What Options for Telcos Moving Up the Stack into Connected Car Markets?
To the extent that Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal offers a possible blueprint for how a telco moves up the stack, we are left to apply those lessons in other realms. In principle, telco efforts to get into complementary app or service businesses have taken several forms.
That will be relevant as at least some telcos enter connected car markets.
Perhaps the most common is the acquisition of smaller firms who have capabilities a telco can apply internally, to its own business. That is a vertical approach. Telcos acquiring or launching their own over-the-top IP telephony services or app stores provide other examples.
Some initiatives are quasi-horizontal, and quasi-vertical, intended to serve a broader range of potential customers than “current customers,” but also to add value to the carrier’s connectivity services.
IT consulting, mobile payments, banking, home security or over-the-top content services provide examples.
Bigger initiatives have tended to be of the horizontal type: data center operations, computing equipment.
It is not yet clear how moves into “connected car” or “smart cities” markets will happen. But a few observations from the way Comcast has used NBCUniversal, and how AT&T might use Time Warner, are instructive.
The acquisitions, though partly “vertical” (theme parks) are mostly “horizontal” (the content is sold to competitors, as well as sold internally, to Comcast cable TV operations).
That is akin to a connected car service or platform that can be used by every car manufacturer or fleet operator, smart lighting or parking services that can be deployed by any municipality or system integrator.
What Comcast has not done is acquire NBCUniversal and then make that asset a “captive,” “Comcast-only” asset. In part, that is because the law requires Comcast sell content even to other video distributors.
Though it will likely make sense to acquire some smaller assets that are “captive” and used vertically by by a single firm (provisioning tools, billing platforms, interfaces), the bigger upside will come from horizontal apps or services that can be broadly used by virtually all potential customers.
In other words, any future moves up the stack will do best when they are like other widely-used apps, offered independently of the owner’s own access platform.
Connectivity will drive some revenues. But most of the upside will likely come from "up the stack" applications and services offered horizontally (all carmakers, all fleet operators, all other access providers).