTT” services such as Netflix.

And future networks and novel services? As discussed below, there are some positive signs stemming from virtualisation and some new organisational trends at operators to encourage innovative services – but it is not yet clear that they will be enough to overcome the open Internet’s sustained momentum.

What are so-called “digital services”?

It is impossible to visit a telecoms conference, or read a vendor press-release, without being bombarded by the word “digital” in a telecom context. Digital services, digital platforms, digital partnerships, digital agencies, digital processes, digital transformation – and so on.

It seems that despite the first digital telephone exchanges being installed in the 1980s and digital computing being de-rigeur since the 1950s, the telecoms industry’s marketing people have decided that 2015 is when the transition really occurs. But when the chaff is stripped away, what does it really mean, especially in the context of service innovation and the network?

Often, it seems that “digital” is just a convenient cover, to avoid admitting that a lot of services are based on the Internet and provided over generic data connections. But there is more to it than that. Some “digital services” are distinctly non-Internet in nature (for example, if delivered “on-net” from set-top boxes). New IoT and M2M propositions may never involve any interaction with the web as we know it. Hybrids where apps use some telco network-delivered ingredients (via APIs), such as identity or one-time SMS passwords are becoming important.

And in other instances the “digital” phrases relate to relatively normal services – but deployed and managed in a much more efficient and automated fashion. This is quite important, as a lot of older services still rely on “analogue” processes – manual configuration, physical “truck rolls” to install and commission, and high “touch” from sales or technical support people to sell and operate, rather than self-provisioning and self-care through a web portal. Here, the correct term is perhaps “digital transformation” (or even more prosaically simply “automation”), representing a mix of updated IP-based networks, and more modern and flexible OSS/BSS systems to drive and bill them.

STL identifies three separate mechanisms by which network investments can impact creation and delivery of services:

  • New networks directly enable the supply of wholly new services. For example, some IoT services or mobile gaming applications would be impossible without low-latency 4G/5G connections, more comprehensive coverage, or automated provisioning systems.
  • Network investment changes the economics of existing services, for example by removing costly manual processes, or radically reducing the cost of service delivery (e.g. fibre backhaul to cell sites)
  • Network investment occurs hand-in-hand with other changes, thus indirectly helping drive new service evolution – such as development of “partner on-boarding” capabilities or API platforms, which themselves require network “hooks”.

While the future will involve a broader set of content/application revenue streams for telcos, it will also need to support more, faster and differentiated types of data connections. Top of the “opportunity list” is the support for “Connected Everything” – the so-called Internet of Things, smart homes, connected cars, mobile healthcare and so on. Many of these will not involve connection via the “public Internet” and therefore there is a possibility for new forms of connectivity proposition or business model – faster- or lower-powered networks, or perhaps even the much-discussed but rarely-seen monetisation of “QoS” (Quality of Service). Even if not paid for directly, QoS could perhaps be integrated into compelling packages and data-service bundles.

There is also the potential for more “in-network” value to be added through SDN and NFV – for example, via distributed servers close to the edge of the network and “orchestrated” appropriately by the operator. (We covered this area in depth in the recent Telco 2.0 brief on Mobile Edge Computing How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today.)

In other words, virtualisation and the “software network” might allow truly new services, not just providing existing services more easily. That said, even if the answer is that the network could make a large-enough difference, there are still many extra questions about timelines, technology choices, business models, competitive and regulatory dynamics – and the practicalities and risks of making it happen.

Part of the complexity is that many of these putative new services will face additional sources of competition and/or substitution by other means. A designer of a new communications service or application has many choices about how to turn the concept into reality. Basing network investments on specific predictions of narrow services has a huge amount of risk, unless they are agreed clearly upfront.

But there is also another latent truth here: without ever-better (and more efficient) networks, the telecom industry is going to get further squeezed anyway. The network part of telcos needs to run just to stand still. Consumers will adopt more and faster devices, better cameras and displays, and expect network performance to keep up with their 4K videos and real-time games, without paying more. Businesses and governments will look to manage their networking and communications costs – and may get access to dark fibre or spectrum to build their own networks, if commercial services don’t continue to improve in terms of price-performance. New connectivity options are springing up too, from WiFi to drones to device-to-device connections.

In other words: some network investment will be “table stakes” for telcos, irrespective of any new digital services. In many senses, the new propositions are “upside” rather than the fundamental basis justifying capex.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • History: The network is the service
  • What are so-called “digital services”?
  • Service categories
  • Network domains
  • Enabler, pre-requisite or inhibitor?
  • Overview
  • Virtualisation
  • Agility & service enablement
  • More than just the network: lead actor & supporting cast
  • Case-studies, examples & counter-examples
  • Successful network-based novel services
  • Network-driven services: learning from past failures
  • The mobile network paradox
  • Conclusion: Services, agility & the network
  • How do so-called “digital” services link to the network?
  • Which network domains can make a difference?
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: In recent years, most digital services have been “non-network” based
  • Figure 2: Mobile data services only shifted to “open Internet” plans around 2006-7
  • Figure 3: Network spend both “enables” & “prevents inhibition” of new services
  • Figure 4: Virtualisation brings classic telco “Network” & “IT” functions together
  • Figure 5: Virtualisation-driven services: Cloud or Network anchored?
  • Figure 6: Service agility is multi-faceted. Network agility is a core element
  • Figure 7: Using Big Data Analytics to Predictively Cache Content
  • Figure 8: Major cablecos even outdo AT&T’s stellar performance in the enterprise
  • Figure 9: Mapping network investment areas to service opportunities

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

Introduction

Telecoms – the times they are a changin’

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

Europe, in particular, is facing great uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

The role of this report

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

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

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

 

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

Key Questions for The Future of the Network, Part 2: Forthcoming Disruptions

We recently published a report, Key Questions for The Future of the Network, Part 1: The Business Case, exploring the drivers for network investment.  In this follow-up report, we expand the coverage into two separate areas through which we explore 5 key questions:

Disruptive network technologies

  1. Virtualisation & the software telco – how far, how fast?
  2. What is the path to 5G? And what will it be used for?
  3. What is the role of WiFi & other wireless technologies?

External changes

  1. What are the impacts of government & regulation on the network?
  2. How will the vendor landscape change & what are the implications of this?

In the extract below, we outline the context for the first area – disruptive network technologies – and explore the rationales and processes associated with virtualisation (Question 1).

Critical network-technology disruptions

This section covers three huge questions which should be at the top of any CTO’s mind in a CSP – and those of many other executives as well. These are strategically-important technology shifts that have the potential to “change the game” in the longer term. While two of them are “wireless” in nature, they also impact fixed/fibre/cable domains, both through integration and potential substitution. These will also have knock-on effects in financial terms – directly in terms of capex/opex costs, or indirectly in terms of services enabled and revenues.

This is not intended as a round-up of every important trend across the technology spectrum. Clearly, there are many other evolutions occurring in device design, IoT, software-engineering, optical networking and semiconductor development. These will all intersect in some ways with telcos, but there are so many “logical hops” away from the process of actually building and running networks, that they don’t really fit into this document easily. (Although they do appear in contexts such as drivers of desirable 5G network capabilities).

Instead, the focus once again is on unanswered questions that link innovation with “disruption” of how networks are conceived and deployed. As described below, network-virtualisation has huge and diverse impacts across the CSP universe. 5G will likely have a large gap versus today’s 4G architecture, too. This is very different to changes which are mostly incremental.

The mobile and software focus of this section is deliberate. Fixed-network technologies – fast-evolving though they are – generally do not today cause “disruption” in a technical sense. As the name suggests, the current newest cable-industry standard, DOCSIS3.1, is an evolution of 3.0, not a revolution. There is no 4.0 on the drawing-boards, yet. But the relative ease of upgrade to “gigabit cable” may unleash more market-related disruptions, as telcos feel the need to play catch-up with their rivals’ swiftly-escalating headline speeds.

Fibre technologies also tend to be comparatively incremental, rather than driving (or enabling) massive organisational and competitive shifts. In fixed networks there are other important drivers – competition, network unbundling, 4K television, OTT-style video and so on – as well as important roles for virtualisation, which covers both mobile and fixed domains. For markets with high use of residential “OTT video” services such as Netflix – especially in 4K variants – the push to gigabit-range speeds may be faster than expected. This will also have knock-on impacts on the continued improvement of WiFi, defending against ever-faster cellular WiFi networks. Indeed, faster gigabit cable and FTTH networks will be necessary to provide backhaul for 4.5G and 5G cellular networks, both for normal cell-towers and the expected rapid growth of small-cells.

The questions covered in more depth here examine:

  • Virtualisation & the “software telco”: How fast will SDN and NFV appear in commercial networks, and how broad are their impacts in both medium and longer terms? 
  • What is the path from 4G to 5G? This is a less-obvious question than it might appear, as we do yet even have agreed definitions of what we want “5G” to do, let alone defined standards to do it.
  • What is the role of WiFi and other wireless technologies? 

All of these intersect, and have inter-dependencies. For instance, 5G networks are likely to embrace SDN/NFV as a core component, and also perhaps form an “umbrella” over other low-power wireless networks.

A fourth “critical” question would have been to consider security technology and processes. Clearly, the future network is going to face continued challenges from hackers and maybe even cyber-warfare, against which we will need to prepare. However, that is in many ways a broader set of questions that actually reflect on all the others – virtualisation will bring its own security dilemmas, as (no doubt) will 5G. WiFi already does. It is certainly a critical area that bears consideration at a strategic level within CSPs, although it is not addressed here as a specific “question”. It is also a huge and complex area that deserves separate study.

Non-disruptive network technologies

As well as being prepared to exploit truly disruptive innovations, the industry also needs to get better at spotting non-disruptive ones that are doomed to failure, and abandoning them before they incur too much cost or distraction. The telecoms sector has a long way to go before it embraces the start-up mentality of “failing fast” – there are too many hypothetical “standards” gathering dust on a metaphorical shelf, and never being deployed despite a huge amount of work. Sometimes they get shoe-horned into new architectures, as a way to breathe life into them – but that often just encumbers shiny new technologies with the failures of the past.

For example, over the past 10+ years, the telecom industry has been pitching IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) as the future platform for interoperating services. It is finally gaining some adoption, but essentially only as a way to implement VoIP versions of the phone system – and even then, with huge increases in complexity and often higher costs. It is not “disruptive” except insofar as sucking huge amounts of resources and management attention, away from other possible sources of genuine innovation. Few developers care about it, and the “technology politics” behind it have helped contribute to the industry’s problems, not the solutions. While there is growth in the deployment of IMS (e.g. as a basis for VoLTE – voice on LTE, or fixed-line VoIP) it is primarily an extra cost, rather than a source of new revenue or competitive advantage. It might help telcos reduce costs by retiring old equipment or reclaiming spectrum for re-use, but that seems to be the limit of its utility and opportunity.

Figure 1: IMS-based services (mostly VoIP) are evolutionary not disruptive

Source: Disruptive Analysis

A common theme in recent years has been for individual point solutions for technical standards to seem elegant “in isolation”, but actually fail to take account of the wider market context. Real-world “offload” of mobile data traffic to WiFi and femtocells has been minimal, because of various practical and commercial constraints – many of which have been predictable. Self-optimising networks (where radio components configured, provisioned and diagnosed themselves automatically) suffered from apathy by vendors – as well as fears from operator staff that they might make themselves redundant. A whole slew of attempts at integrating WiFi with cellular have also had minimal impact, because they ignored the existence of private WiFi and user behaviour. Some of these are now making a return, engineered into more holistic solutions like HetNets and SDN. Telcos execs need to ensure that their representatives on standards bodies, or industry fora, are able to make pragmatic decisions with multiple contributory inputs, rather than always pursue “engineering purity”.

Virtualisation & the “software telco” – how far, how fast?

Spurred by rapid advances in standardised computing products and cloud platforms, the idea of virtualisation is now almost ubiquitous across the telecom sector. Yet the specialised nature of network equipment means that “switching to the cloud” is a lot more complicated than is the case for enterprise IT. But change is happening – the industry is now slowly moving from inflexible, non-scalable network elements or technology sub-systems, to ones which are programmable, running on commercial hardware, and which can “spin up” or down in terms of capacity. We are still comparatively early in this new cycle, but the trend now appears to be inexorable. It is being driven both by what is becoming possible – and also the threats posed by other denizens of the “cloud universe” migrating towards the telecoms industry and threatening to replace aspects unilaterally.

Two acronyms cover the main developments:

  • Software-defined networks (SDN) change the basic network “plumbing” – rather than hugely-complex switches and routers, transmitting and processing data streams individually, SDN puts a central “controller” function in charge of more flexible boxes. These can be updated more easily, have new network-processing capabilities enabled, and allow (hopefully) for better reliability and lower costs.
  • Network function virtualisation (NFV) is less about the “big iron” parts of the network, instead focusing on the myriad of other smaller units needed to do more specific tasks relating to control, security, optimisation and so forth. It allows these supporting functions to be re-cast in software, running as apps on standard servers, rather than needing a variety of separate custom-built boxes and chips.

Figure 2: ETSI’s vision for NFV

                                                                                    Source: ETSI & STL Partners

And while a lot of focus has been placed on operators’ own data-centres and “data-plane” boxes like routers and assorted traffic-processing “middle-boxes” even, that is not the whole story. Virtualisation also extends to the other elements of telco kit: “control-plane” elements used to oversee the network and internal signalling, billing and OSS systems, and even bits of the access and radio network. Tying them all together – and managing the new virtual components – brings new challenges in “orchestration”.

But this begs a number of critical subsidiary questions.

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Does the network matter? And will it face “disruption”?
  • Raising questions
  • Overview: Which disruptions are next?
  • Critical network-technology disruptions
  • Non-disruptive network technologies
  • Virtualisation & the “software telco” – how far, how fast?
  • What is the path to 5G? And what will it be used for?
  • What is the role of WiFi & other wireless technologies?
  • What else needs to happen?
  • What are the impacts of government & regulation?
  • Will the vendor landscape shift?
  • Conclusions & Other Questions
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game
  • Figure 1: New services are both network-integrated & independent
  • Figure 2: IMS-based services (mostly VoIP) are evolutionary not disruptive
  • Figure 3: ETSI’s vision for NFV
  • Figure 4: Virtualisation-driven services: Cloud or Network anchored?
  • Figure 5: Virtualisation roadmap: Telefonica
  • Figure 6: 5G timeline & top-level uses
  • Figure 7: Suggested example 5G use-cases
  • Figure 8: 5G architecture will probably be virtualised from Day 1
  • Figure 9: Key 5G Research Initiatives
  • Figure 10: Cellular M2M is growing, but only a fraction of IoT overall
  • Figure 11: Proliferating wireless options for IoT
  • Figure 12: Forthcoming IoT-related wireless technologies
  • Figure 13: London bus with free WiFi sponsored by ice-cream company
  • Figure 14: Vendor landscape in turmoil as IT & network domains merge

 

Key Questions for NextGen Broadband Part 1: The Business Case

Introduction

It’s almost a cliché to talk about “the future of the network” in telecoms. We all know that broadband and network infrastructure is a never-ending continuum that evolves over time – its “future” is continually being invented and reinvented. We also all know that no two networks are identical, and that despite standardisation there are always specific differences, because countries, regulations, user-bases and legacies all vary widely.

But at the same time, the network clearly matters still – perhaps more than it has for the last two decades of rapid growth in telephony and SMS services, which are now dissipating rapidly in value. While there are certainly large swathes of the telecom sector benefiting from content provision, commerce and other “application-layer” activities, it is also true that the bulk of users’ perceived value is in connectivity to the Internet, IPTV and enterprise networks.

The big question is whether CSPs can continue to convert that perceived value from users into actual value for the bottom-line, given the costs and complexities involved in building and running networks. That is the paradox.

While the future will continue to feature a broader set of content/application revenue streams for telcos, it will also need to support not just more and faster data connections, but be able to cope with a set of new challenges and opportunities. Top of the list is support for “Connected Everything” – the so-called Internet of Things, smart homes, connected cars, mobile healthcare and so on. There is a significant chance that many of these will not involve connection via the “public Internet” and therefore there is a possibility for new forms of connectivity proposition evolving – faster- or lower-powered networks, or perhaps even the semi-mythical “QoS”, which if not paid for directly, could perhaps be integrated into compelling packages and data-service bundles. There is also the potential for “in-network” value to be added through SDN and NFV – for example, via distributed servers close to the edge of the network and “orchestrated” appropriately by the operator. But does this add more value than investing in more web/OTT-style applications and services, de-coupled from the network?

Again, this raises questions about technology, business models – and the practicalities of making it happen.

This plays directly into the concept of the revenue “hunger gap” we have analysed for the past two years – without ever-better (but more efficient) networks, the telecom industry is going to get further squeezed. While service innovation is utterly essential, it also seems to be slow-moving and patchy. The network part of telcos needs to run just to stand still. Consumers will adopt more and faster devices, better cameras and displays, and expect network performance to keep up with their 4K videos and real-time games, without paying more. Depending on the trajectory of regulatory change, we may also see more consolidation among parts of the service provider industry, more quad-play networks, more sharing and wholesale models.

We also see communications networks and applications permeating deeper into society and government. There is a sense among some policymakers that “telecoms is too important to leave up to the telcos”, with initiatives like Smart Cities and public-safety networks often becoming decoupled from the mainstream of service providers. There is an expectation that technology – and by extension, networks – will enable better economies, improved healthcare and education, safer and more efficient transport, mechanisms for combatting crime and climate change, and new industries and jobs, even as old ones become automated and robotised.

Figure 1 – New services are both network-integrated & independent

Source: STL Partners

And all of this generates yet more uncertainty, with yet more questions – some about the innovations needed to support these new visions, but also whether they can be brought to market profitably, given the starting-point we find ourselves at, with fragmented (yet growing) competition, regulatory uncertainty, political interference – and often, internal cultural barriers within the CSPs themselves. Can these be overcome?

A common theme from the section above is “Questions”. This document – and a forthcoming “sequel” – is intended to group, lay out and introduce the most important ones. Most observers just tend to focus on a few areas of uncertainty, but in setting up the next year or so of detailed research, Telco 2.0 wants to fully list and articulate all of the hottest issues. Only once they are collated, can we start to work out the priorities – and inter-dependencies.

Our belief is that all of the detailed questions on “Future Networks” can, it fact, be tied back to one of two broader, more over-reaching themes:

  • What are the business cases and operational needs for future network investment?
  • Which disruptions (technological or other) are expected in the future?

The business case theme is covered in this document. It combines future costs (spectrum, 4G/5G/fibre deployments, network-sharing, virtualisation, BSS/OSS transformation etc.) and revenues (data connectivity, content, network-integrated service offerings, new Telco 2.0-style services and so on). It also encompasses what is essential to make the evolution achievable, in terms of organisational and cultural transformation within telcos.

A separate Telco 2.0 document, to be published in coming weeks, will cover the various forthcoming disruptions. These are expected to include new network technologies that will ultimately coalesce to form 5G mobile and new low-power wireless, as well as FTTx and DOCSIS cable evolution. In addition, virtualisation in both NFV and SDN guises will be hugely transformative.

There is also a growing link between mobile and fixed domains, reflected in quad-play propositions, industry consolidation, and the growth of small-cells and WiFi with fixed-line backhaul. In addition, to support future service innovation, there need to be adequate platforms for both internal and external developers, as well as a meaningful strategy for voice/video which fits with both network and end-user trends. Beyond the technical, additional disruption will be delivered by regulatory change (for example on spectrum and neutrality), and also a reshaped vendor landscape.

The remainder of this report lays out the first five of the Top 10 most important questions for the Future Network. We can’t give definitive analyses, explanations or “answers” in a report of this length – and indeed, many of them are moving targets anyway. But taking a holistic approach to laying out each question properly – where it comes from, and what the “moving parts” are, we help to define the landscape. The objective is to help management teams apply those same filters to their own organisations, understand how can costs be controlled and revenues garnered, see where consolidation and regulatory change might help or hinder, and deal with users and governments’ increasing expectations.

The 10 Questions also lay the ground for our new Future Network research stream, forthcoming publications and comment/opinion.

Overview: what is the business case for Future Networks?

As later sections of both this document and the second in the series cover, there are various upcoming technical innovations in the networking pipeline. Numerous advanced radio technologies underpin 4.5G and 5G, there is ongoing work to improve fibre and DSL/cable broadband, virtualisation promises much greater flexibility in carrier infrastructure and service enablement, and so on. But all those advances are predicated on either (ideally) more revenues, or at least reduced costs to deploy and operate. All require economic justification for investment to occur.

This is at the core of the Future Networks dilemma for operators – what is the business case for ongoing investment? How can the executives, boards of directors and investors be assured of returns? We all know about the ongoing shift of business & society online, the moves towards smarter cities and national infrastructure, changes in entertainment and communication preferences and, of course, the Internet of Things – but how much benefit and value might accrue to CSPs? And is that value driven by network investments, or should telecom companies re-focus their investments and recruitment on software, content and the cloud?

This is not a straightforward question. There are many in the industry that assert that “the network is the key differentiator & source of value”, while others counter that it is a commodity and that “the real value is in the services”.

What is clear is that better/faster networks will be needed in any case, to achieve some of the lofty goals that are being suggested for the future. However, it is far from clear how much of the overall value-chain profit can be captured from just owning the basic machinery – recent years have shown a rapid de-coupling of network and service, apart from a few areas.

In the past, networks largely defined the services offered – most notably broadband access, phone calls and SMS, as well as cable TV and IPTV. But with the ubiquitous rise of Internet access and service platforms/gateways, an ever-increasing amount of service “logic” is located on the web, or in the cloud – not enshrined in the network itself. This is an important distinction – some services are abstracted and designed to be accessed from any network, while others are intimately linked to the infrastructure.

Over the last decade, the prevailing shift has been for network-independent services. In many ways “the web has won”. Potentially this trend may reverse in future though, as servers and virtualised, distributed cloud capabilities get pushed down into localised network elements. That, however, brings its own new complexities, uncertainties and challenges – it a brave (or foolhardy) telco CEO that would bet the company on new in-network service offers alone. We will also see API platforms expose network “capabilities” to the web/cloud – for example, W3C is working on standards to allow web developers to gain insights into network congestion, or users’ data-plans.

But currently, the trend is for broadband access and (most) services to be de-coupled. Nonetheless, some operators seem to have been able to make clever pricing, distribution and marketing decisions (supported by local market conditions and/or regulation) to enable bundles to be made desirable.

US operators, for example, have generally fared better than European CSPs, in what should have been comparably-mature markets. But was that due to a faster shift to 4G networks? Or other factors, such as European telecom fragmentation and sub-scale national markets, economic pressures, or perhaps a different legacy base? Did the broad European adoption of pre-paid (and often low-ARPU) mobile subscriptions make it harder to justify investments on the basis of future cashflows – or was it more about the early insistence that 2.6GHz was going to be the main “4G band”, with its limitations later coming back to bite people? It is hard to tease apart the technology issues from the commercial ones.

Similar differences apply in the fixed-broadband world. Why has adoption and typical speed varied so much? Why have some markets preferred cable to DSL? Why are fibre deployments patchy and very nation-specific? Is it about the technology involved – or the economy, topography, government policies, or the shape of the TV/broadcast sector?

Understanding these issues – and, once again, articulating the questions properly – is core to understanding the future for CSPs’ networks. We are in the middle of 4G rollout in most countries, with operators looking at the early requirements for 5G. SDN and NFV are looking important – but their exact purpose, value and timing still remain murky, despite the clear promises. Can fibre rollouts – FTTC or FTTH – still be justified in a world where TV/video spend is shifting away from linear programming and towards online services such as Netflix?

Given all these uncertainties, it may be that either network investments get slowed down – or else consolidation, government subsidy or other top-level initiatives are needed to stimulate them. On the other hand, it could be the case that reduced costs of capex and opex – perhaps through outsourcing, sharing or software-based platforms, or even open-source technology – make the numbers work out well, even for raw connectivity. Certainly, the last few years have seen rising expenditure by end-users on mobile broadband, even if it has also contributed to the erosion of legacy services such as telephony and SMS, by enabling more modern/cheaper rivals. We have also seen a shift to lower-cost network equipment and software suppliers, and an emphasis for “off the shelf” components, or open interfaces, to reduce lock-in and encourage competition.

The following sub-sections each frame a top-level, critical question relating to the business case for Future Networks:

  • Will networks support genuinely new services & enablers/APIs, or just faster/more-granular Internet access?
  • Speed, coverage, performance/QoS… what actually generates network value? And does this derive from customer satisfaction, new use-cases, or other sources?
  • Does quad-play and fixed-mobile convergence win?
  • Consolidation, network-sharing & wholesale: what changes?
  • Telco organisation and culture: what needs to change to support future network investments?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Overview: what is the business case for Future Networks?
  • Supporting new services or just faster Internet?
  • Speed, coverage, quality…what is most valuable?
  • Does quad-play & fixed-mobile convergence win?
  • Consolidation, network-sharing & wholesale: what changes?
  • Telco organisation & culture: what changes?
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1 – New services are both network-integrated & independent
  • Figure 2 – Mobile data device & business model evolution
  • Figure 3 – Some new services are directly enabled by network capabilities
  • Figure 4 – Network investments ultimately need to map onto customers’ goals
  • Figure 5 – Customers put a priority on improving indoor/fixed connectivity
  • Figure 6 – Notional “coverage” does not mean enough capacity for all apps
  • Figure 7 – Different operator teams have differing visions of the future
  • Figure 8 – “Software telcos” may emulate IT’s “DevOps” organisational dynamic