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.

February 27, 2012 22:42 David Kerr

Day one of MWC was dominated by the usual array of sexy devices with ever increasing feature lists and ever diminishing true differentiation. Today, we saw more of the same with some more color on tablets plus Microsoft and Nokia driving down the Windows Phone specs and price points to potentially enable the next 1B smartphone users.

More significant for me today were the reactions and statements of leading operators. Operator alliances to promote TD-LTE as well as branding RCS under the Joyn moniker as well as significant discussions of privacy issues were all front and center in Barcelona today.

Joyn apps for Android are being shown off at MWC, and in the coming months they will be joined by iOS apps and devices with the capabilities built in.

There is clear consumer demand for enriched messaging and voice services, and Rich Communications provides mobile

network operators with solutions to address these consumer needs.

? Anne Bouverot, GSMA

We also see the industry moving forward on privacy guidelines issues today by the GSMA being a much needed initiative given the tsunami of apps and the inevitable rising tide of opportunities for abuse.

Further evidence of operators and service providers looking to partner to grow the entire mobility pie can be found in the m-payments arena where Vodafone was top of mind with planned global offering partnering with Visa for NFC.

The operator keynote panel which included China Mobile CEO Li Yue, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao, and Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's mobile business as well as Franco Bernabe, CEO of Telecom Italia painted a picture of an industry with significant challenges in declining arpu, escalating investment costs, growing competition from OTT players and of course those pesky regulators.

October 12, 2010 04:10 David Kerr

sa photo dk

At CTIA in San Francisco last week, away from the fanfare around LTE rollouts and the next dozen tablet devices (ok, I exaggerate a little), Sprint had an announcement which will have significantly higher impact on mobile broadband adoption and revenues: Sprint ID. 

Sprint ID promises to up the ante on personalization and ease current feature phone users into the smart phone ranks.

Sprint ID offers instant personalization along key themes/packs where the operator has done the heavy lifting of identifying and group related applications of interest to different persona from wallpaper to ringtones to apps. While the one click marketing line is not quite matched by reality given pesky little things like accepting terms and conditions etc, Sprint ID is a significant breakthrough in my opinion as:

  • it broadens the market appeal of Smart phones to current feature phones users with a simple to understand offer in a range of device price points including the critical $49 and $99 levels.
  • it tackles one of the biggest weakness of all app stores: discoverability of content and simple personalization.

Three handsets were featured at launch of Sprint ID: Sanyo Zio™, Samsung Transform™, LG Optimus S™. These three devices cover key price points in the Sprint portfolio and provide customers with a range of form factors, industrial design and brand to meet their tastes. Interesting to note that both LG and Sanyo retain the right to put their own packs on their handsets as well. This is a big win for LG as its Optimus S™ will be available for under $50 with contract giving the vendor a much needed boost in the smartphone space. Samsung meanwhile continues to shine at Sprint occupying the lucrative $149 spot with its Transform™. All three devices of course require a Sprint Everything Data plan.

However, for me the more significant impact is that operators and oems are finally realizing that customers don’t buy phones or services or apps… what they really want are positive experiences

… be that socially connected, sports, education, health and fitness, fashion etc. This is something that our User Experience team has been evangelizing for the last 7+ years. Whether its 80k apps on Android or 250k on Apple store or 10K on RIM, one common experience has been exasperation at the huge waste of time, energy and emotions in finding ANYTHING!!! Which happens first, eyes glazing over or fingers cramping with so much scrolling? Either way the net result is often a disappointing experience which the early smart phone coolaid drinkers have learned to live with.

Newbies to the smart phone arena, will certainly have less tolerance and spend less time to personalize their device and enable applications. Sprint ID is well tailored to the next wave who are taking tentative steps into the smart phone space


David Kerr


September 23, 2010 22:09 David Kerr

September 23, 2010

While there has understandably been a lot of attention given to consumer apps post iPhone and the plethora of application stores that have emerged, business mobility and enterprise mobility offer huge potential from horizontal to vertical applications and from smartphones to iPads and tablets to superphones.

In both NA and W. Europe, business customers account for under 30% of users but are the dominant streams of both revenue and profits for operators. On the device side, premium priced models from RIM, Nokia, and Microsoft Mobile licensees as well as the iPhone have long been key drivers of profits in a market where low single digit margins are the norm.  The explosion of smartphone choices has led to the battle ground moving beyond the corner office, to other executive and now increasingly the midlevel manager.

With a new range of devices competing for space in the corporate market, the issue of corporate versus individual liable has become an increasing priority for IT decision makers. Add on the complexity of managing an expanding list of OS (Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm, MeeGo, Bada from Samsung) and the growing importance of mobile portable devices with access behind the firewall and one can already feel a corporate migraine forming…. And that’s before we even discuss device management, mobility policy, device retirement etc. etc.

I am looking forward to CTIA Fall (San Francisco October 5-7) and in particular to the Enterprise Mobility Boot Camp moderated by Philippe Winthrop of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation. The boot camp spread over two days will address many of the issue listed above with our own Andy Brown featured in an analyst roundtable on October 6th.  I look forward to meeting you there. Don’t hesitate to contact Philippe for passes to this the deep dive enterprise mobility event.

David Kerr

David Kerr
Snr. VP - Global Wireless Practice
Tel: +1 617 614 0720
Mob: +1 262 271 8974

July 6, 2010 17:07 Phil Kendall

Yesterday in Paris, Orange unveiled its new five-year strategic plan, Conquests 2015. The plan covers four strategic priorities:

    The conquest of employee pride – to re-build its reputation as an employer;
    The conquest of networks – covering fibre-optic build in France, LTE deployments, the monetization of mobile data traffic (read: no unlimited data plans) and green networks;
    The conquest of customers – delivering a superior customer experience and helping customers navigate through their connected/digital lives;
    The conquest of international development – targeting 2x growth in revenues from emerging markets, with total customers growing from today’s 200m to 300m by 2015.

We published a report profiling the world’s 20 largest mobile operators last week, providing a SWOT and overview of strategic directions. We knew a new Orange vision was on the way, but there are only so many events that can postpone a report’s publication. It is with relief that I can say that, in terms of the key elements of this new strategic plan, enough had been discussed in the past to allow us to predict this quite accurately.

In this report, we looked at two key differentiators for operator performance: footprint (scale) and unification (both in the sense of integrated/converged networks and the provision of integrated services). The more profitable global mobile operators have strengths in these areas and it is good to see they form the basis of Orange’s new strategy.

Orange is very much committed to improving the value of its footprint, both in terms of growing its business in Africa and the Middle East (it is suggesting roughly three-quarters of its emerging market revenue growth could come from M&A here), but also in terms of its mature market footprint, where further consolidation (after the Orange / T-Mobile UK deal) can be expected.

In terms of unification, the next-gen network upgrades are a key building block there, as well as layering in services in areas such as health, education and payments. One of the more interesting statements in this strategy launch was that “Orange must become a multimedia coach for its customers by working alongside them to make their digital life easier”, with Orange’s CEO Stéphane Richard adding that Orange “are trying to be activists for an open world”. That trusted partner role has taken over from the own-branded services/content role as a priority for telcos and it is encouraging that Orange is focusing on its key strengths there.

May 20, 2010 21:05 David Kerr

sa photo dk


May you live in interesting times as the old Chinese proverb goes. Well in the information, communication and entertainment industry we certainly do. Some very interesting questions face our industry whether we look at:

  • the outcome of much delayed Indian 3G auction or
  • the battlegrounds around HSPA+ and LTE or
  • the surging Android ecosystem vs. weakening Symbian or
  • the upside potential for WebOS under it new owners
  • the potential disruption caused by mobile cloud phones and device

Every major technology advancement has lead to a massive disruption in the handset and infrastructure vendor community.

  • In 3G, Motorola’s slim myopia led to its near ruin and has provided huge growth for Samsung and a foothold in international markets for LG and SEMC.
  • On the infrastructure side 3G was expertly grasped by Huawei and ZTE leading to a new wave of M & A and a new world order which counts Nortel as a victim and seriously challenges ALU.

So how will the migration to 4G change the playing field?

  • Who will benefit most on the operator/service provider side?
  • Will Cloud Phones be disruptive in LTE?
  • Will operators find a path to realign the traffic/revenue mix with mobile broadband devices?

I would welcome your thoughts on these key questions. Also don’t forget to join our client webinar on Thursday May 27.



