Chris Buist, Director, Coleago Consulting takes part in a managed services panel session at European Communications’ quarterly seminar.
Posts Tagged ‘Vodafone’
When back in September 2012, Apple launched the iPhone5, I commented on the fact that the Region 1 version (Europe and Africa) only included the 1800MHz band for LTE whereas Samsung and HTC already had triple band LTE models in the market with the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.
This week came the announcement that Vodafone UK delayed its LTE launch to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 5S. This seems to indicate that that the new version of the iPhone will include three main Region 1 LTE bands.
It was reported that Vodafone’s Group CEO Vittorio Colao commented on the delayed launch: “End of the summer means when there’s going to be a good commercial moment for launching 4G … EE had a little bit of an advantage because of the iPhone at 1800MHz. To be honest that will go away as soon as we launch our 4G.”
The fact that Vodafone UK organised its launch date around a handset speaks volumes of the marketing power of Apple. Many consumers make handset choices first and network choices second. Mobile network operators would gain a lot from promoting Android and Windows phones to counteract the marketing power of Apple.
Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting
The Australian 700MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum auction results were announced on the 7th of May. The most striking result is that 2x15MHz of the 700MHz spectrum remained unsold because VHA (Vodafone) decided not bid and Optus acquired only 2x10MHz. This poor result is due to the extremely high reserve prices. The reserve price for the 700MHz digital dividend spectrum was set at 1.36 $/MHz/pop. This is 186 per cent of the average price paid in other auctions for digital dividend spectrum as shown in the chart below. Furthermore, by comparison the reserve price for digital dividend spectrum in the recent auction in the UK was only 0.30 $/MHz/pop and in Germany the reserve price amounted to less than one cent / MHz / pop.
Digital Dividend Spectrum Price Paid vs. Australian Reserve
The rationale for freeing up spectrum from analogue TV for use by mobile broadband services is the benefit this brings to the economy. At the start of the process of the digital switchover, the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA) engaged Spectrum Value Partners and Venture Consulting to determine the net economic benefit generated by redeploying the 700MHz spectrum freed up by the switch-off of analogue television, i.e. digital dividend. They reported that: “Allocating the optimal mix of UHF spectrum to mobile operators is forecast to generate a net benefit to the economy of between $7bn and $10bn, depending on which overall market scenario is realised. “ (Getting the most out of the digital dividend in Australia, Spectrum Value Partners and Venture Consulting, April 2009).
This estimate assumed that all of the digital dividend spectrum will be allocated to mobile. In the event one third of the APT band plan 700MHz spectrum remains unsold whereas 100 per cent of the cost of freeing up the spectrum has been incurred. Therefore potentially several billion dollars of benefit to the economy has been lost as a result of setting reserve prices above the level where weaker operators can earn a normal return of capital employed.
The damage that has been inflicted on the Australian economy does not end there. Since VHA ended up without spectrum it will further weaken their relevance in the market. Since competition is likely to have been weakened this will reduce the “consumer surplus” from the digital dividend i.e. the benefit consumers would gain in the form of lower prices.
Of course the most direct impact is the lower auction revenue for the Government. The Australian government budgeted in revenue from the auction at least equal to the total reserve, i.e. AS$ 2,894 million. In the event the auction raised only AS$ 1,964 million, i.e. 32 per cent below the target.
The auction failure could hardly be more complete. Yet, it was widely predicted that with these high reserve prices spectrum would remain unsold, in fact Vodafone said it would not bid unless the reserve prices are lowered. The outcome says a lot about politician’s lack of understanding of how investment decisions are made and also demonstrates an unwillingness to listen to the industry.
The blame for the ACMA’s auction fiasco lies mostly with the government since the reserve prices were set by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy who set out his stall in his now infamous declaration of “unfettered legal power” over telecommunications “The regulation of telecommunications powers in Australia is exclusively federal. That means I am in charge of spectrum auctions, and if I say to everyone in this room ‘if you want to bid in our spectrum auction you’d better wear red underpants on your head’, I’ve got some news for you. You’ll be wearing them on your head … I have unfettered legal power.”
Conroy clearly told everyone that he had no intention of listening to the industry. The reserve prices were set to plug the Government’s budget deficit. This is the worst way to set reserve prices for spectrum. It is devoid of any rationale and is in effect a hidden tax to be paid for by consumers in form of higher prices.
Although Australians are always good for a bit of fun, I very much doubt that bidders in the Australian spectrum auction wore red underpants on their heads. However, in the light of the spectrum auction fiasco, it is plausible that the Minister now wears a red face.
Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting
Interest in the industry regarding NFC and mobile payments is continuing to grow following the joint venture by Orange, Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile, with the Google Wallet emerging as the latest major breakthrough. It will aide NFC to continue to take off (albeit slowly at first) and it is our expectation that we will see NFC technology be built into a growing number of new mobiles, including the iPhone 5. But uptake will still be slow over the next 18 months to two years. However, NFC chip makers are forecasting that 40 to 50 million NFC-enabled phones will be in circulation by the end of 2011, so early adopters are likely to be investing in a new handset pretty soon.
Making money out of mobile payments was one of the drivers that drove the share prices of telecoms companies to stratospheric levels during the Dot Com boom. Ten years on and the Google Wallet is the only real progress that has been made in relation to m-payments outside of some mobile banking applications for developing markets and the UK operator joint venture earlier this year, of which we’re still waiting to see the results. One of the reasons for the lack of progress is that m-payment is a classic example of network economics. The more customers and the more sellers who adopt an m-payment platform, the more valuable that platform becomes. The GSM mobile standard was a perfect example of network effects in action and the lack of global or even national coordination for an m-payment standard is a contributing factor to the lack of success to date.
Google seeking to establish a dominant standard is a risky business. If it gets it right, like Microsoft, it can look forward to significant returns. If it gets it wrong, like Betamax video and more recently HD DVD, it can expect some difficult questions from shareholders. A number of players in the last 10 years have sought to establish a payment standard but none have been successful and their attempts have been somewhat half hearted.
Written by Graham Friend, Managing Director, Coleago Consulting
By Sharad Sharma, Senior Consultant, Coleago Consulting Ltd
Network sharing is gaining momentum
Mobile operators worldwide are struggling to increase the ARPU where voice, the main source of revenue source is commoditised and the data is yet to carve its way to be a high revenue generator. However, in order to maintain the technological leadership in the market, high investments are still needed in the networks whether it is a developed economy or a developing economy. The operators are facing a big challenge to justify the investments in the network. As a result operators look to identify cost cutting opportunities. Some of the costs saving initiatives are easy to tackle but the others like network sharing and network outsourcing involve business transformation of high degree.
Network sharing as a cost saving initiative has been gaining momentum in the different countries but also to improve performance. Tower sharing and national roaming has been around for quite a while now with operators across the globe are sharing towers for speedy network deployment. Originally Network Sharing was looked at in the light of revenue generation for incumbents and a more favourable to greenfield operators, helping the latter to increase roll out coverage faster. However, today network sharing is viewed from the angle of cost reduction.
Forming separate entities to pool tower assets or an entity to manage a consolidated network in the case of RAN sharing are of interests to many operators. However, there may be trouble ahead if such agreements are not thought through correctly: A cookie will always taste different when two different people make it even if it is the same recipe. These initiatives are now a trend and the decision to implement is taken without a detailed assessment of the opportunity. It is very important to assess the market dynamics and company’s own capability before actually going ahead with the network sharing. Many questions need to be answered before making a decision as to the network sharing model, the partner, the scope and the structure of the agreement. Two of the major questions that arise are the risk of losing the network related competitive advantage and the risk of degraded quality.
Network as a competitive advantage
The increasing number of smart phones is making the customers now much more aware of network quality / capacity / congestion as variations in service quality for data services are much more apparent and much more frustrating. Operators have pursued different strategies in terms of network investment for data capacity and as a result there are greater variations in network performance and customers are more aware of the differences. As a result network once again has become a source of competitive advantage. This may well lead operators to turn away from network sharing deals as they would not want to neutralise their advantageous position.
But are these strategies giving an operator a sustainable competitive advantage or is it just a short lived like any other voice quality improvement that the customers forget after all operators achieved equality. On the other hand, is it possible to gain this competitive advantage by a cost saving initiative like network sharing? The answer depends on the case.
For example, in the UK, most operators in UK claim 99 per cent geographical coverage. Now boasting of superior network quality with a combined network can be seen in the advertising campaigns. The operators like ‘3’ and T-mobile after implementing RAN sharing are claiming a better network coverage and quality while T-Mobile now ringing bells of combined Orange and T-Mobile network. Vodafone and O2 in turn moved into a tower sharing model. However, in developing countries where the networks are less mature, the implications are different because geographic coverage roll-out continues to be an issue.
Network capacity and congestion
An issue with network sharing arises in the context of capacity upgrades. Particularly in respect to mobile broadband the challenge is forecasting the capacity requirements not the network sharing or technology. If the forecasting is smartly managed for both the radio access and transmission backhaul, capacity issues could be overcome easily. However it does raise issues with regards to sharing sensitive commercial information between competitors.
Should we share now or wait?
When competition is based largely on price, the competitive advantage resides with the lowest cost operator. The lowest cost operator is probably an operator with a network sharing deal in place. An operator who currently enjoys a leading market share position and therefore decides to delay sharing may well find that when their advantage is neutralised, there are no network sharing deals to be done as all competing operators have entered into agreements. In the long run this market leader may well suffer because he no longer has the lowest cost operation and therefore would be unable to compete on price. Resolving the conundrum requires careful consideration and a valuation of the relative benefits of network superiority versus cost sharing. As with any strategic decision, timing is everything.
News that the number one Turkish mobile operator Turkcell (home market share 56%) is launching an MVNO on Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network in Germany is not entirely a surprise given its desire to expand outside Turkey and the success that Dutch operator KPN had with its wholly owned Turkish proposition Ay Yildiz in both the German and Belgian markets over the past five years. No figures are available but it is rumoured that the A Yildiz subsidiary of KPN’s German operation E-Plus numbers circa seven hundred thousand mobile customers (>20% market share) in the 3.5m strong Turkish community in Germany. E-Plus’s real market share amongst the German Turks is therefore a lot higher as this does not include other brands that it markets (E-Plus, BASE, SIMYO, Ortel etc.). Turkcell may also have felt compelled to act given the competition it is seeing from Vodafone which entered the Turkish market via the acquisition of Telsim in 2005 (and now has a 25% market share) and which has started offering roaming deals between Germany and Turkey. The question is whether they can successfully market and distribute the right product for the Turkish German community given the headstart that E-Plus/Ay Yildiz enjoys in the crowded segment.
When the Financial Times reported in January that CEO Vittorio Colao was facing pressure from some shareholders to break-up the global operator it prompted other mobile groups to re-examine the global versus local debate. Some theories suggest that value should be generated by global scale but the reality is that many of the theoretical benefits are not achieved in reality. As is so often the case, realising the benefits of global scale is down to effective execution.
In theory, operators with international scale should achieve significant purchasing economies. In practice, some national operators have managed to get more advantageous equipment pricing and terms than their parent. As a result, some local operators have opted out of the group purchasing process altogether. In the case of securing content deals content owners, in theory, are attracted by distribution partners who can provide the widest distribution or eyeballs for their content. In practice the industry has not embraced exclusive content deals and those that did, such as 3 in the UK, rapidly rejected them. There is also probably little content that is truly global in its appeal and that customers are prepared to pay for. However, global players in general probably do have a stronger bargaining position with some suppliers, particularly equipment vendors.
International operators make great play of their ability to leverage learning and experience across their operations. In practise, cumbersome group structures often fail to disseminate the learning effectively and may actually stifle local innovation and slow down decision making. For large groups with a mix of developed and developing markets the learning from developed, increasingly data centric markets is of less relevance for voice centric developing markets. Indeed operators in Africa and other developing markets are sometimes confronted with re-charges for group services that are of little relevance or benefit. Indeed local operations should have a better understanding of their customers and competitors than those sitting centrally. Whilst the benefits of technological innovation can be replicated across markets the same is not necessarily true of propositions and tariff structures.
In theory, it should not be necessary to have a large international footprint to create attractive roaming offers (e.g. in the airline industry, the Star Alliance was an early example of how marketing benefits of sharing Airmiles’ eligibility could offset the smaller scale of individual airline operators). In practice however, Vodafone was the first to launch successful ‘passport’ type products in Europe. Of course, Vodafone customers travelling to the US are unable to use Verizon’s CDMA network and so a uniform technology footprint is a prerequisite for realising global roaming benefits. A “roam like home” proposition can be very compelling and is much easier to implement with a global footprint due to billing and accounting issues. The ability to steer roaming customers onto your own network can also deliver significant commercial benefits. In practice a global footprint may well attract higher spending business customers who roam although the benefits will diminish as roaming rates are regulated downwards.
