Here's some more bad news for telcos: regulators are ready to play hardball over structural separation.
Gartner says that after 20 years of unsuccessfully imposing accounting separation on incumbents, telecom watchdogs are looking at other ways of creating that elusive level playing field.
"Despite government moves (such as unbundling and accounting separation) to encourage competition and stimulate investment, progress has been meager in most countries," says a Gartner research AP, Alex Winogradoff.
Regulators blame continued vertical integration "and are increasingly seeking separation as a policy tool," he said.
Add this to all the other issues that beset fixed-line telcos: mobile substitution, line loss, flat-rate broadband, file-sharing, