Wireless Operator Strategies

Wireless Operator Strategies provides both a deep and broad perspective of the operator market, combining granular operator-level and market-level data with ecosystem-wide understanding of wireless operator challenges and opportunities.

March 30, 2010 00:03 David Kerr

sa photo dk Returning from CTIA in Las Vegas last week and with only 2 days before going off on vacation to Florida, I found myself reflecting that two of the most interesting meetings I had at the show were with mobile operators.

During CTIA I spent some time with AT&T emerging devices and T-Mobile M2M teams and was impressed with how both these units had managed to cut (or at least untie) the cord to the mother ship and avoid having innovation stifled by the Borg up at Corporate.

    • AT&T’s efforts to encourage a broad range of new applications and devices has definitely paid dividends with Mr. Lurie and his team adding an impressive 1M users in Q409 as a result of new device categories (mostly PND and EBR).
    • T-Mobile revealed a somewhat unheralded pedigree in M2M.

Partnership is the order of the day.

AT&T highlighted partner applications ranging from location enabled pet collars (Apisphere) to glow cap bottles to aid compliance with medication schedules (Vitality) to a very cool new tablet from Openpeak which is very different to the announced but apparently supply side challenged iPad.  Verizon Wireless and Sprint are of course also praying at the alter of open development but perhaps with less public presence.

When I think of enterprise mobility, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are top of mind but T-Mobile has in fact quietly been developing strong competency in the M2M space over the last 7-8 years.

T-Mobile offers four different SIM form factors to suit specific applications and have enjoyed triple digit growth for the last four years. T-Mobile US has quietly activated “hundreds” of different device types on its network with only a handful of devices being rejected or pulled due to network unfriendly characteristics. These devices span Telematics, Connected Energy, Telemedicine and several other applications.

So what is the common DNA of two very different operators that has allowed them to innovate and focus on new opportunities? Separation and operational autonomy to facilitate and open funnel approach to partners and speed of execution not normally associated with US carriers.

In the case of AT&T, the Emerging Devices group was chartered with developing a new space and freed from the legacy of voice & data consumer tariffs and prepaid/postpaid categories which just don’t cut it in the new connected reality where users will have multiple devices connected but used in very different ways. Mr. Lurie and his team have been able to streamline device certification and experiment across the spectrum of business models for new connected applications.

For T-Mobile, speed of certification (days not months) and the independence of being a self-contained unit (own engineers, own sales although linked to broader enterprise group) reporting to Finance & Strategy have allowed them to pursue their “easiest to do business with” approach to the M2M markets.

So, the takeaway? Innovation is alive and well at US operators but separation from the collective corporate mind is essential.

David Kerr

March 24, 2010 22:03 suerudd
Newton MA.USA. The size and bureaucratic tone of the FCC’ s ‘Connecting America :The National Broadband Plan’ conceal some exciting implications for broadband wireless. So here is the crib sheet.The new pro-active US Federal Communications Commission has decided to follow the example of other industrialized countries - that have been aggressively promoting Broadband - and has proposed a Broadband Availability Target (BAT) for every household and business location in America to have access to affordable broadband service with download speeds of at least 4 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps with good quality of service. 14 million people in US today do not have access to a terrestrial broadband infrastructure capable of meeting the BAT. FCC projected potential broadband revenues from these 14 million people and subtracted the required capital expenditures and ongoing costs for terrestrial fixed broadband. The difference is the Broadband Availability Gap (BAG) which has a 2010 present value of $24 Billion. “The gap is greatest in areas with low population density” where, the FCC says “service providers .. cannot earn enough revenue to cover the costs of deploying and operating broadband networks, including expected returns on capital… there is no business case to offer broadband services in these areas.” So what role does the FCC assign to broadband wireless to help fill this gap? FCC notes that as of November 2009 3G service covered only roughly 60% of U.S. land mass. And although FCC politely questions the spectral efficiency and services of current Fixed Wireless technology and timing of 4G wireless it boldly announced new plans to: Make 500 MHz newly available for broadband use in 10 years, of which 300 MHz is for mobile use within 5 years as follows:
• 20 MHz for mobile broadband use in the 2.3 GHz WCS band • 10 MHz Upper 700 MHz D Block for commercial use compatible with public safety broadband services • 60 MHz in AWS bands • 90 MHz of Mobile Satellite Spectrum (MSS) for terrestrial use • 120 MHz reallocated with compensation from the broadcast bands television (TV).
And the FCC recommends allocating funds for the plan in stages as follows:
Stage 1: 2010–2011 - FCC will establish Connect America Fund (CAF) to support the provision of affordable fixed broadband and will begin to switch up to $15.5 billion from the Universal Service Fund(USF) to CAF. CAF funding is planned to be “technology and carrier neutral”. FCC will also establish new Mobility Fund for specific locations that are lagging significantly behind in 3G wireless coverage (and to establish) the basis for the future footprint of 4G mobile broadband networks. Stage 2: 2012–2016 - FCC will assign approximately $4 billion from Inter-Carrier Compensation (ICC) reforms and CAF to Mobility Fund and related activities. FCC will also provide funding of up to $6.5 billion to support deployment of a nationwide, interoperable Public Safety mobile broadband network. Fixed wireless broadband will compete with terrestrial broadband for CAF funding.
Our recent TRS report ‘Gambling on Telco Returns - Telco CAPEX and Risk in Six Countries’ calculated that today fixed broadband capital investment cost per subscriber in the US, is approximately $250. This compares to approximately $70 per subscriber for today’s wireless networks and potentially twice that for 3G+ or 4G. Wireless broadband is likely to require significantly less FCC subsidy than terrestrial broadband to fill the FCC’s ‘Broadband Gap’, especially in the underserved low density rural areas of the US. Tariff and Revenue Strategy Service analyzes how service providers can balance their fixed and mobile broadband capital expenditures and price new broadband services to achieve profitable ubiquitous operations. Sue Rudd, Director Tariff & Revenue Strategies – srudd@strategyanalytics.com

March 3, 2010 18:03 suerudd
March 3rd. 2010, Newton MA. USA Tariff and Revenue Strategy(TRS) service looks at the financial outlook for service providers in 2010 and 2011.  Although growth will be slow, TRS expects telecommunications to outpace the economy. The glass is definitely ‘half-full’. Real US growth is beginning to come from the manufacturing sector. US Federal Reserve has announced that January 2010 was the 7th. consecutive month of US manufacturing growth. Output of business equipment rose 0.9 percent in January, and information processing equipment increased 1.7 percent. In UK today’s strong service sector report is stimulating talk of positive first quarter GDP growth; and the February US numbers show stronger than expected service sector growth and continued manufacturing expansion. For the telecommunications sector in 2010 the substitution of telecommunications for travel and of messaging and email for business transactions should continue to increase penetration as a percent of overall industry activity. Because telecommunications increases labor productivity it will continue to outpace the slow economic recovery, even if there is little job growth. Slowing rate of job losses has not been great news – though this is exactly how things look just before the economy turns up . Think ‘sine wave’ and ‘positive first derivative’. The slow recovery is not slow enough however, to totally depress Communications Investment. Capital expenditures (CAPEX) for telecommunications equipment and network deployment are expected to recover significantly in 2010, even if the level may not get back above that of 2008. Even as operators are laying off thousands of employees to improve competitive efficiency, they are optimistic enough to announce significant 2010 CAPEX for broadband telecom (fixed and mobile) over the next 18 months. These operators expect next generation IP based infrastructure to leverage the hardware volume of the information industry and lower their overall cost of operations. BTW: It is hard to quantify the exact impact of these savings on operator financials – but TRS is working on it. In 2010 and 2011 we expect that mobile broadband and IP based infrastructure will have the performance to begin to fill the ‘Broadband Gap’.  Mobile Broadband at 2- 20 MBps may actually be the cheaper, better way to deploy broadband services in rural and low density areas around the world. This infrastructure deployment will itself stimulate further economic growth. As April comes and the weather improves the glass may very slowly start getting fuller. Sue Rudd - srudd@strategyanalytics.com

March 2, 2010 19:03 Phil Kendall
We are currently updating Q4 operational/financial data in our Wireless Operator Performance Benchmarking research, with the last 7 days seeing a large number of operators report results. There are two over-riding themes coming out of the results so far. Firstly, for most operators Q4 was better than Q3, which is great news. The slight problem is that this is better in the sense of “less worse”. If you get mugged two days in a row, the chances are the mugger will get less off you on the second day – you probably haven’t got a new phone and your spare wallet won’t have all your replacement cards/ID in it yet. So that’s obviously a much better mugging. So the fact that revenues and profits didn’t fall as fast in Q4 as they did in Q3 is equally good, right? Secondly, “relentless” cost control / management is a standard item in strategic directions for 2010. A few operators are predicting flat EBITDA for this year, many are expecting moderate single-digit declines. Mobile data remains the growth engine, but falling revenues from voice/termination/roaming will be hard to overcome. So its cost control that will save operator profitability in 2010: distribution mixes and device subsidies seem to be key items up for debate in most mature markets. I worry for an operator recovery in 2010. The recession will be officially over (it already is in many countries), but unemployment will increase, few workers will be banking on pay rises, private consumption will lag GDP growth (which is itself a real mixed bag across different countries), and governments will push through austere budgets. Plus everyone who put off upgrading their handset last year will want to do it this year, so we will see a higher share of mobile spend diverted to device vendors. Depressed yet? The debt crisis in Greece is perhaps a worst case scenario, though I’ll leave you with this sobering quote from OTE’s results last week: “In 2010, the OTE Group expects its revenue base to be further impacted by difficult economic conditions in all markets, lower consumer spending, intense competition, and regulatory constraints on its capacity to respond effectively to these factors. OTE management … will work hard to minimize revenue shrinkage and defend Group profitability.” OTE will not be the only operator to get mugged again in 2010. Phil Kendall