The outlook often looks bleak, but by 2017, there will be a swing in the carriers' favor, driven by new cloud and M2M services.
This is the conclusion of the latest research report from Maravedis-Rethink's Mobile Operator Strategy Analysis service. But it warns that only those operators which adopt creative business strategies will survive the transition to a profitable model successfully.
While tracking the top 100 operators deploying or planning 4G, the firm highlighted a few which are demonstrating that they will get return on that investment and effort only with a major rethink of their services and revenue models.
Examples include SK Telecom, for its leadership in deploying mobile cloud applications. These are already offered under its T-Brand in South Korea, where it has pushed key trends such as the “freemium” model.
But it is also influencing the global ecosystem with its creation of a full mobile service platform within its SK Planet unit. This will look to expand its offerings worldwide, especially via partnerships with carriers in neighboring countries such as Japan's NTT DoCoMo.
Also looking for new revenues streams and models is Vodafone, with its significant M2M market presence and innovative approach to partnerships and frameworks in that sector. Its reach and scale give it a strong opportunity to achieve the mass deployment necessary to M2M economics and it has influence over how the whole market develops, for instance with its standards work in collaboration with IBM.
Another highlighted carrier is AT&T, picked out for its advanced roadmap for deploying LTE in a range of bands, including underused ones like unpaired 700MHz, with techniques like carrier aggregation. This strategy should help AT&T obtain a competitive spectrum position at relatively low cost in the medium term.
Mobile operators will have invested a total of $34.7 billion in the period from 2012 to 2017 in 4G infrastructure, but that level of spending will have almost flattened out by the end of the period. By contrast, by 2017 there will be a leap not just in LTE subscribers, which will reach 875.75 million worldwide, but in carrier revenues from those LTE networks.