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Ericsson’s focused strategy and strong 5G position yield results

TBR perspective

Ericsson’s recovery continues into its third year, evidenced by revenue growth and expanding margins, trends that TBR expects to continue in 2020. A strong 5G position with respect to both RAN and mobile core is a significant driver of this improvement as Ericsson’s early technology bets and increased investment in Networks unit R&D are spurring CSP adoption of Ericsson’s competitive 5G portfolio. Ericsson has notched high-profile wins in 5G and grown its market share at Huawei’s and Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) expense thanks to ERS, which offers an attractive total cost of ownership and a powerful baseband unit. As restructuring progresses, Ericsson will shift from an emphasis on cost reduction and efficiency to a disciplined growth mindset, evidenced by the recent acquisition of Kathrein’s antenna business and an effort to poach LTE customers from rivals for 5G upgrades. With China deploying 5G en masse in 2020 and the next wave of adopters expected to roll out through the early 2020s, Ericsson has the ability to wring a few more years of growth and market share gains from this cycle.

TBR views Ericsson’s turnaround as a success, but multiple headwinds will take shape over the next few years, such as vRAN; the rise of disruptive startups like Altiostar, Mavenir and Parallel Wireless; and uneven CSP spending. TBR believes Ericsson has baked 5G market share gains in China into its 2020 guidance. These gains are likely to come at Nokia’s expense.

Long term, Ericsson is hoping that emerging businesses including IoT Accelerator, Edge Gravity and eModo scale up. The company needs to succeed in an area outside of RAN and core to maintain share, but Ericsson is not currently preparing to expand its addressable market in terms of enterprise verticals.

Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) hosted its annual Industry Analyst Forum in Boston, bringing along a range of executives to provide an update on the company’s corporate strategy, which includes continued restructuring, particularly within Digital Services, as well as infusing AI and automation across key product areas and selective expansion in emerging technology areas. 5G, however, was the dominant topic due to Ericsson’s market share gains spurred by the Ericsson Radio System (ERS), which is optimized to meet the cost-conscious needs of communication service providers (CSPs). Similar to last year, the tone of Ericsson’s 2019 analyst day was upbeat as the company continues to execute its focused strategy — now in its third year — which is driving improvement in its financial metrics. Following the main session, analysts could attend three tracks — Building the Network Platform, Automation in 5G Operations, or New Business Opportunities for Service Providers (i.e., IoT, private cellular networks and fixed wireless access [FWA]) — and then participate in one-on-one speed meetings.

Nokia bets big on enterprise

TBR perspective

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) remains in a state of transition. The company is not only addressing challenges with its 5G New Radio (NR) products but is also contending with business disruption as CSPs increasingly migrate toward a webscale-like, next-generation network architecture, which is prompting Nokia to accelerate and broaden its own internal digital transformation to remain a competitive player. Though management provided assurances that it is addressing its 5G NR issues and that they will be short-lived in nature, the underlying challenges facing Nokia, as well as all incumbent telecom network infrastructure OEMs, remain firmly in place.

TBR believes Nokia’s big bet on enterprise, which includes webscales and other industries such as manufacturing, transportation, utilities and mining as well as the public sector, is timely and critical to ensure the vendor can make the transition from relying on CSPs for the bulk of its revenue to relying on a more diversified mix of customers (CSP and non-CSP) to hedge itself from the prevailing winds of shifting CSP spend while exposing it to adjacent growth opportunities that are aligned with its offerings and capabilities. Currently, CSPs account for around 85% of Nokia’s corporate revenue with Enterprise comprising over 5% and patent licensing fees and other corporate revenue sources contributing the remainder.

Event overview

CEO Rajeev Suri kicked off Nokia’s 2019 Global Analyst Forum by addressing “the good, the bad, and the ugly” issues the company has been contending with, specifically as they pertain to Nokia’s 5G RAN kit and how these issues are impacting the company’s financial performance and investment decisions. Suri’s message reiterated that Nokia’s management is fully aware of the problems and have taken pragmatic and decisive steps to address them, most notably shifting from a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chipset to a system on a chip (SoC) in its 5G NR. Suri stressed these issues are temporary and that the company’s overarching strategy remains the right approach to grow revenue and margins over the long term. One of the key aspects of that overarching strategy, which was interwoven throughout the event, is that Nokia is doubling down on enterprise.

Suri was succeeded at the event by a mix of Nokia’s other C-level executives as well as a mix of business unit and regional heads, all of whom provided updates on their respective domains and how they are addressing new opportunities in the market. A few representatives from leading CSPs, namely Sprint (NYSE: S), Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD) and Zain, also presented during the event. The customer presentations confirmed that leading CSPs are focused initially on the consumer use cases of 5G (i.e., enhanced mobile broadband [eMBB] and fixed wireless access) and are taking a wait-and-see approach toward enterprise use cases. This is in alignment with TBR’s broader research on the 5G market, which suggests nontraditional use cases of the network that are enabled by 5G are not imminent and that, aside from eMBB and fixed wireless access, other use cases for 5G will take time to become economically and technologically feasible before being commercially deployed. Though private networks represent a key growth area, TBR notes the vast majority of net-new private cellular network engagements to date are using LTE, not 5G.

Panel, small group and one-on-one sessions were also hosted at the event covering a wide range of topic areas. A demo bazaar was also provided for analysts to see new technology innovations from Nokia in areas such as network slicing, cloud RAN and network automation.

After the event, analysts were treated to an exclusive tour of Nokia’s RAN factory in Oulu to see demonstrations of how private networks can be utilized in manufacturing environments to achieve improved business outcomes. The tour was well received and thought-provoking, but it was apparent that 5G technology is not imminently ready to address operations transformation and that more work needs to be done in that arena before the technology is commercially ready.

Enterprise was in the spotlight at Nokia’s 2019 Global Analyst Forum. Though communication service provider (CSP)-centric topics were also widely covered at the event, enterprise and the opportunity to sell private networks to that customer segment were emphasized throughout, indicating Nokia is placing big bets on non-CSP customers to drive the vendor’s recovery and next phase of growth.

5G-related investment fuels vendor growth; greenfield 5G and Industry 4.0 opportunities emerge

U.S. cable operators and Dish Network are exploring building out their own 5G networks

Rakuten’s mobile broadband network deployment demonstrates that vendors must be aware of new opportunities to deploy 5G networks for customers that do not currently own mobile broadband networks. In November Dish Network selected Ericsson to supply a radio access and core network for Dish’s Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network, which is expected to be completed in March 2020. Dish, which has been closely watching Rakuten’s build-out, is also contemplating a nationwide 5G network, on which it could spend up to $10 billion. Cable operators Comcast, Charter and Altice, which are currently mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) of Tier 1 mobile operators, are contemplating greenfield 5G network builds as well.

Industry 4.0 will drive demand for cellular connectivity within the enterprise, but not for a few years

TBR’s research suggests that Industry 4.0, which includes mass 5G adoption globally, will not ramp up until between 2022 and 2025, at which point business cases will be proven, justifying an increase in market spend on ICT infrastructure. Cellular technologies, namely LTE and 5G, have better uplink and security capabilities, and lower latency than Wi-Fi, all of which are necessary as enterprises begin to use network technology for mission-critical workloads rather than “best effort” communications. Certain vendors, namely Nokia, Huawei and Cisco, are better positioned than others to capitalize on this trend as they sell both directly and indirectly into enterprises, as well as through communication service providers (CSPs). Ericsson, in contrast, plans to go to market almost exclusively through CSPs, which will place it at a disadvantage as many large enterprises will want private networks.

TBR’s Telecom Vendor Benchmark details and compares the initiatives and tracks the revenue and performance of the largest telecom vendors in segments including infrastructure, services and applications as well as in geographies including the Americas, EMEA and APAC. The report includes information on market leaders, vendor positioning, vendor market share, key deals, acquisitions, alliances, go-to-market strategies and personnel developments.

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.

5G-readiness spend and migration to new network architectures spur the TIS market to growth in 3Q18

According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) 3Q18 Telecom Infrastructure Services (TIS) Benchmark, the TIS market grew as communication service provider (CSP) investment in areas tied to 5G-readiness increased. CSPs are rearchitecting their networks leveraging NFV, SDN and the cloud as well as implementing new business models, which requires growing spend across a broad range of professional services. Deployment services spend grew slightly, but the market will strengthen as the 5G spend cycle ramps up over the next couple of years, although the spend intensity will be lower than during the LTE cycle. RAN suppliers Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and Samsung will capture incremental TIS market share as they drive high volumes of services attached to their 5G RAN. This is already occurring to some extent as CSPs densify networks as part of their 5G-readiness strategies. Though 5G will require significant hardware spend, the aggregate amount will be lower compared to LTE, which will drive vendors to explore new market areas, such as Industry 4.0.

The managed services market was flat year-to-year in 3Q18 as a decline in outsourcing was offset by growth in the out-tasking market. Generally, vendors are exercising pricing discipline when determining which outsourcing contracts to take on in an effort to improve margins. Ericsson is currently leading the way in this regard as it evaluates 42 contracts for exit or rescoping. Huawei, ZTE and CCS have been less concerned with price and are focused on consolidating the outsourcing market. Other vendors, including those that are historically hardware-centric with little to no footprint in the managed services market, are increasingly playing in out-tasking as they will manage applications deployed in CSP networks. Ciena (NYSE: CIEN) is an example of this trend.

 

 

TBR’s Telecom Infrastructure Services Benchmark provides quarterly analysis of the deployment, maintenance, professional services and managed services markets for network and IT suppliers. Suppliers covered include Accenture (NYSE: ACN), Amdocs, Atos, Capgemini, CGI, China Communications Services, Ciena, Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), CommScope, CSG International, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (NYSE: HPE), Huawei, IBM (NYSE: IBM), Infosys (NYSE: INFY), Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), NEC, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Oracle (NYSE: ORCL), Samsung, SAP (NYSE: SAP), Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, Wipro (NYSE: WIT) and ZTE.

Ericsson Turnaround Could Limit Growth Potential, Says TBR

“‘Though Ericsson’s focused strategy has proved to be a viable approach to stabilize the company, return it to profitability, and provide incremental organic growth, the key concern will be how sustainable that stability and growth will be over the long term,’ wrote Chris Antlitz, a senior telecom analyst at Technology Business Research (TBR), in a new report.

“Antlitz cited Ericsson’s focus on the wireless access domain that he noted was undergoing significant competitive disruption due to the launch of 5G networks and increased use of virtualization technologies. He explained that Ericsson’s focus could allow it to take market share from rivals, particularly Nokia, Huawei, and ZTE, but that business trends like virtualization, cloud, and white box could impact those efforts down the road.

“‘Ericsson is betting its [Radio Systems RAN gear] will offset the impact of these adverse trends and hasten its shift to a more software-centric entity with a more recurring, license-based software model that carries relatively high, sustainable margins, but this shift will take years to unfold, and there is significant legacy business at risk of disappearing in the interim,’ Antlitz noted.”

U.S. 5G investment supports non-China-based vendors as Huawei and ZTE face increasing headwinds

Nokia and Huawei are well-positioned to win as operators overhaul architectures in the 5G era, but most of the spend to date is on 5G radios, with Ericsson at an advantage due to market perception of its software-upgradeable Ericsson Radio System RAN. The network must ultimately be overhauled to fully realize 5G’s potential, but it will take CSPs many years to evolve their networks end-to-end, and the current focus — and 5G-related capex spend — will be on 5G radios. In the 5G RAN space, TBR believes Ericsson leads in market share. Nokia and Huawei, however, have broad portfolios that enable them to enter 5G accounts from multiple domains.

Graph showing 3Q18 revenue, year-to-year growth and operating margin for vendors in TBR's Telecom Vendor Benchmark

 

 

The Telecom Vendor Benchmark details and compares the initiatives and tracks the revenue and performance of the largest telecom vendors in segments including infrastructure, services and applications as well as in geographies including the Americas, EMEA and APAC. The report includes information on market leaders, vendor positioning, vendor market share, key deals, acquisitions, alliances, go-to-market strategies and personnel developments.

Ericsson’s turnaround is in process, but sustainability of business is in question

TBR perspective

Though Ericsson’s focused strategy has proved to be a viable approach to stabilize the company, return it to profitability and provide incremental organic growth, the key concern will be how sustainable that stability and growth will be over the long term.

Ericsson’s focus on the wireless access domain tethers the company to the whims of that market, which is undergoing significant disruption as 5G and virtualization take hold and as operators increasingly shift capex budgets from connectivity infrastructure to building digital businesses, limiting Ericsson’s growth potential. Though there is room for Ericsson to take market share, particularly from Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Huawei and ZTE by leveraging its software-upgradable Ericsson Radio System (ERS) RAN gear, Ericsson is not immune to adverse business trends impacting the broader RAN market, namely legacy decommissioning, virtualization, openness, cloud and white box.

Ericsson is betting its ERS will offset the impact of these adverse trends and hasten its shift to a more software-centric entity with a more recurring, license-based software model that carries relatively high, sustainable margins, but this shift will take years to unfold and there is significant legacy business at risk of disappearing in the interim.

With the architecture of the network fundamentally changing to be virtualized and cloudified and communication service providers (CSPs) focused on relentless cost efficiency and TCO reduction, Ericsson will have to carefully balance its shift from the old world to the new reality, whereby forklift RAN upgrades become lower scale and targeted, and innovation and value migrate to the software layer. This has significant implications for Ericsson’s hardware and close-to-the-box services businesses, both of which are optimized to operate at high scale for efficiency and profitability.

