The Devil’s Advocate: SDN / NFV can never work, and here’s why!

Introduction

The Advocatus Diaboli (Latin for Devil’s Advocate), was formerly an official position within the Catholic Church; one who “argued against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation evidence favouring canonization”.

In common parlance, the term a “devil’s advocate” describes someone who, given a certain point of view, takes a position they do not necessarily agree with (or simply an alternative position from the accepted norm), for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further.

SDN / NFV runs into problems: a ‘devil’s advocate’ assessment

The telco industry’s drive toward Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) got going in a major way in 2014, with high expectations that the technology – along with its sister technology SDN (Software-Defined Networking ) – would revolutionize operators’ abilities to deliver innovative communications and digital services, and transform the ways in which these services can be purchased and consumed.

Unsurprisingly, as with so many of these ‘revolutions’, early optimism has now given way to the realization that full-scope NFV deployment will be complex, time-consuming and expensive. Meanwhile, it has become apparent that the technology may not transform telcos’ operations and financial fortunes as much as originally expected.

The following is a presentation of the case against SDN / NFV from the perspective of the ‘devil’s advocate’. It is a combination of the types of criticism that have been voiced in recent times, but taken to the extreme so as to represent a ‘damning’ indictment of the industry effort around these technologies. This is not the official view of STL Partners but rather an attempt to explore the limits of the skeptical position.

We will respond to each of the devil’s advocate’s arguments in turn in the second half of this report; and, in keeping with good analytical practice, we will endeavor to present a balanced synthesis at the end.

‘It’ll never work’: the devil’s advocate speaks

And here’s why:

1. Questionable financial and operational benefits:

Will NFV ever deliver any real cost savings or capacity gains? Operators that have launched NFV-based services have not yet provided any hard evidence that they have achieved notable reductions in their opex and capex on the basis of the technology, or any evidence that the data-carrying capacity, performance or flexibility of their networks have significantly improved.

Operators talk a good talk, but where is the actual financial and operating data that supports the NFV business case? Are they refusing to disclose the figures because they are in fact negative or inconclusive? And if this is so, how can we have any confidence that NFV and SDN will deliver anything like the long-term cost and performance benefits that have been touted for them?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • SDN / NFV runs into problems: a ‘devil’s advocate’ assessment
  • ‘It’ll never work’: the devil’s advocate speaks
  • 1. Questionable financial and operational benefits
  • 2. Wasted investments and built-in obsolescence
  • 3. Depreciation losses
  • 4. Difficulties in testing and deploying
  • 5. Telco cloud or pie in the sky?
  • 6. Losing focus on competitors because of focusing on networks:
  • 7. Change the culture and get agile?
  • 8.It’s too complicated
  • The case for the defense
  • 1. Clear financial and operational benefits:
  • 2. Strong short-term investment and business case
  • 3. Different depreciation and valuation models apply to virtualized assets
  • 4. Short-term pain for long-term gains
  • 5. Don’t cloud your vision of the technological future
  • 6. Telcos can compete in the present while building the future
  • 7. Operators both can and must transform their culture and skills base to become more agile
  • 8. It may be complicated, but is that a reason not to attempt it
  • A balanced view of NFV: ‘making a virtual out of necessity’ without making NFV a virtue in itself

Solution: Transforming to the Telco Cloud Service Provider (Part 2)

Introduction

Structural barriers preventing telecoms business model change

In our recent report, Problem: Telecoms technology inhibits operator business model change (Part 1), we explained how financial and operational processes that have been adopted in response to investor requirements and regulation have prevented operators from innovating.

Operator management teams make large investments over seven- or eight-year investment cycles and are responsible for deploying and managing the networks from which revenues flow.  As we show in Figure 1 below, operators therefore have much more of their costs tied up in capital expenditure than platform players or product innovators.  Furthermore, they need large quantities of operating expenditure to maintain and operate their networks.  The result is a rather small percentage of revenue – we estimate around 15% – which they devote to activities focused on innovation: marketing, sales, customer care, and product and service development (the green section of the bars).  This compares unfavourably to a platform player, such as Google, which we estimate devotes around 35% of revenue to these activities.  The difference is even more pronounced with a product innovator, such as Unilever, which minimises capital investment by outsourcing some of its manufacturing and all product distribution and so devotes nearly 70% of revenue to ‘innovation’ activities.

 

Figure 1: The telecoms cost structure inhibits innovation

Sources: Company accounts; STL Partners estimates and analysis

Seen in this context, how can anyone expect operators to be successful at developing new platforms, channels, or products?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Structural barriers preventing telecoms business model change
  • Digital service innovation is proving tough for operators
  • Structural barriers coming down?
  • Virtualisation + cloud business practices could transform the telecoms business model
  • The drive for virtualisation is underway
  • Cost reduction and a new cost structure
  • Cloud business practices are a critical component in the future telco
  • The Telco Cloud Service Provider (TCSP)
  • Two benefits from becoming a Telco Cloud Service Provider
  • Product and service creation in the Telco Cloud Service Provider
  • From incremental and slow innovation today…
  • …to radical and fast innovation in the TCSP of tomorrow

 

  • Figure 1: The telecoms cost structure inhibits innovation
  • Figure 2: Telcos have struggled to launch successful digital services
  • Figure 3: Cloud and virtualisation can allow a telco to transform its cost structure
  • Figure 4: Cloud business practices – key principles
  • Figure 5: Defining the Telco Cloud Service Provider
  • Figure 6: Telco Cloud can spur transformation across the entire telco business
  • Figure 7: Product development – telco today vs Telco Cloud Service Provider

Telcos’ Last Chance in Cloud? New $18bn Sovereign Cloud Opportunity

Preface

As we predicted in our 2012 report Cloud 2.0: Telco Strategies in the Cloud, operators have struggled to provide generically competitive cloud services, with those looking to provide infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) losing out to the larger hyperscale players (e.g. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure). The majority of telcos have therefore reduced their focus and ambition within cloud (infrastructure) services over the last number of years.

However, recent legal and market developments and the emergence of new technologies are changing the cloud delivery model. The rescinding of the US-EU Safe Harbour agreement and the sovereign data trustee solution launched by Microsoft & Deutsche Telekom have put a spotlight on the need for sovereign cloud solutions that are better equipped to protect data. Operators are well-positioned to deliver and support these solutions but will need to act fast to ensure their role in the value chain.

Furthermore, new technologies (e.g. 5G, SDN/NFV) and requirements (e.g. low latency) may lead to the decentralisation of the current hyperscale data centre model, moving more computing power to the edge of the network (see How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today). This change in the architecture may lead to a long-term advantage for telcos.

In order to better understand data sovereignty requirements around the world and the potential opportunity for ‘sovereign’ cloud services, STL Partners (STL) conducted industry research. This research consisted of c.30 interviews with software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, software companies, enterprises, public sector bodies, telecom operators and cloud service providers. This report presents and discusses the findings of this research.

The research programme was sponsored by Ericsson. This report and analysis was independently produced by STL Partners.

Introduction: The Return of Telco Cloud…

The telecoms industry has been undergoing a transformation process for much of the last decade. The threat from new players has marginalized the core communications business and operators have looked to gain traction and grow revenues through the provision of new services in adjacent areas, with one such area being cloud computing.

Cloud computing has ripped through the traditional IT infrastructure model, providing greater flexibility, enabling the pooling of resources and potentially reducing both capex and opex. This new delivery model has led to the development of new services and business models (e.g. ‘as-a-service’ models), disrupting how individuals consume services and how organisations do business.

The rise of cloud computing is a trend set to continue; indeed, STL Partners forecast that cloud IT infrastructure spending will equal spend on traditional IT infrastructure by 2020 (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Cloud IT infrastructure is rapidly gaining on traditional IT infrastructure

Source: IDC base figures; STL Partners analysis

Telcos have not remained oblivious to this industry transformation. Some (principally fixed-line) operators have a legacy providing IT outsourcing services and have looked to build on this footing, providing and managing infrastructure for cloud services, whilst others have partnered with cloud software providers to deliver new services to customers.

So far operators’ experiences offering cloud services have been mixed, with operators typically finding more success through partnerships. Rather than attempting to build their own cloud solutions operators have typically partnered with SaaS providers, such as Microsoft (e.g. Office 365) and Google (e.g. Google Apps for Work), acting as resellers of the software, potentially creating appealing bundles for enterprise customers.

On the other hand telcos attempting to provide IaaS, which one might intuitively think is more closely aligned to a telco’s core capabilities, have typically found that they have not been able to compete head-on with the larger IaaS providers (e.g. Amazon Web Services). Simply speaking, it has become a game of scale, with single operators or even telco groups unable to match the resources and investment of the hyperscale players. Indeed in our November 2014 report, Cloud: What is the role of telcos in cloud services in 2015?, we highlighted the challenge with telcos competing against the larger IaaS players:

“Pushing for pureplay IaaS solutions (Compute, Memory, Storage etc) is not going to be a sensible option for the majority of telcos. As an example of how hard it is to compete here, RackSpace came from a managed hosting/co location background and moved into IaaS, even collaborating on a virtualisation initiative that became OpenStack. But earlier in 2014, after spending less on IaaS investment than Microsoft or Google spend on infrastructure in a quarter, it announced it was going to refocus its efforts on its earlier product success with managed hosting and colocation because it was more able to differentiate itself from the other vendors who have significantly lower pricing.”

Telcos competing in infrastructure have therefore typically shifted their focus away from public cloud IaaS (competing against the larger providers) to more private cloud infrastructure and traditional managed hosting services. Despite mixed performance with IaaS services, albeit with exceptions in regions where the big IaaS players are not well established and where telcos can differentiate their offering (e.g. Telstra), there perhaps remains a still sizable opportunity, particularly as telcos begin to transform their networks.

This transformation involves the virtualisation of the network, embracing software defined-networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV). As operators harness the power of these new technologies and associated business practices they will develop and implement the infrastructure, software and capabilities to deliver more advanced services through more efficient, automated and programmable networks. Operators in turn will be able to draw on these assets and associated skills to improve how they run and manage their cloud infrastructure.

Furthermore, as the industry develops and implements more advanced networks (i.e. 5G), there exists a potential advantage for telco infrastructure services due to the need for more localised delivery of service. The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance highlights that 5G should provide, “much greater throughput, much lower latency, ultra-high reliability, much higher connectivity density, and higher mobility range.”

STL Partners laid out a potential vision for 5G and network transformation in the report, How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today. To summarise the report, latency targets/requirements (how long it takes the network to respond to user requests) for 5G are very low; the target is 10ms end-to-end, 1ms for special use cases requiring low latency, or 50ms end-to-end for the “ultra-low cost broadband” use case. An example use case where low-latency could be very important could be communication between self-driving cars.

In order to meet these lofty requirements for latency the current delivery model may need to be rethought. Latency is limited by the time it takes to travel to the server and back at the speed of light; latency is therefore inherently linked to distance. In the 5G report, we explored the impact of these latency targets on the required distance of servers from users:

“The rule of thumb for speed-of-light delay is 4.9 microseconds for each kilometre of fibre with a refractive index of 1.47. 1ms – 1000 microseconds – equals about 204km in a straight line, assuming no routing delay. A response back is needed too, so divide that distance in half. As a result, in order to be compliant with the NGMN 5G requirements, all the network functions required to process a data call must be physically located within 100km, i.e. 1ms, of the user. And if the end-to-end requirement is taken seriously, the applications or content that they want must also be hosted within 1000km, i.e. 10ms, of the user. (In practice, there will be some delay contributed by serialisation, routing, and processing at the target server, so this would actually be somewhat more demanding.)”

To deliver these latency requirements a radical change to the architecture of the network is needed as well as a change in how compute and storage infrastructure is managed. Content and applications that are within the 100km contour will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t take account of latency. The impact of this could lead to the decentralisation of the current hyperscale data centre model, moving more computing power to the edge of the network. This change in the architecture and delivery model may lend telcos an advantage in the infrastructure marketplace.

Figure 4: Shifting the balance in favour of more localised infrastructure

Source: STL Partners

Whilst telcos will not wrestle control of the infrastructure marketplace overnight, telcos, as they embark on their transformation process, should look to make inroads towards this vision. Indeed there are current market challenges that telcos could immediately address (and are addressing) through their localised infrastructure, creating a stepped/phased approach towards the future vision of a localised cloud delivery model.

Into this rapidly evolving context steps the long-standing challenge of data sovereignty. Data sovereignty requirements are regulations that consider the implications of geographical location of data and place restrictions on the movement of certain types of data across borders. The recent ruling rescinding the US-EU Safe Harbour Agreement has put a spotlight on the issue of data privacy and data sovereignty and new approaches taken by technology players are highlighting that this is a problem that needs to and is being solved (i.e. Microsoft’s decision to create a German sovereign version of Azure). Operators are natural candidates to play a role here and should look to better understand how they can form part of the value chain in the provision of locally trusted IaaS solutions.

This report analyses data sovereignty requirements around the world and explores the potential opportunity for ‘sovereign’ cloud services as a further ‘nudge’ towards a more localised cloud delivery model.

 

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • The Return of Telco Cloud…
  • Understanding Data Sovereignty
  • Which Sectors Have the Strongest Sovereignty Requirements?
  • A Range of (Cloud) Solutions can Address Sovereignty Needs
  • 75% of Interviewees were Interested in Sovereign Cloud Solutions
  • Where is Data Sovereignty Important?
  • How could this Evolve?
  • Market Sizing: Sovereign Cloud could be Worth between $7-18bn in 2020
  • Why Telcos are Well Positioned to Address the ‘Sovereign’ Opportunity
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: A shift in the cloud delivery model may be occurring
  • Figure 2: Sovereign cloud has the potential to represent over X% of the cloud infrastructure marketplace
  • Figure 3: Cloud IT infrastructure is rapidly gaining on traditional IT infrastructure
  • Figure 4: Shifting the balance in favour of more localised infrastructure
  • Figure 5: How much data does Facebook store about you?
  • Figure 6: STL Industry Research Programme – Breakdown of interviewees
  • Figure 7: The significant majority of interviewees have encountered sovereignty requirements
  • Figure 8: More-regulated sectors are more likely to encounter restrictions
  • Figure 9: Infrastructure Deployment Models
  • Figure 10: The applicability of cloud deployment models to meet sovereignty requirements
  • Figure 11: The majority of Interviewees saw demand for sovereign cloud
  • Figure 12: More strictly regulated sectors are more interested in sovereign cloud solutions
  • Figure 13: Indicative map of data sovereignty requirements across the globe
  • Figure 14: Overview of data sovereignty requirements across regions
  • Figure 15: The rise of IoT could lead to increased demand for sovereign cloud
  • Figure 16: Sovereign cloud could be worth between $7-18bn in 2020
  • Figure 17: North America represents the biggest market for sovereign cloud
  • Figure 18: Sovereign cloud in the Middle East & Africa potentially represents the greatest proportion of cloud infrastructure spending
  • Figure 19: Government represents the largest market for sovereign cloud for existing services and Healthcare for sovereign cloud incl. IoT services
  • Figure 20: Healthcare is the largest sector for sovereign cloud as a percentage of spend on IT infrastructure

Telstra: Battling Disruption and Growing Enterprise Cloud & ICT

Introduction

A Quick Background on the Australian Market

Australia’s incumbent telco is experiencing the same disruptive forces as others, just not necessarily in the same way. Political upheaval around the National Broadband Network (NBN) project is one example. Others are the special challenges of operating in the outback, in pursuit of their universal service obligation, and in the Asian enterprise market, at the same time. Telstra’s area of operations include both some of the sparsest and some of the densest territories on earth.

Australian customers are typically as digitally-literate as those in western Europe or North America, and as likely to use big-name global Web services, while they live at the opposite end of the longest submarine cable runs in the world from those services. For many years, Telstra had something of a head start, and the cloud and data centre ecosystem was relatively undeveloped in Australia, until Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace deployed in the space of a few months presenting a first major challenge. Yet Telstra is coping.

Telstra: doing pretty well

Between H2 2009 and H2 2014 – half-yearly reporting for H1 2015 is yet to land – top-line revenue grew 1% annually, and pre-tax profits 3%. As that suggests, margins have held up, but they have only held up. – Net margin was 16% in 2014, while EBITDA margin was 43% in 2009 and 41% in 2014, having gone as low as 37% in H2 2010. This may sound lacklustre, but it is worth pointing that Verizon typically achieves EBITDA margins in this range from its wireless operation alone, excluding the commoditised and capital-intensive landline business. Company-wide EBITDA margins in the 40s are a sound performance for a heavily regulated incumbent. Figure 1 shows sales, EBITDA and net margins, and VZW’s last three halves for comparison.

Figure 1: Telstra continues to achieve group-wide EBITDA margins like VZW’s

Source: STL Partners, Telstra filings

Looking at Telstra’s major operating segments, we see a familiar pattern. Fixed voice is sliding, while the mobile business has taken over as the core business. Fixed data is growing slowly, as is the global carrier operation, while enterprise fixed is declining slowly as the traditional voice element and older TDM services shrink. On the other hand, “Network Applications & Services” – Telstra’s strategic services group capturing new-wave enterprise products and the cloud – is growing strongly, and we believe that success in Unified Communications and Microsoft Office 365 underpins that growth in particular. A one-off decrease since 2009 is that CSL New World, a mobile network operator in Hong Kong, was sold at the end of 2014.

Figure 2: Mobile and cloud lead the way

Source: STL Partners, Telstra filings

Telstra is growing some new Telco 2.0 revenue streams

Another way of looking at this is to consider the segments in terms of their size, and growth. In Figure 2, we plot these together and also isolate the ‘Telco 2.0’ elements of Telstra from the rest. We include the enterprise IP access, Network Applications & Services, Pay-TV, IPTV, and M2M revenue lines in Telco 2.0 here, following the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index categorisations.

Figure 3: Telco 2.0 is a growing force within Telstra

Source: STL Partners, Telstra filings

The surge of mobile and the decline of fixed voice are evident. So is the decline of the non-Telco 2.0 media businesses – essentially directories. This stands out even more so in the context of the media business unit.

Figure 4: Telstra’s media businesses, though promising, aren’t enough to replace the directories line of business

Source: STL Partners, Telstra filings

“Content” here refers to “classified and advertising”, aka the directory and White Pages business. The Telco 2.0 businesses, by contrast, are both the strongest growth area and a very significant segment in terms of revenue – the second biggest after mobile, bigger even than fixed voice, as we can see in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Telco 2.0 businesses overtook fixed voice in H2 2014

Source: STL Partners, Telstra filings

To reiterate what is in the Telco 2.0 box, we identified 5 sources of Telco 2.0 revenue at Telstra – pay-TV, IPTV, M2M, business IP access, and the cloud-focused Network Applications & Services (NA&S) sub-segment. Their performance is shown in Figure 6. NA&S is both the biggest and by far the fastest growing.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • A quick background on the Australian Market
  • Telstra: doing pretty well
  • Telstra is growing some new Telco 2.0 revenue streams
  • Cloud and Enterprise ICT are key parts of Telstra’s story
  • Mobile is getting more competitive
  • Understanding Australia’s Cloud Market
  • Australia is a relatively advanced market
  • Although it has some unique distinguishing features
  • The Australian Cloud Price Disruption Target
  • The Healthcare Investments: A Big Ask
  • Conclusions and Recommendations

 

  • Figure 1: Telstra continues to achieve group-wide EBITDA margins like VZW’s
  • Figure 2: Mobile and cloud lead the way
  • Figure 3: Telco 2.0 is a growing force within Telstra
  • Figure 4: Telstra’s media businesses, though promising, aren’t enough to replace the directories line of business
  • Figure 5: Telco 2.0 businesses overtook fixed voice in H2 2014
  • Figure 6: Cloud is the key element in Telstra’s Telco 2.0 strategy
  • Figure 7: NA&S is by far the strongest enterprise business at Telstra
  • Figure 8: Enterprise fixed is under real competitive pressure
  • Figure 9: Telstra Mobile subscriber KPIs
  • Figure 10: Telstra Mobile is strong all round, but M2M ARPU is a problem, just as it is for everyone
  • Figure 11: Australia is a high-penetration digital market
  • Figure 12: Australia is a long way from most places, and links to the Asia Pacific Cable Network (APCN) could still be better
  • Figure 13: The key Asia Pacific Cable Network (APCN) cables
  • Figure 14: Telstra expects rapid growth in intra-Asian trade in cloud services
  • Figure 15: How much?
  • Figure 16: A relationship, but a weak one – don’t count on data sovereignty

Why closing Telefonica Digital should make Telefonica more digital (and innovative)

Several different CSP organisation designs for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Telefonica is one of the companies that we have analysed in depth in the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index research. In this report, we analyse Telefonica’s recent announcement that it is restructuring its Digital Business unit. We’ll also be exploring strategies for transformation at the OnFuture EMEA 2014 Brainstorm, June 11-12, London.

Telco 2.0 strategy is a key driver of organisation design

We have defined Telco 2.0 and, specifically, Telco 2.0 Happy Piper and Telco 2.0 Service Provider strategies in other reports  so will not focus on the implications of each on service offerings and customer segments here.  It is, however, important to understand the implications each strategy has on the organisation in terms of capability requirements and, by definition, on organisation design – structure, processes, skills and so forth.

As Figure 1 shows, the old Telco 1.0 world required CSPs to focus on infrastructure-oriented capabilities – cost, service assurance, provisioning, network quality of service, and congestion management.

For a Telco 2.0 Happy Piper, these capabilities are even more important:

  • Being low-cost in a growing telecoms market gives a company an advantage; being low-cost in a shrinking telecoms market, such as Europe, can mean the difference between surviving and going under.
  • Congestion management was important in the voice-oriented telecoms market of yesteryear but is even more so in the data-centric market in which different applications (including voice) co-exist on different networks – 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Fibre, Copper, etc.

Telco 2.0 Happy Pipers also need to expand their addressable market in order to thrive – into Infrastructure Services, M2M, Embedded Connectivity and, in some cases, into Enterprise ICT including bespoke vertical industry solutions.  For sure this requires some new Service Development capabilities but, perhaps more importantly, also new partnerships – both in terms of service development and delivery – and a greater focus on Customer Experience Management and ‘Customer data/Big data’ in order to deliver valuable solutions to demanding enterprise customers.

For a Telco 2.0 Service Provider, the range of new capabilities required is even greater:

  • The ability to develop new platform and end-user (consumer and enterprise) services.
  • Brand management – not just creating a stolid telecoms brand but a vibrant end-user one.
  • New partners in other industries – financial services, media, advertising, start-ups, developers and so forth.


Figure 1: Capabilities needed for different Telco 2.0 strategies

Fig1 Capabilities need for different Telco 2.0 Strategies

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

Most leading CSPs are pursuing a Telco 2.0 ‘Service Provider’ strategy

STL Partners analysis suggests that the majority of CSPs (and certainly all the tier 1 and 2 players) have at least some aspirations as a Telco 2.0 Service Provider.  Several, such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom Orange, SingTel, Telefonica and Telenor, have been public with their ‘digital services’ aspirations.

But even more circumspect players such as Verizon and Vodafone which have to date largely focused on core telecommunications services have aspirations to move beyond this.  Verizon, for example, is participating in the ISIS joint venture on payments, albeit something of a slow burn at present.  Vodafone has also pushed into payments in developing markets via its successes with mPesa in Kenya and is (perhaps a slightly reluctant) partner in the WEVE JV in the UK on digital commerce.

Further back in their Telco 2.0 development owing to the attractiveness of their markets from a Telco 1.0 perspective are the players in the rapidly developing Middle Eastern and Asian markets such as Axiata, Etisalat, Mobily, Ooredoo, and Zain.  These players too aspire to achieve more than Happy Piper status and are already pushing into advertising, content and payments for consumers and M2M and Cloud for enterprises.

Telco 2.0 Service Providers are adopting different organisation designs

It is clear that there is no consensus among management about how to implement Telco 2.0 services. This is not surprising given how new it is for telecoms operators to develop and deliver new services – innovation is not something associated with telcos.  Everyone is learning how to take their first tentative steps into the wonderful but worrisome world of innovation – like toddlers stepping into the shallow beach waters of the ocean.

There is no tried and tested formula for setting up an organisation that delivers innovation but there is consensus (among STL Partners’ contacts at least) that a different organisation structure is needed to the one that manages the core infrastructure business.  Most also agree that the new skills, partnerships, operational and financial model associated with Telco 2.0 innovation needs to be ring-fenced and protected from its mature Telco 1.0 counterpart.

The degree of separation between the old and new is the key area of debate.  We lay out the broad options in Figure 2.

Fig 2 Organisation design models for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Fig 2 Organisation design models for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

For some, a central independent strategy unit that identifies potential innovations and undertakes an initial evaluation is a sufficient degree of separation.  AT&T and Verizon in the US have gone down this route – see Figure 3.

Fig 3 Organisation design approaches of 9 CSPs across 4 regions

Fig 3 Organisation design approaches of 9 CSPs across 4 regions

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

In this model, ideas that are deemed promising are handed over the operating units to develop and deliver where, frankly, many are ignored or wallow in what one executive described to us as ‘Telco goo’ – the slow processes associated with the 20-year investment cycles of an infrastructure business.

Players such as Etisalat, Mobily and Ooredoo that are taking their first steps into Telco 2.0 services, but harbouring great aspirations, have gone a step further than this and set up Central Innovation Units.   In additional to innovation ideation and evaluation, these units typically undertake piloting, investment and, in some cases, some modest product development.  This approach is a sensible ‘first step’ into innovation and echoes the earlier attempts by many multi-national European players in the early 2000’s that had central group marketing functions that undertook proposition development for several countries.  The benefit is that the company can focus most resources on growth in existing Telco 1.0 services and Telco 2.0 solutions do not become a major distraction.  The downside is that Telco 2.0 services are seen as small and distant are always far less important than voice, messaging and connectivity services or devices ranges that can make a big impact in the next 3-6 months.

