Tag Archives: Great Telco Debate

A taste of the Great Telco Debate 2018

41cm-gtd-ttv-lockup-on-black(4col-ttv)

The dust has finally settled on the Great Telco Debate 2018. The months of planning for the interaction-packed debates and panels left us all reeling from the wealth of inputs, cross-questioning and new ideas on the future of the telecoms industry. This was our fifth event and feedback is that it was the best yet – so no pressure for 2019!

Watch the video and interview highlights here.

One of the main challenges for the Great Telco Debate is identifying the topics for debate throughout the year. The six debates summarised below reflect the diversity of opinion and variety of stakeholders at play. What was clear throughout, was that a more open approach to partnering with other ecosystem players is vital if telcos are to throw off the mantel of being the laggards of the digital economy.

Summary:

Debate 1: The role of the telco in the broader digital economy
Motion: Telcos should confine themselves to connectivity – DEFEATED

Input from Jean Yves Charlier former CEO of Veon, Akira Tada of Softbank, and Mike Blanche of Google left us in no doubt about the wealth of opportunities outside of connectivity. However, the telco’s role in providing high quality, ubiquitous connectivity across fixed and mobile has to be the focus for the industry.

Debate 2: Filling the fibre gap
Motion: The only way to get full fiberisation is to nationalise fixed telecoms infrastructure – DEFEATED

Clive Carter from Ofcom, Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic and Mike Magee from SSE Enterprise Telecom all emphasised the changing nature of the telecoms infrastructure build-out with funding coming from a wide range of sources. All are looking to get involved in the fibre and 5G build programmes. Despite the emphasis on mobile, the debate centred on fibre being critical to underpinning all connectivity activities, and how the open market, accompanied by regulation, is stimulating the shift to higher bandwidth services for all customers.

Debate 3: Progress in softwarising and virtualising the world’s telcos
Motion: Virtualisation is a poisoned chalice – DEFEATED

Dr Steffen Roehn, Senior Advisor to Reliance Jio, set the scene for the softwarised telco whilst Ian Massingham from AWS outlined how the web-scale giant is working on many different levels with the telco community, with Cloud becoming the de facto standard for developing applications. Sanjay Mewada from Netcracker, Martin Taylor from Metaswitch and Colin Kincaid from Cisco presented their diverse perspectives before we dove into a tetchy debate about the role of open source versus the traditional world of suppliers.

Debate 4: Analytics, Machine Learning and the Edge – DEFEATED
Motion: The first priority for AI deployment is in network optimisation.

Charlie Muirhead of CognitionX boiled down the enormous volume of activity around AI into a few key initial steps for the telecoms world, whilst Simon Aspinall from SWIM AI demonstrated how the start-up is building intelligence at the Edge to help real time analysis and Marisa Viveras from IBM talked about the shift to Watson and hyper intelligence in the telecoms industry.

Debate 5: Security is everywhere but which aspect can generate revenue?
Motion: Security can generate significant long-term income for telcos – DEFEATED

Nicolas Thomas from Fortinet and the Security Alliance opened up the security debate followed by Laurence Pitt from Juniper and Derek Roga from Equiis. The diversity of perspectives on security make it very difficult to pin down whether it’s a revenue or a cyber-defensive play. The one common view is that customers expect the telcos, with their conservative positioning, to provide secure, reliable service, whether this is connectivity, messaging or building on the Edge to deliver real time solutions.

Debate 6: 5G And IoT meet Industry 4.0 but where does it leave the Telcos?
Motion: 5G is revolutionary in enterprise terms but evolutionary in consumer terms – CARRIED

Phil Skipper Head of Business development for IOT at Vodafone showed how industry is benefiting from the potential of 5G. Ericsson through Hakan Duphama and Nokia via Phil Twist demonstrated how their telecoms expertise is being applied to the industry 4.0 revolution and Darrell Jordan Smith from Red Hat outlined how the open source uprising is demanding more and more from all partners in the emerging ecosystem.

We will return with the next Great Telco Debate on December 5th 2019 in London. In the meantime, we will also return with TelecomTV at the Digital Service Provider (DSP) Leaders Summit in May. This is part of the closer cooperation between the Great Telco Debate and TelecomTV – bringing a truly independent platform for debating the future of the telecoms and media industry to all.

The formal summary document will be available shortly. Please drop me a line chris@lewisinsight.com if you would like to receive a copy or if you would like to get involved in the formal proceedings for the DSP event or next December’s Great Telco Debate.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

The global telco dream is over: Mark Gregory, Chief Economist EY gives me his perspective.

The Great Telco Debate is all about putting the industry trends into context. Mark Gregory of EY can’t join us this time around but he sent the following in reply to my questions about the telecoms industry, its dynamics, broader economics and future industry structures. It is great food for thought ahead of November 29th when we next assemble for the debate.  

Image result for mark gregory Ey Mark Gregory, Chief Economist UK & Ireland EY

With telcos under pressure in a complex world…

As the first sector to be liberalised and privatised at scale across countries, telecoms has been in the vanguard of change for 4 decades but now needs to consider where it goes next.

With the freedom to develop, the telecoms industry has changed out of all recognition in its search for profitable growth. Telcos today tend to be a mix of businesses with very different economic characteristics ranging from utility like local network operations to fast-moving, constantly changing content provision. These complex business combinations have grown out of a desire to capture more of the value that the telco enables but they risk destroying value by making the company both hard to manage and difficult for investors to value accurately.

The slowing economic global outlook as identified by the IMF recently will create extra pressure on telco business models and at the same time increase the political risk that companies in the sector face. Confronted with slower economic growth and increasingly squeezed consumers, politicians will look at industries that account for significant shares of consumer spending and corporate costs for opportunities for short-term political gain. The recent introduction of a retail price cap in UK energy and the proposal to nationalise certain UK utilities are good examples of possible ad-hoc intervention.

There is also a growing disparity between the largely national operations of telcos and the multinational scale and scope of their suppliers. With the seemingly never ending process of innovation, telcos risk losing control over their technology roadmaps to companies with much greater resources and economies of scale.

…time for a new stakeholder led model…

The low growth economy without any real productivity improvement is not going to provide much if any support to telco growth ambitions. It is time to change the model and for telcos to consider how they can best contribute to economic growth and increased prosperity. In particular, how to drive improvements in labour markets as these are where so many of the issues underpinning today’s economic and political challenges originate from.

In many countries, concern over the “left behind” have become increasingly prominent in the political debate – the people in traditional industrial towns who find themselves on the margins of the modern economy. Typically these groups live outside of cities and larger towns and struggle to participate in the workforce. One option might be to take investment to these people with the telcos leading the way. Rather than starting the roll out of technologies in the major population centres, telcos could look to reach further out and bring people into the labour market providing the infrastructure for remote working. People would be given the chance to participate electronically in the labour market, reducing the level of transport infrastructure investment required and in so doing enhancing productivity and growth in the economy.

Telcos could also use their national presence and knowledge in the digital arena to support wider digital skills development at a local level. Again remote learning could be part of this approach with the aim being to increase significantly the level and number of digitally skilled people in the economy. This would serve to improve the skills pool available to telcos but also provide a platform for faster digital growth with the benefits accruing to all.

Greater local reach and capability would also open the door to cross-sector collaboration with other utility like providers such as power and water and with other major sectors such as health. As Bell Labs showed, cross-sectoral digital innovation could provide a major leg up for economic growth in local markets. Working closely across sectors at a local level would provide telcos with the opportunity to identify new applications and to participate in developing and deploying these.

…in a brave new world.

Telcos have been at the forefront of economic change in the last 4 decades, innovating with a range of business strategies. It is increasingly clear that the global telco dream is over and that the core business is of providing connectivity that enables economic activity. In this context, telcos should focus on how best they can help increase the rate of economic activity across the full geography of their markets building stakeholder centric telcos.

Tagged , , , , , ,

A ‘brand’ view of the telecoms industry

Tim Pritchard, Kantar TNS at the Great Telco Debate

In the spirit of getting outside perspectives on the evolving telecoms market, Tim Pritchard from Kantar TNS, the WPP company which is the largest custom research business in the world, joined the Great Telco Debate on the role of telecoms in the digital economy. The brand perspective raised some very interesting and contradicting themes:

GTD17_027

  • The customer is changing. Traditional segmentation is no longer valid. ‘Generation CX’ (young, old, educated, working class – a slice of everyone) is the new reality and brands either listen and respond to customer feedback or risk becoming irrelevant.
  • It is widely accepted that customer loyalty drives profitable revenue growth. As such, customer experience (CX) is non-negotiable. But how does it fit in with today’s telecoms ‘product’ given the world of apps and over-the-top content consumption?
  • Corporate mission statements and brand values tend not to include the customer – you’ll be amazed how few companies, even those spending tens of millions each year on CX, have an agreed customer strategy. Get it written down and socialised across the business so that everyone from the janitor to the CEO knows it, and uses it to frame their work, their thinking, and their daily behaviour.
  • WPP’s 2017 Global BrandZ  shows that 8 of the world’s most valuable 50 brands are telcos. A further 15 are technology companies. You’ve had the power for a long time, but have you leveraged that power? I would say not.
  • Most Telcos have adopted NPS (Net Promoter System) yet their NPS scores are among the lowest of any industry. Virtual network providers often enter markets and quickly start to outperform the network owners, sometimes by as much as 20-30 NPS points. It shouldn’t be that easy – there is something clearly amiss among incumbent telcos to afford disruptor brands that opportunity to create true CX differentiation.
  • A focus on self-serve business models may help to save telcos money but, aside from the customer groups who actively prefer to self-serve, tend to harm rather than enhance brand building efforts.
  • The customer voice is vital, and capturing customer feedback on specific interactions (preferably in real-time) provides critical input for both tactical response and strategy development, as well as brand building

There are 3 basic rules:

  • Don’t let customer down, especially at critical times (i.e. the moments that really matter)
  • Deliver emotional and functional experiences that stimulate long-lasting feelings for the brand
  • Do things that reinforce brand choice and deliver services to customers in a personal, relevant, and needs-satisfying manner

In short, the role of brand is changing with the digital market. Telcos and tech companies benefit hugely from high brand valuations yet typically suffer from poor customer service, reflected in low NPS scores. Part of the challenge is identifying what role the telco plays in the lives of ‘Generation CX’. Identifying, enunciating and promoting a clear customer strategy is vital to re-positioning the telco for the coming generations.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learn to read the digital wind: A group CIO’s perspective of the state of the telecoms nation

Phil and ChrisOne of my highlights from the last Great Telco Debate was my informal interview with Phil Jordan, former Group CIO from Telefonica, about his 20 years in the telecoms industry. We talked about the highs and lows of the role, the relative role of the CIO, telco transformation and the state of the market. Here are some of the key topics and themes:

Highs and lows of a telco CIO

  • Phil believes the industry should be proud of being at the heart of building the digital economy and helping people run their digital lives
  • Almost every day for Phil had 4 highs and 5 lows: One of the lows is that telecoms is a much-maligned industry and ‘we’ do a great job of kicking the proverbial out of each other when we gather for an industry forum such as the Great Telco Debate. ‘We’ continually complain about how difficult it is and how poor ‘we’ are at servicing customer needs.
  • A low, especially recently, is how frustrating it can be getting the industry to shift gear. We are running out of time to remain relevant and at the centre of driving the digital revolution
  • The vast majority of time has been spent fighting internally with colleagues over the digital transformation of the organisation rather than fighting with competitors, dealing with regulators or building relationships with suppliers

