The old telco business model is breaking up. Telcos are at a crossroads, with one path leading to becoming pure utilities, another to transforming into important members of digital ecosystems, and a third to their complete demise.
Telcos have had years to prepare for this situation, but few have used their time effectively. At this stage, I see few reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for most telcos to recover the ground they’ve lost to other players in the emerging digital ecosystems because:
Consumers care more about apps and devices than connectivity than ever.One main impact of the onslaught on telcos by over-the-top providers like Facebook and handset manufacturers like Apple has been to push telco brands to the back of the consumer’s mind. Consumers care more about which handset and apps they use than which connectivity provider they have. Telco brands just don’t rock as they used to years ago.
Business leaders do not see telcos as the first choice to provide ICT services.Data from Forrester’s Global Business Technographics® Networks And Telecommunications Survey 2015 shows that business and IT users trust systems integrators and independent solution specialists more than telcos with a wide spectrum of voice, data, and managed services. One of the reasons is that business and IT users feel that telcos don’t understand their specific business requirements sufficiently.
Orange hosted its analyst event in Paris in July 2015, detailing its Essentials 2020 strategy for business customers. Central to Orange’s Essentials 2020 strategy is:
Pushing its customer experience capabilities. Orange shared its ambition to make its entire organization listen to its customers more effectively. In our opinion, Orange is one of the more CIO-focused telcos. One of Orange’s key goals is to support the CIO in regaining control over technology projects that have been lost to line-of-business (LOB) managers, who launch technology projects outside the CIO’s remit. Importantly, Orange also told us that it is working increasingly with LOB managers.
Driving the cultural transformation of Orange itself. Orange must become braver to disrupt itself. This includes bringing in new perspectives and experiences from outside, including other sectors. There are some encouraging signs that this is beginning to happen. For instance, Orange Business Services recruited its deputy CEO, Laurent Paillassot, from the financial services sector and put the American Diana Einterz in charge of its French Major Accounts.
Enhancing its digital solutions. Orange recognizes the greater role of software and data in its customers’ and its own business models. At the event, Orange demonstrated a number of interesting digital solutions in the Internet-of-Things (IoT), mobile, and healthcare spaces, which equal those of its leading telco peers.
Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent have entered into a memorandum of understanding under which Nokia will make an offer for Alcatel-Lucent in an all-share transaction. The deal values Alcatel-Lucent at €15.6 billion: Alcatel-Lucent shareholders will own 33.5%, with Nokia shareholders owning 66.5%.
Is this a “marriage of desperation” or two network solution vendors coming together to work on a broader vision for an increasingly connected world? The combination of two relatively small network solutions vendors won’t automatically translate into the formation of a new network solutions powerhouse. Most importantly, will the new Nokia truly differ from its main rivals Huawei and Ericsson as an end-to-end carrier network solution provider? Nokia’s competitors will not only face a larger new competitor but also experience the formation of a different one. This deal will mean that:
Nokia joins the small club of converged network solutions vendors. Customers expect experiences that support multiple screens and applications; equipment vendors must deliver solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial Internet requirements by offering next-generation network technology and services. Nokia can’t cater to this market demand alone.
Nokia rejoins the premier league of network solutions providers. The deal means that Nokia’s total pro-forma 2014 revenues will more than double to €25.9 billion. The new Nokia will be the second-largest provider of carrier-grade telecoms networking solutions, with revenues in this segment of €25.0 billion, just behind Ericsson (€25.1 billion) but ahead of Huawei (€23.5 billion). With its newfound size, Nokia will gain access to scale benefits.
Telefónica entered into an exclusivity agreement with Hutchison Whampoa regarding Hutchison’s potential acquisition of the Telefónica subsidiary O2 UK for £10.25 billion in cash, valuing the deal at an estimated 7.5 times 2014 EV/EBITDA. The Hutchison-O2 UK deal — should it complete — will entirely redraw the telco landscape in the UK in terms of market shares. The acquisition of O2 UK will transform Hutchison from the smallest mobile operator with 7.5 million customers to the largest with 31.5 million customers and reduce the number of mobile operators in the UK from four to three.
This development follows on the heels of the announcement by Orange and Deutsche Telekom that they have entered into exclusive negotiations with BT Group regarding a potential divestment of 100% of their shares in EE, their joint venture in the UK. The increased merger activity is not surprising, and we predicted as much in our report Predictions 2015: Telecoms Will Struggle To Align To The CIO's BT Agenda. Still, these deals raise important questions for the European telecoms markets:
At the same time, for business leaders, having access to quality network infrastructure represents a vital underpinning for their digital business and their long-term competitive advantage. We predict that by 2015 and beyond:
The telco business model will shift from sustaining to enabling critical infrastructure. Traditionally, the telco business model focused on sustaining operational efficiency of network infrastructure. In the years ahead, we predict a shift toward enabling solutions that support telco clients to engage with their customers more effectively. This mirrors not only the CIO’s shift from IT towards business technology but will also be the overarching theme during the transformation of the telco business model.
The other day, I met with the strategy director of a European telco. Let’s call him Art. We shared an informal discussion about the future of telcos. Personally, I am fairly skeptical about the prospects of telcos to recover ground – in particular in Europe.
Consumers are more concerned about the apps they use and the devices that they have than what connectivity they use, as I outline in the report The Future Of Over-The-Top Services. Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, which measures consumer perceptions of telco services, shows telcos near the bottom of all sector readings.
On the business side, data from Forrester’s Business Technographics® Global Networks And Telecommunications Survey, 2014 shows that business users trust systems integrators and independent solution specialists more than telcos with almost all voice and data service, because they feel that telcos don’t understand their specific business requirements as well.
Add an unfavorable regulatory environment — which, under the umbrella of the net neutrality debate, is about to close the door on commercial relationships regarding quality connectivity between content and network providers — and it becomes difficult to be wildly optimistic about the future of telcos. Yet, this is not where our discussion ended. Art pointed to three major issues where telcos will need shock therapy:
I attended an NG Telecom summit in Hong Kong recently; at the event, I chaired a discussion on how telcos need to improve the customer experience.
Consumers now have powerful mobile devices in their hands, speedy access to social platforms, and the ability to call up information on the go. More importantly, customers today can choose to easily switch to a competitor if they don’t like the customer experience they are receiving. As a result, telcos no longer “own” customers — it’s the other way around.
The discussion participants all agreed that telcos must do the following to meet customer-centric needs:
Simplify systems and processes. The debate on how to simplify complex telco business support systems (BSS) to make it easy for customers to consume services is an ongoing one. When BSS cannot provide a single, unified view of the customer, it’s difficult to provide a consistent customer experience. This happens with CRM systems: Call center agents struggle through five or six screens just to get a complete customer profile while irate customers spend time repeating their personal details or waiting for a resolution. Telcos must be like OTT players, which have very complicated businesses, systems, and processes on the back end but present a simple front-end interface to the customer.
At Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong was reported as “call[ing] on Australian regulators to give carriers like Optus the right to charge rivals WhatsApp and Skype for use of their networks or risk a major decline in network investment.”
With the telecommunications industry unable to monetize over-the-top (OTT) traffic, telcos will struggle to find the funding they need to improve their infrastructure — meaning that network quality could deteriorate. Chua did concede that telcos should work toward partnering with OTT players.
What It Means
SingTel’s argument runs over familiar ground, similar to the ongoing net neutrality debate in the US. My colleagues suggest that telcos will offer tiered access at tiered pricing to OTT players in the future, charging higher prices for better connection speeds and greater data traffic. While I don’t doubt this, price-sensitive Asia may be a harder nut to crack; telcos here run the risk of customer churn by raising service prices.
Aside from speeding up its rate of service innovation, SingTel should:
Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp shows that the market for messaging is far from dead. But it’s just gotten worse for the telcos. We’ve already discussed the underlying reasons in a report — but the fact that Facebook put $19 billion on the table, of which $4 billion is in cash, for a global messaging service with 55 staff should scare telcos, with their millions of employees and high-cost structures. Over-the-top communications tools like WhatsApp, Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat, and Viber (which itself was bought a few days ago by Rakuten) have pushed telcos further and further away from any meaningful customer engagement.
To be sure, WhatsApp is about much more than instant messaging; it’s about content sharing — which is an emotional activity. Such emotional activities are critical to closer customer engagement. As the online giants use ever more granular user analytics to cement their position as marketing powerhouses, telcos’ hopes of developing new revenue streams from analyzing user behavior are slipping away faster and faster. This is what makes the deal so dangerous.
Of course, it’s tough to justify the deal simply on the basis of WhatsApp’s revenue model of $1 annual subscriptions. In my view, the deal is really about:
Bringing a major competitor into your family. Otherwise, someone else could have lured WhatsApp into theirs. The deal, which accounts for about 10% of Facebook’s market capitalization, could be seen therefore as an insurance cover.
Mobility is becoming pervasive in the enterprise. Smart devices, including wearables, are appearing in all sectors, both in developed and emerging markets. Businesses that fail to prepare for the mobile mind shift risk losing their competitive edge. I hope this year’s Mobile World Congress, which kicks off on February 24, will emphasize the interaction between business processes and mobility — in addition to the traditional gadgets.
I focus primarily on themes relating to the connected business and social collaboration, and I will travel to the world’s leading mobile event in Barcelona to gain new insights into several questions in these areas: