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Webscales will ultimately become more like competitors than partners to operators to capitalize on 5G-era opportunities

Webscales are not the telco’s friend

The Big Nine have various initiatives underway that will disrupt aspects of the telecom business model and pose a direct threat to operators’ existing connectivity businesses and their ability to capitalize on new value created from 5G.

Though webscales are posturing like they want to partner with telcos on new opportunities, they actually need to disrupt telcos’ core business (i.e., providing connectivity) to realize their digital ecosystem goals.

Webscales ultimately need to become more like competitors, rather than partners, of telcos because they need access to new types of data, and realizing their digital lifestyle goals will require them to take control over the network rather than be beholden to telcos. Both of these needs are satisfied by owning greater portions of the network.

Webscales already own significant portions of long-haul transport, cloud data centers, SD-WAN and communications platforms globally, and TBR believes the next step will be for webscales to take over the mobile core and the last mile of the network. This is already occurring in the enterprise network domain, but TBR expects webscales will increasingly delve into the consumer domain as spectrum is increasingly democratized and key technological advancements make it much easier, faster and cheaper to build and operate greenfield networks.

The webscale companies (hyperscalers or internet content providers) covered in TBR’s Webscale ICT Market Landscape invest in ICT and related digital infrastructure to drive their core businesses, which can include, but are not limited to, advertising, cloud services, e-commerce, financial services and media. In some cases, webscale companies will also invest in and provide telecommunications services, such as broadband access, to accelerate their digital businesses. This report focuses on the nine webscales (the Big Nine — Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, Rakuten, Tencent) that TBR believes will own the largest, most comprehensive end-to-end digital ecosystems in the digital era. Additionally, the report includes key findings, market size, customer adoption, operator positioning and strategies, geographic adoption, vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies and opportunities.

Despite complexity and market challenges, CSP spend on NFV/SDN will grow at a 32.4% CAGR from 2019 to 2024 to nearly $147B

Key Insights

NFV/SDN spend will scale through the forecast period as leading CSPs broaden their transformation initiatives and as other CSPs begin their transformational journeys.

Operators will increasingly invest in virtualized network solutions, including vRAN and virtual network cores, to reap the full benefits of 5G.

The pool of vendors capable of aiding telecom operators in their network transformations is growing as cloud service providers and Japan-based vendors join the fray.

TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Forecast details NFV and SDN trends among the most influential market players, including both suppliers and operators. This research includes current-year market sizing and a five-year forecast by multiple NFV and SDN market segments and by geography as well as examines growth drivers, top trends and leading market players. TBR’s NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape includes key findings, market size, customer and geographic adoption, operator and vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisition and alliance strategies.

Timely clearance of mid-band spectrum is essential for U.S. to remain at forefront of global 5G race

TBR perspective

Significant progress has been made on 5G ecosystem development since the 2018 5G Americas Analyst Forum held last October, as commercial mobile 5G services have been launched by the four U.S. Tier 1 operators, as well as in Uruguay by state-run operator ANTEL, over the past year. However, the infancy of the 5G era in the Americas has been somewhat underwhelming due to tepid smartphone adoption, the limited range of service on millimeter wave spectrum, and lack of coverage outside major metro areas.

The U.S. is at risk of falling behind other countries, especially South Korea and China, in the global 5G race. 5G adoption is growing at a more accelerated rate in South Korea, as the country gained 2 million 5G subscribers within the first four months of commercial services being offered and reached 3 million 5G subscribers as of September. South Korea’s rapid growth is being driven by its widespread 5G coverage, which is expected to reach 80% of the population by the end of 2019, as well as operators heavily subsidizing 5G devices to offset high smartphone prices. Conversely, China will make a strong entrance into the 5G market by launching commercial services in 50 major cities in the beginning of October, with plans to deploy 100,000 5G sites by the end of 2019.

The greatest barrier to the U.S. competing at the forefront of the global 5G race is its current lack of mid-band spectrum as global operators across all major regions have already been allocated a significant amount of mid-band licenses to support initial deployments. Offering 5G services across a mix of low-band, mid-band and high-band spectrum is critical to provide optimal coverage. Though deploying services on millimeter wave spectrum is necessary for U.S. operators to realize the fastest 5G speeds, the licenses are limited by the short range of coverage they provide.