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

February 3, 2010 18:02 Phil Kendall
Softbank Japan will be switching off its 2G mobile network next month, one of the first WCDMA operators in the world to do so. In its financial results on Tuesday it said this would result in a small correction in subscriber numbers, though the revenue impact will be minimal - in Q4 2009, 3.6% of its customers were still on the 2G network, but they contributed just 1.7% of revenues. More importantly, terminating the 2G network is going to contribute to profit growth, so it’s all good news. For Softbank, that is. That’s just over eight years to move from launching a 3G network to closing down the 2G network. Unfortunately, no other operator is going to be running on those timelines, even NTT DoCoMo is going to see 10 years lapse between its 3G launch and 2G closure (down for March 2011).
  • Many operators in developed economies are now 6-7 years into their 3G lives and nowhere near the subscriber/revenue ratios seen in Japan in that timescale – most have yet to even get 40% of their subscribers onto 3G.
We spend a large amount of time in our forecast models looking at adoption curves for new technologies, predicting an inflection point for LTE is the latest to tax us. I have just run a speed test on my HTC Hero and (with the wind blowing in the right direction) I am getting 3Mbps down and almost 1Mbps up on a 7.2Mbps HSPA network. It’s hard to sit here today and decide at what point in the future I am going to find that performance completely unacceptable. New technologies are fun, but what is equally interesting for us is looking at the other end of the technology life cycle:
  • How should mobile operators manage the retirement of legacy technologies as they transition from 2G to 3G, or from circuit to packet voice?
  • At what point is it worth investing more in 3G subsidies for 2G users in order to save money by shutting down the old network?
The analogue to digital switch-over involved migrating a peak of 93 million analogue connections and even that has taken well over a decade to complete – this time around, there will be 4 billion 2G connections to migrate. While Softbank looks forward to lower network operating costs from April, very few other operators will reach that point even by 2015. We see huge promise in LTE and other mobile broadband technologies attracting users away from 2G services, but as vendors fight it out to have the fastest 4G demo at MWC this year it will be interesting to see how much space is devoted to technology co-existence. As regulators move towards technology-agnostic spectrum licensing, there will be a real skill in managing resources across 2G, 3G and 4G technologies and great opportunities for vendors to help operators make the transition away from 2G as painless as possible. Phil Kendall

January 11, 2010 22:01 David Kerr
Afte the inevitable wave of irrational exuberance has come the equally inevitable correction and flow of negative comments regarding Google Nexus One.
  • We are now seeing a huge rebound of criticisms about customer service, implementation and execution, moaning and complaining for existing t-mobile customers who have to pay more than a new customer to get a cool device and strong complaints from developers about availability of SDK and support.
  •  Naturally, the questions about Google's ability to execute on direct sales are being raised but these shall pass very quickly in our view.
Within our wireless team we had divergent opinions from network centric, application focussed and device driven analysts but ultimatlely we arrived at the following key perspectives:
  • Consensus is that Nexus will be successful by high end tier Smartphone levels (single digit volumes in 2010 but upside potential when it rolls out beyond TMO in US and to more open markets in Europe). Nexus is likely to sell more through operator channels than direct overall. Handset volume though is not the metric by which Google will measure Nexus success nor should operators as Nexus sales are a means to an end.  If Google is successful and Nexus ends up driving usage and value for operators, they will support it with subsidies.  Otherwise, operators can passively watch Google evolve its own-branded offering with little to lose. Tier One handset vendors (SAM, LG) may have the most to lose as Google’s marketing muscle and brand coupled with compelling devices and experiences will be a strong competitor for Operator slots, subsidy dollars.
  • Handset revenues and profits are a nice to have for Google. Key to their success and long term ambition is too boost the mobile browsing ecosystem. More open devices capable of browsing/search/maps from Google or others is positive for Google.  Google needed to update and get close to parity in terms of an engaging, fun, easy browsing UI with competitive links to key apps like maps, media etc and this device achieves that goal. Google is great at creating a buzz and the media is ready to talk about something other than Apple.
  • Google Nexus and indeed the whole Android approach is not about controlling/owning the user (contrast this with Apple). Google’s key metric is advertising revenue. Google's vision is well publicized: the browser is how they will deliver services, even on mobile, and apps are a stop-gap measure as far as Google's strategic vision is concerned. Google is banking on HTML 5 as their solution to fragmentation but we believe they are drinking too much of their own coolaid here and underestimating the importance of apps. Google’s key goal is to increase eyeballs and advertising.
  • Some key elements that have not been addressed which we believe are key in Google’s future evolution and will be key to watch relate to Voice and what Google does its Gizmo5 acquisition to push Google Voice into a full VoIP proposition. This is where Telcos should be most worried and where we have yet to see all the pieces positioned on the battlefiled.