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Hyperscalers are reimagining how networks are built, owned and operated

Hyperscaler-built networks will look very different from traditional networks

Hyperscalers are building end-to-end networks that embody all the attributes and characteristics coveted by communication service providers (CSPs) as part of their digital transformations. The most significant differences are in the software stack and the access layer, where new technologies enable hyperscalers to build dense mesh networks in unlicensed and/or shared spectrum bands and build out low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite overlays for access and backhaul. Mesh networks will likely be used to provide low-cost, wireless-fiber-like connectivity in urban and suburban environments, while satellites will primarily be leveraged to provide connectivity to rural and remote environments.

Hyperscalers are starting from scratch, completely reimagining how networks should be built and operated. Their clouds, numerous network-related experiments over the past decade, plus the raft of new network-related technologies on the road map will enable hyperscalers to build asset-light, automated networks at a fraction of the cost of traditional networks.

Hyperscaler networks will cost a fraction of traditional networks

TBR estimates hyperscaler networks cost 50% to 80% less to build than traditional networks (excludes the cost of spectrum, which would make the cost differential even more pronounced because hyperscalers will primarily leverage unlicensed and shared spectrum, which is free to use). Most of the cost savings stems from innovations, such as mesh networking, carrier aggregation, LEO satellites and integrated access-backhaul, that enable significantly less wired infrastructure to be deployed in the access layer for backhaul and last-mile connection purposes.

For example, Meta’s Terragraph mesh access point can autonomously hop signals through multiple other access points before sending the data through the nearest available backhaul conduit. In the traditional architecture, some form of backhaul would need to connect to each access point to backhaul the traffic. Mesh signals could also be backhauled through LEO satellites, further limiting the need to deploy wired infrastructure in the access layer, which is one of the most significant costs of traditional networks.

Another key area of cost savings stems from cutting out certain aspects of the traditional value chain. By open-sourcing some innovations, such as hardware designs, hyperscalers can foster a vibrant ecosystem of ODMs to manufacture white boxes to compose the physical network. The white-boxing of ICT hardware can lead to cost savings of up to 50% compared to proprietary, purpose-built appliances.

Hyperscaler disruption portends structural changes to the telecom industry through this decade

The technological and business model disruption hyperscalers are bringing into the telecom industry portends significant challenges for incumbent vendors and CSPs. TBR sees the scope of disruption becoming acute in the second half of this decade, likely prompting waves of M&A that will reshape the global landscape. CSPs will engage in M&A to stay relevant and financially sound, while incumbent vendors scramble to evolve as their primary business model (selling proprietary hardware and/or software and attached services) is increasingly marginalized and eventually becomes obsolete as hyperscaler innovations spread through the industry.

Hyperscalers do not want to become telecom operators; they want to leverage networks to obtain data and drive their other digital businesses

Hyperscalers are in the data business; providing network connectivity is a means to that end

Hyperscalers are building large-scale networks to drive forward and support their big-picture strategies, which revolve around building out their respective metaverses and supporting a wide range of new digital business models that will be enabled by new technologies such as 5G, edge computing and AI.

To that end, hyperscalers have a vested interest in ensuring the entire world is blanketed with high-speed, unencumbered, intelligent, low-cost connectivity. The economic justification to build the network is driven by the need for hyperscalers to gather and process new types of data to drive these new digital business initiatives. TBR notes that this business case is completely different from CSPs’ business case, which monetizes the network access rather than the data that comes over the network. The hyperscaler model emphasizes giving away low-cost or free connectivity and monetizing the data that comes through the network. The hyperscaler model is far more valuable than the traditional connectivity model and will likely ultimately become the predominant business model for connectivity.

CSPs sit on vast data lakes and have for many years. These data lakes contain valuable information about subscribers, endpoint devices, real-time location and tracking, and other metrics that are of critical importance for some of the digital business ideas hyperscalers want to commercialize, such as drone package delivery and autonomous vehicles. Owning more of the physical network infrastructure and the core software stack puts hyperscalers in a prime position to capture and monetize this data.

TBR notes that this strategy is already in use in the telecom industry in various places in the world. For example, Reliance Jio and Rakuten are using this strategy in India and Japan, respectively. In both cases, connectivity is given away for free or at a significantly lower cost compared to rival offers, and the data generated by the connections indirectly feeds and monetizes each company’s respective digital businesses, such as advertising, financial services and e-commerce. There is significant evidence suggesting that Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta Platforms and Microsoft all have strategies that are similar but of a far greater magnitude.

Hyperscalers already own and operate the largest networks in the world; the next build-out phase is the mobile core, far edge and access domains

Over two-thirds of global internet traffic traverses hyperscaler-owned network infrastructure at some point in the data’s journey. The vast majority of that traffic travels over hyperscalers’ backbone networks, which primarily comprise optical transmission systems (submarine and terrestrial long-haul optical cables), content delivery networks, and cloud (including central, regional and metro) data centers.

The domains of the network where hyperscalers have yet to dominate at scale are the mobile core, far edge and access layers, but there is mounting evidence to suggest this is changing, thanks to technological advancement and regulatory breakthroughs (e.g., the democratization of spectrum).

TBR’s Hyperscaler Digital Ecosystem Market Landscape focuses on the five primary hyperscalers in the Western world that TBR believes will own the largest, most comprehensive end-to-end digital ecosystems in the digital era. Specifically, the five hyperscalers covered in this report are Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta Platforms, Amazon and Apple. Collectively, TBR refers to these five hyperscalers under the acronym MAMAA. TBR covers the totality of the largest hyperscalers’ businesses, with an emphasis on how they are disrupting the ICT sector. Gain access to this full report, as well as our entire Telecom research, with a 60-day free trial of TBR Insight Center™.

Webscales are simultaneously moving into multiple trillion-dollar industries, including telecom

Webscales need to enter and disrupt trillion-dollar industries to maintain growth trajectories and sustain stock valuations

Transportation (e.g., connected vehicles), logistics, financial services, healthcare, telecom and other sectors each represent at least a trillion dollars in economic value globally, and webscales are targeting each of these industries for disruption.

Webscales need to rapidly scale their presence in these industries to add billions of dollars in top-line revenue to their respective income statements each year to sustain their stock valuations.

Telecom is a unique market to disrupt because it represents around $2 trillion in current economic value and provides foundational infrastructure to drive disruptive initiatives across other industries. Intelligent connectivity transcends all industries in a digital economy and is the foundational medium for data transmission and the conveyance of cyber-physical exchange that fuels digital transformation. Moves by Microsoft to acquire Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch underscore the strategic imperative for webscales to disrupt the telecom sector.

Webscales will ensure the Fourth Industrial Revolution becomes a reality

The Big Nine webscales are investing over $300 billion annually collectively (R&D and capex), and this amount is growing rapidly, on world-changing endeavors, such as building virtual worlds, truly autonomous vehicles, conversational voice AI, quantum computers, and frictionless, intelligent and ubiquitous connectivity. These initiatives will push the rollout of ICT infrastructure at scale and get governments and businesses aligned to ensure they are digitally transforming.

Webscales are standardizing industrial digitalization to bring enterprises into their ecosystems, and over time the webscales will enhance and broaden the capabilities they offer to enterprises en route to full realization of Industry 4.0.

TBR believes the world’s largest webscales will likely own and control key platforms and ecosystems pertaining to the realization of Industry 4.0 and will garner an outsized portion of the value that is created from the digital economy.

The next major device category is AR/VR

AR/VR represents a relatively new, trillion-dollar market category that could eclipse the market impact smartphones have had on the global economy since the inception of the iPhone in 2007. Microsoft’s up to 10-year, $21.9 billion contract with the U.S. Army for HoloLens-based solutions exemplifies the potential of this market.

All of the Big Nine webscales are investing in AR and VR devices and/or applications as they aim to capitalize on this market.

As with the smartphone era, AR/VR will put enormous requirements on global networks as uptake of new devices occurs. Webscales are learning from prior issues and are actively exploring connectivity options to mitigate the high bandwidth/low latency requirements of AR/VR devices to ensure user experience is acceptable.

TBR has revamped its original Webscale ICT Market Landscape starting with the 1H21 publication. As part of this revamp, the report name has been changed to Webscale Digital Ecosystem Market Landscape. Though this report still covers the end-to-end digital ecosystem endeavors of the major webscales at a holistic level, the content of this report will focus on webscales’ disruption of the telecom industry. The 1H21 publication of the report specifically focuses on webscales’ disruption of the network intelligence-layer technologies domain. TBR’s next edition, expected to publish in January 2022, will focus on the connectivity infrastructure and connectivity business model disruption endeavors of the webscales and what this means for telcos and vendors.

