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.

TBR projects CSP spend on edge compute infrastructure will exceed $82B by 2025

TBR estimates over 1.2 million network sites and cell sites will become mini data center (edge) locations globally by 2025, up from nearly 9,000 sites globally at the end of 2019. The primary driver of edge build-outs during the forecast period is CSPs’ network transformations, which entail migrating to a cloudified and virtualized network, and webscales’ edge initiatives to support their cloud businesses and digital lifestyle endeavors. In this new architecture, network functions will be virtualized and housed in NFVI, which is essentially a data center. Network sites, such as central offices, have been the primary edge compute location to date, with cell site builds expected to ramp up significantly in 2021 and become the primary location for the CSP edge by 2025.

Webscales and disruptive startups are positioning early to capture new value created by edge computing, threatening to limit telco and cableco opportunity

In 2H19 several of the largest telcos in the world, namely AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, SK Telecom, KDDI and Telecom Italia, established strategic partnerships with key webscales pertaining to edge computing. In each of these situations, the webscale provides the extension of its public cloud via a physical compute stack, which is being housed in the telco’s site at an edge location and integrated with the telco’s network. TBR views these partnerships as necessary for both parties but is wary that telcos will be largely confined to providing connectivity while webscales get point position at the edge to accrue most of the new value created from new use cases of the cloudified network.

Telcos and cablecos could generate significant edge-related revenue by opening their network sites to colocation opportunities. Existing network sites could be repurposed to house a telco’s or cableco’s equipment and the edge stacks of other companies, which would pay rent to the site owner. CenturyLink and Frontier are both all-in on colocating their existing sites, and TBR expects more telcos and cablecos to follow in their footsteps over time.

TBR’s Telecom Edge Compute Market Landscape, which is global in scope, deep dives into the edge compute-related initiatives of stakeholders in the telecom market including telecom operators, cable operators, and vendors that supply the telecom market. The report also covers leading webscales’ edge computing-related initiatives. The research includes key findings, market size, regional summary, technology trends, use cases, business models, operator and vendor positioning and strategies, and acquisitions and alliances.