Apple Glass: An iPhone moment for 5G?

Augmented reality supports many use cases across industries

Revisiting the themes explored in the AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle report STL Partners published in January 2018, this report explores whether augmented reality (AR) could become a catalyst for widespread adoption of 5G, as leading chip supplier Qualcomm and some telcos hope.

It considers how this technology is developing, its relationship with virtual reality (VR), and the implications for telcos trying to find compelling reasons for customers to use low latency 5G networks.

This report draws the following distinction between VR and AR

  • Virtual reality: use of an enclosed headset for total immersion in a digital3D
  • Augmented reality: superimposition of digital graphics onto images of the real world via a camera viewfinder, a pair of glasses or onto a screen fixed in real world.

In other words, AR is used both indoors and outdoors and on a variety of devices. Whereas Wi-Fi/fibre connectivity will be the preferred connectivity option in many scenarios, 5G will be required in locations lacking high-speed Wi-Fi coverage.  Many AR applications rely on responsive connectivity to enable them to interact with the real world. To be compelling, animated images superimposed on those of the real world need to change in a way that is consistent with changes in the real world and changes in the viewing angle.

AR can be used to create innovative games, such as the 2016 phenomena Pokemon Go, and educational and informational tools, such as travel guides that give you information about the monument you are looking at.  At live sports events, spectators could use AR software to identify players, see how fast they are running, check their heart rates and call up their career statistics.

Note, an advanced form of AR is sometimes referred to as mixed reality or extended reality (XR). In this case, fully interactive digital 3D objects are superimposed on the real world, effectively mixing virtual objects and people with physical objects and people into a seamless interactive scene. For example, an advanced telepresence service could project a live hologram of the person you are talking to into the same room as you. Note, this could be an avatar representing the person or, where the connectivity allows, an actual 3D video stream of the actual person.

Widespread usage of AR services will be a hallmark of the Coordination Age, in the sense that they will bring valuable information to people as and when they need it. First responders, for example, could use smart glasses to help work their way through smoke inside a building, while police officers could be immediately fed information about the owner of a car registration plate. Office workers may use smart glasses to live stream a hologram of a colleague from the other side of the world or a 3D model of a new product or building.

In the home, both AR and VR could be used to generate new entertainment experiences, ranging from highly immersive games to live holograms of sports events or music concerts. Some people may even use these services as a form of escapism, virtually inhabiting alternative realities for several hours a day.

Given sufficient time to develop, STL Partners believes mixed-reality services will ultimately become widely adopted in the developed world. They will become a valuable aid to everyday living, providing the user with information about whatever they are looking at, either on a transparent screen on a pair of glasses or through a wireless earpiece. If you had a device that could give you notifications, such as an alert about a fast approaching car or a delay to your train, in your ear or eyeline, why wouldn’t you want to use it?

How different AR applications affect mobile networks

One of the key questions for the telecoms industry is how many of these applications will require very low latency, high-speed connectivity. The transmission of high-definition holographic images from one place to another in real time could place enormous demands on telecoms networks, opening up opportunities for telcos to earn additional revenues by providing dedicated/managed connectivity at a premium price. But many AR applications, such as displaying reviews of the restaurant a consumer is looking at, are unlikely to generate much data traffic. the figure below lists some potential AR use cases and indicates how demanding they will be to support.

Examples of AR use cases and the demands they make on connectivity


Source: STL Partners

Although telcos have always struggled to convince people to pay a premium for premium connectivity, some of the most advanced AR applications may be sufficiently compelling to bring about this kind of behavioural shift, just as people are prepared to pay more for a better seat at the theatre or in a sports stadium. This could be on a pay-as-you-go or a subscription basis.

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The pioneers of augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is essentially a catch-all term for any application that seeks to overlay digital information and images on the real-world. Applications of AR can range from a simple digital label to a live 3D holographic projection of a person or event.

AR really rose to prominence at the start of the last decade with the launch of smartphone apps, such as Layar, Junaio, and Wikitude, which gave you information about what you were looking at through the smartphone viewfinder. These apps drew on data from the handset’s GPS chip, its compass and, in some cases, image recognition software to try and figure out what was being displayed in the viewfinder. Although they attracted a lot of media attention, these apps were too clunky to break through into the mass-market. However, the underlying concept persists – the reasonably popular Google Lens app enables people to identify a product, plant or animal they are looking at or translate a menu into their own language.

Perhaps the most high profile AR application to date is Niantic’s Pokemon Go, a smartphone game that superimposes cartoon monsters on images of the real world captured by the user’s smartphone camera. Pokemon Go generated $1 billion in revenue globally just seven months after its release in mid 2016, faster than any other mobile game, according to App Annie. It has also shown remarkable staying power. Four years later, in May 2020, Pokemon Go continued to be one of the top 10 grossing games worldwide, according to SensorTower.

In November 2017, Niantic, which has also had another major AR hit with sci-fi game Ingress, raised $200 million to boost its AR efforts. In 2019, it released another AR game based on the Harry Potter franchise.

Niantic is now looking to use its AR expertise to create a new kind of marketing platform. The idea is that brands will be able to post digital adverts and content in real-world locations, essentially creating digital billboards that are viewable to consumers using the Niantic platform. At the online AWE event in May 2020, Niantic executives claimed “AR gamification and location-based context” can help businesses increase their reach, boost user sentiment, and drive foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores. Niantic says it is working with major brands, such as AT&T, Simon Malls, Starbucks, Mcdonalds, and Samsung, to develop AR marketing that “is non-intrusive, organic, and engaging.”

The sustained success of Pokemon Go has made an impression on the major Internet platforms. By 2018, the immediate focus of both Apple and Google had clearly shifted from VR to AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been particularly vocal about the potential of AR. And he continues to sing the praises of the technology in public.

In January 2020, for example, during a visit to Ireland, Cook described augmented reality as the “next big thing.”  In an earnings call later that month, Cook added:When you look at AR today, you would see that there are consumer applications, there are enterprise applications. … it’s going to pervade your life…, because it’s going to go across both business and your whole life. And I think these things will happen in parallel.”

Both Apple and Google have released AR developer tools, helping AR apps to proliferate in both Apple’s App Store and on Google Play.  One of the most popular early use cases for AR is to check how potential new furniture would look inside a living room or a bedroom. Furniture stores and home design companies, such as Ikea, Wayfair and Houzz, have launched their own AR apps using Apple’s ARKit. Once the app is familiar with its surroundings, it allows the user to overlay digital models of furniture anywhere in a room to see how it will fit. The technology can work in outdoor spaces as well.

In a similar vein, there are various AR apps, such as MeasureKit, that allow you to measure any object of your choosing. After the user picks a starting point with a screen tap, a straight line will measure the length until a second tap marks the end. MeasureKit also claims to be able to calculate trajectory distances of moving objects, angle degrees, the square footage of a three-dimensional cube and a person’s height.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • More mainstream models from late 2022
    • Implications and opportunities for telcos
  • Introduction
  • Progress and Immediate Prospects
    • The pioneers of augmented reality
    • Impact of the pandemic
    • Snap – seeing the world differently
    • Facebook – the keeper of the VR flame
    • Google – the leader in image recognition
    • Apple – patiently playing the long game
    • Microsoft – expensive offerings for the enterprise
    • Amazon – teaming up with telcos to enable AR/VR
    • Market forecasts being revised down
  • Telcos Get Active in AR
    • South Korea’s telcos keep trying
    • The global picture
  • What comes next?
    • Live 3D holograms of events
    • Enhancing live venues with holograms
    • 4K HD – Simple, but effective
  • Technical requirements
    • Extreme image processing
    • An array of sensors and cameras
    • Artificial intelligence plays a role
    • Bandwidth and latency
    • Costs: energy, weight and financial
  • Timelines for Better VR and AR
    • When might mass-market models become available?
    • Implications for telcos
    • Opportunities for telcos
  • Appendix: Societal Challenges
    • AR: Is it acceptable in a public place?
    • VR: health issues
    • VR and AR: moral and ethical challenges
    • AR and VR: What do consumers really want?
  • Index

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What will make or break 5G growth?

5G is a long way from delivering on the hype

This report is a crib sheet outlining the 18 factors that STL Partners believes will have a significant impact on the development of the 5G market. We put forward our core assumption on how we expect each factor to affect the 5G market, and highlight the upside and downside risks to our assumption.

The purpose of the report is to pull together knowledge from across different areas – networks, enterprise services, consumer services, regulatory and commercial environments – to give a holistic view of what we think will influence 5G development. Although everyone in the industry has an eye on how 5G is developing, often this is from a relatively narrow view of the market. But the reality is that over the long term, 5G will not be just another G, but an amalgamation of many emerging and maturing network technologies, increasingly bespoke and fragmented enterprise and consumer demands, with high government expectations for contributions to economic growth. So to understand how quickly or slowly 5G will deliver on these promises, operators, vendors, customers and governments need to consider how a wide range of factors are playing out in their countries. By benchmarking their progress against our core assumptions, upside risks and downside risks, industry players can make a well-rounded assessment of whether they are ahead or behind in 5G development and identify ways to drive the market forward.

This report builds on STL’s extensive coverage of 5G and other enabling technologies:

Key factors influencing 5G development

We have organised the factors affecting 5G development into three categories:

  1. Primary drivers: We believe these will have the greatest impact on 5G development, owing to their influence over the cost and ease of deploying network infrastructure and services, and accessibility and value of 5G connectivity to end-users.
  2. Secondary drivers: These factors have a less direct impact on the 5G market development, especially over the short term, or will only influence a specific part of the market, such as fixed wireless access. However, in some instances telcos have more control over secondary factors than the primary ones, so depending on their strategies, secondary factors could have a disproportionate impact on 5G market development.
  3. Wildcards: These are factors which are less likely or predictable, but that if they do occur would have a decisive impact on how the 5G market (and wider telecoms industry) evolves.

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The 5G-aliser

Over the coming quarters, we will use these 5G factors as a means of measuring progress. The diagram below shows the inaugural 5G-aliser. The top row shows the supply and demand levels for 5G, the middle row shows the absolute level impact of each driver on 5G development, i.e. how important each driver is to 5G growth right now , and the bottom row shows the relative position of each driver. While our intention was to start all drivers at the same relative level, reflecting our core assumption as of March 2020, given the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have dropped this driver into the red already as we expect telcos’ first priority during the crisis to be on keeping their current operations running smoothly.

The 5G-aliser, March 2020

STL 5G-a-liser March 2020

Source: STL Partners

On a quarterly basis we will monitor the development of the 5G market and update the markers for each driver to reflect the emergence of upside or downside risks, and rising or falling importance of different growth drivers. Evidently, some factors are dependent on local market conditions, so we will also evaluate the drivers on a market by market basis, when important local developments occur.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Key takeaways
    • The 5G-aliser
  • Introduction
  • Key factors influencing 5G development
    • Primary drivers
    • Secondary factors
    • Wildcards
  • Conclusions

AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle

Introduction

This report explores the potential impact of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) on the lives of consumers. It considers how quickly these technologies will go mass market and the implications for telcos, including those with their own entertainment proposition and those operators whose networks act as a conduit for other companies’ content.

Widespread use of VR and/or AR could fuel another major step-change in the traffic travelling over telecoms networks. All VR apps and many AR apps will require vast amounts of data to be processed to render the necessary digital images. In short, telecoms operators could and should benefit from mass-market adoption of VR and AR.

In the consumer market – the primary focus of the research stream for which this report was written – the promise of VR and AR is that they will transform digital entertainment and communications. In the 2015 report Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose Digital Content is King?, STL Partners identified the rise of increasingly immersive games and interactive videos enabled by VR and/or AR as one of the six key trends that could disrupt the entertainment industry.

If it lives up to its hype, VR could blur the line between live entertainment and the living room. The ultimate promise of VR is that people will be able to enjoy a movie or sports event from the inside, choosing from multiple viewpoints within a 360-degree video stream, potentially placing themselves in the midst of the action. For example, a consumer could use VR to “sit” next to the conductor at a classical music concert or alongside a manager at a football match, and hear every word he or she utters. They may even be able to experience a sports event from the perspective of an athlete by streaming live footage from mini-cameras mounted on helmets or other attire. Although still very expensive, VR production technology is already being used to create immersive games and interactive movies, as well as interactive documentaries and educational programmes.

Developing in parallel with VR, AR calls for digital graphics to be superimposed on live images of the real world. This can be used to create innovative new games, such as the 2016 phenomenon Pokemon Go, and educational and informational tools, such as travel guides that give you information about the monument you are looking at. At live sports events, spectators could use AR software to identify players, see how fast they are running, check their heart rates and call up their career statistics.

This report draws the following distinction between VR and AR

  • Virtual reality: use of an enclosed headset for total immersion in a digital 3D world.
  • Augmented reality: superimposition of digital graphics into the real world via a camera viewfinder, a pair of glasses or onto a screen fixed in the real world.

Note, an advanced form of AR is sometimes referred to as mixed reality. In this case, fully interactive digital 3D objects are superimposed on the real world, effectively mixing virtual objects and people with physical objects and people into a seamless interactive scene. For example, an advanced telepresence service could project a live hologram of the person you are talking to into the same room as you.

The net effect is that both live and living room entertainment could become much more personalised and interactive, particularly as bandwidth, latency, graphics processing and rendering technology all improve.

In time, mixed-reality services are likely to become almost universally adopted in the developed world. They will become a valuable aid to everyday living, providing the user with information about whatever they are looking at, either on a transparent screen on a pair of glasses or through a wireless earpiece. Engineers, for example, will use the technology to identify individual parts and detect faults, while consumers will rely on AR to retrieve information about whatever they are looking at, whether that be the route of an approaching bus, the menu of a nearby restaurant or the fat and salt content of a ready meal.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Takeaways for telcos
  • Introduction 
  • Progress and immediate prospects
  • VR: Virtually there?
  • Augmented reality springs back to life
  • 4K HD: Simple, but effective
  • Technical requirements
  • Image processing
  • Sensors and cameras
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Developer tools
  • Bandwidth and latency
  • Costs: Energy, weight and financial
  • Timeline for VR
  • Timeline for AR
  • Societal Challenges
  • AR: Is it acceptable in a public place?
  • VR: Health issues
  • VR and AR: Moral and ethical challenges
  • AR and VR: What do consumers really want?
  • Timelines and Forecasts
  • Conclusions for telcos
  • Opportunities for telcos

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Fantasy roleplaying title Skyrim VR has won praise from gaming critics
  • Figure 2: The definition of six degrees of freedom for VR
  • Figure 3: On paper, the Oculus Go looks impressive
  • Figure 4: Users of Ikea’s catalogue can see what furniture will look like in their room
  • Figure 5: A 3D holographic image of a sports event can appear in a living room
  • Figure 6: Google Lens can retrieve information about a shop or building you are looking at
  • Figure 7: How 3D sensors can map a room or an outdoor area in real time
  • Figure 8: Edge computing and telco cloud can get latency low enough for VR apps
  • Figure 9: The likely timeline for immersive VR with a wireless headset
  • Figure 10: The bulky Magic Leap One will be wired to a belt-mounted computer
  • Figure 11: Smart Sunglasses need to be chunky to fit in all the necessary tech
  • Figure 12: The timeline for live 3D holographic projections using wireless AR headsets
  • Figure 13: How AR and VR will develop over the next five years

Amazon: Telcos’ Chameleon-King Ally?

Introduction

Amazon is using an array of innovative propositions to sidestep the Android-Apple duopoly in the smartphone market and Facebook’s rapidly expanding digital commerce ecosystem. Amazon’s vast selection, unparalleled logistics, innovative bundling, laser-like focus on the customer, rapidly improving entertainment proposition and leadership in voice-controlled in-home systems mean the Seattle-based e-commerce giant is fast becoming a omnipresent convenience store that always has what you want, when you want it.

Continually reinventing itself, Amazon’s restlessness could seriously disrupt the balance of power between the major global Internet ecosystems. Although the Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google ecosystems all originate from the PC-era, they have each managed to successfully extend their digital platforms into the smartphone and tablet markets. But not without a dramatic change in the pecking order. In fact, the advent of touch-controlled smartphones enabled Apple to become a major force in the digital consumer market, while weakening the position of its long-standing foe Microsoft.

Now these ecosystems need to navigate the tricky transition to voice-controlled digital platforms, which depend heavily on advanced speech recognition, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Amazon is leading the way, having created this new market with the rollout of its Echo speaker, underpinned by the cloud-based Alexa personal assistant system.

