Telco roadmap to net-zero carbon emissions: Why, when and how

Telcos’ role in reducing carbon emissions

There are over eighty telecoms operators globally that turn over $1 billion or more in revenues every year. As major companies, service providers (SPs) have a role to play in reducing global carbon emissions. So far, they have been behind the curve. In the Corporate Knights Global 100 of the world’s most sustainable corporations, only five of them are telcos (BT, KPN, Cogeco, Telus and StarHub) and none of them are in the top 30.

In this report, we explore the aims, visions and priorities of SPs in their journey to become more sustainable companies. More specifically, we have sought to understand the practical steps they are undertaking to reduce their carbon footprints. This includes discovering how they define, prioritise and drive initiatives as well as the governance and reporting used to determine their progress to ‘net-zero’.

Each SP’s journey is unique; we’ve explored how regional and market influences affect their journey and how different personas and influencers within the SP approach this topic. To do this, we have spoken to 40 individuals at SPs globally. Interviewees have varied, from corporate and social responsibility (CSR) representatives, to those responsible for the SP’s technology and enterprise strategies. This report reflects the strategies and ambitions we learnt about during these conversations.

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This report is informed by interviews from SPs globallytelcos carbon emissions

What do we mean by scope 1, 2 and 3?

Before diving in further, it’s important to align on the key terminology that all major SPs are drawing on to evaluate and report their sustainability efforts: in particular, how they disclose and commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

SPs divide their carbon emissions into scope 1, 2 and 3 – scope 3 is by far the most significant

For most SPs, scope 1 (e.g. emissions from the fleet of vehicles used to install equipment or perform maintenance tasks on base stations) and scope 2 (e.g. the electricity they purchase to run their networks) makes up less than 20% of their overall footprint. These emissions can be recorded and reported on accurately and there are established methodologies for doing so.

Scope 3, however, is where 80%+ of SP carbon emissions come from. This is because it captures the impact of the SP’s whole supply chain, e.g. the carbon emissions released from manufacturing the network equipment that they deploy. It also includes the carbon emissions arising from supplying customers with products and services that an SP sells, e.g. from shipping and de-commissioning consumer handsets or servers provided to enterprise customers.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Table of Figures
  • Introduction
    • What do we mean by scope 1, 2 and 3?
    • Where are SPs in their sustainability journey?
    • How does this differ by region?
    • What’s covered in the rest of the report?
  • Procurement and sustainable supply chain
    • Scope 1, 2 and 3: Where are procurement teams focused
    • Current priorities
    • Regional nuances
    • Best and next practices
  • Networking
  • IT and facilities
  • Enterprise products and services
  • Key recommendations and conclusion

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Telecoms priorities: Ready for the crunch?

The goal of this research is to understand how telecoms operators’ investment priorities and investments are likely to change as the COVID-19 crisis recedes.  To do this, we collected 144 survey responses from participants in telecoms operators, telecoms vendors, and analysts and consultants and other groups. All responses are treated in strict personal and company confidence. Take the survey here.

This research builds on our previous content on the impact of the pandemic to the telecoms industry: COVID-19: Now, next and after (March 2020), COVID-19: Impact on telco priorities (May 2020), based on a survey undertaken in April and early May 2020 and Recovering from COVID: 5G to stimulate growth and drive productivity (August 2020).  STL Partners has also hosted three webinar on the topic (March to July 2020).

This deck summarises the findings of our industry research on telecoms priorities at the start of 2021.

We explored the research in our webinar,  State of the Industry: 2021 Priorities (click on the link to view the recording).

Background to the telecoms priorities survey – January 2021

The respondents were fairly evenly split between telcos, vendors, and ‘others’ (mainly analysts and consultants). This sample contained a higher proportion of European and American respondents than industry average, so is not fully globally representative. The split of company types and geography was broadly similar to the May 2020 survey, with the exception of the MENA region, where there were less than half the prior respondents – a total of 7. However those respondents were senior and well known to STL.

Who took the survey?

telco industry breakdown

Source: STL telecoms priorities survey, 144 respondents, 31st January 2021

48% of respondents were C-Level/VP/SVP/Director level. Functionally, most respondents work in senior HQ and operational management areas. Compared to May 2020, there were proportionally slightly more senior respondents, and slightly less in product and strategy roles.

What are their roles?

Senior participants

Source: STL telecoms priorities survey, 144 respondents, 31st January 2021

How respondents perceive priorities, as the COVID threat recedes

There were increases in respondent confidence in almost every category we surveyed from May 2020 to Jan 2021.

  • Telecoms automation and agility remain top priorities across the industry – and transformation has moved up the agenda.
  • Appetite for 5G investments increased the most of all areas surveyed in the last 8 months.
  • The ‘consumerisation’ of enterprise continues, although security and work from home (WFH) services have overtaken conferencing and VPNs in priority.
  • Healthcare remains the most accelerated vertical / application opportunity of all those impacted in the current crisis.
  • The priority of consumer services has significantly increased yet confidence in making any additional money in the sector is low.
  • Leadership and transformation: COVID 19 has empowered an industry-wide belief that change is possible.
  • Transformation and innovation are high priorities, and appetite for sustainability and recruitment has returned, but there are doubts about some telco leaders’ commitment and ability to grasp and invest in new opportunities.

STL Partners assesses the telecoms industry to be at a crunch point: COVID has injected further pace to the rapid evolution of the world economy. Telcos that have been focused on responding to immediate pandemic-induced challenges, will emerge from the crisis faced with an urgency to respond to this evolution – key choices that telcos might have had 5-10 years to ponder are being crunched into the next 0-3 years.

Our findings suggest that most telcos are only partly ready for this disruptive opportunity.

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Notes on interpreting the research findings

  • The way research respondents perceive any given question is generally dependent on their current situation and knowledge. To get relevant answers, we asked all respondents if they were interested or involved in specific areas of interest (e.g. ‘consumer services’), and to not answer questions they couldn’t (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) or simply didn’t know or have a clear opinion.
  • We saw no evidence that respondents were ‘gaming’ the results to be favourable to their interests.
  • Results need to be seen in the context that telcos themselves vary widely in size, profitability and market outlook. For example, for some, 5G seems like a valid investment, whereas for others the conditions are currently much less promising. COVID-19 has clearly had some impact on these dynamics, and our analysis attempts to reflect this impact on the overall balance of opinions as well as some of the specific situations to bring greater nuance.
  • In December 2020 / January 2021, the worldwide impact of COVID-19 is increasingly well understood and less of a shock than was the case in May / June 2020. Vaccines are beginning to be rolled out but it is an early stage in the process, and new variants of COVID-19 have evolved in the UK, South Africa and Brazil (and possibly elsewhere). There are geo-political wrangles on vaccine distribution, and varying views on effectiveness and the most appropriate responses. Nonetheless, respondents appear overall more optimistic, although there is still considerable uncertainty.
  • We’ve interpreted the results as best we can given our knowledge of the respondents and what they told us, and added in our own insights where relevant.
  • Inevitably, this is a subjective exercise, albeit based on 144 industry respondents’ views.
  • Nonetheless, we hope that it brings you additional insights to the many that you already possess through your own experiences and access to data.
  • Finally, things continue to change fast. We will continue to track them.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary: Opportunities are in overdrive, but can telcos catch them?
  • High-level findings
  • Research background
  • Technology impacts: Automation, cloud and edge come of age
  • Network impacts: 5G is back
  • Enterprise sector impacts: Healthcare still leads
  • Consumer sector impacts: Mojo aplenty, money – not so much
  • Leadership impacts: good talking, but enough walking?

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COVID-19: Impact on telco priorities

The goal of this research is to understand how telecoms operators’ investment priorities and investments are likely to change in response to COVID-19.  To do this, we collected more than 200 survey responses from participants in telecoms operators, telecoms vendors, and analysts and consultants and other groups. All responses are treated in strict personal and company confidence. Take the survey here.

This research builds on our initial research on the impact of the pandemic to the telecoms industry, COVID-19: Now, next and after, published in March 2020.

Background to the telco COVID-19 survey

The respondents were fairly evenly split between telcos, vendors, and ‘others’ (mainly analysts and consultants). This sample contained a higher proportion of European and American respondents than industry average, so is not fully globally representative. We have drawn out regional comparisons where possible.

Who took the survey?

COVID-19 survey respondents by company and region

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

Meanwhile, 44% of respondents were C-Level/VP/SVP/Director level. Functionally, most respondents work in senior HQ and operational management areas.

What are their roles?

COVID-19 survey respondents by seniority

Source: STL COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

How respondents perceive the risks from COVID-19

Respondents were positive on the prospects for most areas overall. We have taken a slightly more pessimistic view in our analysis of the survey results and the categorisation below to balance this bias and factor in future economic risk.

While not all activities we have categorised as “at risk” will necessarily be delayed, we believe that in some telcos there may be more pressure in these areas if the financial impact of COVID-19 is harsher than expected at the time of the survey. We expect that when Q2 results come out, many operators will have a clearer view of how the crisis will affect them financially – and those that are ahead of the curve in adopting technologies such as automation will be in a good position to accelerate their impact, those that are behind the curve may face a more difficult uphill battle.

A relative view of how respondents perceived the outlook for telcos in different business areas and verticals

COVID-19 survey perceived risks to business

Source: STL Partners analysis of COVID-19 survey, 202 respondents, May 8th 2020

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Notes on the research findings

  • The way research respondents perceive any given question is generally dependent on their current situation and knowledge. To get relevant answers, we asked all respondents if they were interested or involved in specific areas of interest (e.g. ‘consumer services’), and to not answer questions they couldn’t (e.g. for confidentiality reasons) or simply didn’t know or have a clear opinion.
  • We saw no evidence that respondents were ‘gaming’ the results to be favourable to their interests.
  • Results need to be seen in the context that telcos themselves vary widely in size, profitability and market outlook. For example, for some, 5G seems like a valid investment, whereas for others the conditions are currently much less promising. COVID-19 has clearly had some impact on these dynamics, and our analysis attempts to reflect this impact on the overall balance of opinions as well as some of the specific situations to bring greater nuance.
  • As of mid May 2020, the total economic impact of COVID-19 was probably less clear to the majority of the respondents than the operational and lifestyle changes it has brought. It is therefore likely that as telco results for Q2 start to be circulated, and before then internally to the telcos, differing pressures will arise than that existed at the time of this survey. The resulting intentions may therefore become more or less extreme than shown in this research, though the relative positions of different activities in the various maps of risk and opportunity may change less than the absolute levels shown here.
  • We’ve interpreted the results as best we can given our knowledge of the respondents and what they told us, and added in our own insights where relevant.
  • Inevitably, this is a subjective exercise, albeit based on 200+ industry respondents’ views.
  • Nonetheless, we hope that it brings you additional insights to the many that you already possess through your own experiences and access to data.
  • Finally, things continue to change fast. We will continue to track them.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary: What’s most likely to change?
  • Research background
  • Technology impacts: Implementing automation, cloud and edge
  • Network impacts: Making sense of divergent 5G viewpoints
  • Enterprise sector impacts: Healthcare and consumerisation
  • Consumer sector impacts: What will last?
  • Leadership impacts: Building on new foundations
  • What next?

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Telco Cloud: Why it hasn’t delivered, and what must change for 5G

Related Webinar – 5G Telco Clouds: Where we are and where we are headed

This research report will be expanded upon on our upcoming webinar 5G Telco Clouds: Where we are and where we are headed. In this webinar we will argue that 5G will only pay if telcos find a way to make telco clouds work. We will look to address the following key questions:

  • Why have telcos struggled to realise the telco cloud promise?
  • What do telcos need to do to unlock the key benefits?
  • Why is now the time for telcos to try again?

Join us on April 8th 16:00 – 17:00 GMT by using this registration link.

Telco cloud: big promises, undelivered

A network running in the cloud

Back in the early 2010s, the idea that a telecoms operator could run its network in the cloud was earth-shattering. Telecoms networks were complicated and highly-bespoke, and therefore expensive to build, and operate. What if we could find a way to run networks on common, shared resources – like the cloud computing companies do with IT applications? This would be beneficial in a whole host of ways, mostly related to flexibility and efficiency. The industry was sold.

In 2012, ETSI started the ball rolling when it unveiled the Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) whitepaper, which borrowed the IT world’s concept of server-virtualisation and gave it a networking spin. Network functions would cease to be tied to dedicated pieces of equipment, and instead would run inside “virtual machines” (VMs) hosted on generic computing equipment. In essence, network functions would become software apps, known as virtual network functions (VNFs).

Because the software (the VNF) is not tied to hardware, operators would have much more flexibility over how their network is deployed. As long as we figure out a suitable way to control and configure the apps, we should be able to scale deployments up and down to meet requirements at a given time. And as long as we have enough high-volume servers, switches and storage devices connected together, it’s as simple as spinning up a new instance of the VNF – much simpler than before, when we needed to procure and deploy dedicated pieces of equipment with hefty price tags attached.

An additional benefit of moving to a software model is that operators have a far greater degree of control than before over where network functions physically reside. NFV infrastructure can directly replace old-school networking equipment in the operator’s central offices and points of presence, but the software can in theory run anywhere – in the operator’s private centralised data centre, in a datacentre managed by someone else, or even in a public hyperscale cloud. With a bit of re-engineering, it would be possible to distribute resources throughout a network, perhaps placing traffic-intensive user functions in a hub closer to the user, so that less traffic needs to go back and forth to the central control point. The key is that operators are free to choose, and shift workloads around, dependent on what they need to achieve.

The telco cloud promise

Somewhere along the way, we began talking about the telco cloud. This is a term that means many things to many people. At its most basic level, it refers specifically to the data centre resources supporting a carrier-grade telecoms network: hardware and software infrastructure, with NFV as the underlying technology. But over time, the term has started to also be associated with cloud business practices – that is to say, the innovation-focussed business model of successful cloud computing companies

Figure 2: Telco cloud defined: New technology and new ways of working

Telco cloud: Virtualised & programmable infrastructure together with cloud business practices

Source: STL Partners

In this model, telco infrastructure becomes a flexible technology platform which can be leveraged to enable new ways of working across an operator’s business. Operations become easier to automate. Product development and testing becomes more straightforward – and can happen more quickly than before. With less need for high capital spend on equipment, there is more potential for shorter, success-based funding cycles which promote innovation.

Much has been written about the vast potential of such a telco cloud, by analysts and marketers alike. Indeed, STL Partners has been partial to the same. For this reason, we will avoid a thorough investigation here. Instead, we will use a simplified framework which covers the four major buckets of value which telco cloud is supposed to help us unlock:

Figure 3: The telco cloud promise: Major buckets of value to be unlocked

Four buckets of value from telco cloud: Openness; Flexibility, visibility & control; Performance at scale; Agile service introduction

Source: STL Partners

These four buckets cover the most commonly-cited expectations of telcos moving to the cloud. Swallowed within them all, to some extent, is a fifth expectation: cost savings, which have been promised as a side-effect. These expectations have their origin in what the analyst and vendor community has promised – and so, in theory, they should be realistic and achievable.

The less-exciting reality

At STL Partners, we track the progress of telco cloud primarily through our NFV Deployment Tracker, a comprehensive database of live deployments of telco cloud technologies (NFV, SDN and beyond) in telecoms networks across the planet. The emphasis is on live rather than those running in testbeds or as proofs of concept, since we believe this is a fairer reflection of how mature the industry really is in this regard.

What we find is that, after a slow start, telcos have really taken to telco cloud since 2017, where we have seen a surge in deployments:

Figure 4: Total live deployments of telco cloud technology, 2015-2019
Includes NFVi, VNF, SDN deployments running in live production networks, globally

Telco cloud deployments have risen substantially over the past few years

Source: STL Partners NFV Deployment Tracker

All of the major operator groups around the world are now running telco clouds, as well as a significant long tail of smaller players. As we have explained previously, the primary driving force in that surge has been the move to virtualise mobile core networks in response to data traffic growth, and in preparation for roll-out of 5G networks. To date, most of it is based on NFV: taking existing physical core network functions (components of the Evolved Packet Core or the IP Multimedia Subsystem, in most cases) and running them in virtual machines. No operator has completely decommissioned legacy network infrastructure, but in many cases these deployments are already very ambitious, supporting 50% or more of a mobile operator’s total network traffic.

Yet, despite a surge in deployments, operators we work with are increasingly frustrated in the results. The technology works, but we are a long way from unlocking the value promised in Figure 2. Solutions to date are far from open and vendor-neutral. The ability to monitor, optimise and modify systems is far from ubiquitous. Performance is acceptable, but nothing to write home about, and not yet proven at mass scale. Examples of truly innovative services built on telco cloud platforms are few and far between.

We are continually asked: will telco cloud really deliver? And what needs to change for that to happen?

The problem: flawed approaches to deployment

Learning from those on the front line

The STL Partners hypothesis is that telco cloud, in and of itself, is not the problem. From a theoretical standpoint, there is no reason that virtualised and programmable network and IT infrastructure cannot be a platform for delivering the telco cloud promise. Instead, we believe that the reason it has not yet delivered is linked to how the technology has been deployed, both in terms of the technical architecture, and how the telco has organised itself to operate it.

To test this hypothesis, we conducted primary research with fifteen telecoms operators at different stages in their telco cloud journey. We asked them about their deployments to date, how they have been delivered, the challenges encountered, how successful they have been, and how they see things unfolding in the future.

Our sample includes individuals leading telco cloud deployment at a range of mobile, fixed and converged network operators of all shapes and sizes, and in all regions of the world. Titles vary widely, but include Chief Technology Officers, Heads of Technology Exploration and Chief Network Architects. Our criteria were that individuals needed to be knee-deep in their organisation’s NFV deployments, not just from a strategic standpoint, but also close to the operational complexities of making it happen.

What we found is that most telco cloud deployments to date fall into two categories, driven by the operator’s starting point in making the decision to proceed:

Figure 5: Two starting points for deploying telco cloud

Function-first "we need to virtualise XYZ" vs platform-first "we want to build a cloud platform"

Source: STL Partners

The operators we spoke to were split between these two camps. What we found is that the starting points greatly affect how the technology is deployed. In the coming pages, we will explain both in more detail.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Telco cloud: big promises, undelivered
    • A network running in the cloud
    • The telco cloud promise
    • The less-exciting reality
  • The problem: flawed approaches to deployment
    • Learning from those on the front line
    • A function-first approach to telco cloud
    • A platform-first approach to telco cloud
  • The solution: change, collaboration and integration
    • Multi-vendor telco cloud is preferred
    • The internal transformation problem
    • The need to foster collaboration and integration
    • Standards versus blueprints
    • Insufficient management and orchestration solutions
    • Vendor partnerships and pre-integration
  • Conclusions: A better telco cloud is possible, and 5G makes it an urgent priority

Culture, leadership and purpose in telcos: Four key actions

Understanding culture, leadership and purpose

STL Partners has surveyed 168 telco execs about leadership, culture and purpose in the telecoms industry.

This research is part of our overall programme to help understand and develop how telcos can optimise their performance and reinvigorate growth and innovation. Respondents were asked to think about the telco they knew best, and answer a series of questions relating to different drivers of success:

  • Culture: Values and behaviours and the telco’s employees
  • Leadership: The way in which leaders drive the organisation
  • Purpose: The reason that the telco exists and operates
  • Digital: The telco’s ‘digital’ goals, skills and capabilities

Respondents were a mix of senior executives from telecoms operators worldwide, across a variety of functions and geographies.

Findings include:

  • Half of respondents believe that it is harder to get things done in telecoms operators than elsewhere
  • Leadership vision, alignment and delivery are seen to be a significant enabler to success by 43% of respondents
  • There are mixed views of the impact of company culture on success: seen as a barrier by 57% and a significant enabler by 33%
  • Some telcos are outperforming others. For example, Elisa’s culture is perceived as significantly more effective than others
  • … and more.

We also explore correlation between answers to different questions to suggest four key actions to driving greater success.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction & methodology
  • Analysis of results
  • Full survey results
    • Culture
    • Leadership
    • Purpose
    • Digital
    • Correlation analysis
  • About STL Partners

 

Telco 2030: New purpose, strategy and business models for the Coordination Age

New age, new needs, new approaches

As the calendar turns to the second decade of the 21st century we outline a new purpose, strategy and business models for the telecoms industry. We first described The Coordination Age’, our vision of the market context, in our report The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms in 2018.

The Coordination Age arises from the convergence of:

  • Global and near universal demands from businesses, governments and consumers for greater resource efficiency, availability and conservation, and
  • Technological advances that will allow near their real-time management.

Figure 1: Needs for efficient use of resources are driving economic and digital transformation

Resource availability, Resource efficiency, Resource conservation: Issues for governments, enterprises and consumers. Solutions must come from all constituents.

Source: STL Partners

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A new purpose for a new age

This new report outlines how telcos can succeed in the Coordination Age, including what their new purpose should be, the strategies, business models and investment approaches needed to deliver it.

It argues that faster networks which can connect tens of billions of sensors coupled with advances in analytics and process digitisation and automation means that there are opportunities for telecoms players to offer more than connectivity.

It also shows how a successful telecoms operator in the Coordination Age will profitably contribute to improving society by enabling governments, enterprises and consumers to collaborate in such a way that precious resources – labour, knowledge, energy, power, products, housing, and so forth – are managed and allocated more efficiently and effectively than ever before. This should have major positive economic and social benefits.

Moreover, we believe that the new purpose and strategies will help all stakeholders, including investors and employees, realign to deliver a motivating and rewarding new model. This is a critical role – and challenge – for all leaders in telecoms, on which the CEO and C-suite must align.

To do this, telecoms operators will need to move beyond providing core communications services. If they don’t choose this path, they are likely to be left fighting for a share of a shrinking ‘telecoms pie’.

A little history 2.0

Back in 2006, STL Partners came up with a first bold new vision for the telecoms industry to use its communications, connectivity, and other capabilities (such as billing, identity, authentication, security, analytics) to build a two-sided platform that enables enterprises to interact with each other and consumers more effectively.

We dubbed this Telco 2.0 and the last version of the Telco 2.0 manifesto we published can be found here – we feel it was prescient and that many of the points we made still resonate today. Indeed, many telecoms operators have embraced the Telco 2.0 two-sided business model over the last ten years.

This latest report builds on much of what we have learned in the previous fourteen years. We hope it will help carry the industry forwards into the next decade with renewed energy and success.

Other recent reports on the Coordination Age:

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Industry context: End of the last cycle
    • The telecoms industry is seeking growth
    • Society is facing some major social and economic challenges
    • Addressing society’s (and the telecoms industry’s) challenges
  • The Coordination Age
    • Right here, right now
    • How would the Coordination Age work in healthcare, for example?
  • New opportunities for telcos?
    • The telecoms industry’s new role in the Coordination Age
    • Telcos need an updated purpose
    • This will help to realign stakeholders
    • A new purpose can be the foundation of new strategy too
    • Investment priorities need to reflect the purpose
    • New operational models will also follow
  • Conclusions: What will Telco 2030 look like?

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Telco innovation: Why it’s broken and how to fix it

Telcos have tried innovating in many verticals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous reports this one builds on include:

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

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

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

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

Telco innovations plotted on the Ansoff matrix

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

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

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

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

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

How successful have telcos been?

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

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

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

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

Strategy is more important that degree of difficult for successful innovation

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

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

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

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

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How the Coordination Age changes the game

Introduction: Three ages of telecoms…

In this report, we elaborate on what we outlined in our recent report, The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms, as a completely new paradigm for the telecoms industry. In the earlier report, we argue that this new age of telecoms – the Coordination Age – follows on from two previous, and still ongoing, paradigms for the telecoms industry: the Communications Age and the Information Age.

Chronologically, the three ages may be represented as follows:

The coordination age is beginning now

As the above diagram suggests, parts of the industry still exhibit characteristics of the earlier ages; and we are still working through the consequences of the paradigm shift from the Communications Age to the Information Age, even as we stand on the cusp of a further shift to the Coordination Age.

The report revisits our narrative of the three ages of telecoms to explore the different social, economic and cultural drivers and functions of telecoms in each period and the implications for telcos.

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Telecoms characteristics and functions have evolved over time

The fundamental service and business model characteristics of these three ages, as described in the previous report, are recapped in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Basic functions of telecoms in the three telco eras

telecoms functions across three ages

Source: STL Partners

The above table illustrates how the functions provided by telecoms services and networks across the three ages of the industry are radically different. In summary, we can say that:

  • In the Communications Age, telecoms networks and services were ‘physical’ in character: physical equipment and facilities delivering physical services; the core services being connectivity and communications centering on voice, which was transmitted by physical means (e.g. for voice, analogue electrical signals sent over wired or wireless networks).
  • In the Information Age, by contrast, while telecoms networks remained – initially, at least – physical in character and delivered increasingly advanced forms of connectivity, the services became digital. The ultimate expression of this is of course the Internet, which changed the role of the telco to that of providing the IP connectivity platform over which mainly third parties offered their web and digital services. Another way of putting this is that whereas telecoms network connectivity remained tied to physical hardware, the services were delivered via standardised software and compute devices: PCs and later smartphones and tablets. In the present era of NFV and SDN, the basis on which the connectivity itself is organised and controlled is now also migrating to (would-be) standardised software operating over COTS hardware.
  • The emerging Coordination Age of telecoms is not purely an extension of network and societal digitisation, but could be seen as a 180o reversal of its parameters, in this respect: instead of being a primarily physical connectivity system processing digital inputs to deliver digital services (as in the Information Age), the network becomes a compute- and software-centric system processing real-world inputs to deliver real-world outcomes. We will discuss further these aspects of the new paradigm later in this report. But examples of what we mean here include networked compute-driven applications around driverless cars, IoT, and automation of industrial and enterprise processes across many verticals.

The three telecoms ages correspond to different socio-economic and human functions

We set out how the general service and network characteristics of the Communications, Information and Coordination Ages relate to the different social, economic and human functions they serve.

Throughout this report, we describe what we see as some of the fundamental social, economic, cultural and technological drivers of the different telecoms networks and services across these three ages. The three ages represent distinct paradigms in which telecoms serves different needs and purposes.

We describe these socio-economic and cultural purposes through a simplified version of the psychoanalytical theories of Jacques Lacan. It seems legitimate to explore telecoms through this lens, as telecoms networks are human constructs, and telecoms services are social, economic and cultural in their purpose and value to modern society.

In brief, Jacques Lacan distinguishes between three interdependent orders of psychological experience: the ‘Real’, the ‘Imaginary’ and the ‘Symbolic’.

  • The ‘Real’ is the physical aspect of our existence: our bodies, the material universe, and the physiological determinants experience, including basic emotions
  • The ‘Imaginary’ refers to the sub-rational and sub-linguistic phenomena of mental experience, through which we form mental impressions of sensory experience (e.g. sights, sounds, etc.). Together with the emotional impact with which they are associated, these ‘imaginary’ elements form the foundation of our self-image and view of our place in the world
  • The third order is that of the ‘Symbolic’, which refers to language and other social, logical and cultural codes through which we give meaning to our lives, acquire knowledge, order our activities, and structure society and our relationships within it.

This is important because it provides a way to make sense of the paradigm shifts that have taken place throughout the industry’s history. And it also provides a narrative account of the human needs – including economic and social needs – that are invested in telecoms services. Understanding what customers want – and above all, what can offer real benefit to them – is the key to driving future value.

We argue this is relevant to the situation that telcos find themselves in today and to their strategic options for the future. In our view, telcos failed to adapt their business models to capitalise on the digital service opportunities of the Information Age. This was because the value drivers of the Information Age were so radically different from those that prevailed over the much longer time span of the Communications Age.

Learning the lessons from this previous paradigm shift will help telcos be more aware of how they need to adapt to another new paradigm – the Coordination Age – that is emerging. There may be only a very short window of opportunity for telcos to adjust their business models and organisations to become ‘coordinators’ of the network- and AI-based, automation-enabling and resource-optimising services of the near future.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction: Three Ages of Telecoms
  • Differing characteristics and functions of telecoms across the three ages
  • The three telecoms ages correspond to different socio-economic and human functions
  • Speaking, showing and doing: The three ages of telecoms
  • The Communications Age: A telecoms of the Real, mediated by voice
  • The Information Age: A telecoms of the Imaginary, mediated by the screen
  • The Coordination Age: A telecoms of outcomes, driven by active intelligence
  • Coordination services rely on contextual and physical data, and the physical aspects of networking
  • Summary: Characteristics and purposes of telecoms across its three ages
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations: A new telco age brings new opportunities but also renewed responsibilities

Figures:

  1. The three ages of telecoms.
  2. Basic functions of telecoms in the three telco eras
  3. ‘Real’, physical characteristics of the Communications Age telecoms network and service
  4. The core telecoms service – circuit-switched telephony – in the first telecoms age
  5. Comparison of the social, service and technology characteristics of Communications Age and Information Age telecoms
  6. Permanent, virtual presence to others replaces real-time voice communications
  7. Driverless car ecosystem in the Coordination Age
  8. Comparison between the three telecoms eras

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Why CFOs must start to drive telecoms business model change

The telecoms operator’s conundrum – how to break the service innovation status quo

Telco CFOs need to upweight telecoms R&D investments to drive differentiating service innovations. If they don’t, telcos will recede further into the category of low yield, low growth commodities.

The relationship between a company’s financial and commercial model is complex:

  • The financial model determines the commercial model of a company – what commercial goals it is able to pursue and how it is able to pursue them
  • But the commercial model also feeds directly back into the financial model of the business and determines how resources are allocated

The interrelatedness of commercial and financial models means that change is sometimes difficult – a ‘chicken and egg’ situation occurs in which each model relies on change in the other before it can change.

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This ‘chicken and egg’ situation is apparent within the telecoms industry:

  • Business owners within operators want their organisation to become more agile, more flexible, more innovative which implies having resources that can be (re)deployed quickly, but they find it hard to secure budget owing to the huge and slow capital investment programmes involved in upgrading networks
  • Finance departments at the same organisations want to deploy resources efficiently to maximise returns and capital investment in the existing business model (infrastructure that drives connectivity revenue) has a much stronger ROI than speculative operating expenditure in platforms and services that have (so far) proved unsuccessful

The result is status quo: the same financial model drives the same commercial model at a time when returns for core services are reducing every year.

 

We start by mapping out the relationship between financial and commercial models…

In this framework, we use R&D operating expenditure (vertical axis) as a proxy for service innovation. We recognise that this is not perfect as service innovation requires much more than R&D. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that service innovation is unlikely to be sustained without material R&D expenditure.

Capital investment (horizontal axis) is a proxy for infrastructure build – developing assets which will generate returns over a long period of time such as buildings, manufacturing plants, telecoms networks.

Telcos are classic ‘Moat builders’, making money from capital investment in infrastructure and putting little into telecoms R&D investments.

The Internet giants and tech players typically start out as ‘service differentiators’, keeping capital investment light and instead focusing on flexible operating expenditure to drive service innovation. Increasingly however, they are investing capital in cloud computing infrastructure, to construct moats to protect their services – giving them cheaper distribution and better customer experience than smaller competitors.

A framework for understanding capex versus R&D spending

Source: STL Partners

…which reveals that telcos are moat builders and are radically out-invested in service innovation by tech players

Historically, for telecoms operators service innovation resulted from network capital investment because voice and messaging services were integrated into there were no alternative sources for communications – a customer had to use the service provider by the telecoms operator:

  • Telcos effectively outsourced innovation to Network Equipment Players (NEPs)
  • There was no need to invest significantly in R&D

Now, services are independent of the network (thanks to the internet) – telco customers can use communication (and other) services provided by dozens of third-parties and value has shifted to companies (such as the internet giants and tech companies) that invest in service innovation.

Telcos still invest only in infrastructure but value is increasingly in network-independent services so they are missing out on value-creation and are instead competing on price on the only commodity service that third-parties cannot substitute: connectivity.

R&D and Capex % of Revenue, 2017

Source: Company accounts, STL Partners analysis

Proof point: Internet players are vastly more valuable than telecoms operators

Revenue and Market Capitalisation 2017. Telco v Internet

Source: Company accounts, stock market data, STL Partners analysis

Seven internet giants’ market capitalisation is bigger than 165 telecoms operators combined because:

Service innovation + moats  Revenue + profit growth  Future value creation

In other words, telcos’ current business model (financial and commercial models) are not deemed to be strong value creators.

The result is that capital markets demand that operators hand profits back to investors in the form of high-dividend yields so that they can invest in higher-growth companies.

In the rest of this report, we outline why CFOs need to drive business model change that will enable telcos to compete more effectively as ‘Service differentiators’, and four steps they should take to start this process – fundamentally increasing telecoms R&D investments.

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The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms

The Coordination Age

The world is entering the Coordination Age, driven by growing needs for resource efficiency and enabled by new technologies such as AI, automation, IoT, 5G, etc. What does this mean, how is it different, how is it an opportunity, and what should telecoms industry players do?

Problems, problems, problems…

The telecoms industry’s big problem

The core telecoms industry is currently close to reaching maturity as the following chart illustrates.

Figure 1: Revenue growth is grinding to a halt

Source: Data from company filings, STL Partners analysis

This approaching maturity has taken many years to achieve and is built on decades of astonishing growth in the telecoms and ICT industries as shown by just a few data points in Figure 2.

Figure 2: 30 years of telecoms in context

Source: AT&T company reports, STL Partners analysis

We’ve used AT&T as a comparator as perhaps the world’s best-known telco, and because its 1988 revenues are readily accessible. The chart shows that AT&T has grown massively but also that recent growth has slowed.

It also shows how mobile and internet use has blossomed to mass-market adoption. No-one knew in 1988 that this is what would happen by 2018, or how it would happen. Most people would have thought you were talking about science fiction if you said there would be more mobiles than people in their lifetime, and that half the world would have access to most of the world’s information.

Yet it was clear that growth in telecoms lay ahead – it seemed like a kind of economic and social gravity that communications would grow a lot. The direction that the world would take was obvious and unavoidable. So many people were not yet connected, and so much was possible in terms of improving the world’s access to information using the technologies that were coming to fruition then.

What are the big problems the world needs to solve now?

It’s not a mystery now, of course. And while there’s plenty of work to do to make the world’s connectivity better and bring the second half of the global population online somehow, it’s unlikely to bring in masses of new revenues for telcos. So why the Coordination Age?

To create major growth, you need to solve some big, valuable problems. So, what are the big problems the world needs to solve?

There are some obvious candidates, e.g.:

  • mitigating climate change and minimising its effects
  • reducing the amount of waste and harmful by-products polluting the environment
  • the distribution and availability of human resources and services such as healthcare, education, employment, and entertainment
  • the availability of, and conflicts over, physical resources such as: water, fuel, power, food, land, etc…
  • global migration and increasingly hostile nationalism
  • concerns over increasingly skewed wealth distribution between the haves and have nots, and extreme poverty
  • a desire for greater business efficiency and productivity
  • concerns over employment due to automation and global economic changes.

Moreover, time is also a resource for people and business. Both want to make best use of their time – whether it is getting things done more effectively or enjoyably.

Making the most of what we have

STL Partners believes that these are all to some extent the manifestation of the same problem: the need to make the most efficient possible use of your/the world’s resources. In Figure 3 we call this helping to “make our world run better” for short.

Figure 3: How macro forces are creating a common global need

Source: STL Partners

It’s a widespread need

The underlying need for greater resource efficiency is widespread. While sustainability arguments are prominent symptoms of the problem, there are pressing needs being expressed in all areas of the economy for better utilisation of resources.

For example, most businesses are somewhere in the process of their own transformation using connected digital technologies. Almost every aspect of business, including product design, customer experience, production, delivery and value chain orchestration is being revolutionised by ‘digital’ technologies and applications.

Examples cited at the Total Telecom Congress in October 2018, included:

  • Brendan Ives, VP Telia, Division X, said that the top priority of 70% of 500 enterprises surveyed in the Nordics was resource efficiency, with cost control a distant second at 20%.
  • Henri Korpi, Executive Vice President, New Business Development, Elisa, described a new ‘Smart Factory’ application that it offers to enhance productivity.
  • Durdana Achakzai, Chief Digital Officer, Telenor Pakistan, described its Khushall Zamindar feature phone application for 6 million small-scale farmers in rural Pakistan, that gives them access to local weather and market information and helps to improve yields.

All of these are examples of where telcos are already thinking about or addressing customers’ needs with respect to resource efficiency, in all of these cases via a B2B application, but the concerns apply to consumers too.

Ipsos’s global survey on consumer concerns from July 2018 (Figure 4) gives a flavour of what people across the world worry about today. The colouring applied to categorise the issues is STL Partners’, based on our view of their relevance to resource utilisation and distribution (and hence the Coordination Age).

Figure 4: Global population worries reflect underlying concerns about the availability and distribution of resources

Source: Ipsos global survey, July 2018, STL Partners analysis

Clearly, the weighting of needs varies in different countries, but most of the most pressing concerns relate to the distribution of economic resources within society (red bars). Concerns on social resources such as education and healthcare (orange bars) are second in prominence, while more classic ‘environmental’ worries (grey bars) are slightly further down the list.

People’s concerns also vary with their current circumstances. The closer you are to the bread-line, the more likely you are to prioritise where your next meal is coming from over the long-term future. Hence there is a natural tendency for near-term concerns to feature more highly on the list.

Many other day-to-day concerns relate to the efficient use of time (another resource): prompt service, availability of resources on-demand, business productivity, etc.

The fundamental enabler needed is coordination: the ability to enable many different players, devices, solutions, etc., to work together across the economy. These players and assets are a diverse mixture of both physical and digital entities. The drive to allow them to work together must be widespread and ultimately systematic – hence the Coordination Age.

The thorny issue of sustainability

We now live in a world of seven billion people that uses 1.7 times its sustainable resources (Figure 5). The argument goes that if we keep on at this rate we will face major environmental and societal pains and problems.

Figure 5: What does “the world need now”?

Source: Global Footprint Network

Climate change is arguably one consequence of the over-use of resources. Not everyone buys in to such concerns, and it is a matter for each person to make their own mind up.

However, even traditionally highly conservative bodies like the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change Panel (IPCC) are sounding alarm bells. In its recent report “Global Warming of 1.5 °C”, the IPCC says we may not even have thirty years to avoid the worst problems.

The editorial in The New Scientist put it like this:

“We still have time to pull off a rescue. It will arguably be the largest project that humanity has ever undertaken – comparable with the two world wars, the Apollo programme, the cold war, the abolition of slavery, the Manhattan project, the building of the railways and the roll-out of sanitation and electrification, all in one. In other words, it will require us to strain every muscle of human ingenuity in the hope of a better future, if not for ourselves then at least for our descendants.”[1]

The challenge is huge, and it reaches across all economies and sectors, not just telecoms.

Enlightened self-interest

STL Partners believes that telcos and the telecoms industry can play a significant role in addressing these issues, and moreover that the industry should move in this direction for both business and social reasons.

This should not be treated as a PR opportunity as it sometimes has in the past, as a kind of fop to regulators and governments in exchange for regulatory preferences.

It is a serious and significant problem to solve for humanity – and solving such problems is also how industries create new value in the economy.

Nonetheless, STL Partners believes that if telecoms industry players genuinely take on the challenges of addressing these issues, it may well have a significant impact on their sometimes-troubled relationships with governments and regulators. It’s one thing to be a big economic player in a market, which most telcos are, and quite another to be a big economic and social partner in an economy.

By truly aligning these goals and interests with governments telcos can start to foster a new dialogue “what do we need to do together for our economy?” This requires a very different level of heart-and-soul engagement than a well-intentioned but peripheral gesture under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) banner.

Moving the needle…

Internally, the industry has long faced two self-defeating challenges.

First, the idea of ‘moving the needle’. So many new opportunities are dismissed because they simply don’t seem big enough for a telco to bother, and telcos continue to search for the next ‘killer app’ like mobile data or SMS.

Despite looking for many years, it still hasn’t been found. Yet somehow the telecoms industry has missed out on capitalising on social media, search, online commerce – pretty much all growth industries of the last twenty years.

Why? For many reasons, no doubt. But there has certainly been a kind of well-fed corporate complacency, a general aversion to commitment to new ideas, and a huge reduction in investment in R&D and innovation. Telcos’ R&D spends are minuscule compared to technology players. We will publish more on this soon, and why we think telcos need to change.

This has gone arm-in-arm with a failure to understand that new business models are not linear and predictable. A sound business case is all very well when you have a predictable business environment. This is typically the case when looking at incremental changes to existing businesses where the consequences are relatively predictable.

In new areas, especially where there are network effects and other unpredictable and non-linear relationships, it’s very hard to do. Even if you succeeded in making a numerical model, most would frown heavily at the assumptions and their consequences, and the decision-making process would stagnate on uncertainty.

Where companies have been successful in building new value, they have at some point made a serious management commitment against a need that they recognise will persist in their market, continued to invest in it, and be willing to admit and learn from mistakes. We would cite TELUS in Healthcare, and Vodafone’s M-PESA as examples where leadership has protected and nurtured the fragile flower of innovation through to growth.

… and moving the people

The second big internal challenge to change and growth has been much of the telecoms industry’s inability to excite its people to buy in to the uncertain and worrying process of change.

Change and its accompanying uncertainties are uncomfortable for most people, and they need support, guidance and ultimately leadership to see them through. Too often, companies only truly address change when they sense the ‘burning platform’ – a (usually threatening) reason that means they simply must abandon their current beliefs and behaviours.

And frankly, why should most employees care about, for example, their company ‘becoming digital’? They care about being paid, having a job with some status, and being reasonably comfortable with what they must do and who they do it with. They are working to support themselves and their families. To most, “becoming digital” sounds like another excuse for a round of job cuts – which in some cases it is.

Our argument is that there is now a powerful new job for telecoms companies to do in the Coordination Age, and that this means we all must change. If we don’t do that job and make those changes, the future will potentially be much worse for us and them as we age, and their kids as they grow.

We believe that the additional insight in the story as we now see it should make it compelling to customers, employees, governments and shareholders. But first, the management of the telecoms industry need to grasp it, improve it and lead the rest forward.

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Contents:

  • Executive summary
  • Problems, problems, problems…
  • The telecoms industry’s big problem
  • What are the big problems the world needs to solve now?
  • Enlightened self-interest
  • Moving the needle…
  • … and moving the people
  • The Three Ages of Telecoms
  • The first age: The Communications Age, 1850s onwards
  • The second age: The Information Age, 1990s onwards
  • The third age: The Coordination Age, 201Xs onwards
  • So, what is the Coordination Age opportunity for telcos?
  • The telecoms industry has some important assets
  • Two possible jobs for telecoms
  • Having a clear role is motivational
  • So, what should telcos and the industry do?
  • Finally, a need for the technologies we’re developing
  • Conclusions and next steps

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Revenue growth is grinding to a halt
  • Figure 2: 30 years of telecoms in context
  • Figure 3: How macro forces are creating a common global need
  • Figure 4: Global population worries reflect underlying concerns about the availability and distribution of resources
  • Figure 5: What does “the world need now”?
  • Figure 6: The three ages of telecoms
  • Figure 7: The Communication Age
  • Figure 8: An early manual telephone exchange
  • Figure 9: Electro-mechanical ‘Strowger’ exchanges automated analogue switching
  • Figure 10: The Information Age
  • Figure 11: The Coordination Age
  • Figure 12: What are the unique assets of the telecoms industry?
  • Figure 13: Broadly, there are two possible jobs for telcos
  • Figure 14: Battle of the business models – Technology vs Telco
  • Figure 15: A new corporate reality
  • Figure 16: How a unifying purpose (a “why?”) helps create value

[1] The New Scientist, Vol 240 No. 3199, page 1.

Creating a healthy culture

Introduction

Creating a healthy culture is a key component of success in any organisation. It is particularly important – and challenging – where a company is building a new business operating in a new industry that combines people steeped in an existing cultures. This was the case for TELUS Health in Canada, so we spoke to its then CEO to understand the approach it took.

Three components of ‘Culture’

Whenever we ask our clients what the biggest problem they face is, there’s an excellent chance they will say ‘changing the culture’.

Yet it’s a bit of a coverall statement: what exactly do they mean?

It’s often a bit of a mish-mash of processes, organisation, behaviours and incentives: ‘the way we do things around here’.

Some of this is formalised, through organisation, line-management, how projects are managed and so on. Other aspects are softer – how companies expect people to behave when they are at work: how much autonomy do they have, can they work from home, etc.

To put some structure to this catch-all idea, it can be useful to think about three fundamental components of culture:

  • Shared purpose: what are we all trying to achieve?
  • Common values: what do we believe we need to be like to get there?
  • Processes and behaviours: how do we do things round here?

Looking at these definitions makes it clear why change needs to be led from the top, and why culture change is so challenging.

It needs to be led from the top because you cannot have a credible common purpose that conflicts with what the leadership says it wants, what it values, or how the organisation acts.

Even if you have clear direction from the top, it’s still hard to change because:

  • Most of your organisation will start from a position of ‘this is how we previously learned to be – and now you’re asking us to be different from that?’
  • Culture essentially means a set of behaviours or characteristics that have been socialised, and thereby enmeshed in a complex human web of habits and expectations.

According to Paul Lepage, President of TELUS Health, “culture eats why for breakfast”, paraphrasing the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast” in a fascinating conversation we had recently.

What Paul meant was that one of the key drivers to creating a great culture is to ensure that your team is truly engaged with your organisation’s meaning or purpose, or ‘why are we doing this?’ beyond making money.

In the case of TELUS Health, this is ‘delivering better healthcare outcomes’, and in Paul’s case at least, this idea comes over very strongly in every interaction I have had with him.

Author’s note: I was talking to Paul because I am fascinated by the role that culture plays in business success. I have known some of the team at TELUS Health for several years, and I am always struck by the quality and consistency of their culture across all the people I have met at TELUS. Andrew Collinson, Partner and Research Director, STL Partners.

TELUS and TELUS Health: consistent internal and external KPIs

There is a notable consistency between TELUS’ results on internal measures of employee engagement, customer opinion, and commercial performance.

  • Employee engagement: TELUS’ overall employee engagement score consistently ranks within the top quartile and has risen steadily in recent years.  TELUS was also named as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers and Achiever’s 50 Most Engaged Workplaces in 2017.
  • Customer recommendation: TELUS’ customers have given it improving ‘Likelihood to recommend’ scores since 2011.
  • Market valuation: TELUS’ share price has also grown steadily from 2011.

Figure: TELUS’ share price has also steadily grown

TELUS Annual share price chart
TELUS Annual share price, as at end August 2011-2018

Source: Google Finance, STL Partners

Is this a coincidence, or is there a link between these results? And if it is not a coincidence, how has it achieved this, and what can others learn?

TELUS and TELUS Health

Background

STL Partners has worked closely with TELUS and TELUS Health over the last few years, analysing the healthcare division’s progress in TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study. We’ve participated in its Healthcare Summits in Toronto and come to know several of its executives over the years. The following is a brief introduction to TELUS Health from our 2017 report.

Why TELUS got into healthcare: a viable growth opportunity

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

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

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

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

That all four of TELUS’ reasons for investing in healthcare remain equally relevant in 2017/18 as in 2007 is key to its unwavering commitment to the sector. Darren Entwistle refers to healthcare as a ‘generational investment’, saying that over the long term, TELUS may shift into a healthcare company that offers telecoms services, rather than the other way around.

TELUS Health: On leadership and culture

To get insight for this report, I spoke at length with Paul Lepage, President-TELUS Health and Payment Solutions at TELUS, on the recommendation of his colleagues, who’d told me that ‘culture’ was of deep importance to Paul. He has been instrumental in setting up TELUS Health, and holds joint responsibility for TELUS Health on the international markets with Dave Sharma, President, TELUS Partner Solutions and Senior Vice-president, Business Solutions Sales. Paul runs the operation on the ground in Canada, while Dave spearheads partnerships and international activity.

I also requested additional support material from TELUS Health, which is included in the Appendix of this report.

This report would not have been possible without their kind collaboration and openness. Nonetheless, its contents represent the opinion of STL Partners, and were not sponsored or commissioned by TELUS.

Contents

  • Executive Summary: For telcos and others wanting to change culture
  • Introduction
  • Three components of ‘Culture’
  • Culture eats ‘why’ for breakfast
  • TELUS and TELUS Health: consistent internal and external KPIs
  • Background
  • Why TELUS got into healthcare: a viable growth opportunity
  • TELUS Health: On leadership and culture
  • Culture = Purpose and process
  • Culture creates a yardstick for performance
  • The importance of a compelling ‘why?’
  • Fair Process
  • Diversity and talent
  • Measuring culture and results
  • Communicating, listening and reflecting is at least 50% of the job
  • Recruitment, partnerships and culture
  • The ‘why?’ must be genuine
  • Conclusions: TELUS Health – A consistent and compelling culture
  • Appendix: Prepared by TELUS Health External Communications

Figures

  • TELUS’ share price has increased steadily
  • Why is ‘why?’ important?
  • TELUS’ ‘Fair process’

Telco M&A strategies: Global analysis

Introduction

Business beyond connectivity – this is the mantra of STL Partners’ vision of the future for telecoms operators, outlined in the recent revamp of our Telco 2.0 vision. Telcos are at a crossroads where they must determine where their businesses will fit into a world of disruptive, fast-moving technologies and uncertain futures.

This means that it is more important than ever to re-evaluate the tools available to telcos to generate growth, expand their business competencies and provide new service offerings outside the core.

Traditionally, a key telco growth strategy has been to use mergers and acquisitions, particularly of (and with) other telcos, to build scale geographically and in core communications services. However, as operators strive to become more relevant in a changing business landscape, there has been a growing volume of investment in what might be termed ‘digital’ business – business services that leverage technology to build new capabilities and deliver new customer services, experiences and relationships. We distinguish between these two kinds of telecoms M&A as follows:

  • Traditional M&A – “Operators buying operators”
    • Traditional M&A is focused around traditional telecoms M&A where operators buy other operators to expand in new markets or consolidate existing markets.
  • Digital M&A – “Operators investing outside core”
    • Digital M&A refers to non-operator M&A, or all other purchases that telcos make to expand beyond their core connectivity services. Most often this includes investments in software capabilities or industry verticals.

This report examines the landscape of digital M&A from H2 2017 to H1 2018, highlights trends across previous time periods, and outlines strategies for and case studies of digital M&A to illustrate ways that telcos can utilise it in a focused and strategic manner to create long-term value and growth. It does not cover minority venture digital investments; however, these are tracked in our database and will be the subject of future analysis.

This report is the third iteration of STL Partners’ yearly digital M&A and investment report, which began in 2016 and was updated in 2017. It draws on data from our digital M&A tracker tool, which covers 23 operators over five regions from 2012 to H1 2018. A copy of the database is available with this report.

Previous editions of the telco M&A database

5G: ‘Just another G’ – yet a catalyst of change

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5G: Cutting through the hype

This briefing document is being published in June 2018. This report does not re-hash the familiar background story to 5G – the original specifications, the much-ballyhooed early thoughts on use cases, nor the breathless rhetoric about how it is going to change the world (or in the risible words of one hyperbolic tech CEO, “be more important than electricity”). Neither is it a hatchet job decrying the whole exercise as worthless. Instead, it looks at the factors acting as brakes and accelerants for 5G, and how they may affect the overall ecosystem’s evolution.

What is needed, however, is a way to cut through the spin – especially where it is aimed at policymakers and investors, who often latch on to simple but unrealistic stories. Some of the most absurd ‘5G-wash’ hyperbole emanates from Brussels and Washington DC, and in the run up to the next World Radio Congress in 2019 (where spectrum allocations are debated) it is critical that rationality and critical thought prevails over glossy lobbying. It is harmful to us all if 5G hype means it ends up overshadowing worthy parallel developments in satellite communications, private wireless and other technologies that also deserve attention, spectrum or subsidised research projects.

It is understandable that many in the industry ‘talk up their own book’, especially given consolidation and profitability concerns in the vendor space. The 2018 market for telecoms infrastructure is expected to decline, and there are huge hopes at Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei that 5G can help turn it around in 2019–20. But that is not an adequate excuse to exaggerate. Neither is it an excuse to mislabel and market diverse other technologies (advanced versions of 4G, Wi-Fi and so on) as ‘5G’ – although such egregious duplicity is one of the few certainties here. It is probably enhancements and capacity additions for 4G that will prove the biggest moneyspinners over the next 12–24 months.

The next 24 months for 5G

In theory, the next 24 months should be when it all happens for 5G. Early demonstrations and trials have been well publicised, including various global cities’ testbeds and the South Korean Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Almost every week yields new press releases, lauding everything from medical diagnosis (NTT DoCoMo) to self-driving snowploughs (Telenor). It is unclear how much any of these shiny announcements actually accelerate real, commercial deployments – or real business models.

This period is also a critical juncture for standards, starting with the formalisation of the first phase of standards at the June 3GPP meeting (Release 15), leading up to the full ratification of 5G as the official IMT2020 technology by the International Telecoms Union (ITU ) in 2020.

Much of the technology media is trying to pitch the development and deployment of 5G as a race, either between countries or individual operators. The first fixed-wireless deployments are under way, while the earliest mobile devices are expected by the year end (probably portable 5G/Wi-Fi hotspot modems). 2019 should see a flurry of early launches and the first 5G-capable smartphones becoming available.

Yet those forms of 5G broadband – fixed or ‘enhanced mobile’ – are hardly novelties, despite the gigabit speeds and low latencies promised. In many ways, they risk being overshadowed by continued evolution of 4G networks, which is occurring in parallel.

There are also plenty of IoT-type demonstrations, whether for delivery drones, autonomous vehicles or automated industrial machinery. Yet these seem much less real for now – the value-chains are far from clear, and often they will need networks to be built in new locations, rather than reusing existing towers and backhaul. It also isn’t obvious that large enterprises are willing to pay much for such connectivity, and whether they’ll be happy with ‘slices’ of MNO-controlled networks or if they want to own them outright.

There remain many hard-to-answer questions about 5G’s emergence:

  • Will global consumers switch to 5G phones en masse in 2021–22 or more from 2023–24?
  • Will today’s mobile operators consolidate further or will there be an explosion of new niche providers targetting verticals or specific uses?
  • Is there a ‘race’ between countries to deploy 5G, and if so, why? Do arguments about 5G ‘leadership’ really translate to economic benefit and jobs, and if so, for whom?
  • Will the US, Japan, South Korea and maybe China take a significant lead on 5G, or is it more about geopolitical grandstanding in the Trump/Xi age, and helping national-champion vendors and operators gain a reputational boost?
  • Will 5G, NFV, SDN and edge computing work in true synergy, or will delays or limitations in one area have knock-on impacts on the others?
  • What are the unexpected practical ‘gotchas’ for 5G that might add friction, cost or delay to deployment, or complexity to operations? Is fibre availability for backhaul a critical prerequisite?
  • Does 5G pose an opportunity for new niche suppliers of technology – for example in small cells – or will thinning margins and price pressure from operators and open source force many aspirant vendors out of the market?
  • Will ‘verticals’ and IoT really matter for 5G, and if so will telcos view enterprises more as customers, partners or even suppliers and competitors? Which industries are realistic opportunities for 5G’s new capabilities for low latency or ‘massive IoT’?
  • Who, if anyone, will make a profit from 5G-enabled networks, devices, services and embedded capabilities?

The truth is that many of these questions cannot be definitively answered today, despite the emphatic nature of a lot of industry comment. Here, we present some scenarios and especially look at the idea of pre-requisites: what needs to be done first, for 5G to be successfully deployed or monetised? There are potential bottlenecks ahead, as well as opportunities.

Hopefully, we have plotted the roadmap, even if the industry cannot ‘drive autonomously’ yet.

The rest of this report is structured into the following sections:

  • 5G positive signals – standards, trials and enthusiasm
  • 5G cautions – prerequisites, questions and complexities
  • Verticals – huge opportunity or more market fragmentation and competition?
  • Timelines and practicalities

Think of this report as a weather forecast. 5G will be much like the UK climate: patchy clouds, with rays of sunshine and the occasional storm. The summer will be late but warm, but you’d best pack a 4G or Wi-Fi umbrella just in case.

And just as with weather, trying to do long-range forecasts is very risky. There’s a good chance that circumstances will prove you wrong. But despite that, we have some qualitative predictions stretching out to 2026, at which point we expect to be bombarded with 6G hype, alongside 5G reality.

5G positive indicators: reasons to be happy!

In many ways, the development of 5G is going remarkably well, especially compared to some of the partisan inter- and intra-technology standards warfare of the past.

In the recent past we have seen:

  • Approval by 3GPP of the first New Radio (NR) specifications in December 2017, for Non- Standalone mode, which means that 5G NR can be deployed using the existing 4G core networks.
  • Early engagement by the cellular industry with various industries’ representatives, notably automotive, manufacturing and healthcare. A number of joint bodies have been set up, with the objective of defining ‘vertical’ and especially IoT-centric requirements and testbeds.
  • A timeline for silicon and device availability that aligns much better with that for networks than was the case with 3G or 4G.
  • A whole range of cool demonstrations in Pyeongchang at the South Korean Winter Olympics in early 2018.
  • Research labs for 5G set up around the world.
  • High awareness of 5G among governments, businesses and media, even if it is often over-hyped,as that is hardly unusual for new technologies.
  • An ongoing procession of spectrum auctions for frequencies suitable for 5G, and ready availability of test licences.
  • Good (albeit uneven) progress in adjacent mobile areas such as NFV, SDN, edge computing, cloud RAN, network slicing, automation of processes, AI and so forth.
  • Continued growth of 4G usage, and likelihood of capacity constraints driving the need for future upgrades.
  • Commendable work by both large and small vendors in creating early equipment, and approaching target speeds and latencies more closely than many observers (including the author) thought were probable.
  • Some good early results from trials, especially of high-frequency mmWave networks, which show decent propagation properties and even indoor penetration – albeit through glass, not solid walls – exceeding the (admittedly low) expectations. For instance, AT&T has tested for weather resistance of its mmWave 5G trials – important as some have expected rain or snow to have an impact on propagation.
  • The effectiveness of MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) antennas appears to negate some of the poor notional radio properties of midband spectrum in the 3–4GHz range as well. Essentially beam-forming and beam-steering allows radio ‘spikes’ to concentrate power towards actual users’ positions (including indoors), rather than radiating uniformly and thus wastefully.
  • No major fights (yet) over IPR and costly patent licences.
  • Encouraging forecasts from some analysts (not published by us, so we won’t quote them) and trade associations about 5G subscriptions and related services.

Early trial results and 5G deployment plans

While many operators and international laboratories and organisations are testing 5G, a few of the experiments stand out.

Probably the most high profile have been the various South Korean initiatives that took place during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and Verizon’s work on fixed-wireless access in the US. KT and SKT showed various approaches to 5G-connected cars, novel camera footage from 5G-connected drones, real-world usage of mmWave radios and numerous other showcases. Korea is expecting to see launches of commercial 5G services around March 2019.

Verizon announced at the end of 2017 that it was aiming to light up a handful of cities – Sacramento, California most notably – by the end of this year. More details have become clearer recently: initially it will launch fixed 5G for mostly residential users, with mobile variants following around six months afterwards. Samsung has had its 28GHz-band routers approved for both indoor and outdoor use in the US, and these are expected to feature in Verizon’s early offerings. (STL Partners is writing a separate briefing report digging more deeply into Verizon’s 5G strategy, which includes an estimate of its huge investment into fibre for back/fronthaul).

(Mobile launches usually lag fixed-wireless services, as they need more coverage, more testing and a lot more complexity around cell-to-cell handoffs. And within mobile uses, it is usually easier to provide simple devices such as modems or cellular/Wi-Fi hotspots, as phones and voice access require even more work.)

AT&T is being aggressive with its ‘proper’ 5G rollout, as well as its controversial “fake” branding of advanced 4G as ‘5G Evolution’. It is intending to launch standards-based 5G, capable of supporting mobile devices (initially mobile Wi-Fi hotspot ‘pucks’) in at least 12 cities by the end of 2018.

AT&T started demonstrating and testing pre-5G technology in late 2016, including an enterprise trial in mmWave bands, together with Intel. In June 2017, it extended the trials to residential users in Austin, Texas, doing video streaming over fixed-wireless access. This was followed by a small-business fixed- wireless trial in Waco, Texas, which generated good results including 1.2Gbps throughput speeds and 9–12 millisecond latencies. That said, it seems less enthusiastic than Verizon about the general fixed- wireless opportunity1, especially given the backhaul fibre investment needed.

Telco operators that are well advanced on 5G plans include:

  • Japanese operators: NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank have all been running multiple trials, for a wide variety of use cases and deployment scenarios. All are expected to have networks up and running in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics. NTT in particular has been very visible, signing contracts with vendors including Nokia and NEC.
  • Chinese operators: Spurred on by its government and Huawei as national champion vendor, all three telcos are deploying significant test networks, in a total of 16 cities across the country. Importantly, the regulator has shown commitment to issuing 5G spectrum in large tranches, and also seems to be encouraging infrastructure both between the operators and also China’s electricity grid operator. Chinese operators have also been quite aggressive on other key technical enablers such as AI/automation and network slicing.
  • Sprint and T-Mobile US: Both operators had previously been talking up 5G, but this has taken on a new perspective since the announcement of their potential merger. T-Mobile’s plan to use 600MHz spectrum for 5G is fairly unique and points to a possible nationwide network much earlier than its peers. Sprint’s hoard of 2.5GHz frequency is also extensive and could be a key differentiator given that the US has been slower to release 3.5–4.5GHz ‘midband’ spectrum than other markets. If their merger goes ahead (possibly a big if, given previous regulatory reluctance) the new T-Mobile may try to do for 5G what Verizon did for 4G – use it as a competitive differentiator to gain market share. It may face challenges getting devices supporting its unique 600MHz band, though – a similar problem that plagued it with the early days of 4G.
  • Deutsche Telekom: Aligning with its US arm, the domestic German arm of DTAG is perhaps the most vocal early enthusiast for 5G in Europe, deploying a growing test network in Berlin in particular. It is also getting its backhaul house in order, deploying tens of thousands more fibre kilometres annually.
  • Telstra: In Australia, local operator Telstra has launched a number of trials, including 5G for fixed-access backhaul to some publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots on the Gold Coast.
  • Spark: In New Zealand, local operator Spark has signalled an intent to deploy 5G (probably for fixed wireless) as early as possible, if it can get spectrum.
  • MTN: One of the few notable developing market 5G trials is that by MTN in South Africa, with Huawei.
  • India: The Indian government has signalled that it expects to announce its overall 5G strategy in June 2018. Although some are talking of 2020, it seems unlikely to gain a broad deployment fast, given economic limitations, especially driven by the 4G rollout and subsequent price war and consolidation between operators.

There are some notable absentees from this list. The UK has various government and MNO-sponsored trials, but little commitment by the telcos to move towards commercial launches yet. The Scandinavian operators, early on 3G and 4G, also seem more diffident this time. So too are the smaller countries in developed Asia; Singapore and Taiwan are also (comparatively) lagging the timelines that might be expected, again reflecting caution over business case.

In the Middle East, Ooredoo, Etisalat and STC have all been keen to be early to market with demo networks, but it’s unclear whether that will translate to broader, rapid deployments.

5G Spectrum

As always with new mobile networks, one of the input requirements is suitable radio spectrum. Generally, 5G seems to be doing fairly well in this regard. Many countries have started initial awards or have them planned for the next year or so.

Various European countries are releasing 3.5GHz ‘mid-band’ spectrum, while the US has earmarked both 600MHz (which T-Mobile has large amounts of) and 28GHz as priorities. Japan’s early focus is on 4.5GHz. In addition, there is a strategy by many operators to progressively switch off old 2G and 3G networks, and ‘refarm’ the bands for 5G.

The general expectation is that 5G will require a combination of three broad sets of frequencies:

  • Low-band, mostly below 2GHz, for wide-area coverage and good indoor penetration
  • Mid-band between 3GHz and 6GHz, for densified, mostly urban networks, probably with complex MIMO antennas
  • High-band above 6GHz, and probably mostly from 20–40GHz, although some are speaking of 90GHz or even higher for local usage.

Notably, many markets are not waiting for the official seal of approval from ITU and its World Radio Congress at the end of 2019, which was supposed to define the first set of ‘harmonised’ 5G frequencies (more accurately, IMT2020). A second set is expected, based on ITU’s ridiculously leisurely process, to be ratified only in 2023. Instead of this timeline, many regulators are either pre- guessing the outcomes (fairly uncontroversial for the 3.5GHz band) or just ignoring them (such as 28GHz in the US and South Korea). We wrote about 5G spectrum in early 2017, discussing this in more depth.

Watch a replay of the free webinar with the report’s authors – (Wednesday 8 August, 4pm BST)

5G is becoming real

In other words, 5G is becoming ‘real’, it’s getting a lot of interest and investment, and the basic technology enablers seem to work, at least in the lab and limited field trials. There are plenty of suggested use cases, and even if some of them prove far away or unrealistic, there should be some that make it through the funnel, plus others that are unanticipated.

That said, there is a cliché that states that any parts of a sentence or speech before the ‘but’ should probably be ignored.

Contents of the 5G report

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • 5G positive indicators: reasons to be happy!
  • Early trial results and deployment plans
  • Spectrum
  • Summary – the good news!
  • But what are the obstacles to 5G?
  • Densification and network sharing
  • In-building coverage
  • A lack of 5G business models
  • 5G-specific models in a hybrid-network world?
  • Devices and silicon
  • Other issues and concerns
  • Verticals: customers, partners or competitors?
  • Overview
  • Operator networks for verticals? Or private 5G?
  • Thoughts on specific verticals
  • Vendor attitudes to verticals and private networks
  • Timelines and practicalities
  • 5G in name only?
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  • Figure 1: 5G predicted timeline, 2018–2026
  • Figure 2: Who are the 5G bulls and bears?
  • Figure 3: 5G antennas may be larger and heavier than 4G equipment
  • Figure 4:  Multiple dimensions for future wireless networks’ use cases and requirements
  • Figure 5:  Creating private 5G networks involves significant complexity for enterprises
  • Figure 6: Predicted 5G relevance to verticals, 2023-25 timeframe
  • Figure 7:  Numerous applications of machine learning and AI for 5G networks
  • Figure 8: Overall 5G predicted timeline, 2018–26

Telco 2.0: Choose your future – while you still can

Introduction

Time to update Telco 2.0

Telcos are facing difficult choices about whether and how to invest in new technologies, how to cut costs, and how to create new services, either to pair with their core network services or to broaden their customer bases beyond connectivity users.

Through the Telco 2.0 vision (our shorthand for ‘what a future telco should look like’), STL Partners has long argued that telcos need to make fundamental changes to their business models in response to the commoditisation of connectivity and the ‘softwarisation’ of all industries, including telecoms. At the very least this means digitalising operations to become more data-centric and efficient in the way they deliver connectivity. But to generate significant new revenue growth, we still believe telcos need to look beyond connectivity and develop (or acquire) new product and service offerings.

The original Telco 2.0 two-sided business model

original telco 2.0

Source: STL Partners

Since 2011, a handful of telcos have made significant investments into areas beyond connectivity that fall into these categories. For example:

  • NTT Docomo has continued to expand its ‘dmarket’ consumer loyalty scheme, media and sports content and payment services, which accounted for nearly 20% of total revenues for FY2017.
  • Singtel acquired digital advertising provider Amobee in 2012, followed by several more acquisitions in the same area to build an end-to-end digital marketing platform. Its digital services accounted for more than 10% of quarterly revenues by December 2017, and was the fourth largest revenue segment, ahead of voice revenues.
  • TELUS first acquired a health IT company in 2008, and has since expanded its reach and range of services to become Canada’s largest provider of health IT solutions, such as a nation-wide e-prescription system. Based on a case study we did on TELUS, we estimate its health solutions accounted for at least 7% of total revenues by 2017.


However, these telcos are the exception rather than the rule. Over the last decade, most telcos have failed to build a significant revenue stream beyond their core services.

While many telcos remain cautious or even sceptical about their ability to generate significant revenue from non-connectivity based products and services, “digitalising” operations has become a widespread approach to sustain margins as revenue growth has slowed.

In Figure 3 we illustrate these as the two ‘digital dimensions’ along which telcos can drive change, where most telcos are prioritising an infrastructure play, but few are putting significant resources into product innovation, and only a small number with the ability to do both.

  • Digitalising telecoms operations: Reduction of capex and opex by reducing complexity and automating processes, and improving customer experience
  • Developing new services: This falls into two categories on the right-hand side of Figure 3
    • Product innovation: New services that are independent from the network, in which case digitalising telecoms operations is only moderately important
    • Platform (& product): New services that are strongly integrated with the network and therefore require the network to be opened up and digitalised

Few telcos are putting real resources into product & platform innovation

2 digital dimensions

Source: STL Partners

Four developments driving our Telco 2.0 update

  • AI and automation technology is ready to deploy at scale. AI is no longer an over-hyped ideal – machine and deep learning techniques are proven to deliver faster and more accurate decision-making for repetitive and data-intensive tasks, regardless of the type of data (numerical, audio, images, etc.). This has the potential to transform all areas of operators’ businesses.
  • We live and work in a world of ecosystems. Few services are completely self-sufficient and independent from everything else, but rather enable, complement and/or augment other services. Telcos must accept that they are not immune to this trend, just because connectivity is one of the key enablers of content, cloud and IoT ecosystems (see Figure 4).
  • Software-defined networks and 5G are coming. This is happening at a different pace in different markets, but over the next five to ten years these technologies will drastically change the ‘thing’ that telcos operate: the ‘network’ will become another cloud service, with many operational functions instantiated in near real-time in hardware at the network edge, so never even reaching a centralised cloud. So telcos need to become more proficient in software and computing, and they should think of themselves as cloud service providers that operate in partnership with many other players to deliver end-users a complete service.
  • As other industries go through their own digital transformations, the connectivity and IT needs of enterprises have become much more complex and industry specific. This means the one-size-fits-all approach does not apply for operators or for their enterprise customers in any sector.

Telcos and connectivity are not a central pillar, but an enabler in a much richer ecosystem

telco myth vs reality

Source: STL Partners

We are updating the Telco 2.0 Vision in light of these realities. Previously, we proposed six opportunity areas for new revenue growth, and expected large, proactive telcos to be able to address many of them. But telcos have been slow to change, margins are tighter now, implementing NFV/SDN is hard, and software skills are necessary for succeeding in any vertical. So telcos can no longer hope to do it all and must make choices of where to put their bets. As NTT Docomo, Singtel and TELUS show, it also takes time to succeed, so telcos need to choose and commit to a strategy now for long term success.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Time to update Telco 2.0
  • Four developments driving our Telco 2.0 update
  • Analysing the current market state
  • Options for the future
  • If connectivity won’t drive growth, do telcos’ network strategies matter?
  • Imagining the future telecoms stack
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  • Figure 1: The telco stack
  • Figure 2: The original Telco 2.0 two-sided business model
  • Figure 3: Few telcos are putting real resources into product & platform innovation
  • Figure 4: Telcos and connectivity are not a central pillar, but an enabler in a much richer ecosystem
  • Figure 5: The network cloud platform within the telco stack
  • Figure 6: Steps to becoming a cloud platform
  • Figure 7: Horizontal specialisation within the telco stack
  • Figure 8: Vertical specialisation within the telco stack
  • Figure 9: Enterprise verticals
  • Figure 10: Consumer services and applications
  • Figure 11: Network technology company versus lean network operator
  • Figure 12: Example of a fixed telco stack
  • Figure 13: Example of a telco IoT stack
  • Figure 14: Example of a lean network operator stack

BBVA: Traditional retail bank embraces digital disruption

Introduction

Why are we doing non-telco case studies?

Digital transformation is a phenomenon that is affecting every sector. Many industries have been through a transformation process far more severe than we have seen in telecoms, while others began the process much earlier in time. We believe that there are valuable lessons telcos can learn from these sectors, so we have decided to find and examine the most interesting and useful case studies.

Traditional banking is being disrupted by fintech. This disruption has not happened overnight, but its speed has accelerated in recent years as consumers and enterprises have become more confident using digital tools to manage their finances. Although the fintech market is currently highly fragmented, with fintech companies typically focussing on one or two specific financial products, this can still have an enormous impact on the traditional banking value chain, which relies on a diversified portfolio to create profit. In addition, there is the threat that a digital native company, such as Amazon or Google, will enter the mainstream banking market through a series of acquisitions.

BBVA’s chairman, Francisco Gonzalez, foresaw this threat early-on, and has worked tirelessly to restructure the bank to be competitive in the era of digital banking. This transformation has involved significant changes in leadership, technology, business processes, and the bank’s portfolio. Like telcos, traditional banks are large organisations with legacy technology and processes, and turning the ship around is challenging. Therefore, there are many ways that BBVA’s experience can inform telcos’ own digital transformation strategies.

General outline of STL Partners’ case study transformation index

We intend to complete more case studies in the future from other industry verticals, with the goal of creating a ‘case study transformation index’, illustrating how selected companies have overcome the challenge of digital disruption. In these case studies we are examining five key areas of transformation, identifying which have been the most challenging, which have generated the most innovative solutions, and which can be considered successes or failures. These five areas are:

  • Market
  • Proposition
  • Value Network
  • Technology
  • Finances

We anticipate that some of these five sections will overlap, and some will be more pertinent to certain case studies than others. But central to the case studies will be analysis of how the transformation process is relevant to the telco industry and the lessons that can be learned to help operators on the path to change.

How digital disruption is threatening banking

Retail banks rely on a two-sided business model

Retail banks make money by using deposits in current or savings accounts made by one group of customers (depositors) to finance loans to other customers (borrowers). The borrower not only pays the bank back its loan, but also interest on top – in effect, paying the bank for the service of providing the loan. The bank pays the depositor a lower interest on savings, and makes money on the spread between the two rates of interest.

Retaining depositors is a vital part of retail banks’ business model

Source: STL Partners

While this is highly simplified, this is the fundamental business model of all traditional retail banks, whose main source of income is created through managing a diversified portfolio of financial products across savings and loans. Banks also make money from applying charges when customers use credit or debit cards, or charging its customers fees such as ATM fees, overdraft fees, late payment fees, penalty fees.

Societal changes have driven digital banking adoption

Digital disruption in banking has taken much longer than in other industries, for example, publishing and media, despite attempts from banks themselves to persuade more customers to use online services. For traditional banks, moving customers to digital channels for most of their banking needs could significantly cut the cost of maintaining and staffing a large network of physical branches. However, when online banking services were first launched in the 1980s and 90s, consumer concerns about security and a lack of confidence in managing accounts themselves online meant that adoption was slow.

Since then the market has changed: For example, in 2000, 80% of banks in the U.S. were offering internet banking services. The launch of the iPhone seven years later caused a paradigm shift, triggering a wave of enormous development and widespread adoption of digital services accessible online and via smartphone apps. Ten years on, consumers are much more confident using digital financial services, and, although younger consumers are leading adoption, older generations are also increasingly using these services.

To read on about how BBVA responded to a changing market, please login and download the report, or contact us to subscribe.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Six lessons telcos can learn from BBVA
  • BBVA in STL Partners’ transformation index
  • Introduction
  • Why are we doing non-telco case studies?
  • General outline of STL Partners’ case study transformation index
  • How digital disruption is threatening banking 
  • Retail banks rely on a two-sided business model
  • Societal changes have driven digital banking adoption
  • Challenger banks and fintechs are changing the game
  • BBVA’s story
  • Phase one: Investing in technology to catalyse change
  • Phase two: Organisational change
  • Conclusions
  • BBVA in STL Partners’ transformation index
  • Appendix

Figures:

  • Figure 1: BBVA is rated as “Green” (good) in the STL Partners’ Transformation Index
  • Figure 2: Retaining depositors is a vital part of retail banks’ business model
  • Figure 3: The digital banking generation gap is closing
  • Figure 4: The sharing economy has taken off
  • Figure 5: BBVA’s global presence
  • Figure 6: Telcos need to virtualise their core to deliver cloud business models
  • Figure 7: Digital experience needs to be distributed across the organisation for transformation to succeed
  • Figure 8: BBVA’s leadership team is structured to accelerate digital transformation
  • Figure 9: Traditional banks need to adopt agile processes to compete with digital-native competitors
  • Figure 10: Ecosystem markets need new business models
  • Figure 11: BBVA’s co-opetition strategy involves acquisitions, investments and open APIs
  • Figure 12: BBVA’s shares are performing well
  • Figure 13: More smart and mobile device owners in Turkey use their devices for digital banking services than any other country surveyed
  • Figure 14: Turkey leads the way in four out of seven digital banking services
  • Figure 15: Turkish respondents are the most open to automated digital banking services
  • Figure 16: Less than 60% of Turkish adults had a bank account in 2014
  • Figure 17: Turkey is an attractive emerging market for investment
  • Figure 18: BBVA is rated as “Green” (good) in the STL Partners’ Transformation Index

AccorHotels: From hotelier to digital marketplace

Introduction

Why are we doing non-telco case studies?

Digital transformation is a phenomenon that is affecting every sector. Many industries have been through a transformation process far more severe than we have seen in telecoms, while others began the process much earlier in time. We believe that there are valuable lessons telcos can learn from these sectors, so we have decided to find and examine the most interesting/useful case studies.

In this report, we look at French hotel chain AccorHotels, which has undertaken an ambition transformation from hotel owner and operator into a digital platform for independent hotels. While our previous case study, publisher Axel Springer, has completed its transformation, AccorHotels has achieved significant changes but remains some years away from reaching its longer-term ambitions. However, because hotel groups and telcos share many similarities, such as being in the service industry, owning physical infrastructure and having highly distributed assets, we can draw many useful lessons from AccorHotels’ experience.

Like in previous transformation case studies, the key takeaways from our analysis of AccorHotels’ strategy will be the lessons for telcos to help them make their own transformation process run more smoothly.

General outline of STL Partners’ case study transformation index

We intend to complete more case studies in the future from other industry verticals, with the goal of creating a ‘case study transformation index’, illustrating how selected companies have overcome the challenge of digital disruption. In these case studies we are examining five key areas of transformation, identifying which have been the most challenging, which have generated the most innovative solutions, and which can be considered successes or failures. These five areas are:

  • Market
  • Proposition
  • Value Network
  • Technology
  • Finances

For each section, supporting evidence of good or bad practice will be graded as a positive (tick), a negative (cross) or a work in progress (dash). These ticks, crosses and dashes will then be evaluated to create a “traffic light” rating for each section, which will then be tallied to provide an overall transformation rating for each case study.

We anticipate that some of these five sections will overlap, and some will be more pertinent to certain case studies than others. But central to the case studies will be analysis of how the transformation process is relevant to the telco industry and the lessons that can be learned to help operators on the path to change.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • AccorHotels’ transformation experience – a summary of key lessons
  • The AccorHotels story in brief
  • AccorHotels in STL Partners’ transformation index
  • Introduction
  • Why are we doing non-telco case studies?
  • General outline of STL Partners’ case study transformation index
  • Drawing the parallels between hotels and telecoms
  • What does a hotel business look like?
  • How the Internet changed the hotel industry
  • Accor in context of leading global hotel chains
  • A successful transformation, so far
  • AccorHotels’ transformation strategy
  • Part 1: Separating property and services into distinct business lines
  • Part 2: From digital platform to marketplace
  • Part 3: Cultural transformation
  • Part 4: Invest in innovation
  • Conclusion
  • AccorHotels in STL Partners’ transformation index

Figures:

  • Figure 1: OTAs cut into hotels’ share of the hospitality industry
  • Figure 2: Comparison of leading global hotel chains
  • Figure 3: AccorHotels revenues and profitability are ticking up
  • Figure 4: Accor outperforms on growth of average revenue per room
  • Figure 5: AccorHotels property investments
  • Figure 6: Solid growth in profitability
  • Figure 7: AccorHotels eight digital hospitality programmes
  • Figure 8: Steady growth in loyalty programme subscribers
  • Figure 9: Accor acquires software expertise and reach to challenge OTAs
  • Figure 10: AccorHotels is gaining traction with digital services
  • Figure 11: AccorHotels still has some digital distance to go
  • Figure 12: AccorHotels digital services investment plan
  • Figure 13: AccorHotels acquisitions fuel business innovation
  • Figure 14: Digital M&A investment as a % of service revenue, 2012 – H1 2017
  • Figure 15: AccorHotels scores ‘Green’ on STL Partners’ transformation index

VEON – Transition from telco to consumer IP communications platform

Introduction to Veon

Geographical footprint and brands

Veon came into being at the start of 2017, a rebrand of VimpelCom. The Amsterdam-based telco was founded in its current form in 2009 when shareholders Telenor and Alfa agreed to merge their assets in VimpelCom and Ukraine’s Kyivstar to create VimpelCom Ltd.

Veon is among the world’s 10 largest communications network operators by subscription, with around 235 million customers in 13 countries (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Veon’s geographical footprint (September 2017)

Source: Veon, STL Partners

The telco operates a number of brands across its geographical footprint (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Veon’s brands (September 2017)

Source: Veon, STL Partners

Veon’s largest market is Russia, where it has over 58 million mobile subscribers, making up 24% of its global total. Pakistan and Bangladesh comprise its second-largest markets by subscribers, while it has over 30 million customers in Italy under its Wind Tre brand, a joint venture with CK Hutchison (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Veon mobile customers by region, H2 2017 (millions)

Source: Veon, STL Partners

A brief history of Veon

  • 1992: Veon began life as Russian operator PJSC VimpelCom in 1992.
  • 2009: VimpelCom Ltd. founded as Telenor and Alfa Group (Altimo) agree to merge their assets in VimpelCom (Russia and CIS) and Ukraine (Kyivstar).
  • 2010: VimpelCom acquires Orascom Telecom Holding (operating in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria) and Wind Italy from Egypt’s Naguib Sawiris.
  • 2017: VimpelCom Ltd. rebrands as Veon.


The somewhat unusual development of both Veon’s shareholder structure and geographical footprint means the telco faces some unique challenges, but has also enabled a degree of flexibility in the company’s path to transformation.

Veon’s shareholder structure – an enabler of transformation

At the time of writing, Veon is 47.9%-owned (common and voting shares) by Alfa (via investment vehicle LetterOne), and 19.7% by Norway’s Telenor (with the remaining 32.4% split between free float and minority shareholders).

This structure means that the company is less beholden to dividend-hungry shareholders, allowing the telco more ease of alignment than many of its contemporaries. This extra “breathing space” also allows change to occur faster with fewer levels of managerial approval required, whilst the board of directors has given its backing to Veon’s transformation journey, offering full “top-down support”. Nevertheless there is some doubt about how the transformation plans will be greeted at local OpCo level, and the group faces some serious cultural challenges in this area.

Faced with lacklustre organic growth and in the face of headwinds of currency devaluations in its former Soviet markets, Veon has chosen to, in the words of CEO Jean-Yves Charlier, “disrupt itself from within”.

Reversing the revenue decline

Speaking at Veon’s rebrand in February 2017, CEO Charlier spoke of how the telco sector has been backed into a corner by aggressive disruptive start-ups like Skype and WhatsApp, meaning the industry now needs to reinvent itself and find new paths to growth.

The company began by improving its capital structure, in part through the consolidation of operations in two of its largest markets, with the mergers of Mobilink and Warid to form Jazz in Pakistan, and the formation of joint venture Wind Tre from Wind Italy and CK Hutchison’s Tre (3).

Veon states it has realigned its corporate culture and values, introduced a robust control and compliance framework, and significantly cut its cost base, and the operator returned to positive revenue and EBITDA growth in the second quarter of 2017.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary 
  • Introduction to Veon
  • Veon’s digital strategy
  • What are the strengths of Veon’s offering?
  • What must Veon do to succeed?
  • Will Veon make it work?
  • Introduction
  • Introduction to Veon
  • The path to total transformation
  • Veon’s digital strategy
  • Reinvent customer experience
  • Network virtualisation
  • The product
  • An omni-channel platform
  • The strengths of the holistic platform
  • Can Veon’s consumer IP communications proposition succeed? 
  • Can Veon beat the GAFA and Chinese giants to the market?
  • What must Veon do to succeed?
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Veon’s geographical footprint (September 2017)
  • Figure 2: Veon’s brands (September 2017)
  • Figure 3: Veon mobile customers by region, H2 2017 (millions)
  • Figure 4: Veon revenue and EBITDA, Q4 2015-Q2 2017 ($ billion)
  • Figure 5: Veon’s transformation from telco to tech company
  • Figure 6: Penetration of leading social networks in Russia (2016)
  • Figure 7: Veon IT stack scope of responsibilities
  • Figure 8: VEON app screenshots – a IP communication platform
  • Figure 9: Veon app access requirements
  • Figure 10: Comparison of consumer IP communications plays
  • Figure 11: Veon – a SWOT analysis