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:
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:
We recently attended Amdocs' customer event in Singapore. Amdocs is gradually adjusting its strategy to reflect one of the most fundamental changes in the ICT industry today: Increasingly, business line managers, think the marketing or sales officer, are the ones influencing sourcing decisions. Traditional decision-makers, CTOs and CIOs, are no longer the sole ICT decision-makers. Amdocs is addressing this shift by:
Strengthening its customer experience portfolio.Successful telcos will try to regain lost relevance through improved customer experience. Marketing, portfolio product development, and sales are therefore growing in importance for telcos. Amdocs’ integrated customer experience offering, CES 9, provides telcos with a multichannel experience; proactive care; and self-service tools.
Betting big on big data/analytics.Amdocs is leveraging big data/analytics to provide real-time, predictive, and prescriptive insights to telcos about their customers’ behaviour. Communications-industry-specific converged charging and billing solutions as well as other catalogue solutions give Amdocs the opportunity to provide more value to telcos than some of the other players.
Orange’s CEO mentioned during a business show on French TV that Orange is receiving money from Google for transmitting Google’s traffic (most of which stems from YouTube). No details about the financial arrangement of the year-old deal were disclosed.
So, does the Orange-Google deal mean that Orange has won a true victory and that the balance of power between carriers and OSPs is restored? Does the deal really address the challenges of the carrier world? Hardly.
Carriers rely on video content that drives demand for high broadband connectivity. Moreover, consumers already pay the carriers for their broadband connectivity. In my opinion, there is a valid argument that those end users who want high-quality video should be able to have it at extra cost. But this extra fee could be paid directly to the carrier in the form of a high-end broadband connection fee. Alternatively, the carrier could offer wholesale connectivity to OSPs, allowing the OSPs to offer content that comes with embedded high-quality connectivity.
Carriers have lost a great deal of their relevance for end users. People of all shades, individuals, employees, information workers, etc, are looking for solutions that meet their demand, not connectivity per se.
In our view, four trends matter significantly for carriers since they strike at the heart of their customer facing relationships in the shape of changing end-user behaviour:
Applications have become the focal point for end-users. Phone or connectivity features are less interesting. The carrier brand is not seen as the destination to turn to for app-demand. Merely 18% of business users would turn to a carrier for apps compared to 49% who go directly to the classic app stores. Carriers ought to get closely involved in HTML5 development as it paves the way for OS-independent Web-based apps, thus potentially limiting the influence of operating systems like iOS or Android over the ecosystem. Carries must strive to accommodate where possible app developers to remain somewhat influential ecosystems players.
Users buy devices directly. There is an increasing push by device manufactures (traditional like Samsung and Apple and emerging such as Google, Amazon etc) to sell devices directly to the customer, both business and consumer, and outside the carrier channel. This robs carriers of their main service distribution channel and undermines their potential to monetise value added services.
Carrier-selection is becoming more ad-hoc and temporary. The emergence of embedded software SIMs “interrupts” the relationship between user and carrier. End-users will increasingly be able to select carriers after they purchase a device and for certain circumstances like content consumption or for international roaming. As a result price wars for basic connectivity will increase once again.
Dan Bieler, Bryan Wang, Pascal Matzke, Jennifer Belissent
ORANGE held its annual analyst day in Paris recently. There were no major announcements, but we made several observations:
ORANGE is one of the few carriers with true delivery capabilities. Its global footprint is a real advantage vis-a-vis carrier competitors, in particular in Africa and Asia. Vale, the Brazilian metals and mining corporation, presented a customer case study in which Vale emphasized the importance of ORANGE’s global network infrastructure for its decision to go with ORANGE as UCC and network provider. Its global reach positions ORANGE well to address the opportunity in emerging markets, both for Western MNCs going into emerging markets and also to address intra-regional business in Africa and Asia. Another customer case study with the Chinese online retailer 360buy, focusing on a contact center solution, demonstrated ORANGE’s ability to win against local competitors in Asia.
I recently attended an event in London where Telefonica shed more light on its Digital division. Digital is the central division driving innovation at Telefonica group and was formed in September 2011. However, Telefonica, despite the creation of Digital, still is somewhat in the old telco mold of inside-out innovation.
Digitization is undoubtedly a major theme affecting both society and the economy, bringing huge implications for communication, collaboration, consumption, and production. The big focus areas for Digital are e-health, digital content distribution, security, cloud, M2M, OTT comms, financial services, and advertising. In this respect, Digital is the right answer. My main observations from the event are:
Digital’s product development process is not end-user-focused enough. Digital does not seem to involve the actual end users as much as other solution providers, like for instance Colt (http://goo.gl/oBCO0). What was missing during most presentations was a better demand-analysis of its customer base. Digitization has big implications for company cultures, modes of operation, and ways of life. Businesses require significant assistance in preparing for these challenges such as change management. Digital did not explain how it plans to address these either through internal capabilities or through partnerships with business consulting firms like Deloitte. This means that Telefonica risks developing solutions that do not meet demand. Moreover, detailed customer case studies were not discussed, although Digital did present its portfolio development approach.
The other day I visited Colt’s London HQ and saw how the telco is revamping its approach to developing more customer-centric and Agile solutions (Colt consciously avoids the “cloud” terminology). By now, most telcos managed to jump onto the cloud bandwagon by launching cloud-based services. The challenge, from an end user perspective, is that these solutions all seem very similar. Customers can get storage, server capacity, unified communications, etc., from most telcos. All telcos underline the value-added nature of end-to-end network QoS and security that they can ensure (check out our report, "Telcos As Cloud Rainmakers"). Indeed, telcos have some right to feel that they have achieved some progress regarding their cloud offerings — although it took Amazon to show them the opportunity.
But most telco cloud offerings suffer from the fact that telcos develop cloud solutions in the traditional sense through their traditional product factories. This approach tends to follow rather than slow product innovation cycles. Moreover, it produces products that, once developed, are pushed to the customer as a standard offering. All customisation costs extra.
The reality of cloud demand is that each customer is different. Most customers want some form of customisation. Most customers want some form of hybrid cloud, a private part for core apps, as well as access to the open Internet to, for instance, exchange views and information with end customers via Twitter or for crowd sourcing with suppliers. Similarly, most customers want a mix of fixed and virtual assets and a blend of self-service and managed service solutions as the chart indicates.