It was a Great Telco Debate!

The idea for the Great Telco Debate www.telcodebate.com came from almost three decades of participating in and organising telecoms industry events all over the world. Presenting and discussing industry topics in real time, with a live audience, is always the best way to get to the root of an issue. However, there is nothing more frustrating than taking time out of a busy schedule to an event only to find that the content is of marginal interest, and worse still, a series of blatant sales pitches dressed up in marketing blurb.

On 7th November in London we assembled a healthy collection of opinionated independent industry analysts and some of the more innovative industry players to spend the day focused on the many aspects of the future of the telco. In many ways, we managed to squeeze a 2 day conference into a single day. A mark of the quality of the content was that the early Friday evening drift off was minimal. And, if the volume of discussion over lunch, coffee and speed networking was anything to go by, people certainly found plenty to absorb and challenge in relation to their future role in the telco industry. Requests for more time on the next event for more open debating and more speed networking (where all delegates met all analysts) suggests we hit the right note.

Feedback praised the punchy combination of industry content followed by well-informed analyst perspectives. Once again, the levels of audience participation also proved that the senior management in the room were comfortable to air their views as part of the debate.

It’s difficult to pick out a highlight from the day. The professionalism of speakers sticking to their unusually short 10-15 minute slots should be praised (perhaps encouraged by the threat of my bell and Graham’s whistle), as should their frankness. The idea was to allow these very varied opinions to be aired to help industry leaders shape their thinking as to their future strategies.

A vote on what role the telco should take in the future: wholesale, retail or a blend, saw a narrow margin in favour of the wholesale or new business model approach. The spread of voting just goes to underpin the potential that is out there, just a matter of aligning strategy and execution.

However, many of the so-called value-added areas of TV, business applications and IOT were seen more as broadband retention strategies and not as significant additional revenue lines. This was in the light of the total telecoms services market flattening and indeed declining in some markets. Connectivity, fixed and wireless, is part of almost everything now but it is just that – part and not the whole thing.

The financial analysis of the telcos shows a significant discrepancy when compared to the valuation of the new digital service providers. Competition and regulation , both from within and outside of the telco sector, combined with enormous traffic increases, all add up to a challenging question of how to fund the long term network infrastructure both fixed and mobile, needed for the industry and society as a whole. Broadband is doubtless becoming part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is increasingly part of every daily activity, business or personal. New business models, new attitudes to partners and channels will be needed, along with regulation and government blessing to drive investment and innovation. With all of these changes taking place, the clear message running throughout the day was, apart from getting closer to customers where possible, to work with the right set of partners and channels to allow the market to allow demand and supply to settle into a new sense of equilibrium. Still a lot to do for all telcos and a lot of opportunity for providers of service and technology into the telecoms sector.

For those not fortunate enough to have been there with us, a full record of the presentations and discussions are available. Visit the web site www.telcodebate.com.

The Great Telco Debate will be back in November 2015. If you have any thoughts about how this independent analyst based event can be improved or if you want to get involved, please drop me a note chris@lewisinsight.com

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