Posts Tagged ‘Telecoms’


Telefonica O2 and e-Plus merger: MVNO access strengthens competition and wholesale and retail levels

July 8, 2014

Last week’s approval by the European Commission of the acquisition of e-Plus by Telefonica Deutschland (O2) became possible through concessions at wholesale level. Telefonica committed “to enter into capacity based wholesale agreements with one or several (up to three) Upfront Mobile Bitstream Access MVNOs (“Upfront MBA MVNOs”) in Germany prior to the closing of the merger.” This broadly follows the capacity based MVNO deal offered by Hutchison in Ireland to gain approval for its takeover of O2 Ireland.

Germany already has a vibrant MVNO market, not least as a result of the e-Plus multi-brand wholesale strategy. In regards to the wholesale markets, the Commission is satisfied that these MVNOs will not be harmed by reduced competition at network level. The existence of competitive MVNOs also acts as an insurance against unwarranted retail price hikes and hence alleviates the Commission’s concerns in the retail market.

The merger will take costs out of the mobile industry in Germany so shareholders will benefit. Telefonica Deutschland further committed to “make the following offers: (a) a spectrum offer consisting of the lease of 2×10 MHz in the 2.1 GHz band and of 2×10 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band; (b) a national roaming offer; (c) a divestiture of sites offer; (d) a passive radio network sharing offer; and (e) a sale of shops offer.” An Upfront MBA MVNOs might buy some spectrum. However, the Mobile Bitstream Access effectively provides access to capacity. There is little point in owning spectrum; indeed such a limited spectrum holding would make little sense without immediately entering into a spectrum sharing agreement with Telefónica Deutschland. There is little differences between this and the MBA MVNO arrangement.

Passive infrastructure sharing had been a feature of the German market for some time. Perhaps Vodafone Germany and T-Mobile will also look to increase the sharing of network resources, active and passive with each other and also with the merged Telefonica Deutschland and e-plus. Are we seeing the first steps of an evolution towards a national neutral host network with regulated wholesale prices?

With return of capital employed in the European mobile industry below that of some regulated utilities such as water and gas, investors may be better off by effectively pulling capital out of the mobile industry by means of outright consolidation or through sharing networks including spectrum, i.e. a “merger lite” strategy, becoming regulated utilities.

Noteworthy is that e-Plus was one of the four operators bidding for the 2x30MHz of digital dividend 800MHz spectrum in Germany which did not obtain any block. The outcome of the spectrum auction is likely to have been a factor in KPN’s decision to put e-Plus up for sale. In the next German spectrum auction only three operators will compete for spectrum, probably resulting in auction prices close to reserve prices. This is another reason for investors to be cheerful about the trend towards consolidation in the European mobile industry.

By Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting


Hutch – O2 Ireland acquisition approval: Hutch plays it well, the “Connected Continent” loses out

June 2, 2014

The conditions attached by the Competition Commission to the clearance of the acquisition of Telefónica Ireland by Hutchison 3G shows that the Commission is still desperate to maintain network based competition. H3G offered a package facilitating the market entry of two mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), with an option for one MVNO to morph into a mobile network operator by subsequently purchasing spectrum from the merged entity. “H3G committed to sell up to 30% of the merged company’s network capacity to two MVNOs in Ireland at fixed payments. The capacity is measured in terms of bandwidth and the MVNO entrants will obtain a dedicated “pipe” from the merged entity’s network for voice and data traffic.”

H3G probably has the first MVNO customer lined up, or else the acquisition cannot go ahead. The likely candidate is UPC. UPC is one of the few telecoms providers in Ireland with a large enough customer base to be comfortable to take on the fixed cost associated with becoming an MVNO under these terms. With that, UPC would become a quad play company. This means that at retail level competition will remain vigorous while costs are taken out of the mobile industry. So far, so good.

However, it is highly unlikely that the MVNO would want to become an MNO with all the cost implications as well as the daunting prospect of participating in future spectrum auctions to stay competitive. Therefore, just like in Austria, Hutch played it well by making a spectrum divestment offer that is unlikely to be taken up. The Commission does not get it: In mature markets new network based market entry does not make sense. Consolidation is the name of the game for the European mobile industry.

MNOs are dominated by fixed costs. Because around 75% of their costs are fixed, profitability comes through scale. In contrast MVNOs are dominated by variable costs with the proportions of fixed to variable costs roughly reversed compared to an MNO. This means an MVNO is not operationally geared, has a lower risk of not achieving break even, and can operate profitably at a lower scale. Hence an MVNO can play in niche markets. The fixed cost deal offered by Hutch Ireland is clever from Hutch’s perspective because it offsets Hutch’s fixed costs with a fixed revenue stream, and is probably betting on a limited impact because only one player in Ireland is likely to have the ability to commit to a five year fixed cost deal.

The Commission missed an opportunity. In addition to the fixed cost MVNO condition, it could have requested a similar variable wholesale price undertaking as in the approval of Hutch’s acquisition of Orange Austria. A low wholesale price (€0.002 per Mbyte for data) not only serves as an insurance against unwarranted retail price rises, but creates the opportunity for players who are not MVNOs in the traditional sense. Innovative business models would use mobile access as part of a service, such as smart metering, automotive services, home security, M-Health, etc. and might even include handset manufacturers such as Apple or Samsung as well as OTT players. If innovators could find the same wholesale price and access conditions across the EU, we would be well on the way to overcoming the disadvantages associated with the fragmentation of the EU mobile industry and truly leverage the value of LTE mobile broadband.

