Posts Tagged ‘mobile networks’

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Telefonica O2 and e-Plus merger: a new 4th network operator makes little sense

April 17, 2014

Today the FT reported that in order to overcome objections to the proposed take-over of E-Plus “Telefónica has offered to equip a new German mobile competitor with spectrum”.  This is similar to the offer by Hutchinson 3 in the context of its take-over of Orange Austria. In the event there was of course no new network based entrant in Austria, the aim of the Telefonica O2 and E-Plus tie up is to take costs out of the industry by reducing the number of mobile network operators. At this stage of the industry life cycle consolidation at network level is expected. This is driven by high prices paid for spectrum and continuing high LTE capex while revenues remain flat or in decline. When free cash flow declines, capital has to be taken out of the industry simply to get back to returns that are not below the cost of capital.

The FT also reports that Telefónica promised concessions for MVNOs. Competition remedies at wholesale level in the form of a reference wholesale access price offer – similar to what was agreed to by Hutchison in Austria – are a much more effective remedy. This is particularly true for Germany which already has a vibrant MVNO market. Indeed E-Plus pioneered the multi-band MVNO strategy and hence concessions at wholesale level are likely to be impactful. Given the competitive MVNO market in Germany, regulating wholesale prices provides an effective insurance against retail price increases, which might otherwise result from the tie-up.

If indeed wholesale price regulation ends up as the key remedy, and this in Europe’s largest mobile market, we are one step closer to the structural separation of the European mobile industry into NetCos and ServiceCos.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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Elimination of EU roaming charges implies a move towards regulated wholesale rates

April 11, 2014

On the 3rd of April 2014 the European Parliament voted (with some amendments) to adopt the Commission’s proposal to end roaming charges in the EU by the end of 2015. This was part of a wider vote in support of the Commission’s proposed regulation for a “Connected Continent”, the term used for the telecoms single market. The regulation must be approved by parliament and the European Council. With this, the Commission also moved a step closer to regulated wholesale prices and hence the structural separation of mobile networks into NetCos and RetailCos.

In essence the Commission wants EU consumers be able to use their mobile phone within all EU countries in the same manner as they would at home. “…Further reforms in the field of roaming should give users the confidence to stay connected when they travel in the Union without being subject to additional charges over and above the tariffs which they pay in the Member State where their contract was concluded.”

However, the problem with this is that most consumers chose domestic tariff plans with bundled minutes and data plans, so that within the bundle the incremental cost of usage for consumers is nil. Selling bundles also makes sense from a mobile operator’s perspective because most costs are fixed. In contrast, in a roaming situation an operator’s costs (the wholesale rate an operator has to pay to the visited network) are proportional to usage – i.e. variable. The Commission and the Parliament appear to be aware of this problem, and the adopted text states that operators “may, notwithstanding the abolition of retail roaming charges by 15 December 2015, apply a “fair use clause” to the consumption of regulated retail roaming services provided at the applicable domestic price level, by reference to fair use criteria. These criteria should be applied in such a way that consumers are in a position to confidently replicate the typical domestic consumption pattern associated with their respective domestic retail packages while periodically travelling within the Union.”

Much will depend on how the “fair use clause” is written. If we take at face value the text “consumers are in a position to confidently replicate the typical domestic consumption pattern associated with their respective domestic retail packages while periodically travelling within the Union”, this may mean that customers on large minute and data bundles can use these freely at any time across the EU. Alternatively the EU would have to define what “periodically travelling within the Union” means. Does it mean 30 days a year, or 180 days, or how much? Assuming the Commission does not want to place limits on how much Connected Continent consumers are allowed per year, there will be no time limits. Taken to an extreme, a mobile user could shop around for the cheapest SIM-only deal in Europe regardless of his or her country of residence. A prime example is EU parliamentarians who shuttle between their home country, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels.

