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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.

Verizon, Ericsson, and Qualcomm Boast DSS Advancements

“The technology is still, at least partially, theoretical because it remains under development and hasn’t been commercially deployed at large. Nonetheless, ‘DSS is a big deal and I think it’s underrated,’ said Chris Antlitz, telecom principal analyst at Technology Business Research. DSS is a software feature that can be baked into the radio access network (RAN) platform or added via remote provisioning, he explained. It’s a big deal for network operators because it’s going to save them a lot of money by removing previous requirements to completely refarm spectrum for new network technologies, Antlitz added. ‘You can run out of the same spectrum band, out of the same radio, two technologies simultaneously and the traffic can be dynamically orchestrated depending on how much capacity is being asked from the system,’ he said.” — SDXCentral

Mavenir ready to prove it is possible to transform mobile network economics

TBR perspective  

Mavenir’s message is resonating with the market, and its reputation among CSPs is strengthening. In a few short years, the upstart vendor has gone from an M&A amalgamation of disparate businesses to a cohesive, relevant vendor that is now being considered alongside incumbent Tier 1 network vendors for projects at leading CSPs worldwide.

Mavenir is a legitimate contender to supply solutions that will comprise the new webscale-like network architecture CSPs are eager to implement to stay competitive and participate in new value creation in the digital era. The vendor’s greenfield play to provide cloud-native solutions is unique and is a key differentiator from incumbent OEMs that continue to push their relatively expensive, inflexible and closed systems. CSPs are intrigued by Mavenir’s virtualization offerings, not only with the low price points and total cost of ownership (TCO), but also with the performance of their systems in trials and now, with vRAN in some select commercial production environments.

TBR believes Mavenir will become one of the leading telecom network vendors in the digital era and will take measurable share from incumbent vendors during the 5G network build cycle, not only in RAN, but also in the mobile core and digital enablement-related platforms. Though Mavenir is a small fish in a sea of goliaths, the company is able to hold its own by trumpeting its software-first mantra as a means of redefining mobile network economics.

Mavenir’s assessment of where the market needs to go is spot on. CSPs must evolve to become more webscale-like in nature, adopting a network architecture that is dynamic, agile and able to support the demands of the digital era as well as new business models that can be scaled and supported at fundamentally different economics compared to the traditional architecture. More of the same will not work anymore, and CSPs must think and act differently to stay relevant and profitable in the digital era. CSPs are intrigued by the claims Mavenir is making pertaining to radically different mobile network economics and there is desire among CSPs to hear from the vendor about how it can deliver on those promises.

TBR believes Mavenir’s biggest, most impactful play is in the RAN space, which is an approximately $40 billion market and is ripe for significant disruption. RAN is the domain that will be the catalyst to transform Mavenir from a relatively small vendor by revenue (around $500 million this year) into a multibillion-dollar global powerhouse.

Mavenir provided a corporate strategy overview and updates on each of its business units at its third annual analyst day. The vendor is well aligned with underlying trends in the telecom industry, particularly network virtualization and open infrastructure. Mavenir now claims to have product offerings across several network infrastructure domains, including RAN, mobile core, IMS (particularly, VoLTE and RCS), Unified Communications & Collaboration (Mobile Business Fabric), network security and digital enablement platforms, such as for private networks, OSS/BSS and mobile advertising (Aquto). The company’s software-first, hardware-agnostic approach is timely as communication service providers (CSP) accelerate their transformations into digital service providers.

5G will push CSPs to accelerate and broaden their NFV/SDN-related initiatives

According to TBR’s 1Q19 NFV/SDN Telecom Market Landscape, leading operators will accelerate and broaden their network transformations en route to deploying 5G and becoming digital service providers (DSPs). Softwarization, virtualization and cloudification are foundational aspects of a DSP’s network.

5G is greatly enhanced when using virtualization, especially when enabling and maximizing the benefits of network slicing and achieving better radio access network (RAN) economics. Though most operators intend to initially deploy the non-stand-alone (NSA) standard of 5G, which tethers 5G radio with evolved packet core (EPC), an eventual upgrade to the stand-alone (SA) standard, which tethers 5G radio to a 5G core, will become a reality in the early 2020s.

5G core is inherently virtualized, and communication service providers (CSPs) will be keen to prepare their networks to maximize the benefits of utilizing a fully virtualized network architecture, which includes, but is not limited to, increasing agility, flexibility, visibility and cost efficiency.

In 2019 Rakuten will become the first fully virtualized DSP in the world. Should the company’s approach to network architecture work, it will legitimize and embolden other CSPs to double down on their network transformations and hasten their migration to white-box hardware and cloud-native architectures.

CSPs are under pressure to invest in NFV/SDN to reduce total capex and opex spend as well as introduce new services and stay competitive in the data-driven digital economy, which is increasingly dominated by webscale and over-the-top players. This pressure will prompt more CSPs to spend on NFV/SDN during the forecast period. TBR expects 27.5% of total CSP capex and external opex spend will be allocated to NFV/SDN by the end of 2022.

total global csp nfv/sdn spend

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.

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.

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.