TBR notes Ericsson and its close rival Nokia are pursing different paths during the 5G era. While Ericsson focuses on its core business of selling RAN and mobile core directly to service providers, Nokia is taking an end-to-end infrastructure approach and is building out a dedicated business unit with a full suite of resources to directly sell to enterprises. Though Industry 4.0, 5G and digital transformation are underlying themes that find commonality between the two vendors, their divergent tracks are noteworthy.

 

 

Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) hosted its annual Industry Analyst Forum in Boston, bringing along a range of executives to provide an update on the company’s corporate and business unit strategies, with a focus on Networks, Managed Services and North America. Key topic areas included 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Following the main session, analysts could attend three tracks — Network Evolution to 5G, AI and Automated Operations, or 5G and IoT Industry Innovation — and then participate in one-on-one speed meetings. The tone of Ericsson’s 2018 analyst day was upbeat as the company sees early signs that its turnaround plan is yielding results, evidenced by its 3Q18 earnings results in which organic revenue growth returned and margins improved markedly. Ericsson remains committed to its transformational restructuring and focused strategy, which are key pillars of its turnaround plan.

Nokia hedges 5G play with focus on opportunities in the enterprise space

TBR perspective

The next few years will be challenging for Nokia (NYSE: NOK), and execution will be critical to ensure the company is optimized to drive profitable revenue growth when its addressable market ultimately returns to sustained growth. With its core communication service provider (CSP) customer segment, which composes 95% of Networks’ revenue, expected to remain in a cost-optimization cycle pending new, proven revenue growth opportunities enabled by 5G (which TBR’s research suggests remains several years away), Nokia’s strategic focus on opportunities in the enterprise space and its internal digital transformation are prudent and timely and will take center stage in determining how financially successful the company will be as it transitions into the next decade.

Though more CSPs are committing to deploy 5G and other advanced network innovations such as virtualization over the next few years, the reality is that these infrastructure investments are being justified because they provide significant cost efficiencies to CSPs, enabling them to build, operate and support networks in a much more efficient and cost-effective manner compared to prior generations of network technology. This reality not only increases pressure on Nokia to boost its enterprise exposure to grow revenue, but also pushes management to accelerate digital transformation to protect margins.

Though TBR generally agrees with Nokia’s stance that the world is at the cusp of Industry 4.0, the divergence in thought comes down to timing and whether this cycle will be a short-duration revolution or a long-term evolution. TBR’s research suggests the latter and that Industry 4.0, which includes mass 5G adoption globally, will not ramp up until the 2022-2025 timeframe, at which point business cases will be proved, justifying an increase in market spend on ICT infrastructure. Until that time, Nokia needs to rightsize its shorter-term expectations and focus on building a solid foundation for its fledgling enterprise business while digitally transforming its internal operations to stay competitive.

 

 

Enterprises, 5G and Industry 4.0 dominated most of the mindshare at Nokia’s 2018 Global Analyst Forum. Nokia spent much less time discussing its individual product innovations and more time discussing how technology, people and processes are coming together to enable digital transformation, not only for CSPs but also for enterprises.

Telecom vendor revenues trend upward as operators pull forward 5G investment

According to Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) 2Q18 Telecom Vendor Benchmark, revenue growth improved for the largest vendors as they capitalized on early 5G investment but saw reduced spend in China. Operators, particularly those in the United States, are pulling forward investment in 5G and deploying small cells to densify networks. However, the RAN market will decline in 2018 as operators in China reduce spend significantly following the conclusion of LTE coverage deployments.

TBR believes Ericsson has staked an early lead in 5G, but Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Huawei can leverage their end-to-end portfolios to regain share. In 4Q17 and 1Q18 Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) aggressively priced its Ericsson Radio System (ERS), which is software-upgradeable to 5G, undercutting competitors to gain market share ahead of commercial 5G build-outs. Nokia and Huawei remain well positioned in 5G due to their ability to leverage end-to-end portfolios as a one-stop shop for network transformation in the 5G era.

ZTE was banned from sourcing components from the U.S. for part of 2Q18, which drove the company to essentially cease operating, leading to drastically lower revenue and a deep operating loss. The company is once again operating, but its reputation was tarnished, particularly in Western markets.

Graph showing 2Q18 revenue, operating margin and year-to-year revenue growth

 

TBR’s Telecom Vendor Benchmark details and compares the initiatives and tracks the revenue and performance of the largest telecom vendors in segments including infrastructure, services and applications and in geographies including the Americas, EMEA and APAC. The report includes information on market leaders, vendor positioning, vendor market share, key deals, acquisitions, alliances, go-to-market strategies and personnel developments.