By adopting a country by country approach to set conditions to clear consolidation among mobile network operators, the Competition Commission might address country specific competition concerns but does nothing to advance the “Connected Continent” agenda. Next up is the proposed acquisition of E-Plus by O2 Germany. Let’s hope for a better set of conditions which signals a harmonised, fast track merger approvals mechanism with the aim of advancing mobile industry consolidation in the EU for the benefit of consumers and investors.


By Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting


What to expect in 2013: Coleago’s CEO gives his view on the global telecoms industry

December 20, 2012

During 2013 we will see the start of a fundamental reshaping of mobile telecoms services offerings driven by new services based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), the evolution of mobile wholesale as well as regulatory trends.

Some operators have already introduced services based on IMS, for example in Canada the Rogers One Number service allows the seamless switching between a smartphone and computer. Services of this kind are particularly of interest to operators who are not part of a larger group. It allows mobile operators to leverage the proliferation of free WiFi connectivity to in effect extend their network coverage world-wide. This allows mobile operators to fight back against OTT services such as Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime by in effect becoming themselves an “OTT over WiFi” player.

Let’s look at a practical example: An operator such as Bouygues in France, Telstra in Australia, or 2degrees in New Zealand introduces a service where its customers are in effect connected to the home network wherever in the world they log on to the internet, whether using a smartphone or laptop with an appropriate client. The customer lands in Singapore’s Changi airport, logs onto the free WiFi and can make and receive calls as if he were on his home network. Initially this might be positioned as a premium service, for say an additional US$ 5 per month. The operator may lose margin on international roaming, but as a smaller operator the roaming margins are not that favourable anyway and more could be gained by attracting new customers. Furthermore, without such offerings the same customer may not make roaming calls anyway, and instead use Skype, Face Time or WhatsApp when out of the country, i.e. completely bypass the operator’s service. There is therefore potentially a lot gain for some mobile operators.

Services which allow users to avoid roaming charges already exist for voice (Truphone, WoldSIM and other) and data (, in collaboration with KPN). The business model is built on exploiting the difference between lower wholesale prices paid, for example, by MVNOs and high inter-operator roaming tariffs (IOT), the input cost into roaming retail prices. Some operators, who do not have a lot of roaming margin to lose, may attack and offer their own multi-IMSI services, for, say, an additional $10 per country. In the EU downward pressure on intra-EU roaming comes from regulation and using innovative IMS based services operators may be able to maintain or even increase margins. The conventions which govern how roaming is handled already started to fall apart. There are now special inter-operator deals and “roamer high-jacking”. For example, when a visitor arrives in Jakarta, it is likely that he will be greeted by the Indonesian mobile network with an SMS assigning him a local number.

The opportunity to innovate is not limited to roaming. For example, Turk Telecom already launched a service in Germany and is about to launch a service aiming at the Turkish ethnic segment in Belgium. The service, in conjunction with KPN’s Base, replaces Base’s Ay Yildiz brand. Customers will be charged exactly the same to call numbers in Belgium or Turkey. Turkcell could add the ability to recharge linked accounts (Turkish person working in Belgium can recharge the prepaid SIM of relatives in Turkey) and make small mobile payments across borders. It is easy to see that mobile operators have a lot to gain. Smart, of the Philippines is already going down this route, targeting the Filipino diaspora segment around the world.
Some operators may go all the way and break the link between the mobile telephone number and geography. After all it seems somewhat archaic that in a world where distance does not matter, mobile operator tariffs are still based on location and distance. Location is not an issue with Skype or FaceTime and this is one of the reasons for the success of OTT operators.

Sooner or later someone in the EU will wake up to the fact that charging high prices for cross border calls – whereas within a bundle the marginal cost of in-country calls is in effect nil – constitutes a barrier to EU integration. This is a similar line of reasoning as we have seen with roaming pricing. There is also the precedence of regulation intra-EU retail banking transactions, preventing banks to charge more for intra-EU transaction than for domestic transactions. Again, there is an opportunity for operators who make little margin from international calls. Including international calls in the bundle would make a mobile operators’ service more attractive, possibly even halting the growth of Skype over mobile and taking back business from international mobile call specialists such as Lebara.

We are likely to see offerings from mobile operators where the national number can in effect be used across the whole EU as if the customer was in the home country. Incoming calls will be free and outbound calls will come out of the bundle in the normal way. Some operators are already moving towards this charging model, for example Vodafone’s EuroTraveller which for an extra £3 a day allows customers to use UK bundled minutes, texts and internet in Vodafone’s Europe zone. £3 a day equates to £90 a month, a huge premium that will soon be eroded since there is no link between price and input costs.

In this context the value of a wider international footprint becomes apparent. Some operators may regret that they sold off operations. Dual country “roam-like-home” offerings could be particularly attractive to address certain segments in regions that are well integrated across borders, such as Benelux, Austria-Bavaria, around Geneva and the surrounding region in France, or even Malaysia and Singapore.

The changes are hastened by the rapid decline in mobile termination rates in the EU and other countries as well as regulatory pressure. Data traffic now exceeds voice traffic and soon voice traffic will account for a minor proportion of overall traffic. MTRs based on LRIC will become very small indeed. Eventually location and distance independent mobile tariffs will become a global trend, but it will take a long time in countries, such as Tunisia or Bangladesh, who milk international inbound call termination revenue and visitor roaming revenue as a source of foreign currency earnings.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting