Gigabit Cable Attacks This Year

Introduction

Since at least May, 2014 and the Triple Play in the USA Executive Briefing, we have been warning that the cable industry’s continuous improvement of its DOCSIS 3 technology threatens fixed operators with a succession of relatively cheap (in terms of CAPEX) but dramatic speed jumps. Gigabit chipsets have been available for some time, with the actual timing of the roll-out being therefore set by cable operators’ commercial choices.

With the arrival of DOCSIS 3.1, multi-gigabit cable has also become available. As a result, cable operators have become the best value providers in the broadband mass markets: typically, we found in the Triple Play briefing, they were the cheapest in terms of price/megabit in the most common speed tiers, at the time between 50 and 100Mbps. They were sometimes also the leaders for outright speed, and this has had an effect. In Q3 2014, for the first time, Comcast had more high-speed Internet subscribers than it had TV subscribers, on a comparable basis. Furthermore, in Europe, cable industry revenues grew 4.6% in 2014 while the TV component grew 1.8%. In other words, cable operators are now broadband operators above all.

Figure 1: Comcast now has more broadband than TV customers

Source: STL Partners, Comcast Q1 2015 trending schedule 

In the December, 2014 Will AT&T shed copper, fibre-up, or buy more content – and what are the lessons? Executive Briefing, we covered the impact on AT&T’s consumer wireline business, and pointed out that its strategy of concentrating on content as opposed to broadband has not really delivered. In the context of ever more competition from streaming video, it was necessary to have an outstanding broadband product before trying to add content revenues. This was something which their DSL infrastructure couldn’t deliver in the context of cable or fibre competitors. The cable competition concentrated on winning whole households’ spending with broadband, with content as an upsell, and has undermined the wireline base to the point where AT&T might well exit a large proportion of it or perhaps sell off the division, refocusing on wireless, DirecTV satellite TV, and enterprise. At the moment, Comcast sees about 2 broadband net-adds for each triple-play net-add, although the increasing numbers of business ISP customers complicate the picture.

Figure 2: Sell the broadband and you get the whole bundle. About half Comcast’s broadband growth is associated with triple-play signups

Source: STL, Comcast Q1 trending schedule

Since Christmas, the trend has picked up speed. Comcast announced a 2Gbps deployment to 1.5 million homes in the Atlanta metropolitan area, with a national deployment to follow. Time Warner Cable has announced a wave of upgrades in Charlotte, North Carolina that ups their current 30Mbps tier to 200Mbps and their 50Mbps tier to 300Mbps, after Google Fiber announced plans to deploy in the area. In the UK, Virgin Media users have been reporting unusually high speeds, apparently because the operator is trialling a 300Mbps speed tier, not long after it upgraded 50Mbps users to 152Mbps.

It is very much worth noting that these deployments are at scale. The Comcast and TWC rollouts are in the millions of premises. When the Virgin Media one reaches production status, it will be multi-million too. Vodafone-owned KDG in Germany is currently deploying 200Mbps, and it will likely go further as soon as it feels the need from a tactical point of view. This is the advantage of an upgrade path that doesn’t require much trenching. Not only can the upgrades be incremental and continuous, they can also be deployed at scale without enormous disruption.

Technology is driving the cable surge

This year’s CES saw the announcement, by Broadcom, of a new system-on-a-chip (SoC) for cable modems/STBs that integrates the new DOCSIS 3.1 cable standard. This provides for even more speeds, theoretically up to 7Gbps downlink, while still providing a broadcast path for pure TV. The SoC also, however, includes a WLAN radio with the newest 802.11ac technology, including beamforming and 4×4 multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO), which is rated for gigabit speeds in the local network.

Even taking into account the usual level of exaggeration, this is an impressive package, offering telco-hammering broadband speeds, support for broadcast TV, and in-home distribution at speeds that can keep up with 4K streaming video. These are the SoCs that Comcast will be using for its gigabit cable rollouts. STMicroelectronics demonstrated its own multigigabit solution at CES, and although Intel has yet to show a DOCSIS 3.1 SoC, the most recent version of its Puma platform offers up to 1.6Gbps in a DOCSIS 3 network. DOCSIS 3 and 3.1 are designed to be interoperable, so this product has a future even after the head-ends are upgraded.

Figure 3: This is your enemy. Broadcom’s DOCSIS3.1/802.11ac chipset

Source: RCRWireless 

With multiple chipset vendors shipping products, CableLabs running regular interoperability tests, and large regional deployments beginning, we conclude that the big cable upgrade is now here. Even if cable operators succeed in virtualising their set-top box software, you can’t provide the customer-end modem nor the WiFi router from the cloud. It’s important to realise that FTTH operators can upgrade in a similarly painless way by replacing their optical network terminals (ONTs), but DSL operators need to replace infrastructure. Also, ONTs are often independent from the WLAN router or other customer equipment , so the upgrade won’t necessarily improve the WiFi.

WiFi is also getting a major upgrade

The Broadcom device is so significant, though, because of the very strong WiFi support built in with the cable modem. Like the cable industry, the WiFi ecosystem has succeeded in keeping up a steady cycle of continuous improvements that are usually backwards compatible, from 802.11b through to 802.11ac, thanks to a major standards effort, the scale that Intel and Apple’s support gives us, and its relatively light intellectual property encumbrance.

802.11ac adds a number of advanced radio features, notably multiple-user MIMO, beamforming, and higher-density modulation, that are only expected to arrive in the cellular network as part of 5G some time after 2020, as well as some incremental improvements over 802.11n, like additional MIMO streams, wider channels, and 5GHz spectrum by default. As a result, the industry refers to it as “gigabit WiFi”, although the gigabit is a per-station rather than per-user throughput.

The standard has been settled since January 2014, and support is available in most flagship-class devices and laptop chipsets since then, so this is now a reality. The upgrade of the cable networks to 802.11ac WiFi backed with DOCSIS3.1 will have major strategic consequences for telcos, as it enables the cable operators and any strategic partners of theirs to go in even harder on the fixed broadband business and also launch a WiFi-plus-MVNO mobile service at the same time. The beamforming element of 802.11ac should help them to support higher user densities, as it makes use of the spatial diversity among different stations to reduce interference. Cablevision already launched a mobile service just before Christmas. We know Comcast is planning to launch one sometime this year, as they have been hiring a variety of mobile professionals quite aggressively. And, of course, the CableWiFi roaming alliance greatly facilitates scaling up such a service. The economics of a mini-carrier, as we pointed out in the Google MVNO: What’s Behind It and What Are the Implications? Executive Briefing, hinge on how much traffic can be offloaded to WiFi or small cells.

Figure 4: Modelling a mini-carrier shows that the WiFi is critical

Source: STL Partners

Traffic carried on WiFi costs nothing in terms of spectrum and much less in terms of CAPEX (due to the lower intellectual property tax and the very high production runs of WiFi equipment). In a cable context, it will often be backhauled in the spare capacity of the fixed access network, and therefore will account for very little additional cost on this score. As a result, the percentage of data traffic transferred to WiFi, or absorbed by it, is a crucial variable. KDDI, for example, carries 57% of its mobile data traffic on WiFi and hopes to reach 65% by the end of this year. Increasing the fraction from 30% to 57% roughly halved their CAPEX on LTE.

A major regulatory issue at the moment is the deployment of LTE-LAA (Licensed-Assisted Access), which aggregates unlicensed radio spectrum with a channel from licensed spectrum in order to increase the available bandwidth. The 5GHz WiFi band is the most likely candidate for this, as it is widely available, contains a lot of capacity, and is well-supported in hardware.

We should expect the cable industry to push back very hard against efforts to rush deployment of LTE-LAA cellular networks through the regulatory process, as they have a great deal to lose if the cellular networks start to take up a large proportion of the 5GHz band. From their point of view, a major purpose of LTE-LAA might be to occupy the 5GHz and deny it to their WiFi operations.

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Technology is driving the cable surge
  • WiFi is also getting a major upgrade
  • Wholesale and enterprise markets are threatened as well
  • The Cable Surge Is Disrupting Wireline
  • Conclusions
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game 
  • Figure 1: Comcast now has more broadband than TV customers
  • Figure 2: Sell the broadband and you get the whole bundle. About half Comcast’s broadband growth is associated with triple-play signups
  • Figure 3: This is your enemy. Broadcom’s DOCSIS3.1/802.11ac chipset
  • Figure 4: Modelling a mini-carrier shows that the WiFi is critical
  • Figure 5: Comcast’s growth is mostly driven by business services and broadband
  • Figure 6: Comcast Business is its growth start with a 27% CAGR
  • Figure 7: Major cablecos even outdo AT&T’s stellar performance in the enterprise
  • Figure 8: 3 major cable operators’ business services are now close to AT&T or Verizon’s scale
  • Figure 9: Summary of gigabit deployments
  • Figure 10: CAPEX as a % of revenue has been falling for some time…

 

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

Google’s core business is under pressure

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

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

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K filing

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

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

Google remains massively dependent on a commoditising advertising business

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

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

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

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

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

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

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

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

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

Source: STL Partners, Google 10-K

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Reality Check: Are operators’ lofty digital ambitions unrealistic given slow progress to date?

Growing telco ambitions in new (digital) business models

Telco execs are bullish about long-term prospects for new digital business models

Respondents believe new business model revenues should reach nearly 25% of total telecom revenue by 2020

Despite recent evidence in Europe of material revenue decline from telecoms operators, the executives that STL Partners canvassed in its recent global survey  were relatively optimistic about the opportunities for revenue growth from new business models.  On average, executives felt that revenue from new digital business models  should reach 9% of total revenue in 2015 and this should rise to 24% by 2020 (see Figure 1).

In the case of 2015, 9% is way beyond what will be achieved by most players and probably represents respondents’ theoretical target that their organisation should have achieved by the end of this year if management had invested more effort in building new revenue sources earlier: it is where their organisation should be in an ideal world.   One of the few operators in the world that is at this level of digital revenues is NTT DoCoMo.  We explore its digital activities later in this report.

24% of telecoms revenue coming from new business models in 2020 is also ambitious but STL Partners considers this a realistic target and one which would probably result in the overall telecoms market being no bigger than it was in 2013 – see the forecast on page 15.

Two drivers of digital business model importance to operators: digital revenue growth and core business revenue decline

A key question for the industry is whether the 2020 target can be achieved by growing material new business model revenues in tandem with limited voice, messaging and connectivity decline or whether it could result from an implosion of these Telco 1.0 revenues.  In other words, modest new business model revenue could be 24% of a very much smaller overall telecoms market if voice, messaging and connectivity revenues suffer a precipitous decline.

Figure 2 charts the quarterly revenue for six European markets and illustrates a range of trajectories for telecoms revenues.  At one extreme is Denmark where telecoms revenue in Q3 2014 was nearly 40% lower than Q1 2008.  At the other extreme are the UK and French markets where the figure is 3% and 7% lower respectively.  Clearly, if most telecoms markets follow the Danish route then the opportunity for modest digital revenues to become important to operators grows substantially.  Interestingly, in most of the six markets, 2013 and 2014 has seen revenues stabilising (at least among operators that publish accounts which split out those markets over the time period) and in some cases, such as the UK and Netherlands, growth has been achieved from the lows of 2012.

STL Partners’ global forecast lies somewhere between the two extremes outlined in Figure 2: we believe that core telecoms revenues will decline by around 25% between 2013 and 2020.  If this is indeed the case then for digital revenues to represent 24% of telecoms revenue, they will need to be very material – around $250 billion for mobile telecoms alone!

Figure 1: Digital business model revenue ambition, 2015 and 2020

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Operator Survey, November 2014, n=55

Figure 2: Telecoms quarterly revenue in 6 European markets

Source: Telecoms company accounts, STL Partners analysis
Note: Revenue is for operators reporting quarterly figures for each market. As a result, not all market revenue is captured.

Belief in the importance of future telecoms business models varies greatly by business function and by geography

Respondents from Network functions were most bullish; IT respondents most pessimistic

Where there were 10 or more respondents in a functional or geographic group, we examined the responses for that group.  As Figure 3 shows, there were wide differences in ambition for digital services by functional area with respondents from Network being far more bullish than those in IT:  the former suggesting 30% of 2020 revenue should come from digital services compared with only 14% from IT.

North American respondents seem to anticipate unrealistic digital business growth

There was a consistency among functional groups in their ambitions for digital services: those that were more bullish for 2015 remained more so for 2020.  This contrasted with the regional split in which North American respondents believed the ‘correct’ proportion of revenue from digital services in 2015 is 7% (compared with 10% for Europe and Asia) rising to a formidable 26% in 2020.  This suggests that North American executives remain confident that their organisations can compete effectively in consumer and enterprise digital markets despite the US, in particular, being the home market of many formidable digital players: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Twitter, and so forth.

To put the North American perspective in perspective: if STL Partners’ global forecast for core telecoms services holds true in the US then a $120bn revenue telecoms company, such as Verizon, will lose around $30 billion in core service revenues by 2020.  In this scenario, for Verizon to end up the same size as it is now in 2020, it will have to replace this $30 billion with new digital business revenues (which would equate roughly to the 26% proposed by North American respondents).  In our deep-dive analysis of Verizon for the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index, STL Partners estimated that Verizon generated around $2.9 billion in Telco 2.0 digital business model revenues (around 2.4% of total revenue) in 2013.  For that $2.9 billion to grow to $30 billion by 2020 requires compound annual growth of a whopping 40% per year: a tall order indeed and one that is almost certainly unrealistic.

Middle Eastern respondents least ambitious: signs of complacency?

Unsurprisingly, the Middle Eastern respondents whose companies are enjoying continued growth in core telecoms services and, in many countries advantageous regulatory environments, were least bullish about digital services in the near and longer term.  The danger for this region is complacency: operators are in a similar position to those in Europe in 2007.  European operators failed to prepare early enough for core service decline – most digital activities were not kicked off until 2012 by which time aggregate revenue from voice, messaging and connectivity was either flat or in decline in most markets.

Figure 3: Average digital business model revenue ambition, 2015 and 2020 by function and geography

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Operator Survey, November 2014, n=55

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Growing telco ambitions in new (digital) business models
  • Telco execs are bullish about long-term prospects for new digital business models
  • Belief in the importance of future telecoms business models varies greatly by business function and by geography
  • Telco execs’ views on digital business Opex and Capex investment are closely correlated with their views on revenue growth
  • Calculating a telecoms digital business P&L:  Moving from investment in 2015 to (unrealistically?) strong returns in 2020
  • STL Partners’ forecast suggests that new digital business should be 25+% of revenue by 2020 to avoid long-term industry decline
  • The outlook for Telco 1.0 business models is not positive and Telco 2.0 business models are required to fill the gap
  • Investment in new business models is increasing but results from the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index suggest it is still inadequate to engender success
  • Scale of NTT DoCoMo’s ‘new digital business’ suggests bold vision is realistic for some players
  • Long-term downward trend in Telco 1.0 core services in Japan with digital services a ‘gap-filler’
  • Smart Life: A cloud-based (OTT) consumer-centric approach to digital services
  • A digital business has fundamentally different characteristics to a telecoms business
  • 9 challenges to overcome and all are important
  • Overall, operator progress on all 9 challenges remains slow
  • Too little progress on core challenges from most operators
  • What next?  Forthcoming STL Partners’ Telco 2.0 research supporting telecoms transformation
  • Appendix 1: Survey details
  • Appendix 2: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index overview

 

  • Figure 1: Digital business model revenue ambition, 2015 and 2020
  • Figure 2: Telecoms quarterly revenue in 6 European markets
  • Figure 3: Average digital business model revenue ambition, 2015 and 2020 by function and geography
  • Figure 4: Average required Digital Business Opex and Capex, 2015 & 2020
  • Figure 5: Digital Business P&L for a $100 billion revenue telecoms operator, 2015 vs 2020, $ Billions
  • Figure 6: STL Partners’ global mobile telecoms forecast by opportunity area
  • Figure 7: STL Partners Telco 2.0 Transformation Index summary results, December 2014
  • Figure 8: NTT DoCoMo quarterly voice, data and ‘other’ revenue, Mar 2007-Sep 2014
  • Figure 9: Smart Life – NTT DoCoMo’s customer-centric approach to transformation
  • Figure 10: Different companies…different business models – the change that telecoms operators are trying to make
  • Figure 11: 9 challenges scored by ‘importance for operator digital transformation and future success’
  • Figure 12: The degree to which operators have addressed the 9 challenges
  • Figure 13: Strategists are much more bullish than other functions about their organisation’s transformation progress
  • Figure 14: Lots to change…and its taking too long
  • Figure 15: Operators appear to be at very different stages of resolving the ‘Big 6’ challenges
  • Figure 16: Defining Digital Services

 

Samsung and Google versus Apple?

Samsung: slipping and sliding

In 2013, it looked like Samsung Electronics could challenge Apple’s hegemony at the high-end of the handset market. The Korean giant’s flagship Galaxy smartphones were selling well and were equipped with features, such as large high definition displays and NFC, which Apple’s iPhones lacked.

But in 2014, Samsung’s Galaxy range lost some of is lustre – the latest flagship model, the S5, amounts to a fairly modest evolution of its predecessor, the S4. The Galaxy S5 underwhelmed some reviewers who criticised its look and feel, hefty price tag and erratic fingerprint sensor. Meanwhile, Apple launched two new high-spec handsets – the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. These phones markedly close the hardware gap and fill a significant hole in Apple’s portfolio by venturing into the so-called phablet market, which sits between smartphones and tablets. Now that Apple has grasped consumers’ desire for larger form factors and bigger displays, Samsung may struggle to hold on to high-end buyers.

After out-innovating Apple in some respects in recent years, Samsung is now on the back foot again. While Apple is broadly back to parity in terms of hardware, Samsung continues to trail the Californian company in terms of software and services. Most reviewers still regard the iPhone as the gold standard when it comes to user experience.

It is now well understood that the iPhone’s lead is largely down to Apple’s absolute control over hardware and software. Samsung and other vendors selling handsets running Google’s Android operating system have struggled to achieve the slick integration between hardware and software exemplified by Apple’s iPhones. Samsung has often exacerbated this issue by presenting customers with a confusing mix of overlapping Google and Samsung apps on its Galaxy handsets.

Samsung’s Annus Miserablis

In the second quarter of 2014, research firm IDC estimates that Samsung shipped more than 18 million Galaxy S5s, along with nine million S3 and S4 units. That implies Samsung shipped 27 million models in its flagship Galaxy S range, compared with 35 million iPhones distributed by Apple. For the third quarter, IDC didn’t break out Galaxy sales, but the research firm flagged “cooling demand for [Samsung’s] high-end devices,” adding: “Although Samsung has long relied on its high-end devices, its mid-range and low-end models drove volume for the quarter and subsequently drove down average selling prices.”

But Samsung can’t afford to cede more of the high end of the market to Apple. The Korean giant is facing increasingly intense competition from low cost Chinese manufacturers in the low end and the mid-range segments of the handset market. The net result has been a marked decline in Samsung’s market share and falling revenues. As the global smartphone market has expanded to serve people in lower income groups, both Samsung and Apple have lost market share to the likes of Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei. But Samsung is suffering far more than Apple, whose devices are squarely aimed at the affluent (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Samsung’s share of the global smartphone market share is sliding

Figure 3 Samsung's share of the global smartphone market share is sliding

source: IDC research

Worse still for Samsung, the decline in average selling prices is hitting its top line, damaging profitability and its ability to realise economies of scale. In terms of revenues, Apple is now almost as large as Samsung Electronics’ three divisions combined  and is much bigger than Samsung’s information technology and mobile (IM) division, which competes directly with Apple (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Apple is now generating almost as much revenue as Samsung Electronics

Figure 4 Apple is now generating almost as much revenue as Samsung Electronics
Source: Financial results, Apple guidance and analyst estimates captured by www.4-traders.com

The declining performance of Samsung’s IM division has had a major impact on Samsung Electronics’ profitability. The Korean group’s operating margin is slipping back towards 10%, whereas Apple’s operating margin has stabilised at about 28%, after sliding in 2013, when it faced particularly intense competition from Samsung and the broader Android ecosystem (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Samsung’s margins are low and going lower

Figure 5 Samsung's margins are low and going lower

Source: Financial results, Apple guidance and analyst estimates captured by www.4-traders.com

Although Samsung Electronics still generates slightly more revenue than Apple, the U.S. company is likely to make more than double the operating profit of its Korean rival in 2014 (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Apple’s operating profits are set to be more than double those of Samsung

Figure 6 Apple's operating profits are set to be more than double those of Samsung

Source: Financial results, Apple guidance and analyst estimates captured by www.4-traders.com

Naturally, declining operating profits mean lower net profits and a less attractive proposition for investors. Samsung clearly needs to avoid slipping into a downward spiral where low profitability prevents it from investing in the research and development and the manufacturing capacity it will need to compete effectively with Apple at the high end. Apple is now generating about $20 billion more in net income than Samsung each year, meaning it has far more financial firepower than its main rival, together with a virtual blank cheque from investors (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: The gap between Apple and Samsung’s financial firepower is widening

Figure 7: The gap between Apple and Samsungs financial firepower is widening

Source: Financial results, Apple guidance and analyst estimates captured by www.4-traders.com

Samsung should also be concerned about competition from Microsoft at the high-end of the market. Another company with a surplus of cash, Microsoft has a strong strategic interest in creating compelling smartphones and tablets to shore up its position in the business software market. Now that it is developing both software and hardware in house, Microsoft may yet be able to create smartphones that provide a better user experience than many Android handsets.

In summary, Samsung’s flagging performance in the smartphone market is having a major impact on the financial performance of the group. There could be worse to come. If Samsung concedes more of the premium end of the smartphone market to Apple and possibly Microsoft, it risks competing solely on price in the low and mid segments, where its expertise in display technology and semiconductors won’t enable it to add significant value. Samsung’s margins would erode further and it would be in danger of going into the terminal decline experienced by the likes of Nokia and Motorola, which have also both led the mobile phone market in the past.

An implosion by Samsung would have grave consequences for telcos and their primary suppliers. Aside from Microsoft, the Korean conglomerate is the only company in the smartphone and tablet markets that has the resources to provide credible global competition for Apple. Although the leading Chinese smartphone makers are strong in emerging markets, they lack the brand cachet and the marketing skills to mount a serious challenge to Apple in North America and Western Europe.

 

  • Internet-Driven Disruption
  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Samsung: slipping and sliding
  • How will Samsung respond? 
  • The opportunities for Samsung in the smartphone market
  • The threats to Samsung in the smartphone market
  • Samsung’s next steps
  • Apple isn’t impregnable
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • About STL Partners

 

  • Figure 1 – Apple financial firepower far outstrips that of Samsung Electronics
  • Figure 2 – How Samsung could shore up its position in the smartphone market
  • Figure 3 – Samsung’s share of the global smartphone market share is sliding
  • Figure 4 – Apple is now generating almost as much revenue as Samsung Electronics
  • Figure 5 – Samsung’s margins are low and going lower
  • Figure 6 – Apple’s operating profits are set to be more than double those of Samsung
  • Figure 7 – The gap between Apple and Samsung’s financial firepower is widening
  • Figure 8 – SWOT analysis of Samsung at the high end of the smartphone market
  • Figure 9 – Samsung Electronics is the largest investor in tech R&D worldwide
  • Figure 10 – Apple’s expanding portfolio is making life tougher for Samsung
  • Figure 11 – Potential strategic actions for Samsung in the smartphone market
  • Figure 12 – SWOT analysis of Apple in the smartphone market
  • Figure 13 – Potential strategic actions for Apple in the smartphone market

 

Free-T-Mobile: Disruptive Revolution or a Bridge Too Far?

Free’s Bid for T-Mobile USA 

The future of the US market and its 3rd and 4th operators has been a long-running saga. The market, the world’s richest, remains dominated by the duopoly of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. It was long expected that Softbank’s acquisition of Sprint heralded disruption, but in the event, T-Mobile was simply quicker to the punch.

Since the launch of T-Mobile’s “uncarrier” price-war strategy, we have identified signs of a “Free Mobile-like” disruption event, for example, substantial net-adds for the disruptor, falling ARPUs, a shakeout of MVNOs and minor operators, and increased industry-wide subscriber growth. However, other key indicators like a rapid move towards profitability by the disruptor are not yet in evidence, and rather than industry-wide deflation, we observe divergence, with Verizon Wireless increasing its ARPU, revenues, and margins, while AT&T’s are flat, Sprint’s flat to falling, and T-Mobile’s plunging.

This data is summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Revenue and margins in the US. The duopoly is still very much with us

 

Source: STL Partners, company filings

Compare and contrast Figure 2, which shows the fully developed disruption in France. 

 

Figure 2: Fully-developed disruption. Revenue and margins in France

 

Source: STL Partners, company filings

T-Mobile: the state of play in Q2 2014

When reading Figure 1, you should note that T-Mobile’s Q2 2014 accounts contain a negative expense item of $747m, reflecting a spectrum swap with Verizon Wireless, which flatters their margin. Without it, the operating margin would be 2.99%, about a third of Sprint’s. Poor as this is, it is at least positive territory, after a Q1 in which T-Mobile lost money. It is not quite true to say that T-Mobile only made it to profitability thanks to the one-off spectrum deal; excluding it, the carrier would have made $215m in operating income in Q2, a $243m swing from the $28m net loss in Q1. This is explained by a $223m narrowing of T-Mobile’s losses on device sales, as shown in Figure 2, and may explain why the earnings release makes no mention of profits instead of adjusted EBITDA despite it being a positive quarter.

Figure 3: T-Mobile’s return to underlying profitability – caused by moderating its smartphone bonanza somewhat

Source: STL Partners, company filings

T-Mobile management likes to cite its ABPU (Average Billings per User) metric in preference to ARPU, which includes the hire-purchase charges on device sales under its quick-upgrade plans. However, as Figure 3 shows, this is less exciting than it sounds. The T-Mobile management story is that as service prices, and hence ARPU, fall in order to bring in net-adds, payments for device sales “decoupled” from service plans will rise and take up the slack. They are, so far, only just doing so. Given that T-Mobile is losing money on device pricing, this is no surprise.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Free’s Bid for T-Mobile USA
  • T-Mobile: the state of play in Q2 2014
  • Free-Mobile: the financials
  • Indicators of a successful LBO
  • Free.fr: a modus operandi for disruption
  • Surprise and audacity
  • Simple products
  • The technical edge
  • Obstacles to the Free modus operandi
  • Spectrum
  • Fixed-mobile synergy
  • Regulation
  • Summary
  • Two strategic options
  • Hypothesis one: change the circumstances via a strategic deal with the cablecos
  • Hypothesis two: 80s retro LBO
  • Problems that bite whichever option is taken
  • The other shareholders
  • Free’s management capacity and experience
  • Conclusion

 

  • Figure 1: Revenue and margins in the US. The duopoly is still very much with us
  • Figure 2: Fully-developed disruption. Revenue and margins in France
  • Figure 3: T-Mobile’s return to underlying profitability – caused by moderating its smartphone bonanza somewhat
  • Figure 4: Postpaid ARPU falling steadily, while ABPU just about keeps up
  • Figure 5: T-Mobile’s supposed “decoupling” of devices from service has extended $3.5bn of credit to its customers, rising at $1bn/quarter
  • Figure 6: Free’s valuation of T-Mobile is at the top end of a rising trend
  • Figure 7: Example LBO
  • Figure 8: Free-T-Mobile in the context of notable leveraged buyouts
  • Figure 9: Free Mobile’s progress towards profitability has been even more impressive than its subscriber growth

 

Connected Home: Telcos vs Google (Nest, Apple, Samsung, +…)

Introduction 

On January 13th 2014, Google announced its acquisition of Nest Labs for $3.2bn in cash consideration. Nest Labs, or ‘Nest’ for short, is a home automation company founded in 2010 and based in California which manufactures ‘smart’ thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Prior to this announcement, Google already had an approximately 12% equity stake in Nest following its Series B funding round in 2011.

Google is known as a prolific investor and acquirer of companies: during 2012 and 2013 it spent $17bn on acquisitions alone, which was more than Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo combined (at $13bn) . Google has even been known to average one acquisition per week for extended periods of time. Nest, however, was not just any acquisition. For one, whilst the details of the acquisition were being ironed out Nest was separately in the process of raising a new round of investment which implicitly valued it at c. $2bn. Google, therefore, appears to have paid a premium of over 50%.

This analysis can be extended by examining the transaction under three different, but complementary, lights.

Google + Nest: why it’s an interesting and important deal

  • Firstly, looking at Nest’s market capitalisation relative to its established competitors suggests that its long-run growth prospects are seen to be very strong

At the time of the acquisition, estimates placed Nest as selling 100k of its flagship product (the ‘Nest Thermostat’) per month . With each thermostat retailing at c. $250 each, this put its revenue at approximately $300m per annum. Now, looking at the ratio of Nest’s market capitalisation to revenue compared to two of its established competitors (Lennox and Honeywell) tells an interesting story:

Figure 1: Nest vs. competitors’ market capitalisation to revenue

 

Source: Company accounts, Morgan Stanley

Such a disparity suggests that Nest’s long-run growth prospects, in terms of both revenue and free cash flow, are believed to be substantially higher than the industry average. 
  • Secondly, looking at Google’s own market capitalisation suggests that the capital markets see considerable value in (and synergies from) its acquisition of Nest

Prior to the deal’s announcement, Google’s share price was oscillating around the $560 mark. Following the acquisition, Google’s share price began averaging closer to $580. On the day of the announcement itself, Google’s share price increased from $561 to $574 which, crucially, reflected a $9bn increase in market capitalisation . In other words, the value placed on Google by the capital markets increased by nearly 300% of the deal’s value. This is shown in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Google’s share price pre- and post-Nest acquisition

 

Source: Google Finance

This implies that the capital markets either see Google as being well positioned to add unique value to Nest, Nest as being able to strongly complement Google’s existing activities, or both.

  • Thirdly, viewing the Nest acquisition in the context of Google’s historic and recent M&A activity shows both its own specific financial significance and the changing face of Google’s acquisitions more generally

At $3.2bn, the acquisition of Nest represents Google’s second largest acquisition of all time. The largest was its purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011 for $12.5bn, but Google has since reached a deal to sell the majority of its assets (excluding its patent portfolio) to Lenovo for $2.9bn. In other words, Nest is soon to become Google’s largest active, inorganic investment. Google’s ten largest acquisitions, as well as some smaller but important ones, are shown in Figure 3 below:

Figure 3: Selected acquisitions by Google, 2003-14

Source: Various

Beyond its size, the Nest acquisition also continues Google’s recent trend of acquiring companies seemingly less directly related to its core business. For example, it has been investing in artificial intelligence (DeepMind Technologies), robotics (Boston Dynamics, Industrial Perception, Redwood Robotics) and satellite imagery (Skybox Imaging).

Three questions raised by Google’s acquisition of Nest

George Geis, a professor at UCLA, claims that Google develops a series of metrics at an early stage which it later uses to judge whether or not the acquisition has been successful. He further claims that, according to these metrics, Google on average rates two-thirds of its acquisitions as successful. This positive track record, combined with the sheer size of the Nest deal, suggests that the obvious question here is also an important one:

  • What is Nest’s business model? Why did Google spend $3.2bn on Nest?

Nest’s products, the Nest Thermostat and the Nest Protect (smoke/carbon monoxide detector), sit within the relatively young space referred to as the ‘connected home’, which is defined and discussed in more detail here. One natural question following the Nest deal is whether Google’s high-profile involvement and backing of a (leading) company in the connected home space will accelerate its adoption. This suggests the following, more general, question:

  • What does the Nest acquisition mean for the broader connected home market?

Finally, there is a question to be asked around the implications of this deal for Telcos and their partners. Many Telcos are now active in this space, but they are not alone: internet players (e.g. Google and Apple), big technology companies (e.g. Samsung), utilities (e.g. British Gas) and security companies (e.g. ADT) are all increasing their involvement too. With different strategies being adopted by different players, the following question follows naturally:

  • What does the Nest acquisition mean for telcos?

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Google + Nest: why it’s an interesting and important deal
  • Three questions raised by Google’s acquisition of Nest
  • Understanding Nest and Connected Homes
  • Nest: reinventing everyday objects to make them ‘smart’
  • Nest’s future: more products, more markets
  • A general framework for connected home services
  • Nest’s business model, and how Google plans to get a return on its $3.2bn investment 
  • Domain #1: Revenue from selling Nest devices is of only limited importance to Google
  • Domain #2: Energy demand response is a potentially lucrative opportunity in the connected home
  • Domain #3: Data for advertising is important, but primarily within Google’s broader IoT ambitions
  • Domain #4: Google also sees Nest as partial insurance against IoT-driven disruption
  • Domain #5: Google is pushing into the IoT to enhance its advertising business and explore new monetisation models
  • Implications for Telcos and the Connected Home
  • The connected home is happening now, but customer experience must not be overlooked
  • Telcos can employ a variety of monetisation strategies in the connected home
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Nest vs. competitors’ market capitalisation relative to revenue
  • Figure 2: Google’s share price, pre- and post-Nest acquisition
  • Figure 3: Selected acquisitions by Google, 2003-14
  • Figure 4: The Nest Thermostat and Protect
  • Figure 5: Consumer Electronics vs. Electricity Spending by Market
  • Figure 6: A connected home services framework
  • Figure 7: Nest and Google Summary Motivation Matrix
  • Figure 8: Nest hardware revenue and free cash flow forecasts, 2014-23
  • Figure 9: PJM West Wholesale Electricity Prices, 2013
  • Figure 10: Cooling profile during a Rush Hour Rewards episode
  • Figure 11: Nest is attempting to position itself at the centre of the connected home
  • Figure 12: US smartphone market share by operating system (OS), 2005-13
  • Figure 13: Google revenue breakdown, 2013
  • Figure 14: Google – Generic IoT Strategy Map
  • Figure 15: Connected device forecasts, 2010-20
  • Figure 16: Connected home timeline, 1999-Present
  • Figure 17: OnFuture EMEA 2014: The recent surge in interest in the connected home is due to?
  • Figure 18: A spectrum of connected home strategies between B2C and B2B2C (examples)
  • Figure 19: Building, buying or partnering in the connected home (examples)
  • Figure 20: Telco 2.0™ ‘two-sided’ telecoms business model

Google’s Big, Big Data Battle

The challenges to Google’s core business 

Although Google is the world’s leading search engine by some distance, its pre-eminence is more fragile than its first appears. As Google likes to remind anti-trust authorities, its competitors are just a click away. And its primary competitors are some of the most powerful and well-financed companies in the world – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. As these companies, as well as specialist service providers, accumulate more and more data on consumers, Google’s position as the leading broker of online advertising is under threat in several, inter-related, ways:

  1. Google’s margins are being squeezed, as competition intensifies. Increasingly experienced web users are using specialist search engines, such as Amazon (shopping), Expedia (travel) and moneysupermarket.com (financial services), or going direct to the sites they need, thereby circumventing Google’s search engine and the advertising brokered by Google. This trend is exacerbated by Google’s ongoing lockout from the vast amount of content being generated by Facebook’s social network. As the Internet matures, general-purpose web search may become yesterday’s business.
  2. The rise of the app-based Internet: As consumers increasingly access the Internet via mobile devices, they are making greater use of apps and less use of browsers and, by extension, conventional search engines. Apps are popular on mobile devices because they are designed to take the consumer straight to the content they are looking for, rather than requiring them to navigate around the web using small and fiddly on-screen keyboards. Moreover, Apple, the leading provider of smartphones and tablets to the affluent, is seeking to relegate, and where feasible, remove, Google’s apps and services in its ecosystem.
  3. Android forks: Android, an extraordinarily successful ‘Trojan Horse’ for Google’s apps and services, is the market leading operating system for mobile devices, but Google’s control of Android is patchy. Some device makers are integrating their own apps into a forked variant of this open-source platform. Amazon and Nokia are among those who have stripped Google’s search, maps, mail and store apps from their variants of the Android operating system, reducing the data that Google can gather on their customers. At the same time, Samsung, the world’s largest handset vendor, is straining at Google’s Android leash.
  4. Quality dilution: As Google is the world’s dominant search engine, it is the prime target for so-called content farms that produce large volumes of low quality content in an effort to rank highly in Google’s search results and thereby attract traffic and advertising.
  5. Regulatory scrutiny: Despite a February 2014 settlement with the European Commission concerning its search practices, Google remains in the regulatory spotlight. Competition authorities across the world continue to fret about Google’s market power and its ability to influence what people look at on the Internet.

1. Google’s margin squeeze

Price deflation

Google, the company that facilitated massive deflation across advertising, content, e-commerce, and mobile operating systems, is itself suffering from the deflationary environment of the Internet. Although revenue and net income are still growing, margins are shrinking (see Figure 2). Google is still growing because it is adding volume. However, there is strong evidence that its pricing power is being eroded.

Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise

Telco 2 Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise

Source: Google filings

To put this in the context of its Silicon Valley peers, Figure 3 shows the same data for Google, Facebook, and Apple using a trend line covering the 2009 to 2013 period for each company. Note, that we have used a log scale to compare three companies of very different size. Apple saw growth in both revenue and operating margins until 2013, when it hit a difficult patch, although a big product launch might fix that at any time. Facebook has grown revenues enormously, but went through a traumatic 2012 as the shift to mobile hit it. While all this drama went on, Google has grown steadily, while seeing its margins eroded.

Figure 3: Google’s operating margins are now below those of Apple and Facebook

Telco 2 Figure 3 googles operating mar

Source: SEC filings

What are the factors behind Google’s declining operating margin? We believe the main drivers are:

  • The amount Google can charge per click is falling – buyers get more ads per buck.
  • The cost of acquiring ad inventory is increasing.

Cheaper ads

As Figure 4 shows, Google continues to drive ad volume (paid clicks), but ad rates (cost per click) are falling steadily. The average cost-per-click on Google websites and Google Network Members’ websites decreased approximately 8% from 2012 to 2013.  We think this is primarily due to intensifying competition, particularly from Facebook. However, Google attributes the decline to “various factors, such as the introduction of new products as well as changes in property mix, platform mix and geographical mix, and the general strengthening of the U.S. dollar compared to certain foreign currencies.” The second quarter of 2014 saw paid clicks rise 2% quarter-on-quarter, while the cost per click was flat.

Figure 4: The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume

Telco 2 Figure 4 The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume

Source: Google filings

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The challenges to Google’s core business
  • 1. Google’s margin squeeze
  • 2. The rising importance of mobile apps
  • 3. Android forks
  • 4. Quality dilution
  • 5. Regulatory scrutiny
  • Google’s strategy – get on the front foot
  • Google Now – turning search on its head
  • Reactive search becomes more proactive
  • Voice input
  • Anticipating wearables, connected cars and the Internet of Things
  • Searching inside apps
  • Evaluating Google Now
  • 1. The marketplace
  • 2. Develop compelling service offerings
  • 3. The value network
  • 4. Technology
  • 5. Finance – the high-level business model

 

  • Figure 1: How Google is neutralising threats and pursuing opportunities
  • Figure 2: Google margins are steadily falling as volumes continue to rise
  • Figure 3: Google’s operating mar gins are now below those of Apple and Facebook
  • Figure 4: The cost per click is declining in lockstep with rising volume
  • Figure 5: Rising distribution costs are driving Google’s TAC upwards
  • Figure 6: Google’s revenues are increasingly coming from in-house sites and apps
  • Figure 7: R&D is the fastest-growing ad-acquisition cost in absolute terms
  • Figure 8: Daily active users of Facebook generating content out of Google’s reach
  • Figure 9: Google is still the most popular destination on the Internet
  • Figure 10: In the U.S., usage of desktop web sites is falling
  • Figure 11: Google’s declining share of mobile search advertising in the U.S.
  • Figure 12: Google’s lead on the mobile web is narrower than on the desktop web
  • Figure 13: Top smartphone apps in the U.S. by average unique monthly users
  • Figure 14: For Google, its removal from the default iOS Maps app is a major blow
  • Figure 15: On Android, Google owns four of the five most used apps in the U.S.
  • Figure 16: The resources Google needs to devote to web spam are rising over time
  • Figure 17: Google, now genuinely global.
  • Figure 18: A gap in the market: Timely proactive recommendations
  • Figure 19: Google’s search engine is becoming proactive
  • Figure 20: The ongoing evolution of Google Search into a proactive, recommendations service
  • Figure 21: The Telco 2.0 Business Model Framework
  • Figure 22: Amazon Local asks you to set preferences
  • Figure 23: Google Now’s cards and the information they use
  • Figure 24: Android dominates the global smartphone market
  • Figure 25: Samsung has about 30% of the global smartphone market
  • Figure 26: Google – not quite the complete Internet company
  • Figure 27: Google’s strategic response

Launchers: a new relevance point for telcos?

Introduction

Improving engagement has many benefits for an operator. It can help change customers’ perceptions which in turn can reduce churn and increase customer acquisition as well as opening up new avenues for telcos to offer additional services.

In this note, we analyse the opportunity for mobile operators within a new control point in the digital ecosystem – the ‘launcher’ application for Android devices. We present an overview of the opportunity, assessing what the product is and what’s at stake as well as providing an overview of the key players in this space. The report then focuses on how telcos may choose to play in this area, analysing the different strategies and their suitability to different types of operators.

The Telco Dilemma

Telcos’ engagement with and knowledge of their customers has been marginalized in the smartphone world. Whilst telcos still understand how customers use the traditional components of their mobile device (voice calls; messaging; data usage), the main digital disruptors now determine how users primarily engage with their devices – they control:

  • App portals (Apple; Android)
  • Search (Google)
  • E/M-commerce (Amazon; eBay; PayPal)
  • Content services (YouTube; Yahoo)
  • OTT comms (Facebook; WhatsApp; Twitter)

For more analysis on how telcos can understand and deal with these disruptors please read Telco 2.0’s analysis on this topic (Digital Commerce 2.0: Disrupting the Californian Giants [Oct 2013]; Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’ [Nov 2011]).

Engagement in the digital ecosystem is clearly worth a significant amount of money, both in terms of direct revenue as well as the indirect revenue associated with additional customer insight and knowledge. The valuations of companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp show the value premium that user engagement attracts. As mobile devices become even more prevalent and important in consumers’ lives, this engagement will become even more valuable.

In order for telcos to capitalize on this, they need to change their engagement strategy and gain more visibility and understanding of their customers. The industry largely understands this concept and a number or attempts have been made by telcos to wrestle back control of the device. Operators with bold ambitions have tried to compete head on, offering competing platforms to the OTT players (e.g. Vodafone 360) whilst others have attempted to position themselves within a segment of the digital ecosystem. Despite best efforts, these initiatives have so far met with mixed success.

One new area of opportunity for those looking to regain relevance on the mobile device (and one that is proving very popular right now) is the Android launcher.

The Opportunity

What is a launcher?

A launcher is a customizable home screen for your Android device. It allows a user to arrange their apps in more creative ways, resulting in a more personalized, engaging mobile experience.

Launchers can range from sophisticated 3D menus, to themed displays, to simplified app categorization/ grouping. For example, Yahoo’s Aviate launcher changes the apps it displays based on the time of day and the location of the user (e.g. at work, on the go, at home) – meaning that the user can more easily access the right apps to match their current situation.

Figure 1: Popular launchers in the marketplace

Figure 1 Popular launchers - Telco

Left: The Next Launcher’s 3D display – Source: Google Play; Middle: Buzz’s multi-themed launcher – Source: Drippler; Right: Aviate’s app re-categorization launcher – Source: Android Community

 

Launchers are more than just new ‘skins’ for the device. They alter how users interact with their device through app organization as well as through additional tools & services, including:

  • Relevant content on nearby places (e.g. Aviate incorporates Foursquare)
  • Helpful information, including travel & traffic advice (e.g. Google Now)
  • Inbuilt app & content recommendation engines (e.g. EverythingMe)

This combination of customizable app organization and easily accessible additional services is proving to be a compelling proposition for Android users.

Will launchers really take off?

The concept of a customizable home screen is not new but with advancements in smartphone operating systems and device displays this customization is starting to take off. A recent report by Flurry found that there were over 4,500 of these launcher-type apps and that launcher usage in Q1 2014 was greater than the total for all of 2013.

Figure 2: Number of Launcher Application Sessions (Quarterly data)

Number of launcher application sessions

Source: Flurry Analytics

The evidence shows that launchers are beginning to take off. They are offering value to the customer, through customization and additional services, as well as providing a new tool for companies to engage with and understand the behavior of the user.

What’s at stake?

Launchers represent a new control point in the digital ecosystem, shaping how (and potentially what) information is presented to the user. Gaining insight into how a customer uses their phone combined with a contextual understanding of their situation has the potential to create significant value.

Different launcher applications provide different functionality, with some focusing more on themes and customization and others focusing more on developing customer insight to simplify display and discovery on the mobile device. These models have different methods of monetization, including:

  • Freemium models – where a more basic version is free and the premium version is a paid for download
  • App discovery – where apps are recommended to the user (and the recommendation may be paid for)
  • Sponsored search – where the first result(s) are paid for

Of these models and monetization methods we believe contextual search and discovery are the most interesting. Mobile has revolutionized how people find information and use digital services – however, mobile usage is built around apps (86% of time spent on mobile devices is spent inside applications – Source: Techcrunch). The difficulty with (discovering) apps is that they are largely standalone services – they cannot be crawled or indexed easily and there is little cross-app integration. This makes relevant apps (and the content within them) harder to find through search alone.

Launchers can attempt to organize apps in a similar way that search engines organize the web, providing a more user-friendly app discovery mechanism. Launchers can gain significant insight into user behaviour (e.g. the type of apps downloaded and time spent using apps) – this information can be used to recommend apps and other content and services to the user in an integrated way, allowing launchers to circumvent search within app portals and to make recommendations (for apps and content) to a user when they have demonstrated a preference for it. Indeed, EverythingMe, an innovative launcher company, have suggested that “users are searching less and less, but still expect results and discovery. We felt the best solution would be a contextual search product in the form of an Android launcher.”

As the mobile device becomes more important and central to the user’s life, controlling this interface and engagement has the potential to generate very valuable insight. This personalized discovery tool, as long it remains transparent and offers a tangible benefit to the customer, could revolutionize how value is derived from mobile applications.

The Players

This potential opportunity has not gone unnoticed with a number of the big digital players recently entering this space. However, as this technology and engagement strategy is in its infancy, no-one has taken a clear lead in the race.

Facebook

Facebook, in April of last year, released Facebook Home, a launcher dedicated to putting social communication above all other applications on the mobile device (through cover feed, always-on chat heads and improved notifications). Despite a lot of initial fanfare, its performance has not been overly strong (only 0.5% of Facebook’s 1 billion monthly active users have installed it and it has received negative user feedback). Notwithstanding this slow start the company still sees this platform as a critical opportunity, with Facebook’s engineering Director, Jocelyn Goldfein, saying earlier this year in an interview with Venturebeat, “we’re still very bullish on Home…we’re believers in Home; we believe it’s going to be valuable for users”. Facebook’s continued resilience and flexibility when adapting to mobile could lead to a redesigned launcher that (social media) users’ value.

We believe that the relative failure of Facebook Home shows an important lesson for would be Launcher owners: the goal should be to optimize the customer experience and not maximize the placement of services for your own or others’ brands. After all, who wants the first screen on their phone to be in someone else’s control? This represents an opportunity for telcos, who don’t necessarily have the imperative to dominate the home screen with ads or today’s feed, and can therefore entertain a more intuitive and customer-oriented design. [NB It is also important that telcos attempt to learn from their own past errors: the ‘walled garden’ is not a successful model for most.]

For a more detailed assessment of Facebook Home’s service please see Facebook Home: what is the impact? [April 2013]

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The Telco Dilemma
  • The Opportunity
  • What is a launcher?
  • Will launchers really take off?
  • What’s at stake?
  • The Players
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Twitter
  • Other Popular Launchers
  • The Answer (for Telcos)?
  • Why should Telco’s play?
  • How can Telco’s play?
  • Conclusion

 

  • Figure 1: Popular launchers in the marketplace
  • Figure 2: Number of Launcher Application Sessions (Quarterly data)
  • Figure 3: Assessing Telcos’ options to enter the launcher market

Faster than Facebook: how to speed up digital transformation and disruptive innovation

Introduction

The OnFuture EMEA 2014 Executive Brainstorm took place from 11-12 June in London. The Brainstorm brought together 150 senior executives from across telecoms, technology, media, retail, financial services, and other sectors. It covered:

  • Digital Innovation, Transformation and Disruption
  • Future Communications and Enterprise Mobility
  • The Internet of Things and In-Store Retail
  • Accelerating Innovation in the Telecoms and Technology Sectors
  • Eight Innovation Showcases
  • Mobile Brand Engagement and Mobile Music and Video
  • Digital Identity and Mobile Data Analytics
  • The Future of Mobile Marketing

This document is a high-level summary of our main take-outs from the events, and includes some headline outcomes from the participants’ votes. Full details of votes and presentations are available to participants and subscribers to the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Service

Our thanks to our event sponsors:

EMEA 2014 Sponsors

A growing sense of urgency and activity

Whereas even 2 years ago, we felt as if we were still talking to a telecoms industry largely seeming in denial of the massive threat to its existing business, at the OnFuture EMEA 2014 Brainstorm there was a clear shift towards people and companies working on real activities to change their businesses, innovate, and find new sources of growth.

Urgency: but as a result of lateness?

Nonetheless, following a string of painful results announcements from European telcos (see Telco 1.0: Death Slide Starts in Europe), it was perhaps unsurprising to see that most of the execs felt that their companies were generally significantly ‘behind the curve’ of adapting to the digital era (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: 78% said their companies were ‘behind the curve’ – or worse

EMEA 2014 Existing Business remains the biggest obstacle to innovation

Source: Participant Vote, OnFuture EMEA 2014 Executive Brainstorm

Some positive signs

On a slightly more optimistic note, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of participants saying their companies had specific programmes to drive change and innovation, and our research and indeed discussions with the audience showed that this included a number of major European telcos (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Some progress on specific actions on disruptive innovation

Some progress on specific actions on disruptive innovation 

Source: Participant Vote, OnFuture EMEA 2014 Executive Brainstorm

However, as we’ve seen in detail in the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index research, the degree of progress that has been made even by some of the leading telcos still lags what we would prescribe (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Analysis of transformation progress of leading telcos

Telco 2 Transformation Index - Analysis of transformation progress of leading telcos

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index and STL Partners’ presentation to OnFuture EMEA 2014

The enemy within

On a day that London’s black cab drivers went on strike against the entry of the Uber app in the UK, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that ‘existing business’ was cited as the biggest obstacle to change (see Figure 4)

Figure 4: ‘Existing Business’ remains the biggest obstacle to innovation

EMEA 2014 Existing Business remains the biggest obstacle to innovation

Source: Participant Vote, OnFuture EMEA 2014 Executive Brainstorm

In the brainstorming session following the initial presentations (and including these votes), participants chose an industry to consider, and then brainstormed the key issues they faced, and the priority actions to resolve them. A slight majority of the tables chose the telecoms industry, or a telco within it, and the others chose Retail, Airlines, Taxis, Netflix, and Insurance.

A common theme was addressing how to create a culture and environment for change. The use of appropriate management incentives, KPIs and metrics were discussed at some length (for more on this, see What can be learned and done? page 11).

Other issues discussed included achieving a balance between creating innovation and running the core business, building successful partnerships, and how to ‘compete against free’ in content oriented industries such as Pay TV.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • A growing sense of urgency and activity
  • Urgency: but as a result of lateness?
  • Some positive signs
  • The enemy within
  • Facebook’s internal recipe for speed
  • What can be learned and done?
  • How to be a bit more Facebook
  • How to be a bit more Telco 2.0
  • Key lesson from Cisco: integration is critical
  • Highlights from other votes
  • Software Defined Networking (SDN)
  • Future Communications Services
  • Enterprise Mobility
  • Connected Homes
  • Mobile Payments / Commerce
  • Mobile Brand Engagement
  • Digital / Mobile Entertainment
  • Data and Identity Services

 

  • Figure 1: 78% said their companies were ‘behind the curve’ – or worse
  • Figure 2: Some progress on specific actions on disruptive innovation
  • Figure 3: Analysis of transformation progress of leading telcos
  • Figure 4: ‘Existing Business’ remains the biggest obstacle to innovation
  • Figure 5: Facebook’s impressive mobile transformation
  • Figure 6: How to (realistically) be more Facebook-ish
  • Figure 7: STL Partners’ recommendations to accelerate transformation
  • Figure 8: Cisco regards integration ‘as important as the deal itself’

New Mobile & Digital Transformation Strategies: OnFuture EMEA Executive Brainstorm 2014, Day One (Wednesday 11 June)

New Mobile & Digital Transformation Strategies. Presentations and Voting Slides from the New Mobile & Digital Transformation Strategies stream of the OnFuture EMEA Executive Brainstorm, 11th June 2014, in London.

0845 Event Start: Welcome, Agenda, Introductions & Warm Up

Andrew Collinson, COO & Research Director, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

0900 Managing Disruptive Innovation in the Digital World

Chris Barraclough, MD & Chief Strategist, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

Peter Briscoe, Head of Innovation, Ericsson (download here)

Paolo Campoli, Service Provider CTO, Cisco (download here)

 

In the afternoon there were two parallel streams – Communications Services and In-Home and In-Store Services:

Stream A Workshops: Communications Services – Innovation for the Consumer and the Enterprise

1345 Future Communications: Radical innovation in voice, messaging and data services

Bob Brace, Senior Analyst, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

Rainer Deutschmann, SVP Core Product Innovation, Deutsche Telekom (download here)

Giles Corbett, Head of Libon, Orange (download here)

Dean Elwood, CEO and Founder, Voxygen (Panel Only)

Chris Barraclough, MD & Chief Strategist, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Moderator)

 

1430 Enterprise Mobility: A strategic approach to creating competitive advantage

Bob Brace, Senior Analyst, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

Albane Coeurquetin, Consultant, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

Michael Crossey, Director Product Marketing, Intel (Unavailable)

Alessandro Vigilante, VP Business Development & Strategy, Colt (download here)

Philip Laidler, Director of Consulting, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Moderator)

 

Stream B: In-Home and In-Store Services: the ‘Internet of Things…and of People’

1315 The ‘Internet of Things’ in the Digital Home: Towards a new ecosystem

Matt Jones, Consultant, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (download here)

Martin Harriman, Director of Digital Home, Telefonica (download here)

Kevin Petersen, SVP, AT&T Digital Home (download here)

Pilgrim Beart, Founder, AlertMe (download here)

Philip Laidler, Director of Consulting, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Moderator)

 

1430 In-Store Retail: How mobile technology can revive the high street, not kill it

Owen McCabe, Director, Kantar Retail (download here)

Omaid Hiwaizi, Chief Strategy Officer, Geometry Global/WPP (download here)

Graham Cove, Director of Wi-Fi, Everything Everywhere (EE) (download here)

Chris Barraclough, MD & Chief Strategist, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Moderator)

 


Final plenary session:

1615 Mobile Payments: Creating a viable ecosystem that enables true ‘mobile commerce’

Andrew Collinson, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Moderator)

Holger Rambach, VP Products & Innovation, Deutsche Telekom (download here)

David Pringle, Senior Associate, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Panel Only)

Phil Laidler, Director of Consulting, STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Initiative (Panel Only)

 

Voting slides from Day 1: New Mobile & Digital Transformation Strategies

 

Click here for Day 2 presentations – Next Generation Mobile Marketing & Commerce
Click here to go back to the main OnFuture EMEA London page

Telco 2.0: The $50bn Enterprise Mobility Opportunity: What’s stopping telcos winning 500% more business?

Overview of Key Findings

STL Partners believe that mobility – the use of mobile data, new devices, new applications and communications services – is one of the most disruptive forces in today’s enterprise market. We think that a business philosophy to embrace mobility as a strategic asset and opportunity, rather than simply a technical challenge, will be a critical success factor for all businesses moving forward. Telcos can be a key enabler and business partner in this transformation, but to do so they will need to significantly change their approaches to working with enterprise customers.Key findings

Our new global research, independently produced by STL Partners and kindly sponsored by SAP, shows that many telcos are both ideally positioned but underprepared to exploit this fast emerging and evolving opportunity. We found that among the 101 global enterprise and 44 telco executives we surveyed:

  • Mobility works – 80% of enterprise execs thought their mobile app based initiatives had met or exceeded expectations
  • There’s big latent demand for telcos – 5 times as many enterprises (i.e. over half the total) would buy services and solutions from telcos than currently do
  • But telcos need to address credible capability issues such as security, product portfolio, app development, and process and industry expertise
  • And most telcos are underprepared – only 16% have a defined market offer or strategy, and internal adoption of mobility lags many other industries, with only 45% of telcos we surveyed offering internal apps compared to 61% in the enterprise sample.

Figure 1:  What would enterprises consider buying from a telco?
Figure 1: What would enterprises consider buying from a telco?

Source: STL Partners, On-line research, Enterprise >250 employees, Feb 2014(n=101)

Introduction

Background – the Business Context of Enterprise Mobility

Four major trends in demand are transforming the Enterprise Information and Communication Technology (ICT) market today:

  1. In pursuit of greater agility, new sources of revenue, improved efficiency, and closer customer relationships, enterprises are exploring opportunities to mobilise strategic aspects of their business.
  2. Enterprises are increasingly exploiting big-data, cloud, and mobile strategies to innovate and transform.
  3. To focus on their core businesses, they are outsourcing IT infrastructure and technology services.
  4. As employees increasingly use new digital technologies and services, enterprises have started to reduce spend on traditional telecoms services.

In response, telcos are looking to identify alternative ways to grow revenues from enterprise customers. This includes tools for the development, deployment, and management of enterprise apps, and managed infrastructure and technology services that offer flexibility and economies of scale.

In December 2013, STL Partners conducted a sizing study of the Enterprise Mobility market and identified a global opportunity of $50 billion (see Telco 2.0™ Executive Briefing: “The $50Bn Enterprise Mobility Opportunity: four steps for telcos to take today”).  This precipitated further exploration into:

  • Enterprises’ opportunities and priorities for mobile solutions
  • Their drivers and expectations vis-à-vis Enterprise Mobility, and their attitudes towards telcos as a prospective partner
  • The practical and perceptual inhibitors causing telcos to arrive comparatively late to the Enterprise Mobility party
  • How telcos can achieve the greatest value for their customers – and themselves – by developing or assimilating the Enterprise Mobility capabilities they lack today

New Research

In the first quarter of 2014, STL Partners carried out a combined research programme consisting of:

  • a survey of 101 enterprises worldwide (organisations with 250+ employees)
  • a quantitative study of 44 telcos
  • in-depth qualitative interviews with strategists and proposition owners representing 11 telcos

Figure 2: Enterprise customers – on-line survey respondents, per region

Figure 2: Enterprise customers - on-line survey respondents, per region

Figure 3: Telco – on-line survey respondents, per region

Figure 3: Telco - on-line survey respondents, per region

Table 1: In-depth qualitative interviews – contributing companies

Table 1: In-depth qualitative intervews - contributing companies

 

All the interviews were conducted on a confidential basis. Information and insights shared by the interviewees have therefore been anonymised.  Names and titles have also been withheld.

The findings – which suggest telcos are even further adrift of a robust Enterprise Mobility proposition than initially thought – are detailed in this report, together with recommendations on steps telcos can take to accelerate their go-to-market strategy and make up for the early momentum they have lost.

Overview – the enterprise perspective 

As demand for access to information on the go via mobile platforms is increasing, Enterprise Mobility is one of the hottest topics in IT. Mobile apps are fast becoming a business imperative to support better ways of working and business transformation. Enterprises must react quickly to harness the potential of mobile apps, while satisfying themselves that security, governance, and compliance across data, applications, and devices are fit for purpose.

Most Enterprises have started mobilising 

Our study revealed that most enterprises have already mobilised at least some of their organisation’s processes and interactions, generally starting from the inside out by prioritising internal initiatives over customer-facing ones.

Figure 4: Business processes already mobilised by enterprises

Figure 4: Business processes already mobilised by enterprises

Though we observed variations in adoption by sector and country that may indicate relevant differences (see Appendix – Industry and Regional Splits, page 48), the commonality of fundamental demand across regions and sectors is more significant.

Sales is the current lead application – but there’s more to come

Findings: field sales has always been a natural candidate area for mobilisation, borne out by the fact that more than half of enterprises in the study already had some form of sales app.  While the Shop Floor currently has experienced the lowest adoption of enterprise apps, it is also one of the areas of greatest potential for mobilisation, with 41% of enterprises contemplating mobilising their production facilities, concourse, or retail environment.  The highest levels of mobilisation or intent to mobilise were seen in Aftermarket Field Service, Transportation & Delivery, and Equipment Maintenance.

Figure 5: Internal / B2E mobile apps enterprises already have or are considering

Figure 4: Internal / B2E mobile apps enterprises already have or are considering

Opportunity: administrative apps are now a relatively mature, horizontal process market. Some telcos have had success selling these and it is an important area in which to have a compelling offering. However, such apps have lower price points and margins, whereas other sales and operational apps offer the potential for higher growth and greater business impact. Moreover, there is also potential for a new generation of intelligent sales apps to change sales performance in a more fundamental fashion.

Key Question: how can telcos best develop the agility and depth of ICT skills to sell and support both horizontal process apps and deeper vertical / operational needs?

Options: telcos have broad options to develop this internally, partner, or choose not to support these segments and their needs. See Four key enterprise mobility competencies for telcos, page 42.

In B2C: information first, marketing next

Findings: the customer-facing processes that had most typically been already mobilised were identified as Information & Reference (53%) and Paying Bills/Checking Balances (52%). The areas of greatest untapped interest in mobilisation were Social Media Sharing (33%), Marketing Offers (32%), and Scanning Barcodes/QR Codes (31%).

Figure 6: Customer-facing processes enterprises have mobilised or are planning to mobilise?

Figure 6: Customer-facing processes enterprises have mobilised or are planning to mobilise?

Opportunity: as an increasing volume of purchases are researched or made via mobile devices, traditional mobile marketing and shopping experiences in developed economies are likely to continue to evolve significantly.

Key Question: how can telcos develop and support the next generation of customer-facing mobile apps?

Options: again, telcos have broad options to develop this internally, partner, or choose not to support these segments and their needs. See Four key enterprise mobility competencies for telcos, page 42.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Overview: the enterprise perspective
  • Most Enterprises have started mobilising
  • Issues for Enterprises managing Enterprise Mobility
  • The results: 80 % of initiatives met or beat expectations
  • More than half the enterprise market would buy from telcos: 500% more than today
  • So why don’t enterprises buy from telcos now?
  • The telco perspective
  • Stages of mobile maturity among telcos
  • 70% of telco execs found EM a ‘very attractive’ opportunity
  • Telcos are not ‘drinking their own champagne’
  • Only 16% of telcos have a defined strategy or market offer
  • Enterprises want apps, but are telcos listening?
  • Shifting culture: new markets needs new mind-sets, models and metrics
  • What sort of strategy to balance speed and risk/reward?
  • Enterprise Mobility success factors
  • Four key enterprise mobility competencies for telcos
  • Should telcos partner – and what are the criteria?
  • Steps to defining the strategy for telcos
  • Appendix – Industry and Regional Splits
  • Adoption and barriers by Sector and Region

 

  • Figure 1: Enterprise customers – On-line survey respondents, per region
  • Figure 2: Telco – On-line survey respondents, per region
  • Figure 3: Business processes already mobilised by enterprises
  • Figure 4: Internal / B2E mobile apps enterprises already have or are actively considering
  • Figure 5: Customer-facing processes enterprises have mobilised or are planning to mobilise?
  • Figure 6: Capabilities enterprise employees and customers are using
  • Figure 7: BYOD – Prevalence of corporate and employee devices
  • Figure 8: Number of devices across the surveyed enterprises’ workforces 16
  • Figure 9: Top challenges and obstacles in Enterprise Mobility
  • Figure 10: How do Enterprises manage app development?
  • Figure 11: How many enterprises use platform-based applications?
  • Figure 12: Strategic mobility enablers currently in place in enterprises
  • Figure 13: Presence of a formal enterprise mobility strategy vs. number of devices across the workforce
  • Figure 14: Success of Enterprise Mobility deployment(s) to date
  • Figure 15: Success of Enterprise Mobility deployment(s) to date – per role
  • Figure 16: What would enterprises consider buying from a telco?
  • Figure 17: What would enterprises consider buying from a telco – by role
  • Figure 18: Enterprises which would consider buying from a telco or already have
  • Figure 19: Why wouldn’t enterprises buy from a telco?
  • Figure 20: Enterprise Mobility maturity stages in telcos
  • Figure 21: Telcos’ concerns about core revenue declines
  • Figure 22: How attractive an opportunity is Enterprise Mobility to telcos?
  • Figure 23: Telcos are somewhat well-informed around Enterprise Mobility trends and development in mobile applications
  • Figure 24: Types of apps currently used within telcos
  • Figure 25: Processes / workflows telcos have mobilised or plan to mobilise with apps
  • Figure 26: Maturity of telcos’ own mobility programme
  • Figure 27: Telcos’ Internal enterprise app store deployment
  • Figure 28: Mobile portfolio management
  • Figure 29: Telcos’ biggest challenges or obstacles to internal mobilisation
  • Figure 30: Products and services telcos are currently offering, or plan to offer
  • Figure 31: Comparison between services enterprises would consider buying from telcos vs. services telcos are currently offering, or plan to offer
  • Figure 32: Telcos’ target market
  • Figure 33: Telco Barriers to taking Enterprise Mobility offerings to market
  • Figure 34: A hybrid approach can enable Telcos to achieve multiple concurrent stages of mobility evolution
  • Figure 35: Potential ‘Roadmap’ decisions for telcos addressing Enterprise Mobility
  • Figure 36: Business processes already mobilised by enterprises by industry sector
  • Figure 37: Internal mobile apps the utilities sector already have or are actively considering
  • Figure 38: Enterprise device landscape
  • Figure 39: Enterprise device landscape by region
  • Figure 40: Top THREE biggest challenges and obstacles in Enterprise Mobility by region
  • Figure 41: Enterprise mobile apps development / acquisition – per region
  • Figure 42: Enterprise mobile apps development / acquisition per industry
  • Figure 43: Platform-based applications per region
  • Figure 44: Enterprise app store penetration
  • Figure 45: Reasons Enterprises would not consider obtaining Enterprise Mobility services from a telecoms provider – per region
  • Figure 46: Reasons Enterprises would not consider obtaining Enterprise Mobility services from a telecoms provider – per industry

Triple-Play in the USA: Infrastructure Pays Off

Introduction

In this note, we compare the recent performance of three US fixed operators who have adopted contrasting strategies and technology choices, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. We specifically focus on their NGA (Next-Generation Access) triple-play products, for the excellent reason that they themselves focus on these to the extent of increasingly abandoning the subscriber base outside their footprints. We characterise these strategies, attempt to estimate typical subscriber bundles, discuss their future options, and review the situation in the light of a “Deep Value” framework.

A Case Study in Deep Value: The Lessons from Apple and Samsung

Deep value strategies concentrate on developing assets that will be difficult for any plausible competitor to replicate, in as many layers of the value chain as possible. A current example is the way Apple and Samsung – rather than Nokia, HTC, or even Google – came to dominate the smartphone market.

It is now well known that Apple, despite its image as a design-focused company whose products are put together by outsourcers, has invested heavily in manufacturing throughout the iOS era. Although the first generation iPhone was largely assembled from proprietary parts, in many ways it should be considered as a large-scale pilot project. Starting with the iPhone 3GS, the proportion of Apple’s own content in the devices rose sharply, thanks to the acquisition of PA Semiconductor, but also to heavy investment in the supply chain.

Not only did Apple design and pilot-produce many of the components it wanted, it bought them from suppliers in advance to lock up the supply. It also bought machine tools the suppliers would need, often long in advance to lock up the supply. But this wasn’t just about a tactical effort to deny componentry to its competitors. It was also a strategic effort to create manufacturing capacity.

In pre-paying for large quantities of components, Apple provides its suppliers with the capital they need to build new facilities. In pre-paying for the machine tools that will go in them, they finance the machine tool manufacturers and enjoy a say in their development plans, thus ensuring the availability of the right machinery. They even invent tools themselves and then get them manufactured for the future use of their suppliers.

Samsung is of course both Apple’s biggest competitor and its biggest supplier. It combines these roles precisely because it is a huge manufacturer of electronic components. Concentrating on its manufacturing supply chain both enables it to produce excellent hardware, and also to hedge the success or failure of the devices by selling componentry to the competition. As with Apple, doing this is very expensive and demands skills that are both in short supply, and sometimes also hard to define. Much of the deep value embedded in Apple and Samsung’s supply chains will be the tacit knowledge gained from learning by doing that is now concentrated in their people.

The key insight for both companies is that industrial and user-experience design is highly replicable, and patent protection is relatively weak. The same is true of software. Apple had a deeply traumatic experience with the famous Look and Feel lawsuit against Microsoft, and some people have suggested that the supply-chain strategy was deliberately intended to prevent something similar happening again.

Certainly, the shift to this strategy coincides with the launch of Android, which Steve Jobs at least perceived as a “stolen product”. Arguably, Jobs repeated Apple’s response to Microsoft Windows, suing everyone in sight, with about as much success, whereas Tim Cook in his role as the hardware engineering and then supply-chain chief adopted a new strategy, developing an industrial capability that would be very hard to replicate, by design.

Three Operators, Three Strategies

AT&T

The biggest issue any fixed operator has faced since the great challenges of privatisation, divestment, and deregulation in the 1980s is that of managing the transition from a business that basically provides voice on a copper access network to one that basically provides Internet service on a co-ax, fibre, or possibly wireless access network. This, at least, has been clear for many years.

AT&T is the original telco – at least, AT&T likes to be seen that way, as shown by their decision to reclaim the iconic NYSE ticker symbol “T”. That obscures, however, how much has changed since the divestment and the extremely expensive process of mergers and acquisitions that patched the current version of the company together. The bit examined here is the AT&T Home Solutions division, which owns the fixed-line ex-incumbent business, also known as the merged BellSouth and SBC businesses.

AT&T, like all the world’s incumbents, deployed ADSL at the turn of the 2000s, thus getting into the ISP business. Unlike most world incumbents, in 2005 it got a huge regulatory boost in the form of the Martin FCC’s Comcast decision, which declared that broadband Internet service was not a telecommunications service for regulatory purposes. This permitted US fixed operators to take back the Internet business they had been losing to independent ISPs. As such, they were able to cope with the transition while concentrating on the big-glamour areas of M&A and wireless.

As the 2000s advanced, it became obvious that AT&T needed to look at the next move beyond DSL service. The option taken was what became U-Verse, a triple-play product which consists of:

  • Either ADSL, ADSL2+, or VDSL, depending on copper run length and line quality
  • Plus IPTV
  • And traditional telephony carried over IP.

This represents a minimal approach to the transition – the network upgrade requires new equipment in the local exchanges, or Central Offices in US terms, and in street cabinets, but it does not require the replacement of the access link, nor any trenching.

This minimisation of capital investment is especially important, as it was also decided that U-Verse would not deploy into areas where the copper might need investment to carry it. These networks would eventually, it was hoped, be either sold or closed and replaced by wireless service. U-Verse was therefore, for AT&T, in part a means of disposing of regulatory requirements.

It was also important that the system closely coupled the regulated domain of voice with the unregulated, or at least only potentially regulated, domain of Internet service and the either unregulated or differently regulated domain of content. In many ways, U-Verse can be seen as a content first strategy. It’s TV that is expected to be the primary replacement for the dwindling fixed voice revenues. Figure 1 shows the importance of content to AT&T vividly.

Figure 1: U-Verse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2.0 revenue at AT&T, although M2M is growing fast

Telco 2 UVerse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2 revenue at ATandT although M2M is growing fast.png

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

This sounds like one of the telecoms-as-media strategies of the late 1990s. However, it should be clearly distinguished from, say, BT’s drive to acquire exclusive sports content and to build up a brand identity as a “channel”. U-Verse does not market itself as a “TV channel” and does not buy exclusive content – rather, it is a channel in the literal sense, a distributor through which TV is sold. We will see why in the next section.

The US TV Market

It is well worth remembering that TV is a deeply national industry. Steve Jobs famously described it as “balkanised” and as a result didn’t want to take part. Most metrics vary dramatically across national borders, as do qualitative observations of structure. (Some countries have a big public sector broadcaster, like the BBC or indeed Al-Jazeera, to give a basic example.) Countries with low pay-TV penetration can be seen as ones that offer greater opportunities, it being usually easier to expand the customer base than to win share from the competition (a “blue ocean” versus a “red sea” strategy).

However, it is also true that pay-TV in general is an easier sell in a market where most TV viewers already pay for TV. It is very hard to convince people to pay for a product they can obtain free.

In the US, there is a long-standing culture of pay-TV, originally with cable operators and more recently with satellite (DISH and DirecTV), IPTV or telco-delivered TV (AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS), and subscription OTT (Netflix and Hulu). It is also a market characterised by heavy TV usage (an average household has 2.8 TVs). Out of the 114.2 million homes (96.7% of all homes) receiving TV, according to Nielsen, there are some 97 million receiving pay-TV via cable, satellite, or IPTV, a penetration rate of 85%. This is the largest and richest pay-TV market in the world.

In this sense, it ought to be a good prospect for TV in general, with the caveat that a “Sky Sports” or “BT Sport” strategy based on content exclusive to a distributor is unlikely to work. This is because typically, US TV content is sold relatively openly in the wholesale market, and in many cases, there are regulatory requirements that it must be provided to any distributor (TV affiliate, cable operator, or telco) that asks for it, and even that distributors must carry certain channels.

Rightsholders have backed a strategy based on distribution over one based on exclusivity, on the principle that the customer should be given as many opportunities as possible to buy the content. This also serves the interests of advertisers, who by definition want access to as many consumers as possible. Hollywood has always aimed to open new releases on as many cinema screens as possible, and it is the movie industry’s skills, traditions, and prejudices that shaped this market.

As a result, it is relatively easy for distributors to acquire content, but difficult for them to generate differentiation by monopolising exclusive content. In this model, differentiation tends to accrue to rightsholders, not distributors. For example, although HBO maintains the status of being a premium provider of content, consumers can buy it from any of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, any other cable operator, satellite, or direct from HBO via an OTT option.

However, pay-TV penetration is high enough that any new entrant (such as the two telcos) is committed to winning share from other providers, the hard way. It is worth pointing out that the US satellite operators DISH and DirecTV concentrated on rural customers who aren’t served by the cable MSOs. At the time, their TV needs weren’t served by the telcos either. As such, they were essentially greenfield deployments, the first pay-TV propositions in their markets.

The biggest change in US TV in recent times has been the emergence of major new distributors, the two RBOCs and a range of Web-based over-the-top independents. Figure 2 summarises the situation going into 2013.

Figure 2: OTT video providers beat telcos, cablecos, and satellite for subscriber growth, at scale

OTT video providers beat telcos cablecos and satellite for subscriber growth at scale

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

The two biggest classes of distributors saw either a marginal loss of subscribers (the cablecos) or a marginal gain (satellite). The two groups of (relatively) new entrants, as you’d expect, saw much more growth. However, the OTT players are both bigger and much faster growing than the two telco players. It is worth pointing out that this mostly represents additional TV consumption, typically, people who already buy pay-TV adding a Netflix subscription. “Cord cutting” – replacing a primary TV subscription entirely – remains rare. In some ways, U-Verse can be seen as an effort to do something similar, upselling content to existing subscribers.

Competing for the Whole Bundle – Comcast and the Cable Industry

So how is this option doing? The following chart, Figure 3, shows that in terms of overall service ARPU, AT&T’s fixed strategy is delivering inferior results than its main competitors.

Figure 3: Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up

Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up

Source: Telco 2.0 Transformation Index

The interesting point here is that Time Warner Cable is doing less well than some of its cable industry peers. Comcast, the biggest, claims a $159 monthly ARPU for triple-play customers, and it probably has a higher density of triple-players than the telcos. More representatively, they also quote a figure of $134 monthly average revenue per customer relationship, including single- and double-play customers. We have used this figure throughout this note. TWC, in general, is more content-focused and less broadband-focused than Comcast, having taken much longer to roll out DOCSIS 3.0. But is that important? After all, aren’t cable operators all about TV? Figure 4 shows clearly that broadband and voice are now just as important to cable operators as they are to telcos. The distinction is increasingly just a historical quirk.

Figure 4: Non-video revenues – i.e. Internet service and voice – are the driver of growth for US cable operators

Non video revenues ie Internet service and voice are the driver of growth for US cable operatorsSource: NCTA data, STL Partners

As we have seen, TV in the USA is not a differentiator because everyone’s got it. Further, it’s a product that doesn’t bring differentiation but does bring costs, as the rightsholders exact their share of the selling price. Broadband and voice are different – they are, in a sense, products the operator makes in-house. Most have to buy the tools (except Free.fr which has developed its own), but in any case the operator has to do that to carry the TV.

The differential growth rates in Figure 4 represent a substantial change in the ISP industry. Traditionally, the Internet engineering community tended to look down on cable operators as glorified TV distribution systems. This is no longer the case.

In the late 2000s, cable operators concentrated on improving their speeds and increasing their capacity. They also pressed their vendors and standardisation forums to practice continuous improvement, creating a regular upgrade cycle for DOCSIS firmware and silicon that lets them stay one (or more) jumps ahead of the DSL industry. Some of them also invested in their core IP networking and in providing a deeper and richer variety of connectivity products for SMB, enterprise, and wholesale customers.

Comcast is the classic example of this. It is a major supplier of mobile backhaul, high-speed Internet service (and also VoIP) for small businesses, and a major actor in the Internet peering ecosystem. An important metric of this change is that since 2009, it has transitioned from being a downlink-heavy eyeball network to being a balanced peer that serves about as much traffic outbound as it receives inbound.

The key insight here is that, especially in an environment like the US where xDSL unbundling isn’t available, if you win a customer for broadband, you generally also get the whole bundle. TV is a valuable bonus, but it’s not differentiating enough to win the whole of the subscriber’s fixed telecoms spend – or to retain it, in the presence of competitors with their own infrastructure. It’s also of relatively little interest to business customers, who tend to be high-value customers.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • A Case Study in Deep Value: The Lessons from Apple and Samsung
  • Three Operators, Three Strategies
  • AT&T
  • The US TV Market
  • Competing for the Whole Bundle – Comcast and the Cable Industry
  • Competing for the Whole Bundle II: Verizon
  • Scoring the three strategies – who’s winning the whole bundles?
  • SMBs and the role of voice
  • Looking ahead
  • Planning for a Future: What’s Up Cable’s Sleeve?
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: U-Verse TV sales account for the largest chunk of Telco 2.0 revenue at AT&T, although M2M is growing fast
  • Figure 2: OTT video providers beat telcos, cablecos, and satellite for subscriber growth, at scale
  • Figure 3: Cable operators lead the way on ARPU. Verizon, with FiOS, is keeping up
  • Figure 4: Non-video revenues – i.e. Internet service and voice – are the driver of growth for US cable operators
  • Figure 5: Comcast has the best pricing per megabit at typical service levels
  • Figure 6: Verizon is ahead, but only marginally, on uplink pricing per megabit
  • Figure 7: FCC data shows that it’s the cablecos, and FiOS, who under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to broadband
  • Figure 7: Speed sells at Verizon
  • Figure 8: Comcast and Verizon at parity on price per megabit
  • Figure 9: Typical bundles for three operators. Verizon FiOS leads the way
  • Figure 12: The impact of learning by doing on FTTH deployment costs during the peak roll-out phase

Telco 1.0: Death Slide Starts in Europe

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

Very weak Q1 2014 results from Telefonica and other European players 

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

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

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

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

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

Telco 2.0 Telefonica Group Revenue

Source: Telefonica, STL Partners analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global mobile telcoms revenue

Source: STL Partners

Upturn in telecoms industry fortunes after 2016 dependent on current activities

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

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

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

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’

Cisco, Microsoft, Google, AT&T, Telefonica, et al: the disruptive battle for value in communications

Technology: Products and Vendors’ Approaches

There are many vendors and products in the voice/telephony arena. Some started as pure voice products or solutions like Cisco Call Manager, while others such as Microsoft Office 365 started as an office productivity suite, to which voice and presence became a natural extension, and then later a central part of the core product functionality. We have included details on RCS, however RCS is not globally available, and is limited in its functionality compared to some of the other products listed here.

Unified Communications

Unified Communications (UC) is not a standard; there are many different interpretations, but there is a general consensus about what it means – the unification of voice, video, messaging, presence, conferencing, and collaboration into a simple integrated user experience.

UC is an important technology for enterprise customers, it brings mobility and agility to an organisation, improves communication and collaboration, adds a social element, and lowers costs by reducing the need for office space and multiple disparate communications systems each with their own management and control systems. UC can be delivered as a cloud service and has the acronym UCaaS. Leading providers are Microsoft, Google, and Cisco. Other players include IBM, 8X8, and a number of other smaller vendors, as well as telco equipment manufacturers such as Ericsson. We have covered some of the leading solutions in this report, and there are definite opportunities for telcos to collaborate with these vendors, adding integration with core services such as telephony and mobile data, as well as customer support and billing.

There are several elements for an enterprise to consider when developing a UC solution for it to be successful:

  • Fixed voice functions and needs (including PBX) and integration into a UC solution
  • Mobile voice – billing, call routing, integration with fixed and UC solutions
  • Desktop and mobile video calling
  • Collaboration tools (conferencing, video conferencing, desktop integration, desktop sharing etc.)
  • Desktop integration – how does the solution integrate with core productivity tools (Microsoft Office, Google Apps, OpenOffice etc?)
  • PC and mobile clients – can a mobile user participate in a video conference, share files
  • Instant messaging and social integration
  • How the user is able to interact with the system and how intuitive it is to use. This is sometimes called the user experience and is probably the most important aspect, as a good user experience promotes efficiency and end user satisfaction

From the user perspective, it would be desirable for the solution to include the basic elements shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Basic user needs from Unified Communications
Voice Messaging Tech Cover

Source: STL Partners

Historically, Enterprise communications has been an area where telcos have been a supplier to the enterprise – delivering voice end points (E.164 phone numbers and mobile devices), voice termination, and outgoing voice and data services.

Organisational voice communications (i.e. internal calling) has been an area of strength for companies like Cisco, Avaya, Nortel and others that have delivered on-premise solutions which offer sophisticated voice and video services. These have grown over the years to provide Instant Messaging (IM), desktop collaboration tools, and presence capabilities. PC clients often replace fixed phones, adding functionality, and can be used when out of the office. What these systems have lacked is deep integration with desktop office suites such as Microsoft Office, Google Apps, and Lotus Notes. Plug-ins or other tools can be used to integrate presence and voice, but the user experience is usually a compromise as different vendors are involved.

The big software vendors have also been active, with Microsoft and IBM adding video and telephony features, and Google building telephony and conferencing into its growing portfolio. Microsoft also acquired Skype and has delivered on its promise to integrate Skype with Lync. Meanwhile, Google has made a number of acquisitions in the video and voice arena like ON2, Global IP Solutions, and Grand Central. The technology from ON2 allows video to be compressed and sent over an Internet connection. Google is pushing the products from ON2 to be integrated into one of the next major disruptors – WebRTC.

Microsoft began including voice capability with its release of Office Communications Server (OCS) in 2007. An OCS user could send instant messages, make a voice call, or place a video call to another OCS user or group of users. Presence was directly integrated with Outlook and a separate product – Office Live Meeting – was used to collaborate. Although OCS included some Private Branch eXchange (PBX) features, few enterprises regarded it as having enough features or capability to replace existing systems from the likes of Cisco. With Office 365, Microsoft stepped up the game, adding a new user interface, enhanced telephony features, integrated collaboration, and multiple methods of deployment using Microsoft’s cloud, on premise, and service provider deployments.

 

  • Technology: Products and Vendors’ Approaches
  • Unified Communications
  • Microsoft Office 365 – building on enterprise software strengths
  • Skype – the popular international behemoth
  • Cisco – the incumbent enterprise giant
  • Google – everything browser-based
  • WebRTC – a major disruptive opportunity
  • Rich Communication Service (RCS) – too little too late?
  • Broadsoft – neat web integration
  • Twilio – integrate voice and SMS into applications
  • Tropo – telephony integration technology leader
  • Voxeo – a pathfinder in integration
  • Hypervoice –make voice a native web object
  • Calltrunk – makes calls searchable
  • Operator Voice and Messaging Services
  • Section Summary
  • Telco Case Studies
  • Vodafone – 360, One Net and RED
  • Telefonica – Digital, Tu Me, Tu Go, BlueVia, Free Wi-Fi
  • AT&T – VoIP, UC, Tropo, Watson
  • Section Summary
  • STL Partners and the Telco 2.0™ Initiative

 

  • Figure 1: Basic user needs from Unified Communications
  • Figure 2: Microsoft Lync 2013 client
  • Figure 3: Microsoft Lync telephony integration options
  • Figure 4: International Telephone and Skype Traffic 2005-2012
  • Figure 5: The Skype effect on international traffic
  • Figure 6: Voice call charging in USA
  • Figure 7: Google Voice call charging in USA
  • Figure 8: Google Voice call charging in Europe
  • Figure 9: Google outbound call rates
  • Figure 10: Calliflower beta support for WebRTC
  • Figure 11: Active individual user base for WebRTC, millions
  • Figure 12: Battery life compared for different services
  • Figure 13: Vodafone One Net Express call routing
  • Figure 14: Vodafone One Net Business Call routing
  • Figure 15: Enterprise is a significant part of Vodafone group revenue
  • Figure 16: Vodafone Red Bundles
  • Figure 17: Telefonica: Market Positioning Map, Q4 2012
  • Figure 18: US market in transition towards greater competition
  • Figure 19: Voice ARPU at AT&T, fixed and mobile
  • Figure 20: Industry Value is Concentrated at the Interfaces
  • Figure 21: Telco 2.0™ ‘two-sided’ telecoms business model

The M-Commerce ‘Land-Grab’: Telcos Vs. Apple & Google

Summary: The mobile commerce market is going through a critical ‘land-grab’ phase. This report reviews the strategies and tactics of the leading telcos and Internet players in Asia, Europe and North America as they seek to use the mobile medium to become an intermediary between buyers and sellers. It considers the pivotal role of the digital wallet, ‘big data’, the race to acquire merchants and the key alliances between telcos, banks, payment networks and Internet players (December 2012, Executive Briefing Service, Dealing with Disruption Stream).

Digital Commerce Flywheel December 2012

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Below is an extract from this 33 page Telco 2.0 Briefing Report that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service and the Telco 2.0 Dealing with Disruption Stream here. We’ll be publishing more on Digital Commerce in in 2013 and it will be a key theme at our Executive Brainstorms in Silicon Valley (March 2013), Europe (London, June 2013), Digital Arabia (Dubai, November 2013), and Digital Asia (Singapore, December 2012). Non-members can subscribe here and for this and other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Introduction

STL defines Digital Commerce 2.0 as the use of new digital and mobile technologies, such as smartphones, to bring buyers and sellers together more efficiently and effectively.  Fast growing usage 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.

Telcos and their partners could play a major role in enabling digital commerce 2.0 as intermediaries that create platforms that help to bring together buyers and sellers. But Internet companies, banks, payment networks and others are also seeking to act as digital intermediaries between merchants and consumers.

This executive briefing builds on STL Partners’ Strategy Report, Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon, which examines the mobile commerce strategies of the major Internet players, and STL’s Digital Commerce 2.0 Executive Brainstorm events in London, New York, San Francisco and Singapore.

This report reviews the strategies and tactics of the leading telcos and Internet players aiming to use the mobile medium to become an intermediary between buyers and sellers. It considers the pivotal role of the digital wallet, the race to acquire merchants and the key alliances in this space. It sets the scene for a forthcoming report that will make recommendations for how telcos and their partners should build a compelling mobile commerce proposition.

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Executive Summary

Smartphones are extending digital commerce out of the home and the office and on to the street and in to the store. With full web browsers and a host of apps, these handsets enable consumers to access information and interact with merchants and brands from anywhere and anytime.  

The wallet land-grab

As smartphones go mass market, Internet companies, telcos, banks, payment networks and other companies are in land-grab mode – racing to sign up merchants and consumers for platforms that could enable them to secure a pivotal (and lucrative) position in the fast growing digital commerce market.

Across Europe, the Americas, Asia and parts of Africa, telcos, Internet players, payment networks and banks are looking to deploy their own digital wallets in the belief that these apps will become a key strategic platform. A digital wallet – software that stores debit and credit card information, loyalty points, electronic vouchers and cash – could be used  to interact with consumers while they are actually shopping, brokering targeted offers and promotions. For marketers, the wallet offers a golden opportunity to reach a consumer on the cusp of making a purchase.

While Internet players, such as PayPal and Apple, tend to be focused on signing up users for their online wallets, telcos, such as AT&T and Vodafone, are developing a mobile app-centric solution that uses the SIM card for authentication.

In fact, you need both. To become a market leader, a digital wallet will have to be very easy to use both online and at point of sale. Most consumers will want to use the same digital wallet across a PC, a mobile handset and a tablet, so they can track all of their spending and offers easily. At the same time, wallets that are used both online and at point of sale will be able to generate a far more complete and comprehensive picture of the consumers’ shopping habits.

More and better data

Akin to a search engine, the digital wallet could also enable companies to capture valuable data that can be used to improve the targeting of offers and promotions. For example, the transactional data captured by a digital wallet may show what kinds of restaurants the consumer likes to eat at, enabling the delivery of appropriate vouchers. The data generated by a digital wallet could be used to broker highly-targeted offers, thereby enabling the wallet supplier to secure a pivotal and lucrative position in the digital commerce value chain.

However, it will be important for wallet suppliers to give individuals a high degree of control over their data, enabling them to delete or amend information captured by the wallet and even take that data to with them to a new wallet. While that may seem counterintuitive, both individuals and regulators are more likely to trust and accept services that are transparent and put the consumer in control. 

Fragmentation could equal failure

The large number of players targeting the mobile commerce market with a diverse range of approaches risks confusing both consumers and merchants. There is a danger that both groups will play a waiting game, preferring to see which solutions rise to the top and which flop. Many stakeholders, particularly upmarket retailers and brands, will be waiting for Apple to roll out a mobile commerce proposition they can use to target the many affluent owners of iPhones. In other words, the land-grab may end up being a very drawn out and expensive process for all involved.

The Digital Commerce 2.0 Gold Rush

The opportunity

Digital commerce is being reinvented for the post-PC era. The combination of Internet and mobile technologies is enabling new forms of digital marketing, retailing and payments which could dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all kinds of businesses. Internet companies, telcos, banks, payment networks and other companies are in land-grab mode – racing to sign up merchants and consumers for platforms that could enable them to secure a pivotal (and potentially lucrative) position in the fast growing digital commerce market. Although it is early days for Digital Commerce 2.0, the gold rush is in full swing.   

The advent of mass-market smartphones, with touchscreens, full Internet browsers and an array of feature-rich apps, is a game changer that is profoundly impacting the way in which people and businesses buy and sell. Consumers are already using these smartphones to access social, local and mobile digital services and make smarter purchase decisions. As they shop, they can easily canvas opinion via Facebook, read product reviews on Amazon or compare prices across multiple stores. 

STL Partners’ strategy report, Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon, identified authentication and payments and  brokering online advertising and marketing as two of the key battlegrounds in the Great Game being played out by the Internet giants and the leading telcos. 

Although hundreds of millions of people have already entrusted their credit or debit card details to eBay, Facebook, Apple, Google or Amazon and use these web giants’ online payment services to pay for goods, services or digital content online, telcos could yet become key players. Approximately three billion people worldwide have a billing relationship with one or more telco and carrier billing can be more secure and convenient that other payment mechanisms, particularly for people lacking debit and credit cards. Some Internet players, such as Google, would like to tap telcos’ assets and processes to help them authenticate consumers.

Brokering online advertising and marketing is clearly Google and Facebook’s core business, while Microsoft, Apple and Amazon see it as potential source of revenue growth. Different telcos have adopted different approaches to this market. While some, such as Telefonica O2, see advertising and marketing as a potential source of revenue growth, other telcos prefer to focus on providing enablers to specialists, such as Facebook. Figure 1 shows how Telefonica, an advanced telco, compares with the leading Internet players across key enablers of digital commerce. Green indicates a strong position, amber, a middling position and red, a weak position, while light blue indicates no position.

Figure 1 splits the enablers according to the two sides digital commerce platform – the blue set of enablers are aimed at downstream customers (typically consumers), while the red set of enablers are aimed at upstream customers (typically merchants and brands). Some of the Internet players, notably Google and Amazon, have a strong position on both sides of this platform.

As it stands, the online advertising and marketing market is Google’s and Facebook’s to lose. The more data and inventory you have, the more precise the targeting and the bigger the target audience. STL Partners believes only telcos with major in-market scale, such as China Mobile or NTT DOCOMO, should consider competing head-to-head with the web giants.  

But, in developing countries, in particular, where most people don’t have smartphones, SMS and MMS remain a powerful marketing medium with plenty of scope to grow. There is also an opportunity for telcos to act as a trusted intermediary, helping consumers concerned about privacy to control and derive value from their personal data.

Figure 1: How a leading telco stacks up with Internet players on digital commerce

Telco vs Internet Players on Digital Commerce December 2012

Source: STL Partners

Perhaps the biggest growth opportunity in online marketing and advertising is to help merchants and brands use social, local and mobile services to stimulate demand, engage better with customers and potential customers and achieve a higher return on investment (ROI) from their marketing spend.  Amazon, for example, is pursuing this market through its Amazon Local service, which emails offers from local merchants to consumers in specific geographic areas.  

In theory, at least, targeting marketing at consumers in the right geography and the right demographic group should be far more effective than simply displaying adverts to anyone who conducts an Internet search using a specific term.

Highly-targeted direct marketing and loyalty programmes could be a much bigger opportunity than conventional advertising 

In the U.S., the direct marketing market (US$ 139 billion) is worth more than three times the U.S. advertising market (US$39 billion), according to some estimates (see Figure 2).  

Figure 2: A breakdown of the U.S. direct marketing and advertising market

U.S. Direct Marketing & Advertising Market December 2012
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. 

Moreover, mobile technologies also make it easier for merchants and brands to tell whether a specific marketing activity actually led to a sale. If a consumer uses their smartphone to research a product and then pay for the product, the retailer could gain a complete view of the whole commerce cycle, enabling it to see exactly what kind of marketing results in transactions.

With merchants looking to close the loop in this way, marketing and advertising brokers, such as Google, and some telcos, are increasingly moving into the payments space. 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).

Although payments itself is a low margin business, it could be an important pillar of a broader and much more lucrative digital commerce offering – American Express estimates that merchants in the US spend four to five times as much on marketing activities, such as loyalty programmes and offers, as they do on payments. In fact, transactions are just one element of a far bigger flywheel that drives the digital commerce market (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The key elements of the digital commerce flywheel

Digital Commerce Flywheel December 2012

Source: STL Partners

Actual deployments

With potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of business in play, an array of companies around the world are making significant investments in digital commerce services. They are generally experimenting with and testing different approaches and business models, particularly in the areas of mobile advertising, location-based marketing, payments and mobile money transfers. 

In the following sections we outline examples of services we believe will have the most market impact, either because they have already gained market traction or because they have the backing of powerful companies. These examples illustrate the diversity of the players involved and the approaches they have adopted.

To read the note in full, including the following sections detailing support for the analysis…

  • Europe – experiments abound
  • The Weve joint venture
  • Cityzi
  • Moneta
  • Turkcell
  • WyWallet
  • Visa Europe
  • PayPal
  • The Mobile Money Network
  • CellPay
  • Pingit from Barclays
  • Asia – leading the world
  • South Korea
  • The Philippines
  • Bharti Airtel
  • SingTel
  • Japan
  • China
  • The U.S. – gang culture
  • The Merchant Customer Exchange
  • Starbucks and Square
  • American Express
  • PayPal
  • The Isis joint venture
  • Minutrade
  • Global players – grappling with glocal
  • Google
  • Apple
  • Vodafone and Visa
  • Telefonica and Visa
  • Deutsche Telekom and MasterCard
  • Conclusions and Key takeaways
  • Index

…and the following figures…

  • Figure 1: How a leading telco stacks up with Internet players on digital commerce
  • Figure 2: A breakdown of the U.S. direct marketing and advertising market
  • Figure 3: The key elements of the digital commerce flywheel
  • Figure 4: Examples of mobile commerce activity in the U.K.
  • Figure 5: Where the Weve joint venture fits into Telefonica’s strategy
  • Figure 6: Examples of online wallets moving into mobile
  • Figure 7: How Isis compares with other mobile wallets in the US market
  • Figure 8: Google Wallet no longer needs to work directly with banks
  • Figure 9: Telefonica O2’s two sided strategy
  • Figure 10: The mobile commerce strategy of leading telcos
  • Figure 11: The mobile commerce strategy of leading Internet players
  • Figure 12: Giving consumers control over personal data

 

Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Serviceand the Telco 2.0 Dealing with Disruption Stream can download the full 33 page report in PDF format hereNon-Members, please subscribe here. For this or other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Companies and technologies covered: Mobile wallets, localized commerce, location based services, personal data, telco strategy, big data, mobile commerce, APIs, business models, SoLoMo, mobile advertising, mobile marketing, mobile payments, digital wallets.