Around 60,000 global movers and shakers of all things mobile once again descended upon Barcelona to attend the leading annual mobility event, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). This year’s main themes centered on metadata analytics, the customer experience, and over-the top business models:
The big data opportunity fueled the fantasies of almost all MWC attendees. In the case of telcos, data analytics is seen as the driver for improving the customer experience and developing new markets. Telcos talked a lot about the opportunities of analysing user behavior and turning user data into the new operator currency. The context- and location-aware nature of mobile solutions makes the big data opportunity particularly attractive. However, despite the talk, there were practically no case studies of operators that have succeeded in monetizing data on a large scale. Progress regarding data monetization is slowed down by a lack of clear business models, but also by an OSS/BSS infrastructure that does not support real-time or near real-time analytics. Moreover, privacy concerns also act as a drag on the uptake of data analytics. Equipment vendors such as Nokia Siemens Networks, meanwhile, showcased their customer experience management and analytics solutions for telcos. The solution combines analytics and the actions that operators must take to correct or improve the end user experience, such as a level one call handler pushing the correct settings to a phone or a marketing manager setting up a marketing campaign.
Network infrastructure is the basis for all funding of telco activities; as such, telcos must not only keep the cash cow alive, but also strengthen it. Management of network infrastructure is easily belittled as a subject for engineering nerds — but it must be treated as a key strategic matter.
Outsourcing the management of or sharing network infrastructure delivers many benefits, and we expect telcos to do this more and more in the years ahead. Telcos need to balance the simultaneous requirements of cost control, enhanced business flexibility, and innovation to incorporate the right approach to external network infrastructure management into their future strategies. Equipment vendors, meanwhile, must adjust their business to keep up and partner with traditional IT services providers.
Many more telcos are moving toward sharing or outsourcing some or all of their network assets and operations to partners or suppliers, becoming “telcos without networks.” This provides an opportunity for some telcos to shift their focus and resources to:
Cost control and transparency. The decision to share or outsource network assets and their operation is primarily driven by financial needs, in particular to bring the total cost of ownership down, spread expenditures over time, and allocate costs in a more transparent manner.
A better customer experience. Increases in data traffic require telcos to enhance their network and service delivery infrastructures and improve network coverage in order to maintain the quality of the customer experience. Moreover, telcos face regulatory requirements for improved rural network coverage, which can be more readily satisfied by network outsourcing.
Corporate CIOs should not ignore the network-centric nature of cloud-based solutions when developing their cloud strategies and choosing their cloud providers. And end users should understand what role(s) telcos are likely to play in the evolution of the wider cloud marketplace.
Like many IT suppliers, telcos view cloud computing as a big opportunity to grow their business. Cloud computing will dramatically affect telcos — but not by generating significant additional revenues. Instead, cloud computing will alter the role of telcos in the value chain irreversibly, putting their control over usage metering and billing at risk. Alarm bells should ring for telcos as Google, Amazon, et al. put their own billing and payment relationships with customers in place.
Telcos must defend their revenue collection role at all costs; failure to do so will accelerate their decline to invisible utility status. At the same time, cloud computing offers telcos a chance to become more than bitpipe providers. Cloud solutions will increasingly be delivered by ecosystems of providers that include telcos, software, hardware, network equipment vendors, and OTT providers.
Telcos have a chance to leverage their network and financial assets to grow into the role of ecosystem manager. To start on this path, telcos will provide cloud-based solutions that are adjacent to communication services they already provide (like home area networking and machine-to-machine solutions), such as connected healthcare and smart grid solutions. Expanding from this beachhead into a broader role in cloud solutions markets is a tricky path that only some telcos will successfully navigate.
We are analyzing the potential role of telcos in cloud computing markets in the research report Telcos as Cloud Rainmakers.