Cloud native: Just another technology generation?

Cloud native networking: Telecoms’ latest adventure

As a term, cloud native has currency in telecoms networking. 5G has contributed to the recent industry-wide interest in adopting cloud native applications for networks. This is because the 5G standalone core networks (5G SA) that operators are now planning (and some have started deploying) are intended to run as software that is specified and architected following cloud native principles.

Within telecoms, thinking about cloud native tends to centre on the next phase of moving network functions into a software environment, building on lessons learned with NFV/SDN. Viewed from this perspective, cloud native is the next step in the telecoms industry technology evolution: from analogue to digital circuit-switched to digital IP to virtualised to cloud native.

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Telcos’ business model is reaching end-of-life

The rise of mobile telephony and fixed and mobile broadband means that telecoms operators have enjoyed 20 years of strong growth in all major markets. That growth has stalled. It happened in Japan and South Korea as early as 2005, in Europe from 2012 or so and, market by market, others have followed. STL Partners forecasts that, apart from Africa, all regions will see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) below 3% for both fixed and mobile services for the next three years. Ignoring pandemic ‘blips’, we forecast a CAGR of less than 1% per annum globally. This amounts to a decline in real terms.

The telecoms industry is reaching the end of its last growth cycle

The telecoms industry’s response to this slowdown has been to continue to invest capital in better networks – fibre, 4G, 5G – to secure more customers by offering more for less. Unfortunately, as competitors also upgrade their networks, connectivity has become commoditised as value has shifted to the network-independent services that run over them.

In other words, the advantage that telcos had when only telecoms services could run on telecoms networks has gone: the defensive moat from owning fibre or spectrum has been breached. Future value comes from service innovation not from capital expenditure. The chart below sums the problem up: seven internet players generate around 65% of the revenue generated by 165 operators globally, but have a c. 50% bigger combined market capitalisation. This is because the capital markets believe that revenue and profit growth will accrue to these service innovators rather than telecoms operators.

Tech companies are more highly valued than telcos

Understand, then emulate the operating model

Operators have been aspiring to learn from technology firms so they can transform their operations and services. But changes have been slow, and it is difficult to point to many ‘poster child’ operators that successfully made a move beyond pure telecommunications. Partly this is due to a mismatch between corporate announcements and their investment policies. Too often we hear CEOs express a desire to change their organisations and that they intend to offer a host of exciting new services, only to see that aspiration not borne out when they allocate resources. Where other tech companies make substantial investments in R&D and product development, operators continue to invest miniscule amounts in service innovation (especially in comparison to what is poured into the network itself).

Telco vs tech-co investment models

STL Partners believes that many of the network-related activities that will enable operators to reduce capital expenditure, such as cloud-native networking, will also enable them to automate and integrate processes and systems so they are more flexible and agile at introducing new services. So, an agile software-oriented infrastructure will enable changes in business processes such as product development and product management, partnering, and customer care – if management prioritises investment and drives change in these areas. Cloud native business practices and software were developed by technology companies (and then widely adopted by enterprise IT functions) as a means to deliver greater innovation at scale whilst reducing the level of capital relative to revenue.

Our belief is that financial and operational developments need to happen in unison and operators need to move quickly and with urgency to a new operating model supported by cloud native practices and technology, or face sharp declines in ROI.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Table of Figures
  • Preface
  • Cloud native networking: Telecoms’ latest adventure
  • Telcos’ business model is reaching end-of-life
    • Understand, then emulate the operating model
    • The coordination age – a new role for telcos
    • 5G: Just another G?
    • Cloud native: Just another technology generation?
  • Different perspectives: Internal ability, timing …and what it means to be a network operator
    • Organisational readiness, skills and culture
    • Target operating model and ecosystem
    • Assembly versus Engineering
    • Wider perceptions across the business functions
    • Operator segment 1: Risk of complacency
    • Operator segment 2: Align for action
    • Operator segment 3: Urgent re-evaluation
    • Operator segment 4: Stay focused and on track
  • Appendix 1
    • Interviewee overview
  • Appendix 2
    • Defining Cloud Native
    • There is consensus on the meaning of cloud native software and applicability to networks
    • Agreement on the benefits: automation at scale for reliability and faster time to market
    • …and changing supplier relationships

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Google/Telcos’ RCS: Dark Horse or Dead Horse?

Introduction

The strategic importance of digital communications services is rising fast, as these services now look set to become a major conduit for digital commerce. Messaging services are increasingly enabling interactions and transactions between consumers and businesses. Largely pioneered by WeChat in China, the growing integration of digital communications and commerce services looks like a multi-billion dollar boon for Facebook and a major headache for Amazon, eBay and Google, as outlined in the recent STL Partners report: WeChat: A Roadmap for Facebook and Telcos in Conversational Commerce.

This report analyses Google’s and telcos’ strategic position in the digital communications market, before exploring the recent agreement between leading telcos, the GSMA and Google to use the Android operating system to distribute RCS (Rich Communications Service), which is designed to be a successor to SMS and MMS. Like SMS, RCS is intended to work across networks, be network-based and be the default mobile messaging service, but it also goes far beyond SMS, by supporting rich features, such as video calling, location sharing, group chat and file sharing.

The report then undertakes a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on the new Google supported RCS proposition, before considering what telcos need to do next to give the service any chance of seeing widespread adoption.

Google’s strategic headache

To Google’s alarm, mobile messaging looks set to become the next major digital commerce platform. In some ways, this is a logical progression of what has come before. Although neither Google nor Amazon, two of the leading digital commerce incumbents, seem well prepared for the rise of “conversational commerce”, communications and commerce have always been interwoven – physical marketplaces, for example, serve both functions. In the digital era, new communications services, such as SMS, email and mobile calls, were quickly adopted by companies looking to contact consumers. Even now, businesses continue to rely very heavily on email to communicate with consumers, and with each other, and through Gmail, Google has a strong position in this segment.

But many consumers, particularly younger people, now prefer to use mobile messaging and social networking services to communicate with friends and family and are using email, which was developed in the PC era, less and less. People are spending more and more time on messaging apps – some industry executives estimate that consumers spend 40% of their time on a mobile phone purely in a messaging app. Understandably, businesses are looking to follow consumers on to mobile messaging and social networking services. Crucially, some of these services are now enabling businesses to transact, as well as interact, with customers, cutting the likes of Amazon and Google out of the loop entirely.

Largely pioneered by Tencent’s WeChat/Weixin service in China, the growing integration of digital communications and commerce services could be a multi-billion dollar boon for Facebook, the leading provider of digital messaging services in much of the world. The proportion of WeChat users making purchases through the service leapt to 31% in 2016 up from 15% in 2015, according to Mary Meeker’s Global Internet Trends report 2016. Moreover, users of WeChat’s payment service now make more than 50 payments a month through the service (see Figure 1), highlighting the convenience of ordering everyday products and services through a messaging app. In March 2016, Tencent reported the combined monthly active users of the Weixin and WeChat messaging services reached 697 million at the end of 2015, representing annual growth of 39%. See WeChat: A Roadmap for Facebook and Telcos in Conversational Commerce for more on this key trend in the digital economy.

Figure 1: WeChat users find it convenient to combine payments and messaging 

Source: Mary Meeker’s Global Internet Trends 2016

 

  • Executive summary
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Google’s strategic headache
  • Winner takes all?
  • Google’s attempts to crack communications
  • Telcos’ long goodbye
  • RCS – a very slow burn
  • VoLTE sees broader support
  • Google and telcos: a match made in heaven?
  • A new phase in the Google-telcos relationship?
  • Building a business case
  • Conclusions
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Next steps
  • Lay the foundations
  • What will Google do next?

 

  • Figure 1: WeChat users find it convenient to combine payments and messaging
  • Figure 2: Using Weixin Pay to complete a transaction in a fast food outlet
  • Figure 3: Leading communications & media sharing apps by downloads
  • Figure 4: Deutsche Telekom’s RCS app’s features include location sharing
  • Figure 5: All-IP communications services are gaining some traction with operators
  • Figure 6: Google Places aims to connect businesses and consumers
  • Figure 7: SWOT analysis of operators’ IP communications proposition
  • Figure 8: TOWS analysis for telcos in all-IP communications

WeChat: A Roadmap for Facebook and Telcos in Conversational Commerce

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing explores the rise of conversational commerce – the use of messaging services to enable both interactions and transactions. It considers how WeChat/Weixin has developed this concept in China, the functionality the Tencent subsidiary offers consumers and merchants, and the lessons for other players.

The report then goes on to consider how Facebook is implementing conversational commerce in its popular Messenger app, before outlining the implications for Amazon, Google and Apple. Finally, it considers how telcos may be able to capitalise on this trend and makes a series of high-level recommendations to guide the implementation of a conversational commerce strategy. This report builds on three recent STL reports, Building Digital Trust: A Model for Telcos to Succeed in Commerce, Mobile Authentication: Telcos’ Key to the Digital World? and Authentication Mechanisms: The Digital Arms Race.

Communications and commerce: two sides of the same coin

For Facebook, advertising isn’t the only fruit. When it hired the former head of PayPal, David Marcus, to run Facebook Messenger in 2014, it was a clear signal of where the social network is heading. Facebook plans to go head to head with eBay and Amazon in the digital commerce market, generating revenues by enabling transactions, as well as brokering advertising and marketing. The ultimate goal is to transform communications services into end-to-end commerce platforms that enable consumers and brands to “close the loop” from initial interaction through transaction to after-sales care.

Facebook is not alone. In fact, it is following in the footsteps of Tencent’s WeChat service. In the STL Partners’ Wheel of Digital Commerce (see Figure 1), the remit of WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, SnapChat and other digital communications services is expanding to encompass the guide, the transact and satisfy segments (marked in blue, turquoise and green), as well as the retain, plan and promote segments: the traditional sweet spot for social networking services, email and instant messaging.

Figure 1: Communications services move to facilitate the whole wheel of commerce

Source: STL Partners

Facebook, in particular, is following in the footsteps of WeChat, Tencent’s messaging service, which is evolving into a major digital commerce platform in its home market of China. Whereas email, SMS and many other digital commerce services have long carried commercial messages, together with advertising and, inevitably, spam, WeChat goes much further – it also enables transactions and customer care. The central tenet behind this concept, which is sometimes called conversational commerce, is that consumers will become increasingly comfortable using a single service to converse with friends and businesses, and buy goods and services. In some markets, third parties are adding a commerce overlay to existing communications platforms. In India, for example, several startups, such as Joe Hukum, Niki and Lookup, are touting ways to use WhatsApp, SMS and other digital communications services to transact with consumers.

For telcos, the growing integration of communications and commerce exacerbates a key strategic dilemma. Through voice calls and text messaging, telcos led the digital communications market for two decades, but now face ceding that market to over-the-top players using communications as a loss leader to support digital commerce. The question for telcos is whether to compete head-on with these players in both digital communication and commerce (a major undertaking requiring major investments in product development and marketing) or whether to fall back to just providing enablers for other players.

The final section of this report discusses this question further. But first, let’s consider the arguments as to why digital communications and digital commerce are natural bedfellows:

Markets have always combined commerce and conversations

Markets – essentially a concentration of vendors in one physical location – have been a feature of most societies and cultures throughout recorded history. They fulfil two key functions: One is to enable buyers and sellers to find each other easily. The second is to enable the exchange of information, news and gossip: the communications required to help human societies to function smoothly. For many shoppers, a visit to a physical market is as much about socialising, as shopping. In other words, communications and commerce have been intertwined for centuries. Messaging apps could extend this concept into the digital age.

Conversations help build trust

Communication is often a prelude for commerce. In both a personal and professional capacity, people often seek word-of-mouth recommendations or they canvas friends’ opinions on potential products and services. As consumers increasingly use communications apps for this purpose, these platforms are already playing a key role in purchasing decisions across both services and products. The obvious next step is to enable the actual transaction to also take place within the app.

Conversations can drive commerce

People use messaging apps to organise their social lives. They chat with friends about which bars to go to, which restaurants to dine at, which films to see, which concerts to attend and other entertainment possibilities. Once the decision is made, one of the group may want to book tickets, a table or a taxi. If such a booking can be made within the messaging app, all of the group will be able to see the details and act accordingly.

Convenient customer service

After a transaction is completed, customer service kicks in. The buyer may want to change an order, check on delivery dates or make a related purchase. The seller may want feedback. For younger generations growing up with the Internet, messaging apps represent a natural way to interact with customer service representatives.

Messaging has consumers’ attention

Although most smartphones host dozens of apps, few are used regularly. Messaging apps are among this chosen few. In fact, communications apps (social networks/messaging apps) soak up a huge amount of consumers’ time and attention. Data from comScore, for example, shows that social networks accounts for between one fifth and one quarter of all the time that consumers spend on digital services (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Share of digital time of different categories of apps

Source:comScore

Merchants and brands need to go where their customers are and one of those places is messaging. Messaging apps are typically always running, frequently generating notifications. That means, for many consumers, a messaging app could be a convenient place from which to make purchases – it saves them the hassle of switching to another app or using a web browser. In an interview with Tech in Asia, Joe Hukum co-founder Ajeet Kushwaha noted: “Conversational commerce is going to offer Convenience 2.0 – better and bigger than Convenience 1.0 offered by e-commerce,” adding that Joe Hukum plans to make API (application program interface) integrations with a range of partners in order to enable quick transactions. “We’re at a point where the way we consume and transact is going to change drastically,” he contended.

The success of WeChat and the lessons it holds for other communications players suggests Kushwaha could well be right.

 

  • Executive Summary*
  • Communications and commerce: two sides of the same coin
  • WeChat – the conversational commerce trailblazer*
  • The merchant experience*
  • Muted monetisation*
  • Lessons to learn from WeChat/Weixin*
  • Facebook now following fast*
  • How much money can Messenger make from commerce?*
  • WhatsApp also targets commerce*
  • Takeaways: Facebook needs to work with the medium, not against it*
  • Implications for Amazon, Apple and Google*
  • Amazon – in danger of disruption*
  • Google – down, but not out*
  • Apple – already has the assets*
  • Conclusions and lessons for telcos*
  • How can telcos differentiate?*

(* = not shown here)

 

  • Figure 1: Communications services move to facilitate the whole wheel of commerce
  • Figure 2: Share of digital time of different categories of apps
  • Figure 3: The world’s most widely used mobile messaging services*
  • Figure 4: An example of a WeChat Subscription Account*
  • Figure 5: An example of a WeChat Service Account*
  • Figure 6: The key features of WeChat’s official accounts*
  • Figure 7: The main developer tools available to WeChat verified service accounts*
  • Figure 8: WeChat enables merchants to create a distinctive look and feel*
  • Figure 9: Some Chinese nurseries use WeChat to communicate with parents*
  • Figure 10: The WeChat Wallet offers easy access to a suite of services*
  • Figure 11: Tencent’s Red Envelope promotion was hugely successful*
  • Figure 12: WeChat’s depiction of a typical day for one of its users*
  • Figure 13: Tencent remains heavily reliant on online gaming revenues*
  • Figure 14: Facebook Messenger seeks to fill the gap in digital commerce*
  • Figure 15: Facebook follows in Tencent’s footsteps*
  • Figure 16: Hailing a taxi from within a conversation on Facebook Messenger*
  • Figure 17: Facebook Messenger will increasingly compete with Amazon Prime Now*
  • Figure 18: Telcos’ mobile money apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated*

(* = not shown here)

AT&T: Fast Pivot to the NFV Future

Objectives, methods and strategic rationale

AT&T publicly launched its plan to transform its network to a cloud-, SDN- and NFV-based architecture at the Mobile World Congress in February 2014. The program was designated as the ‘User-Defined Network Cloud’ (UDNC).

The initial branding, which has receded somewhat as the program has advanced, reflected the origins of AT&T’s strategic vision in cloud computing and the idea of a software-defined network (SDN) where users can flexibly modify and scale their services according to their changing needs, just as they can with cloud-based IT. This model also contributed to an early bias toward enterprise networking, with AT&T’s first major SDN-based service being ‘Network on Demand’: an Ethernet offering allowing enterprises to rapidly modify their inter-site bandwidth and make other service alterations via a self-service portal, first trialed in June 2014.

Data center-based infrastructure and SDN architectural principles have remained at the heart of AT&T’s vision, although the focus has shifted increasingly toward network functions virtualization (NFV). In December 2014, the operator announced it had set itself the target of virtualizing (NFV) and controlling (SDN) 75% of its network via software by 2020.  What this actually means was spelled out only in mid-2015, by which time AT&T also indicated that it expected to have virtualized around 5% out of the targeted 75% by the end of 2015.

What the 75% target relates to specifically are the 200 most vital network functions that AT&T believes it will need to take forward in the long term; so this is not an exhaustive list of every network component. The list comprises network elements and service platforms supporting IP-based data and voice services, and content delivery, ranging from CPE to the optical long-haul network and everything in between. What the list does not include is functions supporting legacy services such as TDM voice, frame relay or ATM; so the UDNC involves a definitive break with AT&T’s history as one of the largest and oldest PSTN operators in the world.

Correspondingly, this involves huge changes in AT&T’s culture and organization. The operator uses the term ‘pivot’ to describe its transformation into a software-centric network company. The word is intended to evoke a sort of 180o inversion of AT&T’s whole mode of operation: a transition from a hardware-centric operator that deploys and operates equipment designed to support specific services – and so builds and scales networks literally from the ground up – to a ‘top-down’, software-centric, ‘web-scale’ service provider that builds and scales services via software, and uses flexible, resource-efficient commodity IT hardware to deliver those services when and where needed.

AT&T has described the culture change needed to effect this pivot as one of the toughest challenges it faces. It involves replacing a so-called ‘NetOps’ (network-operations) mentality and team structure with a ‘DevOps’ (collaborative, iterative operations-focused software development) approach, with multi-disciplinary teams working across established operational siloes, and focusing on developing and implementing software-based solutions that address particular customer needs. According to AT&T Business Solutions’ Chief Marketing Officer, Steve McGaw, the clear parameters that the operator has set around the SDN architecture and customer-centricity are now driving team motivation and creativity: “A product that is going to fit into the SDN architecture becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy . . . . Because we have declared that that is the way we are going to do things, then there is friction to funding that doesn’t fit within that framework. And so everyone wants to get [their] project funded, everyone wants to move the ball forward with the customer and meet the customer’s needs and expectations.”

Allowing for some degree of marketing gloss, this description nonetheless portrays a considerable change in established ways of working, with hundreds of network engineers being retrained as software developers and systems managers. The same can be said for AT&T’s collaboration with third parties in developing the SDN architecture and virtualizing so many crucial network functions. AT&T is partnering with 11 vendors – both established and challengers – on the UDNC project, co-opting them into its dedicated Domain 2.0 supplier program. These vendors are:

  • Ericsson (multiple network functions, and also integration and transformation services);
  • Tail-F Systems (service orchestration: added to the Domain 2.0 program from February 2014 and then acquired by Cisco in July 2014);
  • Metaswitch Networks (virtualized IP multimedia functions, e.g. routers and SBCs);
  • Affirmed Networks (virtualized Enhanced Packet Core (EPC));
  • Amdocs (BSS / OSS functionality);
  • Juniper (routers, SDN technology, etc.);
  • Alcatel-Lucent (range of network functions);
  • Fujitsu (IT services);
  • Brocade (virtualized routers);
  • Ciena (optical networking and service orchestration);
  • Cisco (routers and IP networking)

In addition, in another challenge to AT&T’s traditionally proprietary mode of operation, the operator is collaborating extensively with a range of open source and academic initiatives working on various pieces of the SDN / NFV jigsaw. These include:

  • ON.Lab (a non-profit organization founded by SDN innovators, and specialists from Stanford University and Berkeley) – working on the virtualization of Central Office functionality (the so-called Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter, or CORD) and the Open Network Operating System (ONOS) carrier-grade SDN platform. ON.Lab announced in October 2015 that it would partner with the Linux Foundation on open development of ONOS.
  • OpenDaylight (collaborative open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation, and dedicated to developing SDN and NFV technologies – various projects, including a tool based on the YANG data modeling language for configuring devices in the SDN)
  • OPNFV (another Linux Foundation-hosted open source project, focused on developing an open standard NFV platform – works mostly on the ARNO NFV platform).

AT&T’s Architecture – a technical summary

If you want to understand how this all fits together, consider the CORD project’s architecture as shown in Figure 1. CORD is an AT&T research project which aims to transform its local exchanges, Central Offices in US parlance, into small data centres hosting a wide range of virtualized software applications. As well as virtualizing the core telco functions based there, they will eventually also provide edge hosting for new products and services. The structure of CORD is the template for how AT&T intends to virtualize its network and how it intends to work with the three open-source groups ON.Lab, OpenDaylight, and OPNFV. Figure 1 shows how services are created in the XOS orchestration platform out of OpenStack virtual machines, OpenDaylight network apps, and ONOS flow rules.

Figure 1: How the Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter project works

Source: ON.Lab

What’s the benefit?

This means that AT&T can …

 

  • Executive Summary* 
  • Objectives, methods and strategic rationale (shown in part here)
  • Progress and key milestones*
  • Analysis: proceeding on all fronts*
  • Next steps: getting it done*

(* = not shown here)

 

  • Figure 1: How the Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter project works
  • Figure 2: NFV means re-organising your product bundles, which is one of the main reasons it’s worth doing*
  • Figure 3: AT&T’s publicly disclosed virtualized network functions (VNFs) as at October 2015*
  • Figure 4: What AT&T is concentrating on versus Telefonica*
  • Figure 5: Functions in line for virtualization by AT&T*
  • Figure 6: How AT&T is doing versus its primary competitor, Verizon in this space*

(* = not shown here)

Building Digital Trust: A Model for Telcos to Succeed in Commerce

Introduction

This executive briefing considers how telcos can reduce fragmentation in the digital commerce market and create value for merchants and consumers alike. It outlines how inconsistent and clunky experiences for consumers, together with incompatible and sub-scale platforms for merchants, continue to hamper the development of the digital commerce market both online and in bricks and mortar outlets.

The report then looks at attempts by individual telcos to carve out a role in this market, as well as exploring how the GSMA’s Digital Commerce and Mobile Connect programmes are trying to make mobile operators’ propositions more consistent with each other. Finally, it considers how the telecoms sector might develop a single consistent framework – a trusted digital infrastructure – that would enable consumers and merchants to exchange information and value in a consistent and interoperable way. This final section draws on research and development work by Deutsche Telekom’s Labs.

This executive briefing also builds on previous reports by STL Partners exploring the need for better authentication, identification, data management and payment mechanisms. These reports include:

Telcos’ role in digital commerce

Two years ago, STL Partners published a strategy report outlining two major opportunities in the digital commerce market for telcos:

  1. Real-time commerce enablement: The use of mobile technologies and services to optimise all aspects of commerce. For example, mobile networks can be used to deliver precisely targeted and timely marketing and advertising to consumer’s smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
  2. Personal cloud: Act as a trusted custodian for individuals’ data and an intermediary between individuals and organisations, providing authentication services, digital lockers and other services that reduce the risk and friction in every day interactions. As personal cloud services provide personalised recommendations based on individuals’ authorised data, they could potentially engage much more deeply with consumers than the generalised decision-support services, such as Google, TripAdvisor, moneysavingexpert.com and comparethemarket.com, in widespread use today.

As these two opportunities are inter-related and could be combined in a single platform, STL Partners recommended that telcos start with mobile commerce, where they have the strongest strategic position, and then use the resulting data, customer relationships and trusted brand to expand into personal cloud services, which will require high levels of investment.

However, since that report was published, in developed markets, telcos’ efforts to pursue the mobile commerce market have suffered several setbacks. Over the past two years, the Weve mobile commerce joint venture in the UK has unravelled, the SoftCard joint venture in the US has collapsed and Apple has rolled out a relatively advanced and holistic proposition, now known as Apple Wallet, which effectively cuts telcos out of the action. Moreover, Google and Samsung are seeking to emulate Apple’s widely-lauded Apple Pay solution for completing transactions online and in-person. STL Partners explained the significance of these events in an executive briefing entitled Apple Pay & Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call.

These developments have led many commentators to question whether telcos can really compete with the major Internet ecosystems in digital commerce.

In emerging markets, telcos increasingly enable commerce

While telcos in developed markets are often racked with doubt, their counterparts in emerging markets continue to make headway. In developing Asia, Africa and much of Latin America, most people lack credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, driving licenses, passports and most of the other collateral that people in developed countries use to authenticate themselves, identify themselves and conduct transactions. As many of these people have mobile phones and SIM cards, telcos are increasingly acting as intermediaries between consumers and service providers in emerging markets.

Mobile money services, which enable consumers and businesses to transfer money via mobile networks, continue to proliferate and are increasingly achieving scale. For example, Orange Money, which is available in parts of Africa and Middle East, reported a 37% year-on-year rise in customers to 15.5 million at the end of the third quarter of 2015. It also reported that revenues were up 71% year-on-year.

In some cases, mobile money services are evolving into broader digital commerce platforms. In Kenya, Safaricom, for example, has reported that the number of merchants accepting payments via its Lipa na MPesa platform more than doubled to 49,413 in the year to March 2015. In the month of March 2015, Kshs 11.6 billion was handled by the Lipa na MPesa platform, which enables consumers to use the well-established M-Pesa mobile money transfer service to pay for goods and services.

In emerging markets, mobile operators are increasingly using their distribution networks (both digital and physical) and their extensive customer data to move into financial services. As they know how much consumers are spending on airtime and are able to infer other relevant information, such as whether a subscriber has a job, mobile operators can gauge how affluent an individual is and what size of loan they can afford. If the customer is a regular user of a mobile money transfer service, the operator may also be able to assess how much disposable income they have.

In Kenya, mobile operator Safaricom reported its M-Shwari joint venture with the Commercial Bank of Africa M-Shwari had 2.1 billion Kenyan shillings (almost US$ 20 million) out on loan to customers as of March 31, 2015, up 75% from 1.2 billion shillings a year earlier. In Sri Lanka, mobile operator Dialog claims it now sells more insurance policies than all the traditional insurance companies.

In developed markets, fragmentation persists

Although developed markets are very different beasts, telcos could still play a key enabling role, which addresses various pain points in the digital economy. Although most people in North America and Western Europe have bank accounts, credit ratings and at least one digital wallet (be that PayPal, Amazon Payments or Apple iTunes), digital interaction can still be fraught with friction and mistrust. Telcos could help by enabling simple and secure authentication services as outlined in Mobile Authentication: Telcos’ Key to the Digital World?. Moreover, there is still an opportunity for telcos to become trusted custodians of personal data as explained in the aforementioned strategy report: Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players.

Even the real-time commerce enablement opportunity, explained in that Strategy Report, still exists, despite the launch of Apple Pay, and the subsequent arrival of Samsung Pay and Android Pay. Industry executives say usage of Apple Pay so far has been modest. One problem is that relatively few people have one of the latest iPhones (the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus) needed to use the service. Another barrier is the limited number of stores in the US (the initial launch market) that can accept payments via Apple Pay. The net result is that only 14% of US households with credit cards have signed up for Apple Pay, according to Phoenix Marketing International, and less than one fifth of people who can use the system do so habitually, according to a report in the Financial Times, which cited banking sources.

Usage will rise, however, as Apple persuades more consumers to buy its latest iPhones and more merchants add their loyalty cards to the new Apple Wallet (formerly Apple Passbook), while installing point of sale terminals that can support contactless transactions. In STL Partners’ view, Apple Wallet, which is designed to hold digital representations of payment cards, loyalty cards, tickets and boarding passes, does address a genuine consumer need by providing a convenient way to organise all this collateral (see Figure 1).

But Apple Wallet isn’t a panacea for merchants. As iPhones will only ever be used by a fraction of a merchant’s customer base, they may prefer to rely on their own loyalty apps, rather than Apple Wallet. John Fisher, Costa’s head of mobile and loyalty, told Macworld that while the company believed Apple Pay would make the in-store experience “even more seamless,” Costa already has its own mobile loyalty app, which customers can scan at the till. “There is probably a role for mobile payments to be integrated into that in the future and we’re looking at that,” Fisher said. “The product that Apple has will really help to provide a simple solution around in-app payments and payments in store. That’s potentially where the market is going to head, so we need to have all options on the table.”

Figure 1: The new Apple Wallet can hold a wide range of digital commerce collateral

Source: Apple.com

Merchants are also seeking ways to improve the online shopping experience for people using mobile phones. The proportion of potential shoppers who complete an online transaction on a mobile device remains much lower than on a PC. That suggests many consumers still find it cumbersome to make a purchase on a mobile phone and/or are worried about security and/or privacy.

PayPal, which remains one of the leading digital wallets, continues to experiment with various mobile offerings. For example, its new One Touch service enables a consumer to register a device so that they don’t need to enter their login details when paying with PayPal. The service seeks to emulate Amazon’s famous one click purchasing experience, but both companies run the risk that consumers’ devices fall into the wrong hands and are used to make fraudulent purchases.

At the same time, the leading social networks are making a major push to merge online communications and commerce. For example, Facebook now offers advertisers the opportunity to add a buy button to an ad, which enables the user to purchase the relevant item without leaving Facebook. Google is also experimenting with this kind of functionality, enabling developers to place buy buttons in Android apps and in adverts, Meanwhile Amazon continues to push into the mobile commerce market through its keenly-priced Kindle Fire tablet range and its physical Dash Buttons (see Figure 2), which enable people to quickly purchase specific items, such as detergent or pet food.

Figure 2: Amazon Dash button supports one-touch ordering of a specific product

Source: Amazon.com

The US is acting as a test-bed for many of these new propositions, creating a fiercely competitive and cut-throat environment, from which telcos are increasingly excluded. US mobile operators have abandoned their elaborate and expensive SoftCard mobile commerce joint venture after it failed to gain significant traction. They are now providing support for third party solutions, such as Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

As the major US Internet players wrestle over the mobile commerce space, developing their own distinctive propositions and largely eschewing interoperability, consumers have to use different apps in different ecosystems. You can’t use Apple Pay to buy goods from Amazon, while iTunes doesn’t accept PayPal.

Exacerbating this fragmentation, some major merchants are still determined to sidestep the big Internet ecosystems altogether. Despite the widespread support for Apple Pay from US banks, many major US merchants, including Wal-Mart, Sears and CVS Pharmacy, continue to promote their own CurrentC solution, which was developed by the merchant consortium MCX. JPMorgan Chase is planning to launch a wallet, Chase Pay, which can be used in conjunction with the MCX solution. If anything, the fragmentation is getting greater, rather than less.

In summary, many incompatible and partial digital identification/authentication/payment solutions have been developed and deployed. Many of these solutions only work on one platform and are unable to share information with other solutions, resulting in frustration and confusion for consumers and digital service providers alike. As a result, service providers lack economies of scale, damaging the business case for more marginal digital services.

Telcos could make a big difference

One of the fundamental premises of the STL Partners’ Strategy Report, published in 2013, still holds true: Individuals are still looking for a simple and secure way to store the array of collateral required to interact with an increasingly digital world. As organisations embrace electronic authentication, identification and payment solutions, people are increasingly going to need digital versions of professional ID cards, house keys, car keys, payment cards, loyalty cards, membership cards, tickets, coupons, entitlements and receipts.

Telcos can help address that need. But instead of exacerbating the existing fragmentation by developing proprietary wallets that aren’t interoperable, telcos need to consider how they can play an enabling role for the wider ecosystem.

Although there are opportunities for telcos to fill gaps in the financial services market in developing countries, the role of telcos in developed markets needs to be more akin to that of a trusted infrastructure provider (as they are with the Internet), that provides a consistent digital framework for the existing financial services industry.

Some telcos are edging in this direction, while others continue to develop relatively rigid digital commerce and authentication propositions. The next section outlines some of these initiatives and gives STL Partners’ key takeaways in each case.

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos’ role in digital commerce
  • Telcos’ track record in digital commerce
  • Vodafone Wallet
  • Deutsche Telekom’s MyWallet
  • KDDI’s Digital Commerce suite
  • GSMA Mobile Connect
  • The case for a consistent user-centric framework
  • Core vision – put consumers first
  • Core principles – cross-platform, open and interoperable
  • Are telcos up to the task?
  • How could a framework be standardised?
  • How would telcos make money?
  • Would the wider ecosystem embrace a telco-led framework?
  • Conclusions and next steps

 

  • A flexible framework supporting different transmission and security tech
  • Figure 1: The new Apple Wallet can hold a wide range of digital commerce collateral
  • Figure 2: Amazon Dash button supports one-touch ordering of a specific product
  • Figure 3: The self-reinforcing flywheel Vodafone is aiming for
  • Figure 4: In the UK, Vodafone Wallet requires consumers to top up a prepaid card
  • Figure 5: Vodafone Wallet has polarised opinion on Google Play.
  • Figure 6: Deutsche Telekom’s MyWallet app has drawn few reviews
  • Figure 8: The ARPA of KDDI’s digital commerce business is on the rise
  • Figure 9: au Smart Pass subs are rising helping to lift ARPA
  • Figure 10: KDDI’s revenues and profits from value added services grow steadily
  • Figure 11: Mobile Connect Roadmap – Authentication, Identity and Attributes
  • Figure 12: The GSMA’s is looking to integrate Mobile Connect with mobile payments
  • Figure 13: The transactional services supported by the eZ Cash wallet
  • Figure 14: Axiata’s API Gateway supports a range of commerce and other services
  • Figure 15: Axiata’s vision of a consistent global platform for telco enablers
  • Figure 16: Apple Wallet is a repository for a growing array of digital collateral
  • Figure 17: Telekom Labs Has developed a prototype cross-platform wallet in HMTL5
  • Figure 18: Each piece of collateral could be represented by a digital card
  • Figure 19: A flexible framework supporting different transmission and security tech
  • Figure 20: Telekom Labs sees telcos as more trusted than other intermediaries

Fast-Tracking Operator Plans to Win in the $5bn Location Insights Market

If you don’t subscribe to our research yet, you can download the free report as part of our sample report series.

Preface

Subscriber location information is a much-heralded asset of the telecoms operator. Operators have generally understood the importance of this asset but have typically struggled to monetize their position. Some operators have used location information to enable third party services whilst others have attempted to address the opportunity more holistically, with mixed success.

This report updates and expands on a previous STL Partners study: “Making Money from Location Insights” (2013). It outlines how to address the potential opportunity around Location Services. It draws on interviews conducted amongst key stakeholders within the emerging ecosystem, supplemented by STL Partners’ research and analysis, with the objective of determining how operators can release the value from their unique position in the location value chain.

This report focuses on what we have defined as Location Insight Services. The report argues that operators should first seek to offer Location Insight Services before evolving to cover Location Based Services. This strategic approach allows operators to better understand their data and to build location services for enterprise customers rather than starting with consumer-orientated location services that require additional capabilities. This approach provides the most upside with the least associated risk, offering the potential for incremental learning.

This report was commissioned and supported by Viavi Solutions (formerly JDSU). The research, analysis and the writing of the report itself were carried out independently by STL Partners. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of STL Partners.

Location Based Services vs. Location Insight Services

In the 2013 report, STL made a clear distinction between different types of location services.

  • Location Based Services (LBS) are geared towards supporting business processes (typically marketing-oriented) that are dependent on the instant availability of real-time or near real-time data about an individually identifiable subscriber. These are provided on the reasonable assumption that knowing an individual’s location enables a company to deliver a service or make an offer that is more relevant, there and then. Typically these services require explicit consent and an interaction with the customer (e.g. push marketing) and therefore require compelling user interfaces and permissions.
  • Additionally there is an opportunity to derive and deliver Location Insight Services (LIS) from connected consumers’ mobile location data. This opportunity does not necessarily require real-time data and where insights are aggregated and anonymized, can safeguard individuals’ privacy. The underlying premise is that identification of repetitive patterns in location activity over time not only enables a much deeper understanding of the consumer in terms of behavior and motivation, but also builds a clearer picture of the visitor profile of the location. Additionally LIS has the potential to provide data that is not available via other routes (e.g. understanding the footfall within a competitor’s store).

Figure 7:  Mapping the Telco Opportunity Landscape

Source: STL Partners

The framework in Figure 7 has been developed by STL Partners specifically with the mobile operator’s perspective in mind. We have split out operator location opportunities along two dimensions:

  • Real-time vs. Non-real-time data acquisition
  • Individual vs. Aggregated data analysis and action

Choosing the Right Strategy

Where are we now?

Most operators understand the potential value of their location asset and have attempted to monetize their data. Some operators have used location to enable 3rd party services whilst others have attempted to address the opportunity more holistically. Both have achieved mixed success for a number of reasons.

Most operators who are attempting to monetize location data have been drawn towards Location Based Services, namely push-marketing and advertising. Whilst some operators have achieved moderate success here (e.g. O2 Priority Moments), most are acting as enablers for other services. They are therefore addressing a limited part of the value chain and subsequently are not realizing significant value from their data. We do not consider those that pursue this strategy to be Location Based Services Providers, rather they are simply enablers.

Similarly a number of operators are addressing Location Insights, albeit with different approaches. Some are partnering with analytics and insight companies (e.g. Telefonica and GfK), others are developing services mostly on their own (e.g. SingTel’s DataSpark), whilst others are simply launching pilots.

In order to maximize the value that operators can secure through Location Services, we believe that operators need to address the whole Location ‘Stack’, not simply enabling new services or providing raw data. STL believe that the best way to do this is to start with Location Insight Services.

Start with Location Insight Services

When considering how to develop and monetize their location assets we recommend that operator’s select to start with LIS. Whilst many operators are already engaged in LBS (e.g. enabling push-marketing) the majority are not actually providing the service but are simply sharing data and enabling a 3rd party service provider.
Starting with LIS has a number of strategic advantages:

  • It’s a big opportunity in its own right
  • Telcos (should) have a data capture/technology advantage for LIS over OTT players
  • LIS provides an opportunity to build & learn incrementally, proving value
  • Privacy risks are reduced (particularly with aggregated data)
  • LIS does not require 100% coverage of the population, unlike a number of LBS use cases
  • LIS can provide internal benefits and can bolster the Go-to-Market strategy for vertical specific offerings

These advantages are explored in more detail further in this report.

 

  • Location, Location, Location
  • The Importance of Information
  • Location Based Services vs. Location Insight Services
  • Choosing the Right Strategy
  • Where are we now?
  • Start with Location Insight Services
  • Improve your LIS offering, transition towards LBS & position yourself as a Trusted Data Provider
  • Location Insights – Marketplace Overview
  • Where is the Opportunity for Location Insight Services?
  • Which Sectors are most addressable?
  • Sizing the Opportunity
  • Why haven’t forecasts developed as quickly as expected?
  • Location Insights potentially worth $5bn globally by 2020
  • Benchmarks
  • Where does the value come from – the Location Insights ‘Stack’
  • Understanding the Technology Options
  • The Technology Options for Location Data Acquisition
  • Technology Advantages for Telcos
  • The Right Degree of Location Precision
  • Other Advantages of Starting with LIS
  • Incremental Learning
  • Addressing the Privacy Question
  • Market Coverage
  • LIS can provide internal benefits and can bolster the Go-to-Market strategy for vertical specific offerings
  • Expanding Beyond Insights
  • Addressing Location Based Services
  • Becoming a Trusted Data Provider
  • Practical Guidance to Launch Location Services
  • Market Strategy
  • Data Management
  • An agile approach, partnering, orchestration and governance
  • Conclusions
  • Appendices
  • Appendix 1: Location Acquisition Technologies in Detail
  • Appendix 2: Opportunity Sizing Methodology
  • Appendix 3: About STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: Location Insight vs. Location Based Services
  • Figure 2: STL Partners’ Analysis of the value of Global Location Insight Services (by 2020)
  • Figure 3: Analysis of location data acquisition technologies suitability for Location Insight Services
  • Figure 4: The Strategy Beyond Location Insights
  • Figure 5: The Explosion of Smartphones (2007-2014)
  • Figure 6: ‘Non-Smart’ Data Insights Become More Important as More ‘Things’ are Connected
  • Figure 7: Mapping the Telco Opportunity Landscape
  • Figure 8: Four opportunity domains for operators
  • Figure 9: Turkcell’s Smart Map Tool
  • Figure 10: TomTom’s Fusion Engine to Analyze Real-Time Traffic Information
  • Figure 11: Tado’s Proximity Based Thermostat
  • Figure 12: Expanding Beyond LIS
  • Figure 13: Location Insights – Market Taxonomy
  • Figure 14: Telefónica Smart Steps Location Analytics Tool
  • Figure 15: Motionlogic’s Location Analytics Tool
  • Figure 16: The value of Global Location Insight Services by industry and sector (by 2020)
  • Figure 17: The Location Insights ‘Stack’
  • Figure 18: How well do different location data acquisition technologies support Location Insight Services needs?
  • Figure 19: Real-Time vs. Near Real-Time Location Information
  • Figure 20: Deveryware’s Dynamic Permissions Tool
  • Figure 21: Become a Trusted Data Provider
  • Figure 22: Analysis of App/OS based real-time location Technology
  • Figure 23: Analysis of App/OS based data stored on device Technology
  • Figure 24: Analysis of Emergency Services Location Technology
  • Figure 25: Analysis of Granular (building level) network based Technology
  • Figure 26: Analysis of Coarse (cell-level) network based Technology
  • Figure 27: Analysis of Indoor Technologies

How BT beat Apple and Google over 5 years

BT Group outperformed Apple and Google

Over the last five years, the share price of BT Group, the UK’s ex-incumbent telecoms operator, has outperformed those of Apple and Google, as well as a raft of other telecoms shares. The following chart shows BT’s share price in red and Apple’s in in blue for comparison.

Figure 1:  BT’s Share Price over 5 Years

Source: www.stockcharts.com

Now of course, over a longer period, Apple and Google have raced way ahead of BT in terms of market capitalisation, with Apple’s capital worth $654bn and Google $429bn USD compared to BT’s £35bn (c$53bn USD).

And, with any such analysis, where you start the comparison matters. Nonetheless, BT’s share price performance during this period has been pretty impressive – and it has delivered dividends too.

The total shareholder returns (capital growth plus all dividends) of shares in BT bought in September 2010 are over 200% despite its revenues going down in the period.

So what has happened at BT, then?

Sound basic financials despite falling revenues

Over this 5 year period, BT’s total revenues fell by 12%. However, in this period BT has also managed to grow EBITDA from £5.9bn to £6.3bn – an impressive margin expansion.   This clearly cannot go on for ever (a company cannot endlessly shrink its way to higher profits) but this has contributed to positive capital markets sentiment.

Figure 2: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11 – 2014/15

[Figure 2]

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

BT pays off its debts

BT has also managed to reduce its debt significantly, from £8.8bn to £5.1bn over this period.

Figure 3: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)

 

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

Margin expansion and debt reduction suggests good financial management but this does not explain the dramatic growth in firm value (market capitalisation plus net debt) from just over £20bn in March 2011 to circa £40bn today (based on a mid-September 2015 share price).

Figure 4: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

  • Introduction: BT’s Share Price Miracle
  • So what has happened at BT, then?
  • Sound basic financials despite falling revenues
  • Paying off its debts
  • BT Sport: a phenomenal halo effect?
  • Will BT Sport continue to shine?
  • Take-Outs from BT’s Success

 

  • Figure 1: BT’s Share Price over 5 Years
  • Figure 2: 5-Year Total Shareholder Returns Vs Revenue Growth for leading telecoms players
  • Figure 3: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11-2014/15
  • Figure 4: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)
  • Figure 5: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years
  • Figure 6: BT Group has improved key market valuation ratios
  • Figure 7: BT ‘broadband and TV’ compared to BT Consumer Division
  • Figure 8: Comparing Firm Values / Revenue Ratios
  • Figure 9: BT Sport’s impact on broadband

Baidu, Xiaomi & DJI: China’s Fast Growing Digital Disruptors

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing analyses China’s leading digital disruptors and their likely impact outside their home country. The report explores whether the global leaders in digital commerce – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – might soon face a serious challenge from a company built in China.

In our previous report, Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors, we analysed China’s two largest digital ecosystems – Alibaba, which shares many similarities with Amazon, and Tencent, which is somewhat similar to Facebook. It explored the intensifying arms race between these two groups in China, their international ambitions and the support they might need from telcos and other digital players.

This executive briefing covers Baidu, China’s answer to Google and the anchor for a third digital ecosystem, and the fast-growing smartphone maker, Xiaomi, which has the potential to build a fourth major ecosystem. It also takes a close look at DJI, the world-leading drone manufacturer, which is well worth watching for its mid-to-long term potential to create another major ecosystem around consumer robotics.

Context: sizing up China’s disruptors

As U.S. companies have demonstrated time and time again, a large and dynamic domestic market can be a springboard to global dominance. Can China’s leading digital disruptors, which also benefit from a large and dynamic domestic market, also become major players on the global stage?

Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, which run China’s leading digital ecosystems, have all developed in a digital economy that has been partially protected by cultural and linguistic characteristics, together with government policies and regulations. As a result, Google, Facebook and Amazon haven’t been able to replicate their global dominance in China. Of the big four global disruptors, only Apple can be said to be have a major presence in China.

Thanks to their strong position in China, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are among the leading Internet companies globally, as measured by market capitalisation (see Figure 2). As China’s economy slows (although it will still grow about 7% this year, according to government figures), many of China’s digital players are putting more focus on international growth. Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors of this report outlined how Alibaba is gaining traction in other major middle income countries, notably Russia, whereas Tencent is trying, with limited success, to expand outside of China

Figure 2:  China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies

Source: Source: Morgan Stanley, Capital IQ, Bloomberg via KPCB

Of the five companies covered in the two parts of this report, search specialist Baidu is the least international – its revenues are almost all generated in China and its services aren’t much used outside its home country. Innovative and fast growing handset maker Xiaomi is still heavily dependent on China, but is seeing strong sales in other developing markets. The most international of the three is DJI, the world’s leading drone maker, which is making major inroads into the U.S. and Western Europe – the heartland of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

As discussed in Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors, international telcos, media companies and banks all have a strategic interest in encouraging more digital competition globally. Today, the big four U.S.-based disruptors dominate the digital economy in North America, Western Europe, Latin America and much of the developing world, limiting the mindshare and market share available to other players.

Many telcos are particularly concerned about Apple’s and Facebook’s ever-strengthening position in digital communications – a core telecoms service. They also fret about Google’s and Amazon’s power in digital commerce and content. On the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, telcos might want to support Xiaomi’s challenge to Apple, while backing Tencent’s efforts to make messaging app WeChat an international service and Alibaba’s growing rivalry with Amazon (both aspects are covered in the previous report).

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Context: sizing up China’s disruptors
  • Baidu – China’s low cost Google
  • Why Baidu is important
  • Baidu’s business models
  • How big an impact will Baidu have outside China?
  • Threats to Baidu
  • Xiaomi – Apple without the margins?
  • Why Xiaomi is important
  • Business model
  • Xiaomi’s likely International impact
  • Threats to Xiaomi
  • DJI – more than a flight of fancy
  • Why DJI is important
  • DJI’s business model
  • Threats to DJI
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • Baidu, Xiaomi and DJI could all build major ecosystems
  • Implications for telcos and other digital players

 

  • Figure 1: Baidu is significantly smaller than Tencent, Alibaba and Facebook
  • Figure 2: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publically-listed Internet companies
  • Figure 3: Baidu is in the world’s top 15 media owners
  • Figure 4: Baidu is one of the world’s leading app developers
  • Figure 5: Baidu’s clean and uncluttered home page resembles that of Google
  • Figure 6: Baidu is beginning to monetise its millions of mobile users
  • Figure 7: IQiyi has broken into the top ten iOS apps worldwide
  • Figure 8: 2014 was a banner year for Baidu’s top line
  • Figure 9: Mobile now generates almost 50% of Baidu’s revenues
  • Figure 10: Baidu says its mobile browser is popular in Indonesia
  • Figure 11: Xiaomi is a rising star in the smartphone market
  • Figure 12: The slimline Mi Note has won plaudits for its design
  • Figure 13: The $15 Mi Band: A lot of technology for not a lot of money
  • Figure 14: One of Ninebot’s products – an electric unicycle
  • Figure 15: Xiaomi is turning its MIUI into a digital commerce platform
  • Figure 16: Xiaomi even has fan sites in markets where its handsets aren’t readily available
  • Figure 17: Drones’ primary job today is aerial photography
  • Figure 18: DJI majors on ease-of-use
  • Figure 18: DJI claims its Inspire One can transmit video pictures over 2km
  • Figure 20: DJI’s Go app delivers a real-time video feed to a smartphone or tablet
  • Figure 21: Baidu’s frugal innovation

Microsoft: Pivoting to a Communications-Centric Business

Introduction: From Monopoly to Disruption

For many years, Microsoft was an iconic monopolist, in much the same way as AT&T had been before divestment. Microsoft’s products were ubiquitous and often innovative, and its profitability enormous. It was familiar, yet frequently scorned as the creator of a dreary monoculture with atrocious security properties. Microsoft’s mission statement could not have been simpler: a computer in every office and in every home. This achieved, though, its critics have often seen it as an organisation in search of an identity, experimenting with mobile, search, maps, hardware and much else without really settling on a new direction.

Going to the numbers, for the last two years, there has been steady erosion of the once phenomenally high margins, although revenue is still steadily rising. Since Q3 2013, revenue at Microsoft grew an average of 3.5% annually, but the decline in margins meant that profits barely grew, with a CAGR of 0.66%. Telcos will be familiar with this kind of stagnation, but telcos would be delighted with Microsoft’s 66% gross margins. Note, that getting into hardware has given Microsoft a typical hardware vendor’s Christmas spike in revenue.

Figure 1:  MS revenue is growing steadily but margin erosion undermines it

Source: Microsoft 10-K, STL Partners

Over the long term, the pattern is clearer, as are the causes. Figure 2 shows Microsoft’s annual revenue and gross margin since the financial year 1995. From 1995 to 2010, gross margins were consistently between 80 and 90 per cent, twice the 45% target HP traditionally defined as “fascinating”. It was good to be king. However, in the financial year 2010, there is a clear inflection point: margins depart from the 80% mark and never return, falling at a 3.45% clip between 2010 and 2015.

The event that triggered this should be no surprise. Microsoft has traditionally been discussed in parentheses with Apple, and Apple’s 2010 was a significant one. It was the first year that Apple began using the A-series processors of its own design, benefiting from the acquisition of PA Semiconductor in 2008. This marked an important strategic shift at Apple from the outsourced, design- and brand-centric business to vertical integration and investment in manufacturing, a strategy associated with Tim Cook’s role as head of the supply chain.

Figure 2: The inflection point in 2010

Source: Microsoft 10-K, STL Partners

The deployment of the A4 chip made possible two major product launches in 2010 – the iPhone 4, which would sell enormously more than any of the previous iPhones, and the iPad, which created an entirely new product category competing directly with the PC. Another Apple product launch that year, which also competed head-on with Microsoft, wasn’t quite as dramatic but was also very significant – the MacBook line began shipping with SSDs rather than hard disks, and the very popular 11” MacBook Air was added as an entry-level option. At the time, the PC industry and hence Microsoft was heavily committed to the Intel-backed netbooks, and the combination of the iPad and the 11” Air essentially destroyed the netbook as a product category.

The problems started in the consumer market, but the industry was beginning to recognise that innovations had begun to take hold in consumer and then diffuse into the enterprise. Further, the enterprise franchise centred on the Microsoft Business division and what was then termed Server & Tools[1] were both threatened by the increasing adoption of Apple products.

Microsoft had to respond, and it did so with a succession of dramatic initiatives. One was to rethink Windows as a tablet- or phone-optimised operating system, in Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. Another was to acquire Nokia’s smartphone business, and to diversify into hardware via the Xbox and Surface projects. And yet a third was to embrace the cloud. Figure 3 shows the results.

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • From Monopoly to Disruption
  • The push into mobile fails…but what about the cloud?
  • Changing Platforms: from Windows to Office
  • The Skype Acquisition: a missed opportunity?
  • Skype for Business and Office 365: the new platform
  • The rise of the consumer cloud
  • Bing may just about be breaking even…but the real story here is consumer cloud
  • Scaling out in the cloud
  • Conclusions: towards a communications-centric Microsoft

 

  • Figure 1: MS revenue is growing steadily but margin erosion undermines it
  • Figure 2: The inflection point in 2010
  • Figure 3: Revenue by product category at Microsoft, last 2 years
  • Figure 4: Cloud and the Enterprise drive profitability at Microsoft
  • Figure 5: Cloud is the driver of growth at Microsoft
  • Figure 6: Internally-developed hardware and cloud services are improving their margins
  • Figure 7: The Nokia Devices & Services business slides into loss
  • Figure 8: In 2011, an unifying API appeared critical for Skype’s future within Microsoft
  • Figure 9: Cloud is now over $8bn a year in revenue
  • Figure 10: Spot the deliberate mistake. No mention of Bing’s profitability or otherwise
  • Figure 11: Bing was a money pit for years, but may have begun to improve
  • Figure 12: The app store and consumer cloud businesses are performing superbly

Strategic Overview: Time for a New Telco 2.0 Vision

Introduction

Telecoms operators worldwide are pursuing strategies to achieve four general goals:

  • Core Competitiveness – to enhance and grow their success in established telecoms markets
  • Achieving Transformation – to lower costs and enable greater agility in their core business
  • Implementing Innovation – to employ key innovations in the core business and grow new types of revenues
  • Disruption – addressing disruptive threats and opportunities arising from and in adjacent markets and industries

The following is a summary of highlights of our recent analysis and an outline of further research planned against each of these themes. It is intended to provide readers with a summary, starting point and guide to our research as they address the themes, and includes a preamble for our latest vision of ‘Telco 2.0’ – the shape of future telcos.

Theme #1: Core Competitiveness – Telecoms Markets and Competitive Strategies

Background

STL Partners has covered the changing context of global telecoms markets for the last nine years. The broad story is that voice and messaging revenues are in decline, and that while data revenues are generally growing, they aren’t growing fast enough to replace the lost revenues.

Figure 1 – The pressure to defend existing telecoms revenues and build new ones

Source: STL Partners

Core Competitiveness: Research Highlights

In addition to slowing the decline in voice and messaging, operators need the best strategies to grow data, as well as new approaches to manage costs and deliver new value (covered in the subsequent sections of this paper). On this front:

Next Steps on Core Competitiveness

STL Partners is planning analysis including:

  • The impact of digital customer experience on customer behaviours and value creation
  • What strategies have demonstrably added value to telecoms operators?

Theme #2: Achieving Transformation – Re-organising the Core and Building Innovative Businesses

Background

Following on from our work on the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index, benchmarking the strategies of five major operators, in 2015 STL Partners has researched ‘Agility’, a key objective of change in the core business, and how to build innovative new businesses.

Figure 2 – The Telco 2.0 Agility Framework

Source: STL Partners, Agility Report

Transformation: Research Highlights

Next Steps on Telco 2.0 Transformation

STL Partners is planning analysis including:

  • What does ‘Telco 2.0’ mean today – what should a future telco look like?
  • How do recent developments in the application of new business models, technology, and organisational change unlock faster transition to new Telco 2.0 businesses?

Theme #3: Implementing Innovation in the Core – IoT, 5G and the Cloud, NFV and Future Networks

Background

IoT (the Internet of Things), 5G, and NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) are three acronyms that at first glance seem unrelated. Yet underlying all three is that the boundaries between IT and network technologies in telecoms are starting to blur at an increasing rate. This is a highly significant trend in the industry.

Figure 3 – Improvements in the performance of generic hardware and software are starting to blur the IT/Network boundary

Source: Intel, STL Partners NFV Report

Core Innovation: Research Highlights

All in all, we see this underlying change as highly significant in terms of the structure and strategy of the telecoms industry. It will both more effectively enable new business models for telcos, enable new competition for them, and disrupt existing industry structures among telcos. It will also disrupt technology and software players partnering with telcos. It is therefore a critical strategic need to understand how this is likely to play out, and the strategies most likely to lead to success in this new world.

Next Steps on IoT, Cloud and the Future of the Network

STL Partners is planning analysis including:

  • The role of Cellular networks in the IoT
  • How the network revolution will unlock business model change
  • The impact of new software-based approaches on future of telecoms 

Theme #4: Disruption – Addressing Adjacent Threats and Opportunities

Background

Regular readers of our research are likely to be familiar with our original and market leading analysis of the internet players and major disruptors of the telecoms market, such as Dealing with the Disruptors: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (2011) and our ongoing Dealing With Disruption in-depth research stream.

Research Highlights: Disruption

Although our article on the implications of Google’s MVNO attracted significant interest among our readers, disruption is no longer perceived as solely a threat to telcos, as evidenced by interest in analysis on:

Next Steps on Disruption

STL Partners is planning analysis including:

  • Further detailed case studies on leading telcos acting as disruptors, including new success stories in advertising and location services
  • China’s other disruptors (e.g.s Baidu, Xiaomi) and rising stars
  • Ongoing analysis of the strategies of Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook

Conclusion: time for a new ‘Telco 2.0’ vision

STL Partners believes that three major practical outcomes resulting from progress across these themes are now combining to create a unique opportunity for telcos to evolve and take advantage of new markets.

New business models are starting to deliver

It is increasingly clear which new business models can be successful for telcos, and the pressure on the existing business model is no longer theoretical, it is a matter of substantial reality for most if not all telcos. The most advanced telcos have been trying out new models and some winning examples are emerging in the areas of content, enterprise ICT and B2B2C enablers.

A new virtualised technological platform will enable new ways of working

The emergence of SDN and NFV is creating a technological platform that is much more capable of delivering and supporting the agility required to deliver and sustain new businesses and new network propositions at speed than the traditional network/IT split. This will radically change both the operator and vendor industry landscape over the next few years.

In addition, and combined with the likely shape of 5G as a technology to further reduce mobile network latency, the future technological ‘shape’ of telcos looks like a highly distributed ICT infrastructure placing huge and computing resources very close to most customers. This will create many different business opportunities for telcos and not least in the delivery of content, enterprise ICT, and digital commerce.

It is becoming clearer how to organise and manage the change

The management and organisational techniques to create and sustain digital businesses are no longer a complete mystery, even though they are still evolving. And there is an increasing body, if not yet a ‘critical mass’, of people in the telecoms industry willing and able to embrace these approaches.

Time for a new ‘Telco 2.0’ vision

We believe that telcos (and their partners) that harness these insights will be best placed to maximise value creation in the future, and our research and consulting services are designed to help telecoms industry clients achieve success faster and more effectively in this future. To this end, we will shortly be setting out a new vision for ‘Telco 2.0’ – what a telecoms operator should be to create maximum value in the future, and how to get there.

Alibaba & Tencent: China’s Digital Disruptors (Part 1)

Introduction

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing is the first part of a two part report analysing China’s leading digital disruptors and their likely impact outside their home country. The report explores whether the global leaders in digital commerce – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – might soon face a serious challenge from a company built in China.

Part 1 analyses China’s two largest digital ecosystems – Alibaba, which shares many similarities with Amazon, and Tencent, which is somewhat similar to Facebook. This executive briefing considers the intensifying arms race between these two groups in China, their international ambitions and the support they might need from telcos and other digital players.

Both Alibaba and Tencent are potential competitors for telcos in some markets and potential partners in others. For example, like Amazon, Alibaba has a fast growing cloud computing business. (STL recently analysed why Amazon Web Services is so much more successful than many telcos’ cloud offerings, see: Amazon Web Services: Colossal, but Invincible?).

Like Facebook, Tencent has become a leading provider of digital communications in direct competition with telcos’ voice and messaging services. STL explored how telcos could respond to the rise and rise of Facebook in our recent report: Facebook: Telcos’ New Best Friend?

Part 2 of our report on China’s digital disruptors will cover Baidu, China’s answer to Google and the anchor for a third digital ecosystem, and the fast-growing smartphone maker, Xiaomi, which has the potential to build a fourth major ecosystem. Part 2 will also take a close look at DJI, the drone manufacturer, which is well worth watching for its mid-to-long term potential to create another major ecosystem.

Sizing up China’s disruptors

When it comes to disruption, China is a special case. Offering an enormous domestic market largely insulated by regulation, this vast country is proving to be fertile ground for Internet companies that may ultimately be able to mount a credible challenge to the big four globally – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

These four U.S.-based disruptors have used the scale and talent available in their home market to become leading digital commerce players globally, limiting the mindshare and market share available to other players. Moreover, Apple and Facebook, in particular, are carving out a strong position in digital communications, challenging telcos’ traditional dominance of this sector.

Greater competition among the Internet ecosystems would be in the strategic interests of many telcos, media companies and banks, as they seek to shore up their revenues and relevance. To that end, they could selectively encourage digital commerce and content companies that have gained sufficient scale in China to go global and compete with the U.S. giants.

In an ideal world, there might be a dozen or so major Internet ecosystems competing for a share of the worldwide digital commerce market. That would put individual telcos and other specialist players in the digital ecosystem, such as banks and media companies, in a stronger negotiating position, potentially enabling them to capture more of the value being created in the fast growing digital economy. For example, if Tencent were to mount a serious challenge to Facebook, telcos could potentially earn a commission for promoting one service over the other. Telcos could preload Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service or Tencent’s WeChat on the handsets they distribute or they might zero-rate access (not charge for data traffic) to either service in their markets.

Similarly, if Baidu could build effective international search and content services in competition with Google, the latter may have to pay higher commission to companies that supply it with traffic. If Google faced more competition in the digital advertising market, media companies’ sites may have to pay less commission to advertising brokers. In the smartphone market, if Xiaomi were to weaken Apple’s grip on the high-end, telcos’ might be able to negotiate better margins for distributing Apple’s handsets or enabling iPhone users to temporarily subscribe to their networks when travelling abroad.

Greater incentives to expand outside China

China’s economy is on course to grow about 7% this year, according to government figures, down from the double-digit growth at the turn of the decade. As a result, its leading disruptors are increasingly treading on each other’s toes in China and have a greater incentive to expand internationally. Although the obvious move for China’s domestic Internet companies it to initially target Greater China, nearby Asian markets and the Chinese diaspora, some have much broader ambitions. Alibaba, in particular, has significant traction in other major middle income countries, notably Russia. And the world’s leading drone maker DJI is making major inroads into the U.S. and Western Europe – the heartland of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Today, there are three major Internet ecosystems in China, headed by Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu respectively. Globally, these three players are in the top ten public Internet companies in terms of market capitalisation (see Figure 1). Moreover, Tencent has forged an alliance with JD.com, the fourth largest publicly-listed Chinese Internet company.

The first part of this report covers Alibaba and Tencent, asking whether either company is strong enough to pose a serious threat to Amazon, Facebook or Google on the global stage.

Figure 1: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies

Source: Morgan Stanley, Capital IQ, Bloomberg via KPCB

Alibaba – digital commerce behemoth

Whereas most consumers in Western Europe and North America have heard of Amazon.com, many might associate Alibaba with folklore, rather than digital commerce. Yet Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. claims to be the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company in terms of gross merchandise volume (the value in US dollars of the products and services sold through its marketplaces). Although it is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the Alibaba Group’s principal executive offices are in Hangzhou in China.

Founded in 1999 by its charismatic, combative and somewhat unpredictable executive chairman Jack Ma, Alibaba undertook the world’s largest initial public offering in September 2014. It raised USD 25 billion, which it has used to fund an ongoing acquisition spree.

Why Alibaba is important

With a market capitalisation comparable to that of Amazon and Facebook, investors clearly believe Alibaba is set to be a major player in the global economy. That belief is fuelled by the fact that Alibaba:

  • Runs several world-leading digital marketplaces
  • Is growing fast at home and abroad
  • Is assembling a major digital entertainment portfolio
  • Has acquired dozens of promising Internet companies
  • Is affiliated with one of China’s leading online payment services

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Sizing up China’s disruptors
  • Alibaba – digital commerce behemoth
  • Why Alibaba is important
  • Alibaba’s business models
  • Likely impact outside China
  • Threats facing Alibaba
  • Tencent – a playbook for Facebook?
  • Why Tencent is important
  • Tencent’s business models
  • Tencent’s likely impact outside China
  • Threats to Tencent
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • Alibaba and Tencent are very strong companies…
  • … but they both need strategic partners
  • Implications for telcos
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: China is home to four of the world’s most valuable publicly-listed Internet companies
  • Figure 2: Alibaba’s six major digital marketplaces
  • Figure 3: Alibaba has seen heady growth this decade
  • Figure 4: One of Alibaba’s recent investments was in MomentCam
  • Figure 5: Alipay helps Chinese consumers buy from overseas merchants
  • Figure 6: AliExpress sells a wide range of Chinese goods to the world
  • Figure 7: Alibaba’s UC Browser is widely used on Android smartphones
  • Figure 8: Comparing Alibaba and Amazon R&D over time
  • Figure 9: Alibaba’s mobile sales are rising rapidly
  • Figure 10: Almost half of Alibaba’s revenues are now generated by mobile services
  • Figure 11: Alibaba’s overall monetisation rate is slipping
  • Figure 12: Tencent runs three of the top five OTT communications services
  • Figure 13: Tencent claims leadership in digital content in China
  • Figure 14: Tencent sometimes leads Facebook
  • Figure 15: Tencent’s investment and partnership strategy
  • Figure 16: Tencent’s five years of fast growth
  • Figure 17: Tencent remains heavily reliant on online gaming revenues
  • Figure 18: Some of the use cases targeted by Tencent’s online payment portfolio
  • Figure 19: Tencent’s Red Envelope promotion was hugely successful
  • Figure 20: Both Alibaba and Tencent have seen strong growth in net income

Telco-Driven Disruption: What NTT DOCOMO, KT and Globe got right

Preface

The latest report in STL’s new Dealing with Disruption in Communications, Content and Commerce stream, this executive briefing is the second in a two-part series exploring the role of telcos in disrupting the digital economy. Across the two parts, STL has analysed a variety of disruptive moves by telcos, some long-standing and well established, others relatively new.

Part 2 builds on the analysis in Part 1, which considered telcos’ attempts to reinvent digital commerce in South Korea and Japan, the startling success of mobile money services in east Africa, BT’s huge outlay on sports content, AT&T’s multi-faceted smart home platform, Deutsche Telekom’s investments in online marketplaces and Orange’s innovative Libon communications service.

Part 2 takes a close look at NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s leading mobile operator, which has built up a major revenue stream from new businesses. Many of these new businesses are focused on enabling what DOCOMO refers to as a Smart Life. Revenues from its Smart Life suite of businesses, which provide consumers with advice, information, security, cloud storage and other lifestyle services, rose 22% to 421 billion yen (US$3.5 billion) in the year ending March 2015.

Part 2 also considers how South Korea’s incumbent telco KT used its high-speed broadband infrastructure to disrupt, but ultimately strengthen, its media business, which delivers IPTV to approaching six million households. This report also examines how Globe Telecom has carved out a significant position in the Philippines’ financial services market by enabling people to send each other money using text messages over a decade of patient experimentation. It also explains why the leading U.K. and U.S. mobile operators have struggled to disrupt the digital commerce market with their Weve and Softcard joint ventures.

Finally, Part 2 considers U.S. telco Verizon’s major push into cloud services, after spending US$1.4 billion to acquire specialist Terremark in 2011.

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

Note, this report is not exhaustive. The examples it covers are intended to be representative. Some of these companies and their strategies are covered in other STL Partners reports, including:

Introduction: Telcos Can and do disrupt

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

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

Although established telcos have generally been cautious about pursuing disruption, several have created entirely new value propositions, effectively disrupting either their core business or adjacent industry sectors. In some cases, disruptive moves by telcos have primarily been defensive in that their main objective is to hang on to customers in their core business. In other cases, telcos have gone on the offensive, moving into new markets in search of new revenues. Figure 1 classifies various disruptive moves by telcos. Those in white were covered in Part 1 of this report, those in grey are covered in this report, Part 2.

Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos

Source: STL Partners

Offensive, major financial impact category

A classic disruptive play is to use existing assets and customer relationships to move into an adjacent market, open up a new revenue stream and build a major business. This is what Apple did with the iPhone and what Amazon did with cloud services. Several telcos have also followed this playbook. This section looks at two examples – NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life services and Globe Telecom’s GCash – and what other companies in the digital economy can learn from these relatively successful moves. Unlike many disruptive moves by telcos, the two businesses covered in this section have had a significant impact in the targeted market. They have also moved the needle for their parent’s telcos and given their investors greater confidence in their ability to innovate.

NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life proposition

Japan’s telecoms market was one of the first in the world to go ex-growth and its telcos have been searching for new sources of revenue for the best part of a decade. The market leader, NTT DOCOMO, has also been hit by an aggressive campaign by the third largest player, Softbank, to win market share. DOCOMO has seen its revenues from telecoms services decline every year since 2006, giving its efforts to expand into adjacent markets, such as entertainment, commerce and financial services, a real sense of urgency. In particular, DOCOMO has tried hard to get closer to consumers by developing a sophisticated and multi-faceted “smart life” proposition.

Strategy

Rather than focusing simply on providing connectivity and fading into the background, DOCOMO is trying to maintain a close relationship with Japanese consumers. Its strategy is centred on using the data collected by its network to anticipate customers’ needs and provide them with tailored and timely propositions. In November 2011, DOCOMO set out a medium-term strategy (for the years up to and including 2015) called Shaping a smart life, which it positioned it as an interim step to realising its longer-term, corporate vision for 2020: Pursuing smart innovation: HEART (see Figure 2). This report looks, in particular, at the ‘T’ in the Heart strategy – DOCOMO’s bid to win consumers’ trust and clearly differentiate itself from other providers of digital services.

One of the central tenets of DOCOMO’s strategy is that individuals want the support of a “personal life agent” – an automated personal assistant that can make useful suggestions and recommendations. DOCOMO envisaged that this assistant would use the information collected by smartphones and wearable devices to perform various tasks, including making recommendations and even automatic ticket reservations.

In other words, DOCOMO was one of the first companies in the world to anticipate the market for personal digital assistants, which is now a key arena in the ongoing battle between Google, Apple and Microsoft, which have launched Google Now, Siri and Cortana respectively.

DOCOMO originally positioned its smart life proposition as part of a broader range of cloud services that would enable it to generate new sources of value. Back in 2011, DOCOMO pledged to create:

  • A personal cloud – a platform underpinning a wide range of services for consumers.
  • A business cloud – a solutions platform for the provision of new business styles
  • A network cloud – a platform that adds value through sophisticated information and communication processing performed on the network.

Figure 2:  The smart life strategy NTT DOCOMO set out in 2011

Source: NTT DOCOMO, Medium-Term Vision, November 2011

Implementation

DOCOMO has set about strengthening and expanding its existing digital commerce business to build closer relationships with both consumers and the third party businesses supplying the services and content consumers want. To that end, Japan’s largest telco set itself goals to expand the number of content providers supporting its dmenu portal (a long-standing portal offering original content) from 700 in March 2012 to 3,000 in March 2016, while boosting the number of monthly users of its dmarket, which provides a broader range of digital content, to 20 million by March 2016, up from 1.5 million in March 2012. To that end, DOCOMO has expanded dmarket into new areas, such as fashion, travel and even food deliveries, effectively transforming dmarket in an e-commerce portal, as well as a content portal (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: DOCOMO has significantly expanded the services offered by dmarket

Source: NTT DOCOMO investor presentation, April 2014

Beyond dmarket, DOCOMO has also deployed a raft of other value added services, encompassing navigation, local information, NFC-based wallet and information services, credit card and carrier-billing-based payments, translation apps, health and wellness services, insurance and even pet and child tracking. DOCOMO also provides an i-concier service, which is designed to help people with daily organisation, as well as delivering offers and information from brands the user is interested in. For example, i-concier can be configured to give you a reminder when you arrive in a specific location. Confusingly, DOCOMO has also rolled out a separate service, called Shabette-Concier, which enables customers to talk Siri-style to “their smartphone about things you want to know or do, and your smartphone will display the best answers to your queries on the screen.” In other words, DOCOMO is offering many similar services and functionality to the major Internet players, such as Apple and Google.

DOCOMO was also quick to realise the importance of enabling individuals to use a single ID across multiple devices, while positioning the smartphone as an authentication platform in everyday life in both the physical world and online world. This kind of persistent identification across multiple devices and networks will help DOCOMO collect the information it needs to make personalised recommendations. At the same time, various DOCOMO services encourage consumers to volunteer information about themselves. DOCOMO also provides secure storage of personal data, an important step towards a personal cloud service (see Figure 4) along the lines of that outlined by STL Partners in the report: Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players. While this approach is broadly similar to that pursued by the major Internet companies, DOCOMO’s marketing places a lot of emphasis on safety, security and peace of mind, implying it is different from the more ‘cavalier’ Internet companies – Google and Facebook’s business models are predicated on encouraging consumers to share personal information, so they tend not to highlight the need for safe and secure storage for that information.

 Figure 4: DOCOMO’s personal cloud aims to offer consumers secure data storage, persistent ID and personalised recommendations

Source: NTT DOCOMO, Medium-Term Vision, November 2011

Next section: DOCOMO Results Analysis…

 

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Telcos can and do disrupt
  • Offensive, major financial impact
  • NTT DOCOMO’s Smart Life proposition
  • Globe Telecom’s GCash
  • Offensive, limited financial impact
  • Verizon Cloud
  • The Weve joint venture
  • The Softcard joint venture
  • Defensive, major financial impact
  • KT’s media business
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Representative examples of disruptive plays driven by telcos
  • Figure 2: The smart life strategy NTT DOCOMO set out in 2011
  • Figure 3: DOCOMO has significantly expanded the services offered by dmarket
  • Figure 4: DOCOMO’s personal cloud aims to offer consumers secure data storage, persistent ID and personalised recommendations
  • Figure 5: The Smart Life businesses are growing, but not quite fast enough yet
  • Figure 6: DOCOMO hopes its Smart Life business will lift group profits this year
  • Figure 7: The Smart Life businesses now generate 15% of DOCOMO’s ARPU
  • Figure 8: In 2011 DOCOMO saw digital commerce and content as key opportunities
  • Figure 9: The value of transactions through the dmarket has grown rapidly
  • Figure 10: Subscriber growth at dmarket stalled in the first half of 2014
  • Figure 11: TV-on-demand is the most popular of the dmarket services
  • Figure 12: NTT DOCOMO is putting more emphasis on providing enablers
  • Figure 13: DOCOMO’s confusing portfolio of money services
  • Figure 14: The GCash App has improved its user interface
  • Figure 15: GCash appears to be narrowly ahead of rival services
  • Figure 16: Facebook leads the OTT communications market in the Philippines
  • Figure 17: Verizon’s Global Enterprise revenues continue to fall
  • Figure 18: Weve originally planned to used transactional data to improve marketing
  • Figure 19: The Isis Wallet could be used to store and browse offers
  • Figure 20: KT is successfully managing the transition to IPTV
  • Figure 21: KT’s media revenue has climbed to 6% of total revenues

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

 

Winning Strategies: Differentiated Mobile Data Services

Introduction

Verizon’s performance in the US

Our work on the US cellular market – for example, in the Disruptive Strategy: “Uncarrier” T-Mobile vs VZW, AT&T, and Free.fr  and Free-T-Mobile: Disruptive Revolution or a Bridge Too Far?  Executive Briefings – has identified that US carrier strategies are diverging. The signature of a price-disruption event we identified with regard to France was that industry-wide ARPU was falling, subscriber growth was unexpectedly strong (amounting to a substantial increase in penetration), and there was a shakeout of minor operators and MVNOs.

Although there are strong signs of a price war – for example, falling ARPU industry-wide, resumed subscriber growth, minor operators exiting, and subscriber-acquisition initiatives such as those at T-Mobile USA, worth as much as $400-600 in handset subsidy and service credit – it seems that Verizon Wireless is succeeding while staying out of the mire, while T-Mobile, Sprint, and minor operators are plunged into it, and AT&T may be going that way too. Figure 1 shows monthly ARPU, converted to Euros for comparison purposes.

Figure 1: Strategic divergence in the US

Figure 1 Strategic Divergence in the US
Source: STL Partners, themobileworld.com

We can also look at this in terms of subscribers and in terms of profitability, bringing in the cost side. The following chart, Figure 2, plots margins against subscriber growth, with the bubbles set proportional to ARPU. The base year 2011 is set to 100 and the axes are set to the average values. We’ve named the four quadrants that result appropriately.

Figure 2: Four carriers, four fates

Figure 2 Four carriers four fate
Source: STL Partners

Clearly, you’d want to be in the top-right, top-performer quadrant, showing subscriber growth and growing profitability. Ideally, you’d also want to be growing ARPU. Verizon Wireless is achieving all three, moving steadily north-west and climbing the ARPU curve.

At the same time, AT&T is gradually being drawn into the price war, getting closer to the lower-right “volume first” quadrant. Deep within that one, we find T-Mobile, which slid from a defensive crouch in the upper-left into the hopeless lower-left zone and then escaped via its price-slashing strategy. (Note that the last lot of T-Mobile USA results were artificially improved by a one-off spectrum swap.) And Sprint is thrashing around, losing profitability and going nowhere fast.

The usual description for VZW’s success is “network differentiation”. They’re just better than the rest, and as a result they’re reaping the benefits. (ABI, for example, reckons that they’re the world’s second most profitable operator on a per-subscriber basis  and the world’s most profitable in absolute terms.) We can restate this in economic terms, saying that they are the most efficient producer of mobile service capacity. This productive capacity can be used either to cut prices and gain share, or to increase quality (for example, data rates, geographic coverage, and voice mean-opinion score) at higher prices. This leads us to an important conclusion: network differentiation is primarily a cost concept, not a price concept.

If there are technical or operational choices that make network differentiation possible, they can be deployed anywhere. It’s also possible, though, that VZW is benefiting from structural factors, perhaps its ex-incumbent status, or its strong position in the market for backbone and backhaul fibre, or perhaps just its scale (although in that case, why is AT&T doing so much worse?). And another possibility often mooted is that the US is somehow a better kind of mobile market. Less competitive (although this doesn’t necessarily show up in metrics like the Herfindahl index of concentration), supposedly less regulated, and undoubtedly more profitable, it’s often held up by European operators as an example. Give us the terms, they argue, and we will catch up to the US in LTE deployment.

As a result, it is often argued in lobbying circles that European markets are “too competitive” or in need of “market repair”, and therefore, the argument runs, the regulator ought to turn a blind eye to more consolidation or at least accept a hollowing out of national operating companies. More formally, the prices (i.e. ARPUs) prevailing do not provide a sufficient margin over operators’ fixed costs to fund discretionary investment. If this was true, we would expect to find little scope for successful differentiation in Europe.

Further, if the “incumbent advantage” story was true of VZW over and above the strategic moves that it has made, we might expect to find that ex-incumbent, converged operators were pulling into the lead across Europe, benefiting from their wealth of access and backhaul assets. In this note, we will try to test these statements, and then assess what the answer might be.

How do European Operators compare?

We selected a clutch of European mobile operators and applied the same screen to identify what might be happening. In doing so we chose to review the UK, German, French, Swedish, and Italian markets jointly with the US, in an effort to avoid a purely European crisis-driven comparison.

Figure 3: Applying the screen to European carriers

Figure 3 Applying the screen to European carriers

Source: STL Partners

Our first observation is that the difference between European and American carriers has been more about subscriber growth than about profitability. The axes are set to the same values as in Figure 2, and the data points are concentrated to their left (showing less subscriber growth in Europe) not below them (less profitability growth).

Our second observation is that yes, there certainly are operators who are delivering differentiated performance in the EU. But they’re not the ones you might expect. Although the big converged incumbents, like T-Mobile Germany, have strong margins, they’re not increasing them and on the whole their performance is average only. Nor is scale a panacea, which brings us to our next observation.

Our third observation is that something is visible at this level that isn’t in the US: major opcos that are shrinking. Vodafone, not a company that is short of scale, gets no fewer than three of its OpCos into the lower-left quadrant. We might say that Vodafone Italy was bound to suffer in the context of the Italian macro-economy, as was TIM, but Vodafone UK is in there, and Vodafone Germany is moving steadily further left and down.

And our fourth observation is the opposite, significant growth. Hutchison OpCo 3UK shows strong performance growth, despite being a fourth operator with no fixed assets and starting with LTE after first-mover EE. Their sibling 3 Sweden is also doing well, while even 3 Italy was climbing up until the last quarter and it remains a valid price warrior. They are joined in the power quadrant with VZW by Telenor’s Swedish OpCo, Telia Mobile, and O2 UK (in the last two cases, only marginally). EE, for its part, has only marginally gained subscribers, but it has strongly increased its margins, and it may yet make it.

But if you want really dramatic success, or if you doubt that Hutchison could do it, what about Free? The answer is that they’re literally off the chart. In Figure 4, we add Free Mobile, but we can only plot the first few quarters. (Interestingly, since then, Free seems to be targeting a mobile EBITDA margin of exactly 9%.)

The distinction here is between the pure-play, T-Mobile-like price warriors in the lower right quadrant, who are sacrificing profitability for growth, and the group we’ve identified, who are improving their margins even as they gain subscribers. This is the signature of significant operational improvement, an operator that can move traffic more efficiently than its competitors. Because the data traffic keeps coming, ever growing at the typical 40% annual clip, it is necessary for any operator to keep improving in order to survive. Therefore, the pace of improvement marks operational excellence, not just improvement.

Figure 4: Free Mobile, a disruptive force that’s literally off the charts

Figure 4 Free Mobile a disruptive force thats literally off the charts

Source: STL Partners

We can also look at this at the level of the major multinational groups. Again, Free’s very success presents a problem to clarity in this analysis – even as part of a virtual group of independents, the ‘Indies’ in Figure 5, it’s difficult to visualise. T-Mobile USA’s savage price cutting, though, gets averaged out and the inclusion of EE boosts the result for Orange and DTAG. It also becomes apparent that the “market repair” story has a problem in that there isn’t a major group committed to hard discounting. But Hutchison, Telenor, and Free’s excellence, and Vodafone’s pain, stand out.

Figure 5: The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals

Figure 5 The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report we analyse why and how these operators (3UK, Telenor Sweden and Free Mobile) are managing to achieve such differentiated performance, identify the common themes in their strategic approaches and the lessons from comparison to their peers, and the important wider consequences for the market.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Applying the Screen to European Mobile
  • Case study 1: Vodafone vs. 3UK
  • 3UK has substantially more spectrum per subscriber than Vodafone
  • 3UK has much more fibre-optic backhaul than Vodafone
  • How 3UK prices its service
  • Case study 2: Sweden – Telenor and its competitors
  • The network sharing issue
  • Telenor Sweden: heavy on the 1800MHz
  • Telenor Sweden was an early adopter of Gigabit Ethernet backhaul
  • How Telenor prices its service
  • Case study 3: Free Mobile
  • Free: a narrow sliver of spectrum, or is it?
  • Free Mobile: backhaul excellence through extreme fixed-mobile integration
  • Free: the ultimate in simple pricing
  • Discussion
  • IP networking metrics: not yet predictive of operator performance
  • Network sharing does not obviate differentiation
  • What is Vodafone’s strategy for fibre in the backhaul?
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Strategic divergence in the US
  • Figure 2: Four carriers, four fates
  • Figure 3: Applying the screen to European carriers
  • Figure 4: Free Mobile, a disruptive force that’s literally off the charts
  • Figure 5: The differences are if anything more pronounced within Europe at the level of the major multinationals
  • Figure 6: Although Vodafone UK and O2 UK share a physical network, O2 is heading for VZW-like territory while VF UK is going nowhere fast
  • Figure 7: Strategic divergence in the UK
  • Figure 8: 3UK, also something of an ARPU star
  • Figure 9: 3UK is very different from Hutchison in Italy or even Sweden
  • Figure 10: 3UK has more spectrum on a per-subscriber basis than Vodafone
  • Figure 11: Vodafone’s backhaul upgrades are essentially microwave; 3UK’s are fibre
  • Figure 12: 3 Europe is more than coping with surging data traffic
  • Figure 13: 3UK service pricing
  • Figure 14: The Swedish market shows a clear winner…
  • Figure 15: Telenor.se is leading on all measures
  • Figure 16: How Swedish network sharing works
  • Figure 17: Network sharing does not equal identical performance in the UK
  • Figure 18: Although extensive network sharing complicates the picture, Telenor Sweden has a strong position, especially in the key 1800MHz band
  • Figure 19: If the customers want more data, why not sell them more data?
  • Figure 20: Free Mobile, network differentiator?
  • Figure 21: Free Mobile, the price leader as always
  • Figure 22: Free Mobile succeeds with remarkably little spectrum, until you look at the allocations that are actually relevant to its network
  • Figure 23: Free’s fixed-line network plans
  • Figure 24: Free leverages its FTTH for outstanding backhaul density
  • Figure 25: Free: value on 3G, bumper bundler on 4G
  • Figure 26: The carrier with the most IPv4 addresses per subscriber is…
  • Figure 27: AS_PATH length – not particularly predictive either
  • Figure 28: The buzzword count. “Fibre” beats “backhaul” as a concern
  • Figure 29: Are Project Spring’s targets slipping?

 

Apple Pay & Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call

Mobile payments: Now is the time

After many years of trials, pilots and uncertainty, the mobile industry is now making a major push to enable consumers to use their mobile phones to complete transactions in stores and other merchant venues. This year is shaping up to be a pivotal year with a number of major launches of commercial mobile payment services involving device makers, mobile operators, the payment networks and retailers.

Crucially, Apple’s move to add Near Field Communications (NFC) – a short-range communications technology – to iPhone 6 has vindicated the telecoms industry’s ongoing push to make NFC a de facto standard for mobile proximity payments. Although sceptics (including Apple executives) have previously derided the cost and complexity of the technology, Vodafone, Orange, China Mobile and other major telcos have continued to develop digital commerce propositions based on the technology.

Apple’s U-turn on NFC has changed the sentiment around the technology dramatically and given the industry a clear sense of direction. Just a year ago, research firms, such as Gartner and Juniper, scaled back their forecasts for the use of mobile handsets to complete transactions in-store, primarily because Apple didn’t include a NFC chip in the iPhone 5.

The widespread use of NFC in stores will add fuel to the mobile payments market which is already growing rapidly.  Some analysts are predicting mobile phones will be used to make transactions totalling more than US$721 billion worldwide by 2017 up from US$235 billion in 2013 (see Figure 1). Note, these figures include both remote/online and proximity/in-store transactions.

Figure 1: Global mobile payment transaction forecasts

Figure 1 - Global mobile payment transaction forecasts

Source: Gartner; Goldman Sachs (via Statista)

Although most consumers are happy paying in store using either cash or payment cards, there are two major reasons why mobile payments are gaining momentum in an increasingly digital economy:

  • Consumers will want to be able to receive and redeem offers, vouchers and loyalty points using their smartphones. A mobile payment service would enable them to do this in a straightforward way.
  • Mobile payments will generate valuable transaction data that could and should (with the consumer’s permission) be used to make highly personalised recommendations and offers.

In other words, mobile payments are an essential element of a compelling integrated digital commerce proposition.

The role of telcos

Although the big picture for mobile payments is improving, telcos are in danger of being side-lined in developed countries in this strategically important sector. (NB See the STL Partners Strategy Report, Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players for a detailed study of how telcos could disrupt the key digital commerce brokers: Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.) In recent weeks, telcos’ efforts to lead the development of the mobile payments market suffered two major setbacks. Firstly, Apple’s fully formed mobile payments solution, called Apple Pay, effectively cuts telcos out of the mobile payments business in the Apple ecosystem.

Secondly, it emerged that Weve, the ground-breaking mobile commerce joint venture between U.K. mobile operators, has pulled back from plans to facilitate payments (in addition to its existing role of delivering targeted offers to UK mobile users).  As a rare example of a well thought through collaborative venture between mobile operators, Weve had been a promising initiative that could provide a playbook for collaboration among mobile operators in other developed markets. But Weve’s change of course suggests that mobile operators are still struggling to collaborate effectively in the digital commerce market.

Rewriting the Mobile Payments Playbook

The Apple Pay proposition

Unveiled along with the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch in September, Apple Pay is an end-to-end mobile payments proposition developed by Apple. On the device side, the basic technical architecture is similar to that advocated by major telcos via the industry group the GSMA – the short-range wireless technology Near Field Communications (NFC) is used to transfer payment data from the device to the point of sale terminal, while a secure element (a segregated memory chip) is used to protect sensitive information from being hacked or corrupted by third-party apps. However, rather than using telcos’ SIM cards as a secure element, Apple has added its own dedicated piece of hardware to the iPhone 6 and bolstered security further with a fingerprint scanner.

Already used to organise boarding passes, tickets, coupons and other collateral, Apple’s Passbook acts as the primary interface for the Apple Pay service. In other words, Passbook is now a fully-fledged mobile wallet. Thanks to its iTunes service, Apple already has hundreds of millions of consumers’ credit and debit card details on file. These consumers can add a compatible payment card stored on iTunes to Passbook simply by entering the card security code. Alternatively, they can use the iPhone camera to scan a payment card into a handset or type in the details manually. If the consumer stores more than one card, Passbook allows them to change the default payment card that appears when they are about to make a transaction.

 

Figure 2: Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook

Figure 2 - Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook

Source: Apple

To make a payment in a store, the consumer simply holds their iPhone next to a NFC-enabled reader (attached to a point of sale terminal) with their finger on the handset’s Touch ID – the fingerprint reader embedded into the latest iPhones (see Figure 3). Unlike some mobile payment solutions, the consumer doesn’t need to open an app or enter a PIN code. The iPhone vibrates and beeps once the payment information has been sent. In this case, the payment information is protected by three layers of security: More than any existing mainstream mobile payments solution, including the SIM-secured NFC payments touted by telcos. These three layers are

  • Rather than transferring actual payment card details, Apple Pay transfers so-called tokens: a device-specific account number, together with a one-time security code.
  • These tokens are encrypted and stored on a secure element inside the iPhone – memory that is ring-fenced from access by any app other than Passbook. They aren’t stored on Apple’s servers, so are protected from online hacking.
  • The payment only happens if the Touch ID system recognises the consumer’s fingerprint, proving the consumer’s was in the store.

Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via iPhone’s fingerprint scanner

Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via the iPhone's fingerprint scanner

Source: Apple

If the consumer is using an Apple Watch, which also has a NFC chip and a secure element, they hold the face of the watch near the reader and double-click a button on the side of the watch. As the range of NFC is just a few centimetres, consumers will have to hold the face of their watch against the reader. This step doesn’t sound very intuitive and may cause confusion in stores.

Again, a vibration and beep confirm the transfer of the payment information. Note, the watch needs to have been linked to an iPhone with a compatible payment card stored in a Passbook app. Although Apple Watch isn’t equipped with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner in the iPhone, it does have alternative security mechanisms built in. Apple Watch is equipped with a biosensor that can detect when the watch is taken off and lock its payment function, according to a report by NFC World. Apparently, consumers will have to enter a code to re-enable the payment function when they put the handset back on.  These extra steps suggest making payments using Apple Watch will be more cumbersome and potentially less secure than using an iPhone 6 to make a payment.

 

Figure 4: You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch

Figure 4 - You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch

Source: Apple

Apple Pay can also be used to make online payments in compatible apps and this is how many consumers are likely to try the service initially. Apple said that several merchants, including Disney, Starbucks, Target and Uber, have adapted their apps to accept Apple Pay transactions (see Figure 5). In this case, the consumer selects Apple Pay and then places their finger on the Touch ID interface. Note, enabling online payments is an area that has been neglected by many telcos in developed countries targeting this market, but support for remote payments is an essential component of any holistic digital commerce solution  – consumers won’t want to use different digital wallets online and offline.

 

Figure 4: Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay

 

Figure 5 - Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay

 Source: Apple

If a consumer loses their iPhone, then they can use the Find My iPhone service to put their device into “lost mode” or they can opt to wipe the handset. The next time the iPhone goes online, it will be frozen or wiped, depending on the option the consumer selected. Note, this feature negates one of the advantages of using a SIM card, which can also be wiped remotely by a telco, as a secure element.

Although the consumer’s most recent purchases will be viewable in Passbook, Apple says it won’t save consumer’s transaction information. This is in stark contrast to the approach taken by Apple’s own iTunes service and Amazon, for example, which uses a consumer’s transaction history to make personalised product and service recommendations. With Apple Pay, it seems a consumer will only be able to check historic transactions by looking at their bank statements.

The big guns in the U.S. financial services industry are supporting Apple Pay – consumers can use credit and debit cards from the three major payment networks, American Express, MasterCard and Visa, issued by a range of leading banks, including Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo, representing 83% of credit card purchase volume in the US, according to Apple, which says additional banks, including Barclaycard, Navy Federal Credit Union, PNC Bank, USAA and U.S. Bank, are also planning to sign up. This is a much greater level of participation than that achieved by Softcard (formerly known as Isis), the mobile commerce joint venture between U.S. telcos AT&T Mobile, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA (see next section for more on Softcard).

Apple says that more than 220,000 bricks and mortar stores will accept Apple Pay transactions. Some of the participating retailers include leading brands, such as McDonalds, Stables, Subway, ToysRUs and Walgreens. However, the retailers in the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) consortium, which is developing its own mobile commerce proposition, have not signed up to accept Apple Pay. These retailers include major players, such as WalMart, Best-Buy, 7-11, Gap and Sears. (See next section for more on MCX). Although only a handful of apps are supporting Apple Pay today, that number is likely to grow rapidly, as many consumers will find it easier to press the Touch ID than to type in a password.

To access the rest of this 28 page Telco 2.0 Report in full, including…

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Mobile payments: Now is the time
  • Rewriting the Mobile Payments Playbook
  • The Apple Pay proposition
  • Will Apple Pay be a success? 
  • The implications of Apple Pay for telcos
  • The Weve U-Turn
  • How Weve broke new ground
  • Weve’s shareholders break ranks
  • Weve pulls back
  • Conclusions and recommendations

…and the following report figures…

  • Figure 1: Forecasts for the value of mobile proximity payments in the U.S 
  • Figure 2: Apple has made it easy to add payment cards to Passbook
  • Figure 3: The consumer is authenticated via the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner
  • Figure 4: You double-click a button to confirm a payment with Apple Watch
  • Figure 5: Various apps allow consumers to make payments via Apple Pay
  • Figure 6: MCX’s approach to security
  • Figure 7: Apple’s shrinking share of the global smartphone market
  • Figure 8: The Softcard wallet enables consumers to filter offers by their location
  • Figure 9: The virtuous circle Weve was aiming to create
  • Figure 10: Everything Everywhere’s Cash on Tap app is clunky to use

 

Connected Car: Key Trends, Players and Battlegrounds

Introduction: Putting the Car in Context

A growing mythology around M2M and the Internet of Things

The ‘Internet of Things’, which is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘machine-to-machine’ communication (M2M), is not a new idea: as a term, it was coined by Kevin Ashton as early as 1999. Although initially focused on industrial applications, such as the use of RFID for tagging items in the supply chain, usage of the term has now evolved to more broadly describe the embedding of sensors, connectivity and (to varying degrees) intelligence into traditionally ‘dumb’ environments. Figure 1 below outlines some of the service areas potentially disrupted, enabled or enhanced by the Internet of Things (IoT):

Figure 1: Selected Internet of Things service areas

Source: STL Partners

To put the IoT in context, one can conceive of the Internet as having experienced three key generations to date. The first generation dates back to the 1970s, which involved ARPANET and the interconnection of various military, government and educational institutions around the United States. The second, beginning in the 1990s, can be thought of as the ‘AOL phase’, with email and web browsing becoming mainstream. Today’s generation is dominated by ‘mobile’ and ‘social’, with the two inextricably linked. The fourth generation will be signified by the arrival of the Internet of Things, in which the majority of internet traffic is generated by ‘things’ rather than humans.

The enormous growth of networks, cheaper connectivity, proliferation of smart devices, more efficient wireless protocols (e.g. ZigBee) and various government incentives/regulations have led many to confidently predict that the fourth generation of the Internet – the Internet of Things – will soon be upon us. Visions include the “Internet of Everything” (Cisco) or a “connected future” with 50 billion connected devices by 2020 (Ericsson). Similarly rapid growth is also forecasted by the MIT Technology Review, as detailed below:

Figure 2: Representative connected devices forecast, 2010-20

Source: MIT Technology Review

This optimism is reflected in broader market excitement, which has been intensified by such headline-grabbing announcements as Google’s $3.2bn acquisition of Nest Labs (discussed in depth in the Connected Home EB) and Apple’s recently announced Watch. Data extracted from Google Trends (Figure 3) shows that the popularity of ‘Internet of Things’ as a search term has increased fivefold since 2012:

Figure 3: The popularity of ‘Internet of Things’ as a search term on Google since 2004

Source: Google Trends

However, the IoT to date has predominantly been a case study in hype vs. reality. Technologists have argued for more than a decade about when the army of connected devices will arrive, as well as what we should be calling this phenomenon, and with this a mythology has grown around the Internet of Things: widespread disruption was promised, but it has not yet materialised. To many consumers the IoT can sound all too far-fetched: do I really need a refrigerator with a web browser?

Yet for every ‘killer app’ that wasn’t we are now seeing inroads being made elsewhere. Smart meters are being deployed in large numbers around the world, wearable technology is rapidly increasing in popularity, and many are hailing the connected car as the ‘next big thing’. Looking at the connected car, for example, 2013 saw a dramatic increase in the amount of VC funding it received:

Figure 4: Connected car VC activity, 2010-13

Source: CB Insights Venture Capital Database

The Internet of Things is potentially an important phenomenon for all, but it is of particular relevance to mobile network operators (MNOs) and network equipment providers. Beyond providing cellular connectivity to many of these devices, the theory is that MNOs can expand across the value chain and generate material and sustainable new revenues as their core business continues to decline (for more, see the ‘M2M 2.0: New Approaches Needed’ Executive Briefing).

Nevertheless, the temptation is always to focus on the grandiose but less well-defined opportunities of the future (e.g. smart grids, smart cities) rather than the less expansive but more easily monetised ones of today. It is easy to forget that MNOs have been active to varying degrees in this space for some time: for example, O2 UK had a surprisingly large business serving fleet operators with the 9.6Kbps Mobitex data network for much of the 2000s. To further substantiate this context, we will address three initial questions:

  1. Is there a difference between M2M and the Internet of Things?
  2. Which geographies are currently seeing the most traction?
  3. Which verticals are currently seeing the most traction?

These are now addressed in turn…

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Putting the Car in Context
  • A growing mythology around M2M and the Internet of Things
  • The Internet of Things: a vision of what M2M can become
  • M2M today: driven by specific geographies and verticals
  • Background: History and Growth Drivers
  • History: from luxury models to mass market deployment
  • Growth drivers: macroeconomics, regulation, technology and the ‘connected consumer’
  • Ecosystem: Services and Value Chain
  • Service areas: data flows vs. consumer value proposition
  • Value chain: increasingly complex with two key battlegrounds
  • Markets: Key Geographies Today
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Selected Internet of Things service areas
  • Figure 2: Representative connected devices forecast, 2010-20
  • Figure 3: The popularity of ‘Internet of Things’ as a search term on Google since 2004
  • Figure 4: Connected car VC activity, 2010-13
  • Figure 5: Candidate differences between M2M and the Internet of Things
  • Figure 6: Selected leading MNOs by M2M connections globally
  • Figure 7: M2M market maturity vs. growth by geographic region
  • Figure 8: Global M2M connections by vertical, 2013-20
  • Figure 9: Global passenger car profit by geography, 2007-12
  • Figure 10: A connected car services framework
  • Figure 11: Ericsson’s vision of the connected car’s integration with the IoT
  • Figure 12: The emerging connected car value chain
  • Figure 13: Different sources of in-car connectivity
  • Figure 14: New passenger car sales vs. consumer electronics spending by market
  • Figure 15: Index of digital content spending (aggregate and per capita), 2013
  • Figure 16: OEM embedded modem shipments by region, 2014-20
  • Figure 17: Telco 2.0™ ‘two-sided’ telecoms business model

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