Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why Mobile Video Might be So Important

Most U.K. consumers now buy at least parts of a bundle of services (internet access, voice, video, mobile), EY study found. Some 93 percent of U.K. broadband households now have some form of bundle, EY found. That same study also found that TV and mobile bundles score best in terms of satisfaction and loyalty.

That is an indicator of why Verizon, focusing more on becoming a mobile advertising platform for video services and app, and AT&T, which is more intent on becoming a force in mobile content delivery, are working on mobile content delivery systems. If the U.K. preferences wind up being seen in the U.S. market, then the “best possible” bundle will be video entertainment plus mobile service.

At the moment, the most-popular U.S. bundle likely is “internet access plus TV.” That is a preference parallel to “mobile plus TV,” with one twist. Where the most-popular fixed network bundle arguably is TV-and-internet, the most-popular mobile package could naturally become “mobile voice, mobile internet, mobile video,” for the simple reason that buying mobile internet access always comes with voice and messaging included.

In that sense, the “natural” mobile bundle is going to be “bigger” than the natural fixed line bundle, simply because purchasing mobile video will assume the presence of mobile internet access, which in turn presumes the customer also gets voice and messaging (the services are stacked upon each other).

That natural bundle also shows why mobility platforms might become even more powerful: they are the ultimate platform for bundling all ubiquitous consumer communications services and most ubiquitous apps.

The other study finding that reinforces all thinking about bundles is that 55 percent of consumers would buy a bundle “only” if it also represents a price discount. That is logical. Consumers and suppliers are used to the notion of volume discounts.

source: EY

Friday, December 30, 2016

Business Model, Not Technology, is Key to Mobile Substitution for Fixed Net Internet Access

As much as platform capabilities underpin mobile substitution for internet access, fundamental changes of business model are more important. In the U.S. market, for example, the packaging is quite different.

Mobile broadband is priced according to usage, generally in the form of buckets of use. Fixed internet access is priced based on speed (faster speeds cost more), but usage allowances are big enough that usage effectively is “unlimited.”

In other words, mobile retail packaging is based on usage, while fixed access is packaged on “speed tier.”

That poses a key problem for mobile service providers who want to encourage users to substitute mobile access for fixed access: packaging has to replicate what consumers presently expect. That means a shift away from “usage-based pricing” and towards “speed-based pricing” to a large extent.

Some glimmers of that already can be seen. As the tier-one mobile operators move to encourage consumption of video services on mobile devices, they increasingly are exempting data usage. That effectively “levels the playing field” where it comes to video entertainment service data charges.

When consumers buy a fixed network video service, they do not expect to be charged separately, and additionally, for bandwidth. They buy content, and use of the network is allowed. That is the new model mobile operators are moving towards. There are two different angles of that expectation.

When users consumer Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify or Pandora content over a fixed network, they do not worry about the impact on their data usage, as the fixed network plans are abundant enough that this is not a concern. So usage allowances that eliminate the need to worry about data usage are foundational.

Mobile operators provide that same sort of assurance by simply allowing consumption of some video services without imposing data usage charges.

Where mobile data might cost about $9 to $10 per gigabyte (GB), fixed access might cost as little as 15 cents per GB.

The point is that, as important as platform innovations are, the retail packaging is even more important.

What "EBITDA" Instead of "GAAP" Profit Tells You

Without wanting to be unduly bearish, the global “telecom” industry is less healthy than it appears. Consider only the shift that has to be made in describing “profit.” According to Ericsson, global revenue will climb about 2.4 percent each year to 2018, with growth of earnings “before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization” of one percent to 2018.

That shift from “generally accepted accounting principles” to EBITDA tells the story: the global telecom industry no longer is “profitable” in the GAAP sense.

Companies that operate in capital intensive, such as telecom, “do not give investors accurate depictions of performance through the EBITDA margin,” says Investopedia. In other words, in capital-intensive telecom, EBITDA is inaccurate as a measure of operator performance.

That is why “generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, do not include EBITDA as a profitability measure, and EBITDA loses explanatory value by omitting important expenses,” the site says.

Revenue is important, but the more-telling shift is the use of “EBITDA” rather than “profit.” EBITDA is a measure of cash flow, or operating efficiency. That is important, but it is not the same thing as “profit,” commonly understood.

To be sure, there are reasons for using EBITDA: it isolates operating performance, without the potential distortions of financing activities. At the same time, positive cash flow does not necessarily mean a firm is “profitable.”

That is not always a long-term problem. The entire U.S. cable TV industry, in its major urban growth phase, always had high cash flow (EBITDA), but zero profits, as all available cash was plowed back into growth. Eventually, when the construction phase ended, cable operators shifted to actual GAAP “profits.” So cash flow matters. A lot.

The problem for the global telecom industry is that while there is growth, that growth is heavily to be found in Asia and Africa. In most other regions, the business is quite mature or getting that way. Where there is not high growth, use of EBITDA arguably masks some structural issues.

Mergers, acquisitions, new products and operating cost reductions are reflections of the underlying trends. In one clear sense, telecom clearly is a declining industry: all its legacy products are in a mature mode, while some have been declining for more than 15 years (international long distance, voice).

To survive, much less prosper, completely new products, at massive scale, will be needed. That is why “internet of things” and “connected cars” are so important: they hold the promise of supplying those big new revenue sources.

But we have to recognize that the shift to “EBITDA” instead of GAAP “profit” tells you something very fundamental about the business.

source: Ericsson

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mobile is Least-Favored Retail Payment Method, Survey Finds

Retail mobile payments have developed rather more slowly than many have predicted would be the case. The basic objection has been that switching from existing retail payment methods to mobile payment adds too little value to drive rapid switching. That seemingly remains the case.

Security and privacy remain the top stated consumer concerns, though an argument might be made that the real reason is that the innovation simply does not yet add enough value to be worth the “bother.”

When asked about which forms of payment they find most secure, cash topped the list of responses to a survey conducted by Walker Sands. Some 46 percent indicated that was a concern.  Credit cards were cited by 27 percent as “most secure,” while debit cards were seen as most secure by 22 percent of respondents.

Mobile payments ranked last each of the past two years, at one percent, in terms of “preferred method of payment.”

The majority of consumers cite security (61 percent) and privacy (58 percent) as the two primary factors that make them hesitant to use mobile payment applications.

About14 percent of consumers say they have no hesitation to use mobile payment services. There are other issues, such the disparity of retailer terminals able to accept one or more mobile payments systems.

For some of us, those are real, but secondary issues. The key problem remains that value is not high enough to prompt massive behavior change.

source: Walker Sands

OTT ARPU Might Matter More than Number of Accounts

source: Chetan Sharma
The decline of the U.S. linear subscription TV revenue might happen slower than you think, for a number of reasons. Between 2016 and 2019, for example, though the number of over-the-top subscriptions will grow--boosting the number of active accounts by perhaps 12.7 million units, according to eMarketer--revenue will not change as quickly.

To be sure, OTT account volume already has surpassed linear account volume. U.S. linear subscriptions in 2016 represent about 93.8 million subscriptions. Assuming linear accounts do not grow, or decline too fast, that might mean OTT, already the share leader in terms of total accounts (93.8 million 2016 linear accounts and 187 million OTT accounts), will represent as much as 68 percent of all video entertainment subscriptions.

But average revenue per account is highly disparate. Where a U.S. linear around drives between $80 and $120 a month in revenue, an OTT subscription might drive $7 to $11 per account, per month. In other words, linear accounts can represent as much as an order of magnitude more revenue (10 times) as an OTT subscription.

In 2016, U.S. OTT video revenues might have represented $7 billion. Linear video produced $102 billion.

Were OTT subscription revenues (advertising or transaction revenues also will be generated) to grow 10 times, that would still directly displace a bit less than the current value of linear subscription revenue.  

source: Strategy Analytics
One way of looking at the market is that a customer contemplating purchase of an entertainment video service can buy a single linear subscription, or perhaps 10 OTT accounts, and spend the same amount of money per month.

If one assumes that over-the-air broadcast TV can be gotten using an off-air antenna, for no monthly subscription price, and pre-recorded material from OTT, then the third bucket of content is “live sports” and, for a small number of customers, 24-hour news.

So the issue, long term, is which bundles of purchases allow a potential consumer to replicate all--or enough--of the wanted content using OTT sources only (and assuming over-the-air TV can be gotten at no incremental cost), and what that implies for total monthly spending.

Linear services are adding more features (including OTT or on-demand access), so the issue is not a simple “linear versus on-demand” dynamic.” Also, more linear content is being packaged in OTT form. And few customers want “all” the programming currently offered in big linear bundles. Relatively few want any of the highly-specialized channels, many do not want sports, most do not want news and off-air is an alternative for traditional broadcast network fare.

Logic suggests consumers will evaluate value against price, suggesting a workable set of OTT replacements, for most consumers, will offer “most” of what a linear subscription features, at lower price.

That implies lower revenue per account, and likely lower total monthly spending per user or per household. The reason is what happens in a typical product lifecycle. At some point, every popular product saturates, and revenue per account, as well as industry revenue, falls. Some might argue that OTT is a “new” industry with a “new” growth curve. Others might see OTT as the replacement product for linear delivery.

Both points of view can be correct, simultaneously. One other observation likely is germane. The internet tends to create product replacements that produce less revenue than the legacy business model. The phrase “trading digital dimes for analog dollars” illustrates the notion.

Since most of the primary underlying cost of content is driven directly by content rights access (perhaps 40 percent of total cost in the linear model), and since owners will act to protect those revenue streams, we might surmise that content costs are unlikely to fall much, in the transition from linear to OTT delivery.

source: eMarketer

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Will Connected Car be the "Next Big Thing?"

The broad trend in the information technology business, and for many consumer products, is that more value is generated from services rather than the core products. That is likely going to be true in the auto business as well, with revenues and profits shifting from hardware (cars) to software, from products (vehicles and accessories) to services.

Mobility services, though perhaps shrinking as a percentage of total ecosystem revenues, might well increase as a percentage of ecosystem profits. That is one reason some tier-one mobile operators are so focused on connected car services.

For AT&T and Verizon, the carrot is that the United States is expected to be the single largest connected car market in 2022.

Softbank OneWeb Investment Poses Challenges in Every Rural Market

Softbank’s big investment in OneWeb, taking a 40-percent stake for $1.2 billion, almost assures that the proposed low earth orbit satellite constellation will launch. There are some other direct and potential consequences, especially a change in the business models of some or all other existing internet service providers.

The revenue model for fixed networks has been getting worse for decades, as customers for voice desert, leading to a stranded asset problem that worsens. Also, in most parts of the world, most people get internet access using their mobile phones, not the fixed network.

In the United States, internet access has become a product segment dominated by cable TV companies. Video entertainment always has been a tough business for smaller cable operators or telcos, as they do not have the scale required to drive costs out of the business. And linear TV is, by every estimate, mature and declining.

You might think OneWeb, which plans to blanket every inch of the earth’s surface with internet connectivity, is of primary value in developing, rural or maritime settings. That might be true.

But it also is true that OneWeb also further erodes the business model for rural telcos, cable TV companies, fixed wireless operators and satellite internet firms alike. OneWeb might partner with, or compete with, mobile operators as well, rendering their existing platforms increasingly uneconomic.

For similar reasons, OneWeb might pose challenges for municipally-owned networks as well, providing another option and therefore shrinking the addressable market for a municipal internet operation. You might think that is an issue only in rural areas of developing countries. OneWeb makes clear it is an issue for potential customers in all rural areas.

OneWeb says it plans to market its service both to “rural areas across the United States and emerging markets.”

Even if one argues that 5G networks will not soon provide gigabit speeds to rural users--if ever--one must conclude that if OneWeb launches, it will immediately “overbuild” all rural areas of the United States and elsewhere, offering a new alternative to fixed and geostationary satellite, as well as fixed wireless access.

It remains unclear whether mobile operators will choose to partner with OneWeb, but the OneWeb terminals support LTE, 3G, 2G and Wifi, so the opportunity is there. It is conceivable that OneWeb becomes a wholesale partner for mobile operators, much as it is possible the Project Loon balloon fleet could become a wholesale partner for mobile companies across the United States, as Alphabet has been attempting in Asia, for example.

The point is that OneWeb further undermines the business model, in rural areas, for virtually all other internet access providers, with the possible exception of mobile operators. It also is true that some existing providers might also seek wholesale partnerships with OneWeb as well. The issue there is scale. If multiple suppliers buy wholesale access from OneWeb, what does that do for the existing assets (fixed telephone networks, cable TV networks, geostationary satellite services, fixed wireless, mobile networks)?

Friday, December 23, 2016

What Seems to Have Been Key Business Model Issue for Google Fiber?

To the extent that Google Fiber has found its business model unattractive, the issue remains “why?” Any number of issues could have been contributors, ranging from take rates to construction cost. But take rates are the most-likely source of trouble for the business model, both for the core internet access product and video services.

Expectations for Google Fiber once were much higher. A 2013 survey found that about a third of households had subscribed . A 2014 survey commissioned by Bernstein Research conducted a door-to-door survey of five Kansas City neighborhoods where Google Fiber was being sold, finding  take rates as high as 75 percent, in some neighborhoods.

In Wornall Homestead, the highest household median income neighborhood ($116,000 annual income) Bernstein surveyed in 2014, it found that 83.1 percent of respondents were taking Google Fiber service. About 15 percent were subscribing for the “no charge” 5-Mbps service, but all the rest were buying the gigabit service.

That is a historically-unprecedented take rate for an “overbuilder.” In the Community College, the neighborhood with the lowest median income neighborhood ($24,000 annually) 27 percent of respondents were taking Google Fiber service.

Some 26 percent actually bought the gigabit service, while seven percent subscribed for the “free” 5-Mbps service. That level of adoption, in the first year, would be in line with take rates seen when firms such as Verizon began offering FiOS, for example, and better than most overbuilders
have achieved in the first year.

Obviously such take rates were not widely replicated in other markets and neighborhoods. In fact, it appears take rates might have reached 20 percent in Kansas City, but far less than that in the additional markets Google Fiber entered. That is based on the assumption that

Assume Google Fiber had about 70,000 to 75,000 video subscribers by the end of 2016. Then assume those video accounts represented about 15 percent of total revenue-generating accounts.

That might imply that as many as 467,000 revenue-generating accounts, and perhaps 70,000 “free” accounts in service, for a total of 537,000 accounts in service. Some have estimated Google Fiber has about 450,000 internet access subscribers, for example.

At a 20-percent take rate, that implies Google Fiber passes some 2.68 million homes. Varying assumptions about video take rates as a percentage of total, one could derive paid accounts ranging from 318,000 to 638,000, or homes passed between 1.6 million and 3.2 million.

It’s guesswork, as Google Fiber never has released any information about either subscribers or homes passed.

One has to assume that adoption rates were less than 20 percent, or that costs were much higher than forecast, with the single most-significant sensitivity being the take rate.

A take rate of 20 percent in the first year would be considered a success by virtually any other internet service provider entering the market for the first time, and there is no particular reason to believe Google’s network and construction costs were too much different from any other ISP doing a new build.

While make-ready costs conceivably were lower, the business case is not so sensitive to those costs. Construction costs, and then materials (cable, customer premises gear) and drop activation are the dominant drivers of expense.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Canada Wants 50 Mbps Internet Access in Rural Areas

As has been obvious for some time, internet access now is the primary “basic” function of a fixed communications network serving consumers. So it is that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has “declared that broadband access Internet service is now considered a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians.”