Conversely, low-band spectrum will provide the coverage range necessary for operators including AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile (Nasdaq: TMUS) to deploy nationwide 5G services in 2020, but the spectrum will not yield significantly faster speeds compared to LTE. Mid-band spectrum provides the best of both worlds, speed and range of coverage, and the acquisition of mid-band licenses will play a pivotal role in the Americas’ position in the global 5G market as well as how individual operators compete for 5G market share in their respective countries.

Nearly 200 industry analysts and representatives from well-known telecom operators and vendors convened at the 2019 5G Americas Analyst Forum to discuss the state of the developing 5G market in North America and Latin America. The event featured an opening presentation from T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray regarding 5G leadership in the Americas, a fireside chat with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, and a choice of 26 roundtable discussions focused on key 5G topics including IoT, edge computing, 5G network infrastructure and technologies, regulatory considerations, and private cellular networks. 

Industry 4.0 will bolster IoT connection growth for global CSPs

Industry 4.0 will contribute to a surge in IoT connection additions between 2022 and 2025

TBR expects Industry 4.0 to drive a renaissance in new, commercially viable use cases for the network between 2022 and 2025, which will spur revenue-generation opportunities for communication service providers (CSPs) that deliver the connectivity layer and value-added services to businesses. Industry 4.0 will bolster IoT connection growth for CSPs as they target large contract wins in areas including transportation, smart cities, smart factories and healthcare, which are expected to integrate a massive number of IoT devices to enhance operations.

Private 5G networks will play a pivotal role in advancing Industry 4.0 as these networks will provide the security and precision needed to support mission-critical workloads such as in manufacturing. The current, widespread availability of mid-band spectrum in EMEA and APAC markets will provide CSPs in those regions a time-to-market advantage in deploying private 5G networks as U.S. operators wait for the regulatory clearance of CBRS and C-Band spectrum over the next several years.

Enterprises will turn to private 5G networks due to their enhanced security and reduced latency

TBR believes private cellular networks will be a predominant initial 5G use case as enterprises will increasingly opt for 5G connectivity due to its ultra-low latency and enhanced security. Manufacturing plants will be an ideal environment for private 5G networks as the ultra-low latency and minimal jitter provided by 5G will enable connected devices such as robots and other manufacturing equipment to more effectively meet production quotas on the assembly line.

TBR’s Telecom IoT Market Landscape, takes a deep dive into the commercial cellular IoT-related initiatives of global stakeholders in the telecom market, including telecom operators, cable operators and vendors that supply the telecom market. The research includes key findings, market size, regional summaries, technology trends, use cases, verticals, operator and vendor positioning and strategies, acquisition and alliance strategies, and opportunities that are specific to the telecom industry.

Competition from MVNOs and smaller rivals limits subscriber growth for Tier 1 U.S. and Canadian operators

Wireless revenue rose 2.2% year-to-year to $64 billion among U.S. operators covered in Technology Business Research Inc.’s (TBR) 4Q18 U.S. & Canada Mobile Operator Benchmark, driven by continued subscriber growth and adoption of premium smartphones. All benchmarked U.S. operators except Sprint were able to gain postpaid phone net additions in 4Q18 as opportunity remains to target first-time wireless customers in the country. Postpaid subscriber growth is also fueled by prepaid migrations as many subscribers are moving to postpaid plans for benefits such as bundled streaming services and increased LTE data limits for mobile hot spots.

4Q18 Wireless Revenue, OIBDA Margin & Year-to-year Revenue Growth

Subscriber growth for U.S. Tier 1 operators is, however, threatened by the growing momentum of new mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) entering the market. Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile and Charter’s Spectrum Mobile are attracting wireless customers via low price points and the convenience of being able to enroll in multiple services through a single provider. Altice also plans on providing wireless services in 1H19, giving the company the opportunity to cross-sell mobility services to its current residential base of over 4.5 million customers. TBR also anticipates Google Fi, which was rebranded from Project Fi in November, will gain further traction in 2019 as the brand is launching new incentives to attract customers including bring-your-own-device options for most Android and iPhone smartphone models.

Combined wireless revenue among Tier 1 Canadian operators rose 6% year-to-year to $6.9 billion due to continued subscriber growth spurred by shared data programs and expanding LTE-Advanced coverage. However, subscriber growth for Tier 1 Canadian operators is limited by mounting competition from smaller competitors. Tier 2 Canadian operators, most notably Shaw Communications’ Freedom Mobile and Quebecor’s Videotron, which now have a total of about 1.5 million and 1.1 million customers, respectively, are accelerating subscriber growth via their pricing promotions and network investments. TBR anticipates Freedom Mobile will further disrupt the Canadian wireless market in 2019 as the company will expand LTE coverage to an additional 1.3 million Canadians throughout the year in markets in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

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].

CSPs accelerate 5G deployments to realize the significant cost efficiencies that are inherent in the technology

According to TBR’s 1Q19 5G Telecom Market Landscape, though a viable business case for operators to grow revenue from 5G has yet to materialize (with the exception of fixed wireless broadband), the main driver for operators to deploy 5G is realizing the efficiency gains the technology provides over LTE.

Operators in developed markets worldwide have accelerated their 5G deployment timetables over the past year, primarily because 5G is a significantly more cost-effective solution to handle rising data traffic in their traditional connectivity businesses but also to remain competitive in their respective markets.

TBR estimates over 80% of 5G capex spend through 2020 will be driven by operators in four countries: the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea, with the remaining 20% of spend through 2020 predominantly stemming from Europe and developed countries in the Middle East and APAC that have relatively small populations. Most Tier 1 operators in these countries have aggressive 5G rollout timetables and intend to leverage the technology for fixed wireless broadband and/or to support their mobile broadband densification initiatives. The seamless software upgradability of new RAN platforms to 5G will facilitate deployment at incremental cost, keeping overall spend scaling quickly but at a relatively low level compared to prior RAN generation upgrades.

TBR’s 5G Telecom Market Landscape tracks the 5G-related initiatives of leading operators and vendors worldwide. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the global 5G ecosystem and includes insights pertaining to market development, market sizing, use cases, adoption, regional trends, and operator and vendor positioning and strategies.

Opportunities for wireless subscriber growth remain plentiful for U.S. operators

Cable providers are disrupting the U.S. wireless market

Subscriber growth for U.S. Tier 1 operators is being limited by the growing momentum of Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile brand, which outperformed AT&T and Sprint in postpaid phone net additions in 3Q18 and now has a base of over 1 million subscribers. Xfinity Mobile will become a stronger competitor in the U.S. market over the next several years as it expands its retail footprint and Comcast gains additional broadband customers to which it can cross-sell wireless service. Spectrum Mobile, which became available across Charter’s footprint in September, will also disrupt the U.S. wireless market by offering similar pricing incentives as Xfinity Mobile.

 

TBR’s U.S. & Canada Mobile Operator Benchmark details and compares the activities of the largest U.S. and Canadian operators, including financial performance, go-to-market initiatives and resource management strategies. Covered companies include AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile (Nasdaq: TMUS), U.S. Cellular (NYSE: USM), Rogers, Telus and Bell Mobility.

Limited availability and adoption of compatible smartphones will stall 5G’s early momentum

Anticipation is building as mobile 5G networks will be widely deployed in the United States over the next couple of years. As the wireless market continues to shift to unlimited data plans, the capacity provided by 5G will enable operators to more cost-effectively offer these programs over the long term while better handling network congestion. Operators will also be able to capitalize on the cost efficiencies of mobile 5G by introducing new premium unlimited tiers, with incentives including higher data limits before speeds are throttled as well as increased data tiers for mobile hotspot coverage, both of which enhance plan value.

Chart showing initial mobile 5G timeline in the U.S. for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint

Though operators are eager to realize the network efficiencies 5G will provide, they will not be able to reap these benefits until consumers migrate to 5G-compatible devices. Adoption of 5G smartphones will be hampered by lengthening device upgrade cycles in the U.S. as consumers are holding on to their devices for longer periods as features offered on new handsets are not deemed compelling enough to justify their rising price tags. Migration to 5G smartphones will also be slowed as certain flagship handsets, particularly the iPhone, will likely not offer 5G-capable models until 2020.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle to 5G smartphone adoption will be 5G itself, as the initial capabilities offered by the technology will not be a strong enough incentive for many customers to upgrade their devices. Although offering mobile 5G services will help to attract some subscribers craving faster speeds, the difference in user experience compared to LTE-Advanced will be minimal, at least initially. Early 5G smartphone customers will mostly benefit from reduced download times for large files such as high-definition video and advanced gaming applications, which will not be a significant enough incentive to encourage wide-scale purchases of 5G smartphones. Advanced consumer smartphone use cases requiring accelerated data speeds and ultra-low latency offered by 5G, such as augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), are still being developed and will not become commercially available until the early 2020s.

Graph showing postpaid upgrade rates for Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T for 2016, 2017 and estimated 2018

To foster 5G smartphone adoption, TBR expects U.S. operators will prolong the financing terms of their equipment installment plans — from two years to three years — to ease the cost of purchasing 5G smartphones as many devices will likely exceed a $1,000 price point. TBR also anticipates operators will become more reliant on device promotions, such as BOGO (buy one, get one) offers and significantly discounted handsets, to accelerate upgrade rates during the infancy of the 5G era. Though these promotions will pressure wireless margins in the short term, operators will justify these initiatives by the long-term network efficiencies they will ultimately realize from 5G smartphone adoption.

Chart showing announced 5G devices in the U.S. as of Dec. 5, 2018, for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile

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.

2018 5G Americas Analyst Forum

5G will provide network efficiencies for telcos as they anticipate next-generation use cases

Given the introduction of Verizon’s (NYSE: VZ) 5G Home fixed wireless service in October, as well as the upcoming launch of AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s mobile 5G networks by the end of 2018, the 5G era is edging closer to reality after years of industry speculation regarding the technology’s capabilities. Similar to prior network eras, such as the transition from 3G to LTE, the 5G era will be a gradual evolution of existing network capabilities and will not immediately yield its full benefits or dramatically alter the global wireless market during its inception.

A resounding theme at the 2018 5G Americas Analyst Forum was that the 5G era will essentially be “more of the same” initially. LTE will remain the predominant source of connectivity for most wireless subscribers in the Americas over the next several years until 5G coverage becomes nationwide and customers transition to 5G-capable devices. The accelerated speeds offered by LTE-Advanced services, as well as the cost savings offered by IoT network technologies such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M, are currently more than sufficient to support the demands of most consumers and enterprises.

The wireless industry is anticipating 5G will foster IoT innovations in areas including connected car, healthcare, smart cities and augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR). Though advanced IoT use cases that require the precision promised by 5G, such as remote surgery, are being explored, many of these services will not become commercially available until the mid-2020s at the earliest. Additionally, solutions like remote surgery and V2X automotive services will be burdened by significant regulatory challenges as ensuring 100% network reliability and ultra-low latency will be essential to prevent hazardous outcomes.

Although the end-user benefits of 5G will initially be limited, investments in 5G will ultimately be viable due to the network efficiencies operators will gain from the technology. 5G, which is expected to provide between four- and 10-times greater efficiency on a cost-per-gigabyte basis compared to LTE, will enable operators to more cost-effectively add network capacity to support the prevalence of unlimited data plans as well as continued connected device additions. Offering 5G services will also be essential for operators to remain competitive against their rivals as the marketing of accelerated 5G speeds will help to attract subscribers. Lastly, the deployment of 5G networks will prepare operators to support 5G-dependent use cases when they do come to fruition and spur customer demand.

 

 

Around 70 representatives from well-known operators and vendors attended the annual 5G Americas event to talk with more than 70 industry analysts about the state of wireless communications in North America and Latin America as well as discuss challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid development of the mobile ecosystem.

The event kicked off with a presentation from T-Mobile (Nasdaq: TMUS) CTO Neville Ray regarding 5G leadership in the Americas. He discussed topics including projected use cases, the importance of 5G to the U.S. economy, the Americas’ position in the global 5G market, and the different initial approaches U.S. operators are taking to 5G. A panel of network and technology executives from operators including AT&T (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile, Telefonica (NYSE: TEF), Cable & Wireless and Shaw (NYSE: SJR) provided additional insights into 5G evolution and activity around 5G by each respective operator.

Day 2 began with panel sessions featuring leaders from top telecom vendors, including Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC), Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Samsung, Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Commscope (Nasdaq: COMM), to discuss areas such as 5G regulatory challenges, 5G network and technology deployments, and potential 5G go-to-market strategies and use cases. Following these panel sessions, the reminder of the event offered analysts the opportunity to participate in a choice of 34 roundtable discussions focused on key 5G topics, including Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G network infrastructure and technologies, regulatory considerations, and 5G in the automotive industry.