This article aggregates all the questions an interested investor in a telecommunications companies.
A definitive must read if you are serious about investing in telcos as it brings to attention the changing economics of the telco industry and how your yield will get affected.
This is an edited version of the keynote presentation of Martin Geddes, Chief Analyst at STL Partners, at the Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm in London last month. It provides some initial findings from our research into future business models for broadband service providers (BSPs), including our recent online survey. (The summary results will be mailed out to respondents in the next few days.) Those wishing to find out more may want to take a look at our forthcoming report, Broadband Business Models 2.0.
To save you the suspense, here’s the headlines for what’s upcoming for the telecoms industry, based on what insiders are saying through our survey and research:
- Operators are going to face a slew of non-traditional voice service competition. To corrupt the words of Yogi Berra, “The phone network? Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” The volume may linger on, but the margins in personal communication will move elsewhere.
- Content delivery is a logistics problem that spans many distribution systems. Those who can solve the delivery problem by sewing together many delivery services, rather than those focused on owning and controlling one channel, will win.
- Wholesale markets in telecoms are immature and need to evolve to support new business models.
- Investors aren’t up for more “loser takes nothing” facilities-based competition capex splurges. Time to look hard at network sharing models.
So, read on for the background and evidence:
Background to the survey and research
Our ingoing hypothesis is that telecoms – fixed or mobile — is a freight business for valuable bits. This could be via traditional voice networks. Broadband is another means of delivering those bits. It includes Internet ISP access, as well as other services such as private VPNs and IPTV.
Broadband competes with and complements other delivery systems like broadcast TV, circuit-switched phone calls and physical media.
Just as with physical goods, there are lots of delivery systems for information goods. These are based on the bulk, value and urgency of the product – from bicycle couriers to container lorries for atoms; phone calls to broadcast TV for bits.
As part of our research we’ve also been looking at how other communications and delivery systems have evolved commercially, and what the lessons are for the telecoms industry. After all, broadband as a mass-market business is barely a decade old, so we can expect considerable future change. In particular, the container industry has some strong parallels that may hold important lessons.
Physical goods and the telephone system have developed a wide range of payment methods and business models.
With physical goods we have “collect it yourself”, cash-on-delivery, pre-paid envelopes and packages, as well as express parcels, first and second class postage.
The phone system offers freephone, national, non-geographic and various premium-rate billing features. It offers the user a simple, packaged service that includes connectivity, value-added features, interoperability, support and a wide choice of devices.
Likewise, SMS packages together the service and its transport. It’s wildly popular, bringing in more money globally than games software, music and movies combined.
The problem is that this has come within closed systems that don’t enjoy the rich innovation that the open Internet brings.
Internet access, by contrast, offers an abundance of goods but is relatively immature in the commercial models on offer. Broadband service providers typically offer just one product: Internet access. And they generally only offers one payment mechanism for delivery of those online applications: one-size-fits-all metered or unlimited, paid independently of services used. (There are some important exceptions — you can read more here.)
As a small example of how the Internet under-serves its users, when a small non-commercial website suddenly gets a surge of traffic it typically falls over and is swamped. That is because there’s no commercial incentive for everyone to pay for a massively scalable hosting plan just in case of unexpected demand. The telephony system doesn’t suffer this because the termination fee for every call is designed to at least cover the technical cost of carrying the call.
Oh, and don’t expect Google to host it all for free for you either – the error message in the slide above is cut and pasted from a bandwidth-exceeded Google Blogger account.
There is also a lack of incentive for access providers to invest in capacity on behalf of Google to deliver richer, heavier content (where Google collects the revenues).