Facebook & WhatsApp mount increasing threat to traditional telecoms

06 July 2017 Consultancy.uk

Technological disruption and changing consumer behaviour continue to affect telecommunications players, finds a new report. The industry has seen revenues border on stagnation over the past decade, at 0.4% annual growth since 2008. While the industry is keen to develop new digital services and models to meet market challenges, they face a range of barriers – from legacy technologies to a lack of vision from executives.

The telecommunication industry continues to face considerable headwinds in the face of technological advances that have cut into their respective revenue streams. In particular, telecom providers are seeing the encroachment over-the-top (OTT) competitors into their market, with Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger just two examples of companies leveraging data to offer a richer texting experience – undercutting the traditional SMS.

In a new report from accounting and consulting firm EY, titled ‘Digital transformation for 2020 and beyond’, the current conditions for telecommunications are considered in light of rapidly changing technologies and business environment. The report it based on interviews with 83 interviews with 76 organisations across the globe.

Global telecoms revenue development 2006-16

Telecoms have faced a challenging decade, with revenue between 2008 and 2016 growing at a compound rate of 0.4%. Fixed revenues have suffered, while the rapid proliferation of mobile technologies hasn’t resulted in a large upswing in revenues for the industry – largely due to OTT providers being able to better leverage their respective market positions to win over consumers.

The industry has, in addition, found itself no longer able to charge hefty roaming fees for services, as key markets begin enforcing laws to ensure a level playing field. The market has also faced uncertain economic conditions – while new technologies and competition has driven considerable investment requirements in the latest generation of network connectivity.

Prashant Singhal, EY’s Global Telecommunications Leader, said, “OTT communications players such as WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat have redefined the customer experience in messaging and video services, luring traffic away from telco offerings such as SMS. These trends are playing in response to a market in which consumers and enterprises increasingly see value in multiservice packages, with quad-play and cloud packages driving new opportunities."

Operator views on challenges facing telecommunications industry

The respondents were asked to identify the three main challenges facing the industry in the current environment – the firm then compared the results to the same survey two years previous. The most highly rated challenge for the industry, by far, remains disruptive competition, cited by 74% of respondents in the latest survey and by 73% in the previous survey. Lack of organisational agility too was found to be a challenge, as cited by 47% of respondents compared to 45% in the previous study.

The area that has seen the largest shift in concern is an ‘uncertain regulatory environment’, falling from a challenge to 64% of companies in 2015 to 32% in the latest survey. A ‘poor ecosystem relationship’ too has seen a fall in concern, from 15% to 8%. ‘Changing customer needs and attitudes’ has ticked up somewhat in concern, from 24% to 32%.

Operator strategic priorities over the next three years

In terms of the strategic priorities for telcos for the coming three years (respondents were able to pick their top three), ‘digital business models and services’ ranks number one, cited by 71% of respondents, followed by ‘improving customer experience’, cited by 61% of respondents, while ‘cost control and business efficiency’ followed at 53% of respondents.

The areas of least concern, were found to be ‘network upgrades and modernisation’, M&A, joint-ventures and partnerships’, ‘product simplification’ and ‘growing and retaining talent’, at 24%, 13%, 13% and 3% respectively.

Operator views on barriers to digital transformation

While digital business models and services rank as a key business strategy for the firms surveyed, the report notes that many telcos say that they face barriers to implementing such changes. Top among them is the ‘burden of legacy IT platforms and architecture’, cited by 65% of respondents, followed by a ‘lack of skills and expertise in digital domains’, cited by 51% of respondents. The survey also found that ‘continuing pressure on overall budgets’ and ‘leadership focus on tactical considerations’ are creating barriers to transformation, at 41% and 38% of respondents respectively.

Technology enablers of long-term operational excellence

The survey also asked respondents to identify the technologies that would best enable long-term operational excellence at the respective company. Top of the list is process automation, cited by 71% of respondents, followed by pervasive and predictive analytics, at 51% of respondents. Cloud-based IT and integrated customer care and support systems followed at 46% and 43% of respondents respectively.

Commenting on the results of the study, Adrian Baschnonga, EY's Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst, said, “Looking ahead, all players will have to strike a balance between more proactive support of the customer experience and more dynamic business and operating models to thrive in an OTT world. The rise of the software-centric operator, where IT is interwoven in the fabric of the business, will determine the winners and losers.”

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5G internet impact underestimated by business

27 March 2019 Consultancy.uk

The UK rollout of 5G mobile internet is set to get under way in 2019, with a growing number of telecomms providers stating they will launch their next-generation coverage by the end of the year. Despite the increasing buzz surrounding the new technology, however, a survey of executives has found a business community which holds rather downbeat opinions about the transformative potential of 5G.

Every decade or so, a new generation of network technology comes along that promises more speed, more capacity and more uses. With each generation, network operators invest capital to upgrade their infrastructure, with the firm belief that those investments will lead to more satisfied customers and reinvigorated revenues and profits. Following on from the launch of 4G in the 2010s, the next decade is set to see the rise of the 5G generation of new mobile technologies. EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three UK are among the telecomms providers to have already announced they will launch 5G services in the UK in 2019.

While previous generations have been understood in almost universally positive terms, the often complex definitions as to precisely what 5G consists of often causes confusion and, in some cases, cynicism. Indeed, a recent study found that 53% of business leaders see no near-term business case for the technology. While the leaps to 3G and 4G were more noticeable, 5G New Radio speed in sub-6 GHz bands is said to be ‘modestly higher’ than 4G, meaning many still believe networks can do well enough leveraging 4G, while implementing 5G is likely to invoke hefty movements of capital.

In response to this lingering scepticism, George Nazi, Global Lead at Accenture’s network practice, has argued that businesses are missing the point about 5G. Commenting on the state of play following the release of a new study on 5G by Accenture, Nazi said that breakthroughs in three-dimensional video, immersive television, autonomous cars and smart-city infrastructure are set to unleash opportunities that are difficult to imagine today, but will soon be transformative. If companies fail to plan for 5G, they could well miss out on these opportunities.

Nazi added, “The reality is that 5G will bring a major wave of connectivity that opens new dimensions for innovation and commercial and economic development… Telecommunications companies will play a pivotal role in bringing these prospects to light.”

Underestimating 5G disruption

Despite these apparent opportunities, the majority of the 1,800 executives Accenture polled remain unconvinced. 53% of respondents from the mid-sized and large businesses canvassed across industries in ten countries said that there were ‘very few’ things that 5G will enable them to do that they cannot already do with 4G networks. Meanwhile, less than two in every five executives expected 5G to bring any sort of  ‘revolutionary’ shift in terms of either speed or capacity.

There were notable differences in opinion across different sectors, however. According to Accenture, over half of respondents from the energy sector believed 5G will have a revolutionary impact with its ability to reach new places – like remote and inhospitable areas – something which can further boost innovative new techniques in the renewable sphere in particular. Compared with just 41% of all executives surveyed, this suggests that specific sectors likely have an altogether more positive outlook for 5G.

Slow uptake

One factor which might be hindering enthusiasm for 5G is that executives may simply not know much about it. While it is true that these same executives are unlikely to have truly understood 4G either, the fact remains that simply improving the product’s name to the power of one has ceased to impress business leaders enough to invest in the technology. Accenture found that almost three-quarters of executives needed help to foresee future 5G possibilities and use cases.

If the upgrade is to take off, then, its champions will need to work hard to address this. This need is further underlined by the fact that roughly six in every ten survey respondents blamed their lack of knowledge on communication service providers. These providers were subsequently slated by executives, who said they had not been made aware of specific challenges in different industry verticals.

Pivotal role for telcos with 5G

At the same time, around a third of respondents noted a number of other perceived barriers for 5G adoption, which they need to be convinced are worth facing. 36% of respondents predictably said upfront investment was their biggest hurdle to get past – the most sizeable minority of those surveyed. 32%, meanwhile, said security was a concern, and understandable qualm in an environment where many still struggle to protect data under tried and tested 4G systems. Employee uptake was also mentioned as a cause of concern to that end, with 30% of responses.

Despite this, Accenture’s survey still found significant cause for optimism on the subject of 5G. Anders Lindblad, Accenture’s Communications & Media industry lead for Europe, contended that despite the knowledge gap, there is excitement among business leaders about the value that 5G can bring to enterprises.

Lindblad added, “This value is currently trapped within the perceived risks and uncertainty around 5G, which can be unlocked by organisations that understand customer needs, can overcome barriers to adoption and can drive collaboration among service providers.”

Looking ahead, the analysis suggests that 5G service providers have a lot to be upbeat about, especially from 2022 onwards. As many as  70% of survey respondents said 5G applications will give them a competitive edge with customers after that point, suggesting that while uptake will initially be sluggish, it will pick up rapidly in the next three years.

On top of that, respondents also related that they were optimistic with regards to 5G coverage. Three fifths of all those surveyed said that they expect 5G to cover nearly all the population – presumably in their own national territories – by 2022, something which would give them rapid access to new markets across the globe in ways never seen before.

While only 46% of survey respondents thought 5G will be making its mark on speed by 2022, and 42% thought the same about capacity, there is a clear belief that eventually the technology will become indispensible. It just may take some time to do so.