The relative role of the CIO

  • Telcos were traditionally run by network people and IT was very much an afterthought, resulting in overly complex systems. According to Phil, very little architectural integrity exists in telcos. IT was a system of record but is now moving to be the differentiating factor with the network becoming the underlying product. The network is, of course, the biggest asset but it is not a source of differentiation. Phil suggest that the real differentiator is the leveraging of customer data. This is a huge transition for telcos to move from an engineering mentality to actually serving the customer. All this places huge technical, skills and leadership demands on the organisation.
  • It is still difficult to operate at a pace within the telcos but they are gradually realising the new innovation paradigm. From the CIO perspective, running the network with a handful of suppliers, looks easy. The IT side, on the other hand, has literally thousands of suppliers. And, the CTO is the one person in the telco who understands the network.  Everyone thinks they understand how IT works or should work!
  • The shift to ‘X as a service’, along with changing suppliers relationships, is indicative of the shift in balance between CTO and CIO.
  • There has been a degree of complacency with the telcos and their suppliers. There seems to have been a ‘hand break’ on virtualisation because it represents the end of an era for so many parties both in inside and outside of the telcos. “Virtualisation is turkeys voting for Christmas. Having said that, it isn’t a straight route. In sailing terms, it needs a bit of tacking and jibing across the direction of travel in order to get to the end destination – and we need to learn to read the wind!”
  • Telcos have been guilty of not understanding the innovation agenda and where it has been coming from.

Transforming the telco into a digital business

  • Transformation is difficult because it was easy running a telco when profits were high, competition low and everyone knew their place! The commercial and technical leadership used to “rock up and run the business”. All of a sudden there are new competitors, margins are shrinking and innovation is coming from other places. This requires a different kind of leadership.
  • It is noticeable how many telco executives come from management consultancy, finance or law whilst the hyper scale companies are led by tech entrepreneurs
  • According to Phil, the role of the CIO is very much one of being a story-teller and explaining how things work to the different LOBs, OPCOS and levels of management. The CIO, in many ways, has a better end-to-end understanding of the way the business runs. This is because the CIO can’t get away from everyone asking him how everything worked. So, in short, a major problem exists at the top of telcos not understanding the way the business runs and not really understanding the art of the possible when it comes to technology
  • Phil believes that transforming a major telco is 3-4-year job and “anyone who tells you it is less is lying or have never done it before”.

The state of the market

  • On the consumer side, the risk of being marginalised is real. The motion for the debate was that we will buy our broadband from Google and Amazon in the future. We probably won’t even buy broadband directly, but included in services from a variety of companies, including the OTTs.
  • On the business side, there are enormous possibilities as business models emerge that require connectivity. One of the problems is that telcos think they should be running Facebook. The problem is that the money is in B2B, IoT and AI.
  • We need to build offerings into the emerging digital business models. Wholesale was the poor relation because its margins were considerably lower that the highly profitable retail and business service. As those margins ‘head south’, wholesale may well look more attractive!
  • Telcos run the risk being relegated to mere utility bandwidth. Does this mean we will be part of a much smaller industry in the future? Phil believes there will be a consolidation around the connectivity market with the leveraging of data providing the new impetus, innovation, and support for the customer experience. If the telco can give control back to the customer regarding their data, there is potentially a different relationship. Having said that, there is still a major role for the telcos to play in the digital world, society, and lifestyle whatever the ecosystem and relative roles.

Phil is now launching his retail career at Sainsbury’s. He suspects that the wafer thin margins of the high street will have the focus most definitely on the usage of data and building a clearer understanding of the customer and their behaviour. Perhaps he will bring these lessons back into telco in the future!

You can watch the full interview  from the Great Telco Debate here

Thank you Phil for your insight, openness and humour. The industry will miss you.

Tagged , , , ,

An Economist’s perspective on the future of telecoms

Getting external perspectives always adds to the richness of the Great Telco Debate.  Mark Gregory, Chief Economist at EY in London and I discussed the economic realities of telecoms and the digital economy going forward. Here are the key themes that emerged:

  • Measuring productivity in traditional economic terms has been challenged by the Gig economy and its processes: ubiquitous connectivity is destroying traditional value such as in the taxi, hotel or retail markets but is creating new value as different parties are brought together on the exploding number of platforms for consumer and business use
  • ‘Digital’ was formerly about hidden components such as semi-conductors, servers and 3D printing. It’s now all pervasive and, from an economist’s perspective, it’s about how all industries work, the potential impact of technology and where value is created
  • The potential ubiquity of ultra broadband diminishes the relative value of connectivity since scarcity tends to create value
  • Telecoms is in the group of General Purpose Technologies (GPT) as described by Robert Gordon in his assessment of the impact of IT on productivity. It may be a disproportionately important enabler in a more digital world, but it is nonetheless an enabler
  • Telecoms (broadband) should have a relatively bigger role going forward but that depends on how it evolves and how it allows other industries to evolve
  • Telecoms first of all has to deliver its role into the digital economy as an enabler. Moves into content delivery and other services have been only variously successful
  • Telecoms must think about how it can enable other value chains rather than dominate them by underpinning new processes and allowing new apps to flourish.
  • Politics is becoming extremely important for the future of telecoms. Regulators have to get out of the mindset of capping prices if they are going to allow the telecoms industry to evolve into its new digital economy support role. The telcos have to be able to benefit in terms of value capture if they are going to be incentivised to invest for the future.
  • 5G is what some of the financial community are most worried about in terms of another big chunk of investment being required.
  • Digital skills are important as automation shifts the focus for human roles in the digital economy
  • As we look at Brexit some sectors are clearly going to be impacted:
    • Financial services and Life Sciences because of the regulatory environment.
    • Automotive could be impacted but this is still not clear
    • Telecoms does not appear to be in the high impact category.
    • Data protection will be a major focus given European regulation.
    • The labour force is the one to keep an eye on – digital skills and a more flexible work force capable of coping with the the dynamics of a digital market will be vital.

Here is the full interview:

Keep November 29th 2018 free for the next Great Telco Debate. If you have topics you think are shaping the future of the industry and would like to contribute as an ‘expert witness’ please drop me a line.

Tagged , , , , , ,

What did the Great Telco Debate learn from MWC?

The Great Telco Debate may not be on the scale of MWC, but it is a year long process of analysing the telecoms industry from every possible angle to shape the programme for the event. MWC was a great opportunity to reconsider the topics from 2016 and draw from market developments. Using last year’s debate titles, here are my take-aways from the Barcelona jamboree.

  • Telco’s role in the digital economy: The jury is still out on the extent to which telcos can exploit digital. There are plenty of autonomous car examples but little new revenue upside for telcos – emphasising the need for ‘ruthless’ simplification of the business (Cisco)
  • Customer experience: Telefonica’s 4th platform does look like a refreshingly new approach to acknowledging peoples’ data and giving something back to the customers as well as improving overall service levels
  • Softwarisation of the telco: This is probably the most important aspect of this wave of industry transformation and there was plenty of evidence from open source virtualisation and edge computingto cloud the picture (Amdocs, HPE, Huawei)
  • IOT: The industry is finally realising that massive connectivity revenues are not likely from IOT, but the real demand will come from supporting different industry ecosystems via platforms and overall integration (Ericsson, Cisco)
  • 5G: It was fascinating that most 5G initiated discussions dropped back to a more robust 4G delivery to support video as well as overall data needs (Ericsson, T-Mobile US ,Telstra)

There is no doubt that telcos are acknowledging the reality of innovation coming from ‘Interpreneurs’ and suppliers, as well as from apps developers driving the telco to be more open and accepting of ideas ‘not made here’ (Orange).

Ironically, given the endless pursuit of innovation, the re-launch of the classic Nokia 3310 drew a lot of attention. Harking back to simplicity, fewer messaging options (no apps) and longer battery life, certainly grabbed peoples’ attention. However, I wonder if those writing about the old classic were more represented by the older generation rather than the younger, smart-phone raised app enthusiasts!

In terms of discussion topics for the Great Telco Debate 2017, doubtless other themes will rise to the surface. Security is one obvious elephant in the room, as is the role of telco in industries such as automotive and healthcare. Also, Artificial Intelligence will worm its way into every aspect of the market and promises many changes in performance, behaviour and outcomes.

Whether you are from the telco, supplier or analyst side or indeed any other interested party, please get in touch if you have ideas you think should be incorporated into the Great Telco Debate on 30th November 2017. I look forward to seeing you there.

Tagged , ,

Telcos and the big data-driven opportunity

The big data opportunity for telcos is not a new phenomenon. Vast amounts of data have been generated both internally and externally over generations of fixed and mobile services for consumer, business and partners alike. Over The Top (OTT) players have come into the market and built business models on the amalgamated analysis of data being generated at the customer end from their search, social media and apps store-based activities.