The fair use provision is designed to address the problem that it is ultimately impossible to regulate retail prices without regulating wholesale prices. The Commission appears to be aware of the difficulty in defining “fair usage” and the implication for operators’ margins. The adopted text states: “In addition, the Commission should by 30 June 2015, in advance of that final abolition of retail surcharges, report on any necessary changes to the wholesale rates or wholesale market mechanisms, taking into account also mobile termination rates (MTR) applicable to roaming throughout the Union.” This is the real bombshell because it heralds EU regulation of wholesale prices.  In the same way as the EU has driven the regulation towards lower MTRs this may happen to wholesale prices.  The target might be a Reference Wholesale Access Offer, for example with the €0.002 per Mbyte of data rate imposed on Hutchison 3 Austria to allow their acquisition of Orange Austria to go ahead.

In regulating mobile tariffs, the EU is focusing only on roaming charges, whereas international call pricing is also highly unbalanced. In most cases international calls are not included in a mobile minute bundle and charged at a premium. This leads to oddities. For example, for a UK mobile subscriber with a bundled minute plan the incremental cost of a call to a UK mobile numbers is nil. Hence for a call to a UK number that is roaming in Poland, the marginal cost to the caller is nil and, according to the EU roaming charges cap, the called party pays no more than €0.07 per minute to receive the call. The marginal revenue to the UK operator is €0.07 per minute. However, if a UK mobile user calls a Polish mobile number the price paid is substantially higher. For example, Vodafone’s standard to Europe call price is £1 a minute (€1.20). In other words, Vodafone’s incremental revenue is 17 times higher, although costs are the same.

The Commission also proposed that for European fixed calls “operators will have to charge no more than a domestic long-distance call for all fixed line calls to other EU member states. Any extra costs have to be objectively justified.”  Will the same principle be applied to mobile operators? If yes, the scenario where a consumer buys a SIM in one country and uses it in another becomes practical. In this scenario, where within the EU distance and geography no longer matter for mobile retail prices, the retail activity of a mobile operator might evolve into what is in effect a pan-European MVNO with an “always best connected” value proposition, regardless of the access network used. Under these circumstances, who will then want to bid for spectrum and invest in networks?

Either way, we are moving to a situation where the EU mobile industry is subject to extensive price regulation. And yet, the EU Directorate General for Competition is totally focussed on preserving competition at network level and in-country consolidation of mobile operators is hard to achieve. This makes little sense. Now that the cost of calling has come down, perhaps Neelie Kroes can afford to make a call to Joaquín Almunia (Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy) and attempt to sync policies.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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How the Telefonica Deutschland / E-Plus merger could play out

April 9, 2014

This week it was reported that the European Commission and the German telecom regulator (Bundesnetzagentur) are applying pressure to Telefonica regarding their planned takeover of KPN’s subsidiary E-Plus in Germany.

We think on balance the deal will get approved but both parties will need to make significant concessions to get it done. This will be especially the case with regard to spectrum holdings and as we saw in Austria commitments to support virtual operators and branded resellers (i.e. wholesale access). There is always a chance that the concessions are so onerous that they may effectively destroy the deal.

The combined entity will have approximately a 39% mobile customer and 32% mobile service revenue market share in Germany, so the European competition authorities (and the German telecom regulator) will no doubt review it very carefully. Revenue market share figures would of course look much lower if the fixed and mobile markets were combined and no doubt KPN/E-Plus and Telefonica Deutschland will be arguing for this. They have a point, given the recent €7.7bn deal by Vodafone to acquire Kabel Deutschland and the fact that Deutsche Telekom sells fixed and mobile services effectively under one brand.

Regarding spectrum, the combined entity will on the face of it have a whopping 64% of the 1800MHz and 54% of the paired 2100 MHz bands, so it is likely that regulators will require a sale or handback of some of the holdings in these core bands.  In the less scarce 2600MHz band, it holds 42% of the spectrum. A similar situation was seen in the UK with regard to 1800MHz spectrum when EE was created from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile. It is possible that the other German operators will lobby to have “excess” spectrum handed back rather than sold so that the merged entity does not benefit. Some of the excess spectrum is due to for renewal in 2016 and the merger will reduce competition for these frequencies.

By contrast, in the very scarce and more valuable sub 1 GHz bands, it holds 33% of the 800MHz and 29% of the 900MHz spectrum, so there should be less of an issue here.

Clearly the deal is going to require significant concessions.  It makes sense for the competition authorities to scrutinise these deals to ensure that monopolies are not arising and customers have enough market choice.  Yet at the same time, telecom operators need to generate acceptable returns in a fiercely competitive and mature market. A difficult balancing act for the competition authorities.

By Scott McKenzie, Director, Coleago Consulting and former supervisory board member of E-Plus

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Hong Kong’s hybrid approach to 3G spectrum renewal creates a “freerider” problem for the incumbents

December 19, 2013

Hong Kong’s Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) has decided to adopt a hybrid approach to the renewal of incumbents’ 3G spectrum. OFCA will distribute two thirds of the spectrum to the incumbents through an administered allocation process and the remaining third will be put up for auction. The incumbents have the opportunity to reacquire the spectrum through the auction but it also opens up the opportunity for a new player (and many are speculating the China Mobile Hong Kong is the primary candidate) to acquire the spectrum.

When incumbents value spectrum one of the most significant sources of spectrum value attributed to spectrum in an auction is the ability to block new market entry. This “blocking value” can be very high for incumbents, especially in mature markets, as a new player seeking to win share to drive economies of scale often sparks a value destroying pricing or commission war – the experience of Three entering the UK market is a good case in point.

China Mobile may place a high strategic value on gaining access to 3G spectrum in Hong Kong and so the cost of blocking in the auction could be high. All the incumbents have an incentive to block new market entry. However, in an ideal world an incumbent would prefer “freeride” and rely on another incumbent to pay any premium for market entry. This creates a coordination problem for the incumbents and this risk is that they fail to “reach agreement” through their bidding strategies as to who will take the responsibility for blocking. The result may well be that new entry occurs despite all incumbents being heavily incentivised to avoid it.

Written by Graham Friend, Managing Director, Coleago Consulting

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An upset in Norway following an auction of existing spectrum assets

December 18, 2013

In my article on spectrum renewal by auction, which was recently published on www.telecoms.com, I highlighted the potential risks that the Norwegian regulator, the NPT, was taking in renewing spectrum using a first price sealed bid auction. http://www.telecoms.com/197611/uncertainty-and-risk-the-results-of-spectrum-renewal-by-auction/ In the article I asked whether Norway would provide the first real upset and whether an incumbent would be deprived of key spectrum assets.

The NPT announced the results of the auction today and whilst incumbents Telenor and NetCom secured spectrum in the key 800, 900 and 1800MHz bands the other incumbent, Tele2, failed to win any spectrum at all. Tele2’s CEO, Mats Granryd made clear in the company’s press release that they regarded the auction outcome as an upset. Granryd said, “We are obviously not satisfied with the outcome of the auction, but we will continue to build on our strong position in Norway.” Instead of Tele2 securing spectrum, the mysterious Telco Data secured a robust portfolio of spectrum assets comprising 2×10MHz in the 800MHz band, 2×5MHz in the 900MHz band and 2×20MHz in the 1800MHz band.

So what contributed to this upset?

The choice of auction format is the primary candidate. In a first price sealed bid auction bidders effectively write a number down in an envelope and the highest bidders win and pay the amount they each bid. In such an auction it makes sense to bid less than the value you place on the spectrum or, as game theorists like to say “shade your bid.” The challenge, however, is to determine how much to shade your bid. Shade aggressively and if you are successful in the auction you create significant value. The risk, however, is that you shade too aggressively and someone with a lower valuation, but who shaded less aggressively, wins the spectrum.

Coleago Consulting has supported operators in over 60 spectrum auctions and we have worked on behalf of both incumbents and new entrants. As markets have matured it has become increasingly apparent that the business case for new market entry is not an attractive one and heroic assumptions are often required just to turn the business case positive. Tele2, as the smallest player in the Norwegian market, may well have taken the view that they only needed to outbid a new entrant and that a new entrant would have had a very low valuation. As a result Tele2 may have decided to shade very aggressively in the hope of securing spectrum at a low price and thus create significant value. The combination of very aggressive shading from Tele2 however and a super charged new entrant business case is likely to have generated the upset.

Written by Graham Friend, Managing Director at Coleago Consulting

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Coleago join a managed services panel session

December 17, 2013

Chris Buist, Director, Coleago Consulting takes part in a managed services panel session at European Communications’ quarterly seminar.

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Chris Buist’s presentation at European Communications’ Managed Services seminar

December 13, 2013

Hear Chris Buist, Director, Coleago Consulting talk about Managed Services during his keynote speech at European Communications’ quarterly seminar.

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The Data Tsunami is coming to East Africa

November 20, 2013

Coleago Consulting discusses regional investment, spectrum and infrastructure strategies at the TMT Finance & Investment East Africa 2013 Conference

This is a really critical time for the East Africa region. Significant decisions about the framework for investment, particularly regulation and spectrum allocation for 3G and 4G, will have a fantastic impact on regional growth.

There are a number of important spectrum auctions coming up across the region and operators are looking at how best to use spectrum, infrastructure sharing, new technologies and business models, to meet the massive demand for data services. The industry is now entering a transformational stage with unparalleled fixed-line and mobile consolidation.

Despite significant growth and achievements achieved over the past decade, major new investment, innovation and infrastructure roll out is needed for the next phase of development.

Highlighting the changing telecoms landscape in East Africa, next week (November 26th) sees the first TMT Finance & Investment East Africa 2013 Conference arrive in Nairobi.

In my first conference presentation of my new role here at Coleago, I will be making a keynote on “The Data Tsunami: Spectrum Allocation and Infrastructure Sharing” at the event, discussing the actions that regulators and operators are taking to cope with the global “data tsunami” that started building with 3G and is now accelerating with 4G. If you’re attending the event, or considering it, and would be interested in meeting, feel free to contact me – chris.buist@coleago.com

Written by Chris Buist, Director, Coleago Consulting

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Bidders in spectrum auction attach a high value to 1800MHz spectrum

October 25, 2013

The multi-band combinatorial spectrum auction (CCA) in Austria ended on the 21st of October, with bidders paying €2,014 million for 2x30MHz of 800MHz, 2x35MHz of 900MHz and 2x75MHz of 1800MHz spectrum. The 800MHz spectrum was new spectrum whereas the two other bands were renewals. The only bidders were the three incumbent operators Austria Telekom, T-Mobile, Hutchison.

The overall price paid for sub-1GHz spectrum and the 1800MHz spectrum amounted to €0.85/MHz/pop. This is only slightly less than the implied price for the sub-1GHz spectrum of €0.96/MHz/pop.

The price for sub-1 GHz spectrum is roughly in line with prices paid for 800MHz spectrum in recent European auctions.  The price paid for 800MHz spectrum in Germany was €0.73/MHz/pop (May 2010) and the average in Europe during 2010 to 2013 was €0.52/MHz/pop. So the price paid in Austria for 800MHz spectrum is relatively high. Benchmark prices paid to renew 900MHz spectrum are in the €0.19-0.53 range whereas the implied price paid in Austria amounts to €0.96/MHz/pop.

Exhibit 1: Austrian Spectrum Auction Results

Austria

 

However, since the overall price per MHz per pop paid is only slightly lower than the implied price for sub-1GHz spectrum, this means that operators valued the 1800Mhz spectrum very highly at €0.76/MHz pop.  This is significantly above prices paid for 1800MHz spectrum in recent auctions, and certainly massively more than prices paid for 2.6GHz spectrum. Benchmark prices paid to renew 1800MHz spectrum are in the €0.10 – 0.21 range.  In this context the comments by Telekom Austria’s CEO Hannes Ametsreiter, referring to a “bitter pill to swallow,” are quite appropriate.

The auction outcome highlights that in the context of the rapid growth of data traffic, spectrum is becoming an ever more valuable resource. The re-farming of 1800MHz from GSM to LTE requires more spectrum in the short term because spectrum resources cannot be used efficiently. In that sense governments can hold a gun to operators’ heads and demand almost any price.

1800MHz spectrum is the spectrum of choice for LTE in Europe. Most operators have built a grid based on 1800MHz and hence the 1800MHz band provides both an LTE capacity and an LTE coverage layer. In contrast 2.6GHz is “only” a capacity band. I placed quotation marks around the word “only” because LTE capacity is of course very important in urban areas and here cell sizes are quite small. Nevertheless, the in-building propagation characteristics of 1800MHz spectrum are significantly better than for 2.6GHz spectrum and in-building capacity matters for mobile broadband.

The auction outcome, with A1 Telekom (Telekom Austria) acquiring 2/3rds of the 800MHz band means that the company now holds 53.8% of sub-1 GHz spectrum compared to a subscriber market share of around 39%. As the operator with the weakest cash flow it is likely that Hutchison faced budget constraints. The result is that the market leader managed has managed to acquire a disproportionate share of spectrum.

The design of the Austrian auction and the absence of effective caps on sub 1GHz spectrum holdings suggest that the Austrian government is not particularly concerned about the effects of spectrum concentration on competition. On the other hand, the spectrum divesture conditions imposed on Hutchison (European Commission, DG Competition, CASE M.6497) to clear its acquisition of One Austria, suggests a very different view of spectrum concentration is applied when it comes to approving in-market consolidation.  The only saving grace for Hutchison is that there was no new entrant and so the requirement to divest 2x10MHz the 2.6GHz frequency band lapses; however the MVNO access requirement remains.

While Hutchison managed to increase its sub-1 GHz spectrum holding from 1.6MHz to 2x5MHz, the cost per eNodeB of deploying LTE is 2x5MHz is roughly the same as for Telekom Austria deploying LTE in 2x15MHz in the same band. Furthermore, there are already many smartphones with 800MHz LTE, where Telekom Austria acquired 2x20MHz, but as yet, none with 900MHz LTE.

In the light of this the comments by Trionow, CEO of H3G, describing the auction as a “disaster for the industry” are understandable. Certainly it is a disaster for Hutchison and for a competitive mobile broadband market in Austria.

 

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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Coleago Consulting Appoints New Director to Grow New Business Division

October 8, 2013

Chris Buist joins to develop network sharing and managed services consultancy

Coleago Consulting, a specialist telecoms management consulting firm, today announced that Chris Buist has become the latest director to join the company. Chris’ role at Coleago will be to grow its new network sharing and managed services consultancy business division.

Chris brings 30 years’ international senior management experience in the telecommunications and media sectors to Coleago. Prior to this role, Chris was head of the communications and media practice at PA Consulting. He is based in Vienna, Austria, and has worked for clients in more than 20 countries including network operators, equipment vendors and media companies. His main areas of expertise include strategic planning and network/OSS/BSS performance improvement particularly through managed services and network sharing.

“Changes in the telecoms industry have led to operators feeling the squeeze and their margins and cash flows are suffering. They now need to create savings on their networks without affecting the performance that consumers have come to expect. We see network sharing and managed services as a potential solution to this dilemma, making these services more important than ever. As such, Chis joining the team could not have been timelier,” said Graham Friend, Managing Director of Coleago Consulting. “At Coleago we are driven to continue to grow and expand our areas of expertise and therefore provide ever better services to our customers. We are excited to have Chris on board and look forward to the opportunities he will bring to Coleago in this new business division.”

Chris joins the Coleago board which currently includes Graham Friend (Managing Director), Stefan Zehle (CEO) and Scott McKenzie (Director).

 

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