This report analyses Amazon’s financial firepower, the Amazon Prime bundle and strategy of bundling entertainment with retail, before considering Amazon’s areas of relative weakness – the smartphone and communications markets. In this section, the report also considers whether Amazon can sustain its lead in the nascent market for voice-controlled speakers for the home.

It concludes by exploring whether Amazon has sufficient economies of scope to build the expertise in artificial intelligence that will be required to ensure the Apple-Android duopoly that exists in the smartphone market won’t also dominate the emerging smart home sector. Finally, it considers the ramifications for telcos and makes several high level recommendations.

The global e-commerce market

Online commerce continues to grow rapidly. In 2016, global retail e-commerce sales (products and services ordered via the internet) will rise almost 24% to reach $1.915 trillion in 2016, according to research firm eMarketer. As that represents just 8.7% of total retail spending worldwide, there is plenty more growth to come. eMarketer expects retail ecommerce sales will increase to $4.058 trillion in 2020, making up 14.6% of total retail spending that year (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Retail online commerce continues to grow rapidly

The major global Internet ecosystems – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – all take a slice of this market. Within their ecosystems, they act as brokers bringing buyers and sellers together, earning a commission for facilitating interactions and transactions. Google and Facebook are the leading players in online advertising, while Apple is a leading distributor of digital content: Although Apple still generates most of its revenue from devices, its App Store and iTunes service are now major contributors to its top line. Still, in online commerce, Amazon rules the roost: Its online marketplace, which offers a vast selection of products and services from millions of merchants, continues to grow rapidly.

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The global e-commerce market
  • Amazon’s financial firepower
  • Key takeaways
  • Amazon Prime: The Convenience Engine
  • Eroding Google Search
  • Key takeaways
  • Why Amazon wants to entertain us
  • A push into user-generated content
  • Key takeaways
  • Amazon’s Devices: Ups and Downs
  • Navigating Google’s mobile maze
  • Amazon’s Attempts to Develop Device Platforms
  • Key takeaways
  • Communications: Amazon’s Blind Spot?
  • Conclusions and Recommendations

Can Telcos Entertain You? Vodafone and MTN’s Emerging Market Strategies (Part 2)

Telcos and the entertainment opportunity

In most emerging markets, which are the focus of this report, mobile networks are fast becoming the primary distribution channel for entertainment content. Although television is popular all over the world, in much of sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, terrestrial television coverage is patchy, while cable TV is rare. Satellite television is broadly available, but fewer than half of households can afford to buy a television, meaning many people only watch TV in bars, cafes or in the houses of friends.

In Kenya, for example, only 28% of households have a television, according to the World Bank development indicators, while in Tanzania that figure is just 15%. In some major developing markets, television has a stronger grip – in Nigeria, 40% of households have a TV and 47% of households in India. For sub-Saharan Africa, as a whole, television penetration is about 25% and in South Asia, 36%.

For many people in these regions, purchasing a versatile smartphone, which can be used for communications, information access, commerce and entertainment, is a higher priority than acquiring a television. The advent of sub US$40 smartphones means more and more people can now afford mobile devices with decent screens capable of displaying multimedia and processors that can run apps and full Internet browsers. In India, 220 million smartphones were in use at the end of 2015, according to one estimate , while Ericsson has forecast that the number of smartphones in use in Sub-Saharan Africa will leap to 690 million in 2021 from 170 million at the end of 2015 (see Figure 1).

 Figure 1: Predicted smartphone growth in developing regions

 Source: Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2015

In emerging markets, most Internet users don’t own a television (see Figure 2) and many rely entirely on a smartphone for digital entertainment. Moreover, a scarcity of fixed line infrastructure means much of the entertainment content is delivered over mobile networks. Mobile trade group the GSMA estimates that 3G networks, which are typically fast enough to transmit reasonable video images, reach about three quarters of the planet’s people. Mobile network supplier Ericsson has forecast that mobile broadband networks (3G and/or 4G) will cover more than 90% of the world’s population by 2021.

 Figure 2: Device ownership among Internet users in selected markets

 Source: Ericsson

The reliance on cellular infrastructure in developing countries has enabled mobile operators to take on a central role in the provision of online entertainment. The fact that many people rely almost solely on mobile networks for entertainment is presenting mobile operators with a major opportunity to boost their relevance and revenues. Given the capacity constraints on mobile networks and the implications for cellular tariffs, entertainment services need to be optimised to ensure that the costs of bandwidth don’t become prohibitive for consumers. Mobile operators’ understanding and real-time knowledge of their networks means they are in a good position to both manage the optimisation and package connectivity and content (regulation permitting) into one service bundle with a predictable and transparent tariff.

Although the network effects and economies of scale and scope enjoyed by YouTube and Facebook mean that both these players have strong positions in much of developing Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, some emerging market telcos have also built a solid foundation in the fast growing online entertainment sector. In Africa and India, for example, the leading telcos enable third party content providers to reach new customers through the telcos’ dedicated entertainment platforms, including web portals, individual apps and app stores selling music, TV and games. In return for supporting content offerings with their brands, networks, messaging, billing and payment systems, these telcos typically earn commission and capture valuable behavioural data.

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos and the entertainment opportunity
  • Roles in the online entertainment value chain
  • Further disruption ahead
  • Vodafone India faces up to new competition
  • The land-grab in India’s online entertainment market
  • Vodafone India combines content and connectivity
  • Takeaways – greater differentiation required
  • Music Gives MTN an Edge
  • Takeaways – music could be a springboard
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Predicted smartphone growth in developing regions
  • Figure 2: Device ownership among Internet users in selected markets
  • Figure 3: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 4: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?
  • Figure 5: Vodafone India curates a wide range of infotainment content
  • Figure 6: Smartphone adoption in India will more than double in the next five years
  • Figure 7: Vodafone Mobile TV enables customers to subscribe to channels
  • Figure 8: The new Vodafone Play app combines TV, films and music
  • Figure 9: Vodafone India offers an app that makes it easy to track data usage
  • Figure 10: Vodafone’s Mobile TV app hasn’t attracted a strong following
  • Figure 11: Competitive and regulatory pressures are pushing down prices
  • Figure 12: In 3G, Vodafone India has kept pace with market leader Airtel
  • Figure 13: Vodafone India’s growth in data traffic compared with that of other telcos
  • Figure 14: Vodafone’s performance in India this decade
  • Figure 15: MTN’s Telco 2.0 strategy is focused on digital services
  • Figure 16: MTN’s growing array of digital services
  • Figure 17: MTN Play has been localised for each of MTN’s operations
  • Figure 18: The Ugandan version of MTN Play caters for local tastes
  • Figure 19: MTN bundles in some data traffic with each music plan
  • Figure 20: MTN’s digital services are particularly strong in Nigeria
  • Figure 21: MTN tops a list of most admired brands in Africa in 2015

Telco Cloud: Translating New Capabilities into New Revenue

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Preface

The telecoms industry is embracing network virtualisation and software defined networking, which are designed to both cut costs and enable greater agility. Whilst most operators have focused on the operating and capital cost benefits of virtualisation, few have attempted to define the range of potential new services that could be enabled by these new technologies and even fewer have attempted to forecast the associated revenue growth.

This report outlines:

  • Why and how network functions virtualisation (NFV), software defined networking (SDN) and distributed compute capabilities could generate new revenue growth for telcos.
  • The potential new services enabled by these technologies.
  • The revenue growth that a telco might hope to achieve.

This report does not discuss the cost, technical, organisational, market or regulatory challenges operators will need to overcome in making the transition to SDN and NFV. STL Partners (STL) also acknowledges that operators are still a long way from developing and launching some of the new services discussed in this paper, not least because they require capabilities that do not exist today. Nevertheless, by mapping the opportunity landscape for operators, this report should help to pave the way to fully capturing the transformative potential of SDN and NFV.

To sense-check our findings, STL has tested the proposed service concepts with the industry. The new services identified and modelled by STL were shared with approximately 25 telecoms operators. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) kindly commissioned and supported this research and testing programme.

However, STL wrote this report independently, and the views and conclusions contained herein are those of STL.

Introduction

The end of growth in telecoms…?

Most telecoms operators are facing significant competitive pressure from rival operators and players in adjacent sectors. Increased competition among telcos and Internet players has driven down voice and messaging revenues. Whilst demand for data services is increasing, STL forecasts that revenue growth in this segment will not offset the decline in voice and messaging revenue (see Figure 5).

 Figure 5: Illustrative forecast: revenue decline for converged telco in advanced market

Source: STL Partners analysis

Figure 5 shows STL forecasts for revenues over a six-year horizon for an illustrative converged telco operating in an advanced market. The telco, its market characteristics and the modelling mechanics are described in detail later in this report.

We believe that existing ‘digital’ businesses (representing consumer digital services, such as IPTV and managed services for enterprises) will not grow significantly on an organic basis over the next six years (unless operators are able to radically transform their business). Note, this forecast is for a converged telco (mobile and fixed) addressing both enterprise and consumer segments; we anticipate that revenues could face a steeper decline for non-converged, consumer-only or enterprise-only players.

Given that telcos’ cost structures are quite rigid, with high capex and opex requirements to manage infrastructure, the ongoing decline in core service revenue will continue to put significant pressure on the core business. As revenues decline, margins fall and telcos’ ability to invest in innovation is curbed, making it even harder to find new sources of revenue.

New technologies can be a catalyst for telco transformation

However, STL believes that new technologies have the potential to both streamline the telco cost structure and spur growth. In particular, network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) offer many potential benefits for telcos.

Virtualisation has the potential to generate significant cost savings for telcos. Whilst the process of managing a transition to NFV and SDN may be fraught with challenges and be costly, it should eventually lead to:

  • A reduction in capex – NFV will lead to the adoption of generic common-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. This hardware will be lower cost, able to serve multiple functions and will be more readily re-usable. Furthermore, operators will be less tied to vendors’ proprietary platforms, as functions will be more openly interchangeable. This will increase competition in the hardware and software markets, leading to an overall reduction in capital investment.
  • Reduction of opex through automation. Again, as services will be delivered via software there will be less cost associated with the on-going management and maintenance of the network infrastructure. The network will be more-centrally managed, allowing more efficient sharing of resources, such as space, power and cooling systems.
  • Product lifecycle management improvements through more integrated development and operations (devops)

In addition to cost savings, virtualisation can also allow operators to become more agile. This agility arises from two factors:

  1. The nature of the new infrastructure
  2. The change in cost structure

As the new infrastructure will be software-centric, as opposed to hardware-centric, greater levels of automation will be possible. This new software-defined, programmable infrastructure could also increase flexibility in the creation, management and provisioning of services in a way that is not possible with today’s infrastructure, leading to greater agility.

Virtualisation will also change the telco cost structure, potentially allowing operators to be less risk-averse and thereby become more innovative. Figure 6 below shows how virtualisation can impact the operating model of a telco. Through virtualisation, an infrastructure player becomes more like a platform or product player, with less capital tied-up in infrastructure (and the management of that infrastructure) and more available to spend on marketing and innovation.

Redefining the cost structure could help spur transformation across the business, as processes and culture begin to revolve less around fixed infrastructure investment and more-around software and innovation.

Figure 6: Virtualisation can redefine the cost structure of a telco

Source: STL Partners analysis

This topic is explored in detail in the recent Executive Briefings: Problem: Telecoms technology inhibits operator business model change (Part 1) and Solution: Transforming to the Telco Cloud Service Provider (Part 2).

 

  • Preface
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The end of growth in telecoms…?
  • New technologies can be a catalyst for telco transformation
  • Defining ‘Telco Cloud’
  • How Telco Cloud enables revenue-growth opportunities for telcos
  • Connect services
  • Perform services
  • Capture, Analyse & Control services
  • Digital Agility services
  • Telco Cloud Services
  • Service Overview: Revenue vs. Ease of Implementation
  • 15 Service types defined (section on each)
  • The Revenue Opportunity
  • Model overview
  • Sizing the revenue potential from Telco Cloud services
  • Timeline for new service launch
  • Breaking down the revenues
  • Customer experience benefits
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix
  • Modelling Assumptions & Mechanics
  • Service Descriptions: Index of Icons

 

  • Figure 1: Defining Telco Cloud
  • Figure 2: Overview of Telco Cloud categories and services
  • Figure 3: Telco Cloud could boost revenues X% higher than the base case
  • Figure 4: Breakdown of Telco Cloud revenues in 2021
  • Figure 5: Illustrative forecast: revenue decline for converged telco in advanced market
  • Figure 6: Virtualisation can redefine the cost structure of a telco
  • Figure 7: Defining Telco Cloud
  • Figure 8: Telco Cloud Service Categories
  • Figure 9: Telco Cloud will enable immersive live VR experiences
  • Figure 10: Telco Cloud can enable two-way communication in real-time
  • Figure 11: Overview of Telco Cloud categories and services
  • Figure 12: Telco Cloud Services: Revenue versus ease of implementation
  • Figure 13: Telco X – Base case shows declining revenues
  • Figure 14: Telco X – Telco Cloud services increase monthly revenues by X% on the base case by Dec 2021
  • Figure 15: Telco X – Timeline of Telco Cloud service launch dates
  • Figure 16: Telco X (converged) – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)
  • Figure 17: Telco Y (mobile only) – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)
  • Figure 18 Telco Z (fixed only) – Net new revenue by service category (Dec 2021)
  • Figure 19: Modelling Mechanics

Can Telcos Entertain You? (Part 1)

Telcos and the entertainment opportunity

As telecoms networks are the primary distribution channels for the digital economy, all telcos are in the entertainment business to a certain extent. With more than 3.2 billion people worldwide now connected to the Internet, according to the ITU, entertainment is increasingly delivered online and on-demand over telecoms and cable networks. The major Internet ecosystems – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – are looking to dominate this market. But telcos could also play a pivotal role in an emerging new world order, either by providing enablers or by delivering their own differentiated entertainment offerings.

Many telcos have long flirted with offering their own entertainment services, typically as a retaliatory response to cable television providers’ push into communications. But these flings are now morphing into something more serious: connectivity and entertainment are becoming increasingly intertwined in telcos’ portfolios. Television, in particular, is shifting from the periphery, both in terms of telcos’ revenues and top management focus, onto centre stage. Some of the world’s largest telcos are beginning to invest in securing exclusive drama and sports content, even going as far as developing their own programming. This push is part of telcos’ broader search for ways to remain relevant in the consumer market, as usage of telcos’ voice and messaging services is curbed by over-the-top alternatives.

The central strategic dilemma for telcos is whether they should be selling services directly to the consumer or whether they should be providing enablers to other players (such as Amazon, Google, Netflix and Spotify) who might be prepared to pay for the use of dedicated content delivery networks, messaging, distribution, authentication, billing and payments. In many respects, this is not a new dilemma: Operators have tried to become content developers and distributors in the past, building portals, selling ringtones and games, and establishing app stores. What is new is the size of the table stakes: The expansion of broadband coverage and capacity has put the focus very much on increasingly high definition and immersive television and video. Creating this kind of content can be very expensive, prompting some of the largest telcos to invest billions of dollars, rather than tens of millions, in their entertainment proposition.

It isn’t just telcos undergoing a strategic rethink. The spread of broadband, the proliferation of connected digital devices and the shift to a multimedia Internet are shaking up the entertainment industry itself. Mobile and online entertainment accounts for US$195 billion (almost 11%) of the US$1.8 trillion global entertainment market today . And that proportion is growing. By some estimates, that figure is on course to rise to more than 13% of the global entertainment market, which could be worth US$2.2 trillion in 2019.

For incumbents in the media industry, this is a seismic shift. Cable television companies, for example, have had to rethink their longstanding business model, which involved selling big bundles of television channels encompassing the good, the bad and the ugly. Individual customers typically only watch a small fraction of the cable TV channels they are paying for, prompting a growing number of them to seek out more cost-effective and more targeted propositions from over-the-top players.

Cable companies have responded by offering more choice and expanding across the entertainment value chain. For example, Comcast, a leading US cableco, offers an increasingly broad range of TV packages, ranging from US$16 a month (for about 10 local channels) to US$80 a month (for about 140 channels bundled with high speed Internet access). Moreover, Comcast is making its TV services more flexible, enabling customers to download/record video content to watch on mobile devices and PCs at their convenience. Even so, Comcast has been shedding cable TV subscriptions for most of the past decade. But the cableco’s vertical-integration strategy has more than compensated. Growth in Comcast’s NBCUniversal television and film group, which owns a major Hollywood studio, together with rising demand for high-speed Internet access, has kept the top line growing.

Roles in the online entertainment value chain

Other cablecos and telcos are following a similar playbook to Comcast, increasingly involving themselves in all four of the key roles in the online content value chain, identified by STL Partners. These four key roles are:

  1. Programme: Content creation: producing drama series, movies or live sports programmes.
  2. Package: Packaging programmes into channels or music into playlists and then selling these packages on a subscription basis or providing them free, supported by advertising.
  3. Platform: Distributing TV channels, films or music created and curated by another entity.
  4. Pipe: Providing connectivity, either to the Internet or to a walled content garden.

Clearly, virtually all telcos and cablecos play the pipe role, providing connectivity for online content. Many also operate platforms, essentially reselling television on behalf of others. But now a growing number, including BT, Telefónica and Verizon, are creating packages and even developing their own programming. The pipe and package roles present opportunities to capture behavioural data that can then be used to further hone the entertainment proposition and make personalised recommendations and offers. At the same time, the package and programme roles are becoming increasingly important as the platforms with the best content, the best channels and the best recommendations are likely to attract the most traffic.

Figure 1 illustrates how the package and platform roles, in particular, are increasingly converging, as consumers seek out services that can help them find and discover entertainment that suits their particular tastes. Google’s YouTube platform, for example, increasingly promotes its many channels (packages) to better engage consumers, help them discover content and help viewers navigate their way through the vast amount of video on offer.

By venturing into packaging and programming, telcos are hoping to differentiate their platforms from those of the major global online players – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix – which benefit from substantial economies of scale and scope. But pursuing such a strategy can involve compromises.
In many cases, regulators force telcos to also make their programming and packaging available on third party TV platforms, including those of direct competitors. In the UK, for example, BT has to wholesale its BT Sports channels to other TV platforms, including that of arch rival Sky. Figure 2 shows how BT’s platform, packaging and programming is intertwined with that of third parties, creating a complex, multi-faceted market in which BT content is available through BT TV/BT Broadband and through other platforms and pipes.

 Figure 1: How the key roles in online content are changing

 Source: STL Partners analysis

Figure 2: BT has to provide standalone packaging & programming, as well as a platform

 Source: STL Partners analysis

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos and the entertainment opportunity
  • Roles in the online entertainment value chain
  • Further disruption ahead
  • BT – betting big on sport
  • Takeaways – sport gives BT a broad springboard
  • Telefónica – leveraging languages
  • Takeaways – Telefónica could lead Hispanic entertainment
  • Verizon – acquiring and accumulating expertise
  • Takeaways – Verizon needs bigger and better content
  • Conclusions
  • Annex: Recommendations for telcos & cablecos in entertainment

 

  • Figure 1: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 2: BT has to provide standalone packaging & programming, as well as a platform
  • Figure 3: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?
  • Figure 4: The extras and upgrades to the free BT TV and BT Sports offer
  • Figure 5: The differences between BT TV’s free and premium packages
  • Figure 6: BT’s app enables consumers to watch premium content on handsets
  • Figure 7: BT Sport has driven broadband net-adds, but the rights bill is also rising
  • Figure 8: In the UK, BT is still behind the Sky TV platform but on a par with YouTube
  • Figure 9: How BT Sport creates value for BT
  • Figure 10: Telefónica offers a selection of bolt-ons to cater for different tastes
  • Figure 11: Acquisitions boosted Telefónica’s pay TV business in 2015
  • Figure 12: Pay TV and fibre broadband are the growth engines in Spain
  • Figure 13: Telefónica TV’s position versus that of Netflix and YouTube in Spain
  • Figure 14: Verizon’s three-tier strategy envisages providing platforms and solutions
  • Figure 15: Verizon was attracted by AOL’s growing platforms business
  • Figure 16: Verizon’s go90 is designed to be a content and social hybrid
  • Figure 17: AOL ranks sixth in terms of online visitors in the US
  • Figure 18: Verizon’s new go90 app has had a fairly positive response from users
  • Figure 19: AOL video trails far behind Internet rivals YouTube and Netflix in terms of usage
  • Figure 20: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of five global online entertainment platforms – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix.

It also explores how improvements in digital technologies, consumer electronics and bandwidth are changing the online entertainment market, while explaining the ongoing uncertainty around net neutrality. The report then considers how well each of the five major entertainment platforms is prepared for the likely technological and regulatory changes in this market. Finally, it provides a high level overview of the implications for telco, paving the way for a forthcoming STL Partners report going into more detail about potential strategies for telcos in online entertainment.

The rise and rise of online entertainment

As in many other sectors, digital technologies are shaking up the global entertainment industry, giving rise to a new world order. Now that 3.2 billion people around the world have Internet access, according to the ITU, entertainment is increasingly delivered online and on-demand.

Mobile and online entertainment accounts for US$195 million (almost 11%) of the US$1.8 trillion global entertainment market today. By some estimates, that figure is on course to rise to more than 13% of the global entertainment market, which could be worth US$2.2 trillion in 2019.

Two leading distributors of online content – Google and Facebook – have infiltrated the top ten media owners in the world as defined by ZenithOptimedia (see Figure 1). ZenithOptimedia ranks media companies according to all the revenues they derive from businesses that support advertising – television broadcasting, newspaper publishing, Internet search, social media, and so on. As well as advertising revenues, it includes all revenues generated by these businesses, such as circulation revenues for newspapers or magazines. However, for pay-TV providers, only revenues from content in which the company sells advertising are included.

Figure 1 – How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners

Source: ZenithOptimedia, May 2015/STL Partners

ZenithOptimedia says this approach provides a clear picture of the size and negotiating power of the biggest global media owners that advertisers and agencies have to deal with. Note, Figure 1 draws on data from the financial year 2013, which is the latest year for which ZenithOptimedia had consistent revenue figures from all of the publicly listed companies. Facebook, which is growing fast, will almost certainly have climbed up the table since then.

Figure 1 also shows STL Partners’ view of the extent to which each of the top ten media owners is involved in the four key roles in the online content value chain. These four key roles are:

  1. Programme: Content creation. E.g. producing drama series, movies or live sports programmes.
  2. Package: Content curation. E.g. packaging programmes into channels or music into playlists and then selling these packages on a subscription basis or providing them free, supported by advertising.
  3. Platform: Content distribution. E.g. Distributing TV channels, films or music created and curated by another entity.
  4. Pipe: Providing connectivity. E.g. providing Internet access

Increasing vertical integration

Most of the world’s top ten media owners have traditionally focused on programming and packaging, but the rise of the Internet with its global reach has brought unprecedented economies of scale and scope to the platform players, enabling Google and now Facebook to break into the top ten. These digital disruptors earn advertising revenues by providing expansive two-sided platforms that link creators with viewers. However, intensifying competition from other major ecosystems, such as Amazon, and specialists, such as Netflix, is prompting Google, in particular, to seek new sources of differentiation. The search giant is increasingly investing in creating and packaging its own content.  The need to support an expanding range of digital devices and multiple distribution networks is also blurring the boundaries between the packaging and platform roles (see Figure 2, below) – platforms increasingly need to package content in different ways for different devices and for different devices.

Figure 2 – How the key roles in online content are changing

Source: STL Partners

These forces are prompting most of the major media groups, including Google and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, to expand across the value chain. Some of the largest telcos, including Verizon and BT, are also investing heavily in programming and packaging, as they seek to fend off competition from vertically-integrated media groups, such as Comcast and Sky (part of 21st Century Fox), who are selling broadband connectivity, as well as content.

In summary, the strongest media groups will increasingly create their own exclusive programming, package it for different devices and sell it through expansive distribution platforms that also re-sell third party content. These three elements feed of each other – the behavioural data captured by the platform can be used to improve the programming and packaging, creating a virtuous circle that attracts more customers and advertisers, generating economies of scale.

Although some leading media groups also own pipes, providing connectivity is less strategically important – consumers are increasingly happy to source their entertainment from over-the-top propositions. Instead of investing in networks, the leading media and Internet groups lobby regulators and run public relations campaigns to ensure telcos and cablecos don’t discriminate against over-the-top services. As long as these pipes are delivering adequate bandwidth and are sufficiently responsive, there is little need for the major media groups to become pipes.

The flip-side of this is that if telcos can convince the regulator and the media owners that there is a consumer and business benefit to differentiated network services (or discrimination to use the pejorative term), then the value of the pipe role increases. Guaranteed bandwidth or low-latency are a couple of the potential areas that telcos could potentially pursue here but they will need to do a significantly better job in lobbying the regulator and in marketing the benefits to consumers and the content owner/distributor if this strategy is to be successful.

To be sure, Google has deployed some fibre networks in the US and is now acting as an MVNO, reselling airtime on mobile networks in the US. But these efforts are part of its public relations effort – they are primarily designed to showcase what is possible and put pressure on telcos to improve connectivity rather than mount a serious competitive challenge.

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The rise and rise of online entertainment
  • Increasing vertical integration
  • The world’s leading online entertainment platforms
  • A regional breakdown
  • The future of online entertainment market
  • 1. Rising investment in exclusive content
  • 2. Back to the future: Live programming
  • 3. The changing face of user generated content
  • 4. Increasingly immersive games and interactive videos
  • 5. The rise of ad blockers & the threat of a privacy backlash
  • 6. Net neutrality uncertainty
  • How the online platforms are responding
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Google is the leading generator of online entertainment traffic in most regions
  • How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 1: How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners
  • Figure 2: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 3: Google leads in most regions in terms of entertainment traffic
  • Figure 4: YouTube serves up an eclectic mix of music videos, reality TV and animals
  • Figure 5: Facebook users recommend videos to one another
  • Figure 6: Apple introduces apps for television
  • Figure 7: Netflix, Google, Facebook and Amazon all gaining share in North America
  • Figure 8: YouTube & Facebook increasingly about entertainment, not interaction
  • Figure 9: YouTube maintains lead over Facebook on American mobile networks
  • Figure 10: US smartphones may be posting fewer images and videos to Facebook
  • Figure 11: Over-the-top entertainment is a three-way fight in North America
  • Figure 12: YouTube, Facebook & Netflix erode BitTorrent usage in Europe
  • Figure 13: File sharing falling back in Europe
  • Figure 14: iTunes cedes mobile share to YouTube and Facebook in Europe
  • Figure 15: Facebook consolidates strong upstream lead on mobile in Europe
  • Figure 16: YouTube accounts for about one fifth of traffic on Europe’s networks
  • Figure 17: YouTube & BitTorrent dominate downstream fixed-line traffic in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 18: Filesharing and peercasting apps dominate the upstream segment
  • Figure 19: YouTube stretches lead on mobile networks in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 20: YouTube neck & neck with Facebook on upstream mobile in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 21: YouTube has a large lead in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Figure 22: YouTube fends off Facebook, as Netflix gains traction in Latam
  • Figure 23: How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 24: YouTube’s live programming tends to be very niche
  • Figure 25: Netflix’s ranking of UK Internet service providers by bandwidth delivered
  • Figure 26: After striking a deal with Netflix, Verizon moved to top of speed rankings