As a practical matter, that now means the CRTC is shifting its regulatory focus from wireline voice to broadband services, including shifting universal service funding from voice to internet access. In addition to focusing the annual $100 million universal service fund from voice to internet access, the CRTC also is creating a new fund that will invest up to $750 million over and above existing government programs, for a period of five years.

The CRTC also has set targets for the basic telecommunications services requiring speeds of 50 megabits per second  downstream and 10 Mbps upstream for fixed broadband Internet access services.

As you would guess, rural areas are where the problem is most acute.

About 82 percent of Canadian consumer already can purchase service at 50 Mbps to 99.99 Mbps, but only about 29 percent of Canadians can buy such service in rural areas.

Source: CRTC report

Source: CRTC report

Alphabet Now is a Big Spender on Federal Government Lobbying

It is common for telecom attorneys--in the context of any discussion of spending by AT&T on lobbying--to make jokes about "that's all they spent?" But lobbying is big business for any number of industries and associations whose members are directly affected by federal government decisions. Most recently, internet application firms have climbed into the top ranks of spenders, a reflection of the new importance national policies affect the core technology business.

Alphabet spent about $16.7 million lobbying the U.S. Federal government in 2016, a level that likely exceeds spending even by heavily-regulated telcos such as AT&T. Other leading technology firms also were in the top ranks of spending on lobbying, even if people more often assume it “must” be AT&T that is spending the most. AT&T and other access services firms also spend a significant amount at state levels as well.
Some argue that lobbying spending is even more intense in the defense, pharma and tobacco industries. That might be true for pharma, but trade associations and business groups also are big spenders.

It is a bit perverse, but one obvious result of concentrating regulatory power at the national level (even for the best of reasons) is that the targets for lobbying are highly visible, and the returns also relatively easy to ascertain.

Windstream to Discontinue DSL Service for a Few Accounts

Windstream plans to discontinue local exchange and digital subscriber line (“DSL”) services for some 300 residential and small business customers in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, because “the services are being provided on equipment that is at the end of life, it is no longer supported by vendors and replacement would be cost prohibitive.”

It would be wrong to imply too much more than that Windstream has concluded it simply cannot earn a profit from serving those 300 customers. Any consumer customers served by Windstream in those “out of market” areas virtually certainly do not generate a profit.

Few competitive local exchange carrier operations using leased access could do so, either, which is why so few CLECs (except for cable TV companies) serve consumer accounts anymore. That has been the case since about 2005 when wholesale rates upon which the CLEC business rested were raised.  

Many small business accounts likewise generate relatively scant revenues, and at low volumes almost certainly also are unprofitable. Those 300 customers imply an average of 25 accounts per state, and are served on all-copper lines leased from another carrier. As you can well imagine, there is scant to any profit in such low-volume ventures, with no owner economics from the network.

That is why competitive service providers mostly have switched to facilities-based services on their own fiber networks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

400 Million M2M Modules to Exceed 400 Million in 2021?

Mobile machine-to-machine module shipments--including modules using the narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) platform--will exceed 400 million in 2021, ABI Research forecasts.

DT, Vodafone, China Mobile and China Unicom, for example are planning NB-IoT network availability as early as 2017,

Tracking, as well as simple thing monitoring and control, will be the primary application segments for NB-IoT, ABI Research estimates. Those apps likely will include parking and supermarket checkout apps.

KPN, Orange, SK Telecom, and Softbank also are building rival LoRa networks first, though not on an exclusive basis, as those carriers likely also will support Category M Long Term Evolution or NB-IoT standards.

North American mobile operators are focusing on Cat M platforms. Longer-term forecasts for M2M deployment have been robust. As typically is the case, the forecasts will prove too optimistic in the near term, but possibly even too conservative longer term.

source: M2M Daily

Public Policy is Devilishly Hard Stuff

Public policy success always is harder than you might think, if only because the causal relationships between a policy and an intended out...