Webscales aim to exploit the value created from the nexus of distributed computing and intelligent connectivity

Webscales aim to exploit the value created from the nexus of distributed computing and intelligent connectivity

TBR has revamped its original Webscale ICT Market Landscape starting with the 1H21 publication. As part of this revamp, the report name has been changed to Webscale Digital Ecosystem Market Landscape. Though this report still covers the end-to-end digital ecosystem endeavors of the major webscales at a holistic level, the content of this report will focus on webscales’ disruption of the telecom industry. The 1H21 publication of the report specifically focuses on webscales’ disruption of the network intelligence-layer technologies domain. TBR’s next edition, expected to publish in January 2022, will focus on the connectivity infrastructure and connectivity business model disruption endeavors of the webscales and what this means for telcos and vendors.

Connectivity will be ‘free’

The connectivity business model is poised to fundamentally change during the 5G era, and the telecom industry might see and will need to be prepared for a world where selling metered data access is no longer viable. New models have emerged, driven by the webscales, that portend a world where consumer network access could become “free” or close to free. Historical precedence and future context will be provided demonstrating that this radical change could indeed be feasible and that the market has a high probability of ultimately going in this direction during this decade.

Join Principal Analyst Chris Antlitz for an in-depth, exclusive review of TBR’s most recent Webscale ICT Market Landscape where he will discuss how webscales’ digital-first, platform-centric model can create a fundamentally new industrial framework for providing “free” connectivity in an economically feasible manner.

TBR’s Webscale ICT Market Landscape focuses on the nine webscales (aka the Big Nine) that TBR believes will own the largest, most comprehensive end-to-end digital ecosystems in the digital era. Specifically, this list includes Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, Rakuten and Tencent. The report includes key findings, market size, customer adoption, webscale positioning and strategies, geographic adoption, vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities.

Don’t miss:

  • Which webscales are likely to drive this move toward “free” connectivity
  • How webscales will make money from “free” connectivity
  • What will happen to traditional operators amid this coming market disruption

Big Nine are building digital ecosystems; cloud, connectivity, platforms and other initiatives all point to this end state

Big Nine build digital ecosystems; cloud, connectivity, platforms and other initiatives all point to this end state

Big Nine aim to own the foundational, intelligent innovation platforms of the digital economy

The Big Nine — Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), Alphabet (Nasdaq: GOOGL), Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU), Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Rakuten and Tencent — view 5G and distributed computing as innovation platforms on top of which value will be created in the digital economy. The Big Nine are building “brains” in their central cloud environments that will autonomously orchestrate and manage the fundamental platforms upon which the digital economy will be built.

A recent example of this trend by the Big Nine to own the intelligence layer and build these platforms is seen in Microsoft’s recent actions, whereby the company acquired Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch (pending) and struck partnerships with ecosystem providers such as Federated Wireless to build out digital marketplaces that enable end users to consume network resources directly from the cloud.

The Webscale ICT Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer adoption, operator positioning and strategies, geographic adoption, vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities.

IoT continues to contribute moderately to vendor revenue growth, as vendors embed IoT in their offerings

IoT is becoming more deeply embedded in vendors’ offerings and messaging

IoT continues its moderate revenue and gross profit growth as vendors and customers become more familiar with what IoT is and how it can be applied. Increasingly, IoT is an expected part of vendors’ offerings, one of a set of tools that can be used to solve business problems and address business opportunities. IoT continues to be viewed more as a technique than a specific market or technology, but increasingly familiar use cases and more mature packaged solutions and components have made it easier to work with.

TBR expects the IoT market to continue to grow, gradually accelerating over at least the next five years. This means IoT will constitute an increasing percentage of vendors’ revenues. Because IoT is just one tool, however, less attention will be paid to its role. It is embedded in messages as well as in products and services, and customers have come to expect its availability.

Customers are increasingly addressing the costs of moving and storing data and are therefore beginning to migrate to a hybrid edge-cloud architecture

IoT has the potential to generate enormous amounts of data, depending on what is being measured, how often, and how precisely. Without data life cycle policy and management, data accumulates without limit and project costs increase over time. An edge-cloud hybrid architecture processes data near the edge and transmits a limited amount of summarizing data to a central data center or cloud service for further analysis and long-term storage. The hardware and software tools for this approach are available but will become much easier to implement going forward.

While IoT revenue and IoT projects are growing, IoT is less prominent in vendors’ marketing communications

IoT is transforming from a product or service line to a capability or a product or service extension. Marketing IoT as a capability or extension allows vendors to scale back marketing and sales costs to a level commensurate with lower-than-first-expected IoT revenues. Successful vendors have repositioned IoT to support their main product or service line and to reinforce, rather than confuse, their main message. This results in a simpler message that is easier for salespeople and customers to understand and evaluate. It has also resulted in more differentiated IoT offerings, because the offerings are specific to each vendor’s overall strategy.

TBR’s Commercial IoT Benchmark is a semiannual publication that highlights current commercial IoT revenue and gross profit for a select list of 28 vendors. The benchmark leverages financial models and projections across a diverse set of IT and operational technology (OT) components. In addition, it outlines the major vendor-based drivers and trends shaping the market. The benchmark examines multiple IoT segments, including business consulting, IT services, ICT infrastructure, software, security, cloud services and connectivity.

Cost of ‘intelligent connectivity’ must decline significantly for intelligent world to unfold

TBR perspective

Realizing the intelligent world presented by the mobile industry at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019 (MWC19) will require a fundamental change in how networks are architected, including a radical reduction in the cost of providing connectivity. It will also require business transformation for companies tied to the old world, namely communications service providers (CSPs) and their incumbent vendors.

It was readily apparent at the event that technology is advancing at a much faster pace than the establishment of business cases that economically justify deployment of the technology. The reality for the mobile industry is that the cost of building, owning and operating networks is too high and networks are too inflexible to support the business realities of the digital era, whereby connectivity is relegated to a commodity service and the value lies in the platforms and applications that run over the network. The industry has known this for years, but changes have been minimal, until maybe now.

The entrance of Rakuten to the mobile industry could be a game changer and provides a glimpse into what a digital service provider will look like. In what could arguably be the most important takeaway from the entire event, Rakuten’s approach to building and operating a network could signify a paradigm shift in the industry. Not only will Rakuten’s network be agile, flexible and dynamic to provide digital services, it will also enable a dramatic reduction in the cost of connectivity.

The theme of MWC19 was “intelligent connectivity” and centered on how 5G, IoT, AI and big data are coming together to enable the intelligent world. Against this backdrop, Rakuten stole the show with the evangelization of its end-to-end virtualized and cloud-native network, which is being deployed across Japan this year. Rakuten’s network provides a glimpse into what the intelligent network of the future will look like.

The IoT market continues to stabilize, with the overall market growing at a moderate accelerating CAGR of 24.8%

4Q18 Commercial Internet of Things Market Forecast infographic

TBR projects total commercial Internet of Things (IoT) market revenue will increase from $456.1 billion in 2019 to $1.4 trillion in 2024, a CAGR of 24.8%.

Topics covered in TBR’s Commercial IoT Market Forecast 2019-2024 include deeper examinations, such as trends, drivers and inhibitors of the seven technology segments we track (e.g., cloud services, IT services, ICT infrastructure, and connectivity), the 10 vertical groupings we cover (e.g., public sector, healthcare, manufacturing and logistics), and four geographies (i.e., APAC, EMEA, North America and Latin America).

In addition to a more in-depth examination of the aforementioned topics, we also delve into the rise of “bundles” and “packaged solutions,” and how vendor partnering is lowering cost of sales for IoT implementations.

For additional information about this research or to arrange a one-on-one analyst briefing, please contact Dan Demers at +1 603.929.1166 or [email protected].

The IoT market continues to stabilize, with the overall market growing at a moderate accelerating CAGR of 24.8%

TBR projects total commercial Internet of Things (IoT) market revenue will increase from $456.1 billion in 2019 to $1.4 trillion in 2024, a CAGR of 24.8%.

It is important to remember that IoT is a technique for applying technology components, not a technology itself, which leads to certain drivers and inhibitors. Because it is a technique, IoT has an unlimited shelf life. Vendors that invest now and solidify their IoT go-to-market strategy will benefit in the long run. Methods for connecting equipment and solutioning may evolve, but the overarching technique is not going away. However, IoT growth is limited by the components and solutioning that compose the technique, including capabilities, standards and cost. This leads the numerous submarkets and sub-technologies of the IoT ecosystem to experience varied growth.

IoT revenue will accelerate as technological capabilities and standards mature and common solutions appear, culminating in lower cost and complexity.

Graph showing commercial iot market forecast alternative market performance scenarios 2019-2024

TBR believes an emerging growth accelerator is the fact that IoT offerings have evolved from the initial DIY stage to easily integrated components to component kits to, finally, almost complete solutions. At each point in this evolution, IoT becomes less expensive, less burdensome and less risky to customers, while still delivering business benefits. This greatly broadens the market, resulting in market growth and revenue growth for vendors that participate in this evolution.

However, customers remain concerned with the cost of IoT solutions, including the expense associated with transmitting, processing and storing data. The amount of data stored increases as IoT projects remain in operation, and a thoughtful data collection and storage policy is key to maintaining positive ROI.