Finally, the most ambitious Telco 2.0 Service Providers – Deutsche Telekom, SingTel, Telenor, Telefonica and others – have developed separate New Business Units  The Telco 2.0 New Business Unit is given end-to-end responsibility for Telco 2.0 services.  The units find, develop, launch and manage new digital services and have full P&L responsibility.

STL Partners has long been a fan of this approach.  Innovation is given room to develop and grow under the guidance of senior management.  It has a high profile within the organisation but different targets, processes, people and partnerships to the core business which, left unchecked, would intentionally or unintentionally kill the new ‘rival’ off.

Five Principles for developing a Telco 2.0 New Business Unit

  1. Full control and responsibility.  The unit must have the independence from the core business to be able to control its own destiny and not be advertently or inadvertently impeded by the core business.  Telefonica, for example, went as far as to give its unit a separate physical location in central London.
  2. Senior management support.  While the unit is largely independent, it must be part of the corporate strategy and decisions about it must be made at the highest level.  In other words, the unit must be tied to the core business right at the top of the organisation – it is not completely free and decisions must be made for the overall good of the company.  Sometimes those decisions will be to the benefit or detriment of either the core business or the new business unit.  This is inevitable and not a cause for alarm – but these decisions need to be considered carefully and rationally by the senior team.
  3. Go OTT to start with.  One of the challenges faced by senior managers is how to leverage the capabilities of the core business – the network, customer data, retail outlets, brand, etc. – in the digital services offered by the new unit.  Clearly, it makes sense to use these assets to differentiate against the OTT players.  However, STL Partners recommends not trying to do this initially as the complexity of building successful interfaces between the new unit and the core business will prove too challenging.  Instead, establish some momentum with OTT services that the new unit can develop and deliver independently, without drawing on the core business, before then adding some specific core business capabilities such as location data, customer preference data or network QoS.
  4. Don’t forget to change management incentives …There is no point in filling the new business unit with senior management and fresh talent imbued with new skills and undertaking new business processes and practices unless they are clearly incentivised to make the right decisions!  It seems an obvious point but CSPs have a long and successful infrastructure legacy which means that management incentives are typically suitable for this type of business.  Managers typically have to hit high EBITDA margins, revenue targets that equate to around 50% of the capital base being generated a year, strong on-going capital investment – things that are at odds with a product innovation business (lower EBITDA margins, much lower capital intensity).  Management incentives need to change to reflect this and the fact that they business is a start-up not a bolt-on the core business.  These incentives need to be specific and can affect those in the core business as well as new unit.For example, if collaboration between the new unit and the core business units is a key requirement for long-term success (to build Telco 2.0 services that leverage core assets), then instigate a 360º feedback programme for all managers that measures how effectively they collaborate with their counter-parties in the other business units.  Scores here could be used to determine bonuses, share options or promotion – a sure way to instigate the required behaviour!
  5. …and investor metrics.  As mentioned above, a product innovation business has a different financial model to an infrastructure business.  Because of this, a new set of investor metrics is required focusing on lower margins and capital intensity.  Furthermore, users will often be a key metric rather than subscribers.  In other words, many users will not directly generate revenue (just as they do not for Google or Facebook) but remain an important driver of third-party sponsorship and advertising revenues.  Linked to this, ARPU will become a less important metric for the new business unit because the end user will be one of several revenue sources.

Many of the leading telecoms players have, therefore, done the right thing with the development of their digital units. So why have they struggled so much with culture clashes between the core telecoms business and the new digital innovations?  The answer lies in the way the units have been set up – their scope and role, the people that reside within them, and the processes and metrics that are used to develop and deliver services. This is covered in the next section of this report.

 

  • Even the boldest players are too Telco-centric with their digital business units
  • Defining traditional and new Telco 2.0 services
  • Current digital business units cover all the new Telco 2.0 services but should they?
  • Option: Reduce the scope of the Digital Business Units
  • Telefonica’s recent closure of Telefonica Digital
  • How might Telefonica’s innovation and ‘digital services’ strategy play out?

 

  • Figure 4: Defining Telco 2.0 new services
  • Figure 5: The mixed bag of services found in current digital business units
  • Figure 6: Separate new Telco 2.0 Services from traditional telecoms ones
  • Figure 8: The organisation structure at Telefonica
  • Figure 9: Telefonica’s strategic options for implementing ‘digital services’

Digital Commerce 2.0: Disrupting the Californian Giants

Introduction

In this briefing, we analyse the Digital Commerce 2.0 strategy and progress of the incumbents – the big five Internet players in this market – Amazon, Apple, eBay/PayPal, Facebook and Google.

STL defines Digital Commerce 2.0 as the use of new digital and mobile technologies to bring buyers and sellers together more efficiently and effectively. Fast growing adoption of mobile, social and local services is opening up opportunities to provide consumers with highly-relevant advertising and marketing services, underpinned by secure and easy-to-use payment services. By giving people easy access to information, vouchers, loyalty points and electronic payment services, smartphones can be used to make shopping in bricks and mortar stores as interactive as shopping through web sites and mobile apps.

This executive briefing considers how the rise of smartphones and the personal data they generate is disrupting digital commerce, and explores the mobile commerce strategies of the big five, their strengths and weaknesses and their areas of vulnerability.

Digital Commerce Disruption

Today, California is undoubtedly the epicentre of digital commerce. Amazon, Google, eBay/PayPal, Facebook and Apple are the leading brokers of digital commerce between businesses and consumers in most of the world’s developed economies. Each one of them has used the Internet to carve out a unique and lucrative role matching online buyers and sellers.

But digital commerce is changing fast, forcing these incumbents to innovate rapidly both to keep pace with each other and fend off a new wave of challengers seeking to take advantage of the disruption resulting from the widespread adoption of smartphones, and the vast quantities of real-time personal data they generate. Smartphones with touchscreens, full Internet browsers and an array of feature-rich apps, are turning out to be a game changer that profoundly impacts the way in which people and businesses buy and sell: Digital commerce is moving out of the home and the office and on to the street and in to the store.

As they move around, many consumers are now using smartphones to access social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) digital services and make smarter purchase decisions. This is not a gradual shift – it is happening extraordinarily quickly. Almost 70% of Americans used their mobile devices to look up information while in retail stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2012, according to a survey of 6,200 people by customer experience analytics firm ForeSee.

At the same time, the combination of Internet and mobile technologies, embodied in the smartphone, is enabling bricks and mortar businesses to adopt new forms of digital marketing, retailing and payments that could dramatically improve their efficiency and effectiveness. The smartphones and the data they generate can be used to optimise and enable every part of the entire ‘wheel of commerce’ (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The elements that make up the wheel of commerce

Digital Commerce 2.0 Wheel of Commerce

Source: STL Partners

The extensive data being generated by smartphones can give companies real-time information on where their customers are and what they are doing. That data can be used to improve merchants’ marketing, advertising, stock management, fulfilment and customer care. For example, a smartphone’s sensors can detect how fast the device is moving and in what direction, so a merchant could see if a potential customer is driving or walking past their store.

Marketing that makes use of real-time smartphone data should also be more effective than other forms of digital marketing. In theory at least, targeting marketing at consumers in the right geography at a specific time should be far more effective than simply displaying adverts to anyone who conducts an Internet search using a specific term.

Similarly, local businesses should find sending targeted vouchers, promotions and information, delivered via smartphones, to be much more effective than junk mail at engaging with customers and potential customers. Instead of paying someone to put paper-based vouchers through the letterbox of every house in the entire neighbourhood, an Indian restaurant could, for example, send digital vouchers to the handsets of anyone who has said they are interested in Indian food as they arrive at the local train station between 7pm and 9pm in the evening. As it can be precisely targeted and timed, mobile marketing should achieve a much higher return on investment (ROI) than a traditional analogue approach.

Although the big five – Amazon, Google, eBay/PayPal, Facebook and Apple – are the leading brokers of “traditional” online commerce, they play a far smaller role in brokering bricks and mortar commerce: Their services are typically used to provide just once element of the wheel of commerce. Consumers shopping in the physical world tend to use a mix of services from the leading Internet players, flitting between the different ecosystems. As they shop, they might use Google Maps to locate a store, Facebook to canvas the opinion of friends and Amazon to read product reviews or compare in-store prices with those online. They might even use Apple’s Passbook to redeem a voucher or PayPal to complete a transaction at point of sale.

Although they are all involved to a greater or lesser extent, none of the big five has yet secured a strong strategic position in this new form of digital commerce. Each of them risks seeing their position in the broader digital commerce market being disrupted by the rise of SoLoMo services that seek to meld merchants online and offline sites into a coherent proposition. As the digital commerce pie grows to encompass more and more bricks and mortar commerce, the big five may see their power and influence wane.

As it becomes clear that smartphones and personal data will transform the consumer experience of bricks and mortar shopping, the leading internet companies are being challenged by telcos, banks, payment networks and other companies racing to sign up merchants and consumers for nascent commerce platforms. In most cases, these new entrants are focusing on digitising traditional commerce, but will inevitably also have to compete with Amazon, Google, eBay/PayPal, Facebook and Apple in the online commerce space – consumers will want to use the same tools and platforms regardless of whether they are in the armchair or walking down a street. Similarly, a merchant will want to use the same platform to support its marketing online and in-store, so their customers can redeem vouchers, for example, digitally or in person.

The internet giants are, of course, expanding their SoLoMo propositions to cover more of the wheel of commerce. Amazon, for example, is pursuing this market through its Amazon Local service, which emails offers from local merchants to consumers in specific geographic areas. Google is combining its Search, Maps, Places, Offers and Wallet services into a local commerce platform for merchants and consumers. But global Internet companies based on economies of scale can find it hard to develop commerce services that take into the account the vagaries of local markets.

There is much at stake: Merchants and brands spend hundreds of billions of dollars across the various elements of the wheel of commerce. In the U.S., the direct marketing market alone is worth US$ 139 billion (more than three times the U.S. online advertising market, according to some estimates (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: A breakdown of the U.S. direct marketing and advertising market

Digital Commerce 2.0 US Direct Marketing and Advertising Market

Source: STL Partners

Another way to view the strategic opportunity is to consider the vast amount of money that is still spent on paper-based marketing in local commerce – householders still receive large numbers of flyers through their door, advertising local businesses. Moreover, many merchants still operate crude loyalty schemes that involve stamping a paper card.

Closing the loop: The importance of payments

One of the most important battlegrounds for the big five is the transact segment of the wheel of commerce. Although this segment is only half the size of the promote segment in terms of revenues, according to STL’s estimates (see Figure 5), it is strategically important. Merchants and brands want to know whether a specific marketing activity actually led to a sale. By bridging the online and offline worlds, mobile technologies can close that loop. If a consumer uses their smartphone to research a product and then pay at point of sale, the retailer can see exactly what kind of marketing results in transactions.

Note that payments itself is a low margin business – American Express estimates that merchants in the U.S. spend four to five times as much on marketing activities, such as loyalty programmes and offers, as they do on payments. But Google and Facebook, as leading marketing and advertising brokers, and some telcos, are moving into the payments space to provide merchants with visibility across the whole wheel of commerce.

In general their approach is to roll out digital wallets that can be used to complete both online transactions and point of sale transactions (either using a contactless technology, such as NFC, or a mobile network-based solution). The term digital wallet or mobile wallet generally refers to an application that can store debit and credit card information, loyalty points, electronic vouchers and value. A digital wallet can reside in the cloud or on a specific device or a combination of the two. The big five each have their own digital wallet.

Although Apple and Facebook have only enabled the use of their wallets within their online walled gardens, they are both gradually extending their transact propositions into bricks and mortar commerce.

Figure 5: The relative size of the segments of the wheel of commerce

Digital Commerce 2.0: Segments and Sizes

Source: STL Partners research drawing on WPP and American Express data

Digital wallets could be the key to unlock a broader and much more lucrative digital commerce proposition. Instead of asking merchants to pay per click, a digital commerce broker could ask them to pay per transaction – a no-risk and, therefore, very attractive proposition for the merchant.

Typically designed to support approximately half of the wheel of commerce (the promote, guide and transact segments), the digital wallet is widely-regarded as an important strategic platform. The theory is that digital wallet suppliers will be well-positioned to interact with consumers while they are shopping, brokering targeted offers and promotions.

Three of the big five – PayPal, Amazon and Apple – have each already signed up tens of millions of users for their online wallets, primarily because they reduce the number of keystrokes and clicks required to complete a transaction online. These Internet players are now weighing up how best to deploy these wallets at point of sale in physical stores. The leading online digital wallet, PayPal, faces increasing competition from leading players in the financial services industry, including Amex and MasterCard (see Figure 6), as well as innovative start-ups, such as Square.

Each of these players is taking a different approach, using different technologies to enabling transactions in store. They are also having to compete with other wallets from companies outside the financial services sector, such as Google, telcos and even retailers.

Figure 6: Examples of financial services-led digital wallets

Digital Commerce 2.0: Financial Services Wallet Examples

Source: STL Partners

In the transact segment, Google, the leading broker of search-related advertising, is scrambling to catch up, rolling out Google Wallet both to compete with PayPal online and enable payments at point of sale using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology. But the software has been through several iterations without gaining significant traction. At the same time, telcos, such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the U.S. (the partners in the Isis mobile commerce joint venture), are developing mobile-centric wallets that use NFC to enable payments at point of sale, supported by the SIM card for authentication. Major retailers are also rolling out digital wallets either individually or as part of a consortium. Figure 7 compares three of the mobile-centric wallets available in the U.S. market.

Figure 7: Examples of Mobile-centric wallets in the U.S.

Digital Commerce 2.0: Mobile Centric Wallets

Source: STL Partners

Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Digital commerce disruption
  • Closing the loop: The importance of payments
  • Internet players’ mobile commerce strategies
  • Amazon – impressive interconnected flywheels
  • Apple – slowly assembling the pieces
  • eBay and PayPal – trying to get mobile
  • Facebook – the rising star of mobile commerce
  • Google – try, try and try again in transactions
  • Conclusions
  • Mobile commerce is still up for grabs
  • Competition from telcos and banks
  • Areas of vulnerability

 

  • Figure 1: The mobile commerce strengths and weaknesses of the Internet players
  • Figure 2: The unfulfilled gap in the digital commerce market
  • Figure 3: The elements that make up the wheel of commerce
  • Figure 4: A breakdown of the U.S. direct marketing and advertising market
  • Figure 5: The relative size of the segments of the wheel of commerce
  • Figure 6: Examples of financial services-led digital wallets
  • Figure 7: Examples of Mobile-centric wallets in the U.S.
  • Figure 8: Google’s big lead in mobile Internet ad spending
  • Figure 9: Google handles one third of all digital advertising
  • Figure 10: The mobile commerce strategy of leading Internet players
  • Figure 11: How the fundamental Amazon flywheel increases working capital
  • Figure 12: How the Amazon Payments flywheel has evolved
  • Figure 13: Deals on display in the Amazon Local app
  • Figure 14: Apple’s Passbook app stores vouchers and loyalty cards
  • Figure 15: Facebook’s daily active users continue to grow
  • Figure 16: Facebook’s mobile daily active users
  • Figure 17: How consumers can redeem a Google Offer
  • Figure 18: Who is best placed to win in facilitating local commerce?
  • Figure 19: Google Wallet no longer needs to work directly with banks
  • Figure 20: The mobile commerce strengths and weaknesses of the Internet players
  • Figure 21: The unfulfilled gap in the digital commerce market
  • Figure 22: Internet giants and start-ups best placed to be infomediaries
  • Figure 23: How Telefónica compares with leading Internet players

 

Cloud 2.0: Telco Strategies in the Cloud

Will Telcos be left behind?

Introduction

Cloud services are emerging as a key strategic imperative for Telcos as revenues from traditional services such as voice, messaging and data come under attack from Over The Top Players, regulators and other Telcos. A majority of these new products are delivered from the Cloud on a “pay for consumption” basis and many business customers are increasingly looking to migrate from traditional in house IT systems to Cloud-based or virtualized services to reduce costs, increase agility and decrease deployment times. Gartner recently estimated that the Cloud services market would be worth over $200 billion by 2016, roughly double the value of 2012 and with a CAGR of around 17% whereas traditional IT products and services will see just 3% growth.

It is clear that some Telcos have gained a greater understanding of the Cloud market, and are acting on that understanding, offering increasingly rich Cloud-based products and services, paving the way for Cloud 2.0. But for most Telcos, Cloud services remain secondary to their core business of voice and data delivery. Telcos are wrestling with issues of reduced margin on Cloud and how to stay relevant to their business customers.

This report looks at the development of the Cloud market providing clarity around the different types of cloud products and the impact that they have on business users. Cloud value propositions are examined along with criticisms of cloud products and services. We show that the current risks for Cloud customers represent an opportunity for Telcos and Cloud vendors because….

The report also looks at the development of Cloud 2.0 – a second generation or a more ‘intelligent’ evolution of Cloud products and services. Cloud 2.0 offers key additional benefits/capabilities to consumers, vendors, businesses and Telco/Service providers. These can be typified by cost reductions in the delivery and consumption of cloud services through working with scale players to provide basic compute services, ease of acquisition and most importantly the ability to deliver “mash-up” products and services by using API’s to provide integration between cloud services and products and Telco/service provider products such as Bandwidth, Voice, Management, Support and Billing. Cloud 2.0 is gaining rapid momentum and we show how there is still time for Telcos to play a key role in Cloud 2.0.

Who should read this report?

The report is a ‘must-have’ for all strategy decision makers, Cloud specialists and influencers across the TMT (Telecoms, Media and Technology) sector; in particular, CxOs, strategists, technologists, marketers, product managers, and legal and regulatory leaders in telecoms operators, vendors, consultants, and analyst companies. It will also be invaluable to those managing or considering medium to long-term investment specifically in Telco Cloud services, but also more broadly those involved within telecoms and adjacent industries, and to regulators and legislators.

Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction

  • What is Cloud?
  • What is the Cloud Value Proposition?
  • Types of Cloud
  • Key criticisms of the Cloud
  • What is ‘Cloud 2.0’ and why does it matter?
    • Enterprise vs Consumer cloud, Fit with Telco 2.0 strategies

Market Structure & Opportunity

  • What is the shape and size of the market (revenues and profit)?
    • Total size, definitions of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, VPC + forecasts
    • Advantages and limitations of XaaS definitions
  • What are the key customer segments and their needs?
    • SMBs vs Enterprise
    • Early adopters vs mass adopters
  • What is the opportunity for Telcos (market size and revenues)?
    • Share forecasts / ranges for Telcos
  • What are the most relevant cloud services for Telcos?
  • What are the key barriers?
    • Overall and by segment
  • Future Scenarios
  • What is the competitive landscape and who are the key players in Cloud Services?
    • Detailed competitor analysis, groupings by type and strategy Strategy review: Analysis of 6-10 key players, covering
      • Objectives, strategy, areas addressed, target customers, proposition strategy, routes to market, operational approach, buy / build partner approach
    • Key strategies of other players
    • Role of the network / operators to Vendor/partner strategies

Telco Strategies

  • Which strategies are Telcos adopting and what else could they do
    • Review of Telco attitudes and approaches based on following analysis
    • Grouping of Telcos by approach (if valid)
  • Which are the leading Telcos and what are they doing?
    • Case studies on 6-10 leading Telcos, covering:
      • Objectives, strategy, areas addressed, target customers, proposition strategy, routes to market, operational approach, buy / build partner approach
  • Outlines of 10 additional Telco strategies
  • What relationships should Telcos establish with other ecosystem players?

Conclusions and recommendations

 

Cloud 2.0: Report and analysis of the event

Cloud 2.0: Event Summary Analysis. A summary of the findings of the Cloud 2.0 Executive Brainstorm, 10th November 2011, held in the Gouman Tower Hotel, London. The Brainstorm explored telcos’ strategic options to grow in the fast changing digital economy. It also considered how telcos can defend their core voice and messaging business, while also examining the steps they can take to improve the customer experience. (November 2012, Executive Briefing Service, Cloud & Enterprise ICT Stream)

Cloud 2.0: Event Summary Analysis Presentation

Part of the New Digital Economics Executive Brainstorm series, the Cloud 2.0 event took place at the Guoman Hotel, London on the 10th November and looked at telcos’ strategic options, the future of the core communications products telcos rely on for much of their revenue and how they can improve the customer experience both to reduce churn and attract new customers.

Using a widely acclaimed interactive format called ‘Mindshare’ the event enabled 80 specially-invited senior executives from across the communications, media, banking and technology sectors to.

This note summarises some of the high-level findings and includes the verbatim output of the brainstorm.

More information: email contact@stlpartners.com, or phone: +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

DOWNLOAD REPORT

Extracted example slide:

Cloud 2.0: Event Summary Analysis Presentation

Cloud 2.0: What are the Telco Opportunities?

Summary: Telco 2.0’s analysis of operators’ potential role and opportunity in ‘Cloud Services’, a set of new business model opportunities that are still in an early stage of development – although players such as Amazon have already blazed a substantial trail. (December 2010, , Executive Briefing Service, Cloud & Enterprise ICT Stream & Foundation 2.0)

  • Below is an extract from this Telco 2.0 Report. The report can be downloaded in full PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service and the Cloud and Enterprise ICT Stream here.
  • Additionally, to give an introduction to the principles of Telco 2.0 and digital business model innovation, we now offer for download a small selection of free Telco 2.0 Briefing reports (including this one) and a growing collection of what we think are the best 3rd party ‘white papers’. To access these reports you will need to become a Foundation 2.0 member. To do this, use the promotional code FOUNDATION2 in the box provided on the sign-up page here. NB By signing up to this service you give consent to us passing your contact details to the owners / creators of any 3rd party reports you download. Your Foundation 2.0 member details will allow you to access the reports shown here only, and once registered, you will be able to download the report here.
  • See also the videos from IBM on what telcos need to do, and Oracle on the range of Cloud Services, and the Telco 2.0 Analyst Note describing Americas and EMEA Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm delegates’ views of the Cloud Services Opportunity for telcos.
  • We’ll also be discussing Cloud 2.0 at the Silicon Valley (27-28 March) and London (12-13 June) Executive Brainstorms.
  • To access reports from the full Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service, or to submit whitepapers for review for inclusion in this service, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

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The Cloud: What Is It?

Apart from being the leading buzzword in the enterprise half of the IT industry for the last few years, what is this thing called “Cloud”? Specifically, how does it differ from traditional server co-location, or indeed time-sharing on mainframes as we did in the 1970s? These are all variations on the theme of computing power being supplied from a remote machine shared with other users, rather than from PCs or servers deployed on-site.

Two useful definitions were voiced at the 11th Telco 2.0 EMEA Executive Brainstorm in November 2010:

  • “A standardised IT Capability delivered in a pay-per-use, self-service way.” Stephan Haddinger, Chief Architect Cloud Computing, Orange – citing a definition by Forrester.
  • “STEAM – A Self-Service, multi-Tenanted, Elastic, broad Access, and Metered IT Service.” Neil Sholay, VP Cloud and Comms, EMEA, Oracle.

The definition of Cloud has been rendered significantly more complicated by the hype around “cloud” and the resultant tendency to use it for almost anything that is network resident. For a start, it’s unhelpful to describe anything that includes a Web site as “cloud computing”. A good way to further understand ‘Cloud Services’ is to look at the classic products in the market.

The most successful of these, Amazon’s S3 and EC2, provide low-level access to computing resources – disk storage, in S3, and general-purpose CPU in EC2. This differs from an ASP (Application Service Provider) or Web 2.0 product in that what is provided isn’t any particular application, but rather something close to the services of a general purpose computer. It differs from traditional hosting in that what is provided is not access to one particular physical machine, but to a virtual machine environment running on many physical servers in a data-centre infrastructure, which is probably itself distributed over multiple locations. The cloud operator handles the administration of the actual servers, the data centres and internal networks, and the virtualisation software used to provide the virtual machines.

Varying degrees of user control over the system are available. A major marketing point, however, is that the user doesn’t need to worry about system administration – it can be abstracted out as in the cloud graphic that is used to symbolise the Internet on architecture diagrams. This tension between computing provided “like electricity” and the desire for more fine-grained control is an important theme. Nobody wants to specify how their electricity is routed through the grid, although increasing numbers of customers want to buy renewable power – but it is much more common for businesses (starting at surprisingly small scale) to have their own Internet routing policies.

So, for example, although Amazon’s cloud services are delivered from their global data centre infrastructure, it’s possible to specify where EC2 instances run to a continental scale. This provides for compliance with data protection law as well as for performance optimisation. Several major providers, notably Rackspace, BT Global Services, and IBM, offer “private cloud” services which represent a halfway house between hosting/managed service and fully virtualised cloud computing. And some explicit cloud products, such as Google’s App Engine, provide an application environment with only limited low-level access, as a rapid-prototyping tool for developers.

The Cloud: Why Is It?

Back at the November 2009 Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm in Orlando, Joe Weinman of AT&T presented an argument that cloud computing is “a mathematical inevitability”. His fundamental point is worth expanding on. For many cloud use cases, the decision between moving into the cloud and using a traditional fleet of hosted servers is essentially a rent-vs-buy calculus. Weinman’s point was that once you acquire servers, whether you own them and co-locate or rent them from a hosting provider, you are committed to acquiring that quantity of computing capacity whether you use it or not. Scaling up presents some problems, but it is not that difficult to co-locate more 1U racks. What is really problematic is scaling down.

Cloud computing services address this by basically providing volume pricing for general-purpose computing – you pay for what you use. It therefore has an advantage when there are compute-intensive tasks with a highly skewed traffic distribution, in a temporary deployment, or in a rapid-prototyping project. However, problems arise when there is a need for capacity on permanent standby, or serious issues of data security, business continuity, service assurance, and the like. These are also typical rent-vs-buy issues.

Another reason to move to the cloud is that providing high-availability computing is expensive and difficult. Cloud computing providers’ core business is supporting large numbers of customers’ business-critical applications – it might make sense to pass this task to a specialist. Also, their typical architecture, using virtualisation across large numbers of PC-servers to achieve high availability in the manner popularised by Google, doesn’t make sense except on a scale big enough to provide a significant margin of redundancy in the hardware and in the data centre infrastructure.

Why Not the Cloud?

The key objections to the cloud are centred around trust – one benefit of spreading computing across many servers in many locations is that this reduces the risk of hardware and/or connectivity failure. However, the problem with moving your infrastructure into a multi-tenant platform is of course that it’s another way of saying that you’ve created a new, enormous single point of commercial and/or software failure. It’s also true that the more critical and complex the functions that are moved into cloud infrastructure, and the more demanding the contractual terms that result, the more problematic it becomes to manage the relationship. (Neil Lock, IT Services Director at BT Global Services, contributed an excellent presentation on this theme at the 9th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm.) At some point, the additional costs of managing the outsourcer relationship intersect with the higher costs of owning the infrastructure and internalising the contract. One option involves spending more money on engineers, the other, spending more money on lawyers.

Similar problems exist with regard to information security – a malicious actor who gains access to administrative features of the cloud solution has enormous opportunities to cause trouble, and the scaling features of the cloud mean that it is highly attractive to spammers and denial-of-service attackers. Nothing else offers them quite as much power.

Also, as many cloud systems make a virtue of the fact that the user doesn’t need to know much about the physical infrastructure, it may be very difficult to guarantee compliance with privacy and other legislation. Financial and other standards sometimes mandate specific cryptographic, electronic, and physical security measures. It is quite possible that the users of major clouds would be unable to say in which jurisdiction users’ personal data is stored. They may consider this a feature, but this is highly dependent on the nature of your business.

From a provider perspective, the chief problem with the cloud is commoditisation. At present, major clouds are the cheapest way bar none to buy computing power. However, the very nature of a multi-tenant platform demands significant capital investment to deliver the reliability and availability the customers expect. The temptation will always be there to oversubscribe the available capacity – until the first big outage. A capital intensive, very high volume, and low price business is the classic case of a commodity – many operators would argue that this is precisely what they’re trying to get away from. Expect vigorous competition, low margins, and significant CAPEX requirements.

To download a full PDF of this article, covering…

  • What’s in it for Telcos?
  • Conclusions and Recommendations

…Members of the Telco 2.0TM Executive Briefing Subscription Service and the Cloud & Enterprise ICT Stream can read the Executive Summary and download the full report in PDF format here. Non-Members, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 for further details.

Telco 2.0 Next Steps

Objectives:

  • To continue to analyse and refine the role of telcos in Cloud Services, and how to monetise them;
  • To find and communicate new case studies and use cases in this field.

Deliverables:

Cloud Services 2.0: Clearing Fog, Sunshine Forecast, say Telco 2.0 Delegates

Summary: the early stage of development of the market means there is some confusion on the telco Cloud opportunity, yet clarity is starting to emerge, and the concept of ‘Network-as-a-Service’ found particular favour with Telco 2.0 delegates at our October 2010 Americas and November 2010 EMEA Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms. (December 2010, Executive Briefing Service, Cloud & Enterprise ICT Streamm)

The full 15 page PDF report is available for members of the Executive Briefing Service and Cloud and Enterprise ICT Stream here. For membership details please see here, or to join, email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 44 207 247 5003. Cloud Services will also feature at Best Practice Live!, Feb 2-3 2011, and the 2011 Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms.

Executive Summary

Clearing Fog

Cloud concepts can sometimes seem as baffling, and as nebulous as their namesakes. However, in the recent Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms, (Americas in October 2010 and EMEA November 2010), stimulus presentations by IBM, Oracle, FT-Orange Group, Deutsche Telekom, Intel, Salesforce.com, Cisco, BT-Ribbit, and delegate discussions really brought the Cloud Services opportunities to life.

While it was generally agreed that the precise definitions delineating the many possible varieties of the service are not always useful, it does matter how operators can make money from the services, and there was at least consensus on this.

Sunshine Forecast: A Significant Opportunity…

IBM identified an $88.5Bn opportunity in the Cloud over the next 5 years, the majority of which is applicable to telcos, although the share that will end up in the telco industry might be as much as 70% or as little as 30%, depending on how operators go about it (video here).

According to Cisco, there is a $44Bn telco opportunity in Cloud Services by 2014, supported by the evidence of 30%+ enterprise IT cost savings and productivity gains that resulted from Cisco’s own comprehensive internal adoption of cloud services (video here). We see this estimate as reasonably consistent with IBM’s.

Oracle also brought the range of opportunities to life with seven contrasting real-life case studies (video here).

Ribbit, AT&T, and Salesforce.com also supported the viability of Cloud Cervices, arguing that concerns over trust and privacy are gradually being allayed. Intel argued that Network as a Service (NaaS) is emerging as a cloud opportunity alongside Enterprise and Public Clouds, and that by combining NaaS with the telco influence over devices and device computing power, telcos can be a major player in a new ‘Pervasive Computing’ environment. EMEA delegates also viewed Network-as-a-Service as the most attractive opportunity.

Fig 1 – Delegates Favoured ‘Network-as-a-Service’ of the Cloud Opportunities

Telco 2.0 Delegates Cloud Vote, Nov 2010

Source: Telco 2.0 Delegate Vote, 11th Brainstorm, EMEA , Nov 2010.

Telco 2.0 Next Steps

Objectives:

  • To continue to analyse and refine the role of telcos in Cloud Services, and how to monetise them;
  • To find and communicate new case studies and use cases in this field.

Deliverables:

Cloud 2.0: What Should Telcos do? IBM’s View

Summary: IBM say that telcos are well positioned to provide cloud services, and forecast an $89Bn opportunity over 5 years globally. Video presentation and slides (members only) including forecast, case studies, and lessons for future competitiveness.

Cloud Services will also feature at Best Practice Live!, Feb 2-3 2011, and the 2011 Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms.

At the 11th EMEA Telco 2.0 Brainstorm, November 2010, Craig Wilson, VP, IBM Global Telecoms Industry, said that:

  • Cloud Services represent an $89Bn opportunity in 5 years;
  • Telcos / Service Providers are “well positioned” to compete in Cloud Services;
  • Security remains the CIO’s biggest question mark, but one that telcos can help with;
  • and outlined two APAC telco Cloud case studies.

Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Service and the Cloud and Enterprise ICT Stream can also download Craig’s presentation here (for membership details please see here, or to join, email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 44 207 247 5003).

See also videos by Oracle describing a range of cloud case studies, Cisco on the market opportunity and their own case study of Cloud benefits, and Telco 2.0’s Analyst Note on the Cloud Opportunity.

Telco 2.0 Next Steps

Objectives:

  • To continue to analyse and refine the role of telcos in Cloud Services, and how to monetise them;
  • To find and communicate new case studies and use cases in this field.

Deliverables:

Making Sense of ‘Cloud / xAAS’: Seven Clear Examples

Summary: the point and value of Cloud Services can sometimes seem elusive. Here’s a well received presentation that includes a simple, workable definition and seven case studies that illustrate different types of ‘Cloud Services’ / xAAS (Network, Platform, infrastructure-As-A-Service).

Oracle’s VP Cloud & Comms, Neil Sholay, presented on Cloud Services at the Nov 2010 EMEA Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm. The Telco 2.0 team, and many of the delegates present, found his presentation very useful in making sense of the sometimes obscure world of cloud services. Please see the video below – Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Service can also download his presentation here (for membership details please see here, or to join, email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 44 207 247 5003). Cloud Services will also feature at Best Practice Live!, Feb 2-3 2011, and the 2011 Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorms.

 

Orange’s Stephan Hadinger had prefaced the presentation by saying that Oracle’s Larry Ellison had once said that “the computer industry is the only more … than fashion” and why is all this stuff now called ‘Cloud’? Neil commented that this attitude had forced him to become extremely clear on what the value of cloud is, and that he now uses the acronym ‘STEAM’ to define cloud services, standing for:

  • Self-Service
  • Multi-Tenanted
  • Elastic
  • Broad Access
  • Metered (and charged)

Neil then presented the following examples, including real-world financial and operational benefits data:

  1. Next Generation Cloud Data Centre
  2. Cloud Development & Test Environment
  3. Private Cloud / Platform-a-a-Service (PaaS)
  4. PaaS For Group Telecom Applications
  5. Public / Community IT Services
  6. Network-as-a-Service (NaaS)
  7. Complete Public Cloud

You can also see vdieos presentations from IBM and Cisco on market sizing and definitions.

Telco 2.0 Next Steps

Objectives:

  • To continue to analyse and refine the role of telcos in Cloud Services, and how to monetise them;
  • To find and communicate new case studies and use cases in this field.

Deliverables:

Full Article: Nokia’s Strange Services Strategy – Lessons from Apple iPhone and RIM

The profuse proliferation of poorly integrated projects suggests either – if we’re being charitable – a deliberate policy of experimenting with many different ideas, or else – if we’re not – the absence of a coherent strategy.

Clearly Nokia is aware of the secular tendency in all information technology fields that value migrates towards software and specifically towards applications. Equally clearly, they have the money, scale, and competence to deliver major projects in this field. However, so far they have failed to make services into a meaningful line of business, and even the well developed software ecosystem hasn’t seen a major hit like the iPhone and its associated app store.

Nokia Services: project proliferator

So far, the Services division in its various incarnations has brought forward Club Nokia, the Nokia Game, Forum Nokia, Symbian Developer Network, WidSets, Nokia Download!, MOSH, Nokia Comes With Music, Nokia Music Store, N-Gage, Ovi, Mail on Ovi, Contacts on Ovi, Ovi Store…it’s a lot of brands for one company, and that’s not even an exhaustive list. They’ve further acquired Intellisync, Sega.com, Loudeye, Twango, Enpocket, Oz Communications, Gate5, Starfish Software, Navteq and Avvenu since 2005 – that makes an average of just over two services acquisitions a year. Further, despite the decision to integrate all (or most) services into Ovi, there are still five different functional silos inside the Services division.

The great bulk of applications or services available or proposed for mobile devices fall into two categories – social or media. Under social we’re grouping anything that is primarily about communications; under media we’re grouping video, music, games, and content in general. Obviously there is a significant overlap. This is driven by fundamentals; no-one is likely to want to do computationally intensive graphics editing, CAD, or heavy data analysis on a mobile, run a database server on one, or play high-grade full-3D games. Batteries, CPU limitations, and most of all, form factor limitations see to that. And on the other side, communication is a fundamental human need, so there is demand pull as well as constraint push. As we pointed out back in the autumn of 2007, communication, not content, is king.

Aims

In trying to get user adoption of its applications and services, Nokia is pursuing two aims – one is to create products that will help to ship more Nokia devices, and to ship higher-value N- or E- series devices rather than featurephones, and the other is a longer-range hope to create a new business in its own right, which will probably be monetised through subscriptions, advertising,or transactions. This latter aim is much further off that the first, and is affected by the operators’ suspicion of any activity that seems to rival their treasured billing relationship. For example, although quick signup and data import are crucial to deploying a social application, Nokia probably wouldn’t get away with automatically enrolling all users in its services – the operators likely wouldn’t wear it.

Historical lessons

There have been several historical examples of similar business models, in which sales of devices are driven by a social network. However, the common factor is that success has always come from facilitating existing social networks rather than trying to create new ones. This is also true of the networks themselves; if new ones emerge, it’s usually as an epi-phenomenon of generally reduced friction. Some examples:

  1. Telephony itself: nobody subscribed in order to join the telephone community, they subscribed to talk to the people they wanted to talk to anyway.
  2. GSM: the unique selling point was that the people who might want to talk to you could reach you anywhere, and PSTN interworking was crucial.
  3. RIM’s BlackBerry: early BlackBerries weren’t that impressive as such, but they provided access to the social value of your e-mail workflow and groupware anywhere. Remember, the only really valuable IM user base is the 17 million Lotus Notes Sametime users.
  4. 3’s INQ: the Global Mobile Award-winning handset is really a hardware representation of the user’s virtual presence . Hutchison isn’t interested in trying to make people join Club Hutch or use 3Book; they’re interested in helping their users manage their social networks and charging for the privilege.

So it’s unlikely that trying to recruit users into Nokia-specific communities is at all sensible. Nobody likes vendor lock-in. And, if your product is really good, why restrict it to Nokia hardware users? As far as Web applications go, of course, there’s absolutely no reason why other devices shouldn’t be allowed to play. But this fundamental issue – that no-one organises their lives around their friends’ or the friends’ mobile operators’ choices of device vendor – would tend to explain why there have been so many service launches, mergers, and shutdowns. Nokia is trying to find the answer by trial and error, but it’s looking in the wrong place. There is some evidence, however, that they are looking more at facilitating other social applications, but this is subject to negotiation with the operators.

The operator relationship – root of the problem

One of the reasons why is the conflict with operators mentioned above. Nokia’s efforts to build a Nokia-only community mirror the telco fascination with the billing relationship. Telcos tend to imagine that being a customer of Telco X is enough to constitute a substantial social and emotional link; Nokia is apparently working on the assumption that being a customer of Nokia is sufficient to make you more like other Nokia customers than everyone else. So both parties are trying to “own the customer”, when in fact this is probably pointless, and they are succeeding in spoiling each others’ plans. Although telcos like to imagine they have a unique relationship with their subscribers, they in fact know surprisingly little about them, and carriers tend to be very unpopular with the public. Who wants to have a relationship with the Big Expensive Phone Company anyway? Both parties need to rethink their approach to sociability.

What would a Telco 2.0 take on this look like?

First of all, the operator needs to realise that the subscribers don’t love them for themselves; it was the connectivity they were after all along! Tears! Secondly, Nokia needs to drop the fantasy of recruiting users into a vendor-specific Nokiasphere. It won’t work. Instead, both ought to be looking at how they can contribute to other people’s processes. If Nokia can come up with a better service offering, very well – let them use the telco API suite. In fact, perhaps the model should be flipped, and instead of telcos marketing Nokia devices as a bundled add-in with their service, Nokia ought to be marketing its devices (and services) with connectivity and much else bundled into the upfront price, with the telcos getting their share through richer wholesale mechanisms and platform services.

Consider the iPhone. Looking aside from the industrial design and GUI for a moment – I dare you! you can do it! – its key features were integration with iTunes (i.e. with content), a developer platform that offered good APIs and documentation, but also a route to market for the developers and an easy way for users to discover, buy, and install their products, and an internal business model that sweetened the deal for the operators, by offering them exclusivity and a share of the revenue. Everyone still loves the iPhone, everyone still hates AT&T, but would AT&T ever consider not renewing the contract with Apple? They’re stealing our customers’ hearts! Of course not.

Apple succeeded in improving the following processes for two out of three key customer groups:

  1. Users: Acquiring and managing music and video across multiple devices.
  2. Users: Discovering, installing, and sharing mobile applications
  3. Developers: Deploying and selling mobile applications

And as two-sidedness would suggest, they offered the remaining group a share of revenue. The rest is history; the iPhone has become the main driver of growth and profitability at Apple, more than one billion applications downloads have been shipped from the App Store, etc, etc.

Conclusions: turn to small business?

So far, however, Nokia’s approach has mirrored the worst aspects of telcos’ attitude to their subscribers; a combination of possessiveness and indifference. They want to own the customer; they don’t know how or why. It might be more defensible if there was any sign that Nokia is serious about making money from services; that, of course, is poison to the operators and is therefore permanently delayed. Similarly, Nokia would like to have the sort of brand loyalty Apple enjoys and to build the sort of integrated user experience Apple specialises in, but it is paranoid about the operators. The result is essentially an Apple strategy, but not quite.

What else could they try? Consider Nokia Life Tools, the package of information services for farmers and small businesses they are building for the developing world. One thing that Nokia’s services strategy has so far lacked is engagement with enterprises; it’s all been about swapping photos and music and status updates. Although Nokia makes great business-class gadgets, and they provide a lot of useful enablers (multiple e-mail boxes, support for different push e-mail systems, VPN clients, screen output, printer support), there’s a hole shaped like work in their services offering. RIM has been much better here, working together with IBM and Salesforce.com to expand the range of enterprise applications they can mobilise.

Life Tools, however, shows a possible opportunity – it’s all right catering to companies who already have complex workflow systems, but who’s serving the ones that don’t have the scale to invest there? None of the vendors are addressing this, and neither are the telcos. It fits a whole succession of Telco 2.0 principles – focus on enterprises, look for areas where there’s a big difference between the value of bits and their quantity, and work hard at improving wholesale.

It’s almost certainly a better idea than trying to be Apple, but not quite.

Next Steps for Nokia and telcos

  • It is unlikely that ”Nokia users” are a valid community

  • Really successful social hardware facilitates existing social networks

  • Nokia’s problems are significantly explained by their difficult relationship with operators

  • Nokia’s emerging-market Life Tools package might be more of an example than they think

  • A Telco 2.0 approach would emphasise small businesses, offer bundled connectivity, and deal with the operators through better wholesale