Carriers: not quite an endangered species

09 Jun 2017

Telecom Asia’s recent Telco Strategies conference in Kuala Lumpur was to separate hype from reality on digital transformation.

The “get real or go home” theme was in retort against the endless spin on the subject, and served as a timely reality check. If I had a dollar for every time I had used the phrase in a story over the last few years, I’d be a wealthy man.

But I’m still writing, because talk is cheap, and the endless puffery of press releases and platitudes is no substitute for concrete action.

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In 10 or so sessions across the day, we sought to apply a blowtorch to what is now one of the lazier phrases in the telecoms lexicon.

Unlike many conferences with set themes, Telco Strategies answered some questions with emphatic consensus.

Some key takeaways:

  • Yes, internet companies and OTT players are growing, but the incumbent carriers and telcos are a crucial part of the ecosystem and will be for some time. They make the big infrastructure investments which provide the connectivity the world needs.
  • OTT players are nowhere without carriers and that is not going to change overnight. So if the two sides aren’t friends already, they need to strike up friendships now.
  • Your competitor is also your collaborator. Digital transformation might sound clichéd, but ecosystems are still vital. Some MVNOs using the network of MNOs are helping to expand the pie, not remove pieces of the pie from the table. Other carriers operate their own video services, which are offered on their network along with OTT competitors-who are also working with other carriers.
  • A lot of the innovation carriers achieve depends on who they collaborate with and what services they take to market. A Malaysian telco, for example, is carrying Google education services over its network to deliver a national curriculum. This model is an example of the way forward. That’s not a dumb pipe-it’s innovation.
  • In some Asian markets, state-owned telco incumbents have done a good job in fostering innovation and start-ups use their networks.
  • The IoT is the next big opportunity for telcos. If they get their business models right, it could bring new energy into companies which have seen revenues stagnate in recent years. Who else is going to invest in the networks?

The views of the conference audience were sought in two electronic polls-the results slapped down the hype and expressed a positive view that there’s life in the telco model yet.

Here are the poll questions and the audience responses in percentages.

So, there’s a consensus about collaboration. And more than half an industry gathering says there’s more talk than action.

But only six percent think telcos are dead men walking. Now that’s got to be cause for optimism.

This article was first published in Telecom Asia May-June 2017 Issue

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