In maturing markets consolidation can often be expected as economies of scale are much easier to achieve at the local rather than global level. Prior to consolidation taking place profits and cash flow can come under significant pressure due to high levels of competition. To act as consolidator an operator will need access to cash to either make acquisitions or to ride out the storm. A global parent with a strong balance sheet can provide a major advantage in mature markets. However the sheer size of a global parent may mean that opportunities in smaller, local markets are missed if the benefits of a consolidation play represent only a rounding error in the parent’s consolidated accounts. Smaller markets may find themselves a long way down the parent’s priority list.
Global players in theory can also benefit from portfolio effects where the “cash cows” in the mature markets can finance the growth of “problem children” and maintain “stars” elsewhere in the portfolio. In theory, capital markets should be able to provide this funding, but, as recent events have shown, capital markets are often far from perfect. The strategic implications of the Boston Consulting Group Matrix for business unit portfolio management may hold true to some extent. However, operators are often reluctant or slow to ruthlessly dispose of underperforming “dogs” which weakens the benefits of a portfolio approach adopted by global players.
A global brand, in theory, should be stronger than a local one when it comes to technology based services. In practice, T-Mobile was less successful in achieving global brand equity compared to say, for example, Vodafone. However, in some markets customers have a great deal of loyalty to local brands. When Vodafone re-branded J-Phone in Japan the customer base deserted in droves. A global player can gain very significant brand synergies through successful sponsorship campaigns such as F1 motor racing or the world cup. When executed successfully a global brand can deliver global brand synergies.
In short, it all comes down to execution. Global scale is not in itself a guarantor of net synergies, however if well managed, a global company can extract significant strategic benefits. With the increasing complexity of the technological landscape in particular, having leverage with equipment and device manufacturers is key to ensuring they get what they need. Smaller operators are more likely to simply get what they are given.
The Indian telecoms market is divided into 22 telecoms circles and with a population of over a billion each circle has an average population of 52 million which means that the average circle looks like a country somewhere between Italy and South Korea. Indeed many of the larger circles have populations similar to Germany and some are even twice as large. The sheer scale of the Indian mobile market is staggering.
It is not surprising therefore that the auction designers assumed that operators such as Reliance, Bharti and Vodafone would treat the circles as prizes worth winning in isolation and not as part of a pan-Indian spectrum strategy. To put it another way they assumed that the value to an operator of Circle A plus Circle B would be no greater than the sum of the parts.
Where no synergies are assumed to exist, auction designers often opt for a simultaneous multi-round auction or SMRA design where bidders place bids on individual circles in isolation. This design works well provided that there are no synergies or complementarities between circles. However, as the recent comment from Bharti below reveals some operators aspired to a pan-Indian footprint as they clearly anticipated synergies from combining circles.
“The auction format and severe spectrum shortage along with ensuing policy uncertainty drove the prices beyond reasonable levels. As a result, we could not achieve our objective of a pan-India 3G footprint in this round.” Bharti
Those synergies may arise from purchasing scale economies as well as marketing and branding benefits but the important thing from an auction design perspective is that the value of Circle A plus Circle B is greater than the sum of the parts.
When synergies exist a SMRA auction gives rise to what game theorist’s call aggregation risk. Aggregation risk is the risk that arises when you place bids on a combination of individual circles which collectively justify paying a higher price due to synergies than simply the sum of all the prices you would have been prepared to pay for circles based on their stand alone valuations. The risk is that you are then outbid on one of the circles in your desired combination which destroys the value of your synergies but you cannot step back from your other winning bids on the remaining circles. A situation can arise where the bidder ends up having to pay more than the value that he can generate from his sub optimal combination of circles. The situation can also arise where the bidder has to continue to bid on key circles such as Delhi and Mumbai in order to protect the value that is embedded in his bids on other circles – this may well have been the case in the Indian 3G auction.
Had the auction designers taken greater account of the value of a pan-Indian footprint they may well have selected an alternative auction structure such as some form of combinatorial auction. In a combinatorial auction bidders bid for packages of circles and they are guaranteed to receive the whole package of circles or nothing at all. Had a combinatorial approach been adopted Bharti would not have faced aggregation risk and it would have had the opportunity to express with greater confidence the value it placed on a pan-India footprint. A combinatorial approach may not have resulted in the frustrations that they are currently expressing and could have resulted in a more economically optimal allocation of spectrum.