Telcos have missed an opportunity: they had some of the pieces of data in place to address some of these issues, but perhaps neither the telcos nor the market were ready for it. The emphasis for telcos was on internal measures and network-centric KPIs. The focus now has to switch to look at all their data generation points. They need to build a unified view of all activity to improve both the performance of the network as it comes under more and more pressure. But, most importantly, they need to underpin the new business models emerging which include OTT-based services as well as telco-centric ones. This is an inversing of the telco approach: Putting the customer and partners first, and using that insight to help shape the network to ensure all information flows satisfy all parties. That is not to say that the network is not critical. It is, but the emphasis should be on what the network is enabling rather than on the technology of the network itself.

Telcos must step back; gather network-centric, service-centric and customer-centric data into a suitable architecture. This will allow for the interrogation, validation, and extraction of value from the data for all stakeholders. ICT assets exist outside of the telcos themselves to allow this to happen, leveraging both the compute and storage capabilities of the cloud, as well as the algorithms and the data scientists who can work their magic with structured and unstructured data.

Data sources will include the core and edge of the network, the disparate customer, applications and content being consumed as well as the proliferation of social media and comment flowing around the use of broadband, applications and content in both personal and business lives.

The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) adds another layer of complexity to the data puzzle, but it also allows the telcos to bring their sovereign national assets to bear in building the support mechanisms essential to help drive digital business transformation.

The need has also shifted from a retrospective requirement looking at old data records to a real-time need for insight into customers’ behaviour and the opportunity to adapt service offerings to suit every occasion. In this way, the leveraging of data becomes an essential component of the telco’s contribution to the ecosystem. Sharing some of the data with partners will doubtless become part of emerging offerings. As connectivity approaches ubiquity, it is the insight and knowledge of what is being done by people, households, businesses and ‘Things’ that becomes the fuel feeding the economic engine. As noted above, telcos missed the initial opportunity around data analytics. Let’s encourage all parties to work together to make sure that they don’t miss this next even more exciting wave.

Talend asked Lewis Insight to take a look at the telco and the data opportunity. The resultant independent paper can be found here.

The telco big data opportunity is one of the debate topics we will introduce to the Great Telco Debate in London on November 15th 2016. To find out more, see last year’s highlights and register visit www.telcodebate.com

 

Tagged , , , , ,

The growing influence of independent analysts

Having worked with many of the leading analyst firms over the last 3 decades, it has been fascinating to work as an independent over recent years. More and more independents seem to be springing up either from an analyst or vendor background. Most vendors and service providers are happy to invite ‘us’ alongside the well-represented analyst firms to their product and strategy events as well as to major industry conferences such as MWC and CES. Not surprisingly, given our industry experience and lack of corporate constraint, we are generally more outspoken than many of the representatives of the establishment.

Industry events provide opportunities for analyst colleagues from all sizes of organisation to meet. and share thoughts. Out of some such discussions came the project I have been running with Amdocs Network Solutions Division, where different independent analysts collaborate to produce high-level papers each covering a key topic within the sector. The client gets the benefit of working through a single point of contact, whilst the independent analysts get a streamlined route into a client and the broader market to present their thoughts and opinions. And, through this collaborative approach, our combined knowledge and experience (amounting to over a hundred analyst years), the quality is excellent. Luckily, the technology at our disposal also allows us to build flexible teams to address issues despite our very different backgrounds and locations.

Initial papers have been:

What’s the CTO’s role in the digital boardroom – Marc Dowd and Chris Lewis

App-aware networks vs. network-savvy apps – Dean Bubley and Chris Lewis

The evolving supply chain and its implications for the CTO – Tony Poulos and Chris Lewis

Why 5G won’t be enough – Caroline Gabriel and Chris Lewis

Future papers already in the pipeline include Telcos and the SME, and the impact of the OTTs on telco business and network models.

People are sceptical about the independence of analysts. Some firms, and indeed individuals, have been that ‘gun available for hire’ to promote particular companies or technologies. Obviously, someone has to pay the bills. In this project, the topics are agreed upfront but editorial control remains with the analysts. Since Amdocs Network Solutions Division is using the papers and accompanying videos to help raise their awareness at a high level with the world’s CSPs, there is no product pitch, no axe to grind – just an opportunity to provide high-level content to potential customers to make them think about the future of the telco and its role. So the client benefits from the papers and their thought-leadership, whilst analysts get a platform to demonstrate how they are able to compete in a market dominated by a few major players and a very long tail of small companies.

Whether you are an independent analyst with experience of the telco sector, or a company working in the telecoms industry, there might be an opportunity for us to work together. Take a look at the papers and think about topics that you think could be addressed in a similar way.

Add to this the Great Telco Debate www.telcodebate.com (London on November 15th 2016) as a platform for the independents and more open, wide-ranging discussion around the future of the telecoms industry. Attendees love the format and honesty of debate. In 2015 we used analysts as a panel to sum up the different debates and interrogate their joint wisdom on the future of the industry! Nowhere else do attendees get the contrary perspectives on offer from such a wide variety of industry stakeholders.

Long live the independents!

Tagged , , , , ,

Are telcos losing pole position as digital disruption impacts demand and supply?

A client recently asked me to present on the top 5 disruption themes in the industry. A pretty broad brief given that I have covered almost every aspect of the industry over the years of being an analyst. So, I had to find a framework within which to identify the disruptions. The following evolved:

  1. Demand is taking over from supply in shaping the telecoms market so the start point has to be the demand side.
  • The individual: how do individuals see the telecoms piece of their digital lives?
  • Households: is the household a market and if so, who is the domestic CIO?
  • Business: what is driving business’ use of telecoms services?
  • Society/government: how is telecoms fitting in with the increasingly joined up whole public sector play?
  • IOT: Cuts across all the segments above, throwing a whole new light on the demand side with its mix of personal, household and business/industry connections. How will this fit and who will provide these business process services?
  1. Supply has to face this massive shift in demand with several constraints:
  • Firstly the flat if not shrinking market for telecoms services in terms of revenue. This is especially acute in the highly regulated European markets but it is increasingly true around the world.
  • Secondly, the revenue position belies a massive uplift in volumes and complexity of traffic. The more granular networks have to cope with video but also with complex series of loops including our personal, business and society links that may be private, open to public scrutiny or part of a 3rd party business process such as in the healthcare sector.
  • It is not that the role of connectivity is lessened, but that it is being absorbed into much broader business activities. The clear end-to-end nature of the early telephony systems has been replaced by either ‘end’ being variable, virtual, and dynamic and often via cloud-based 3rd party application. The connectivity provider may get the blame for poor performance of an application despite there being many steps in the process beyond their control.
  • The disruption on the supply side in terms of investing in the long term suitability of the networks to cope with this new age demand means that NFV , SDN , small cells, WiFi, shorter application development cycles and a generally more agile approach to business all add up to a short term need to increase budgets to get over the investment hump of removing siloed, legacy networks and services in favour of simpler more adaptable fixed and mobile services.

Given the pressures on the connectivity front, telcos are, of course, tempted to shift up the value chain towards the applications that really make different industries tick. And, the IOT also represents new territory to ‘conquer’. Neither, in my opinion, are that easy to achieve. The business applications players are already well versed in the industry-specific apps and that also translates for the major integrators when it comes to IOT in specific industries.

The answer is to adopt a much more open stance towards partnering with other specialist players and accept a supporting role. As ever, the caveat is that every country market is different. Some telcos will continue with prime contracting with a strong business, retail and/or media presence, but all players should seriously consider a multi-channel approach to the customer and let the customer choose.

And, by the way, there is little sympathy for the telco from outside. It is often perceived as having taken high profits over many years and neglecting to invest for the long term of the industry. Outsiders see the telcos as fair game when it comes to exploiting them in the digital marketplace. Customers, of course, see the benefits of their app-based worlds across their different devices as either part of their hierarchy of needs or just their basic human right.

Policy has to ultimately rebalance this demand and supply issue. If telcos are not incented properly to build future-proof networks then the politicians won’t be able to use broadband and digital inclusion as just another thing to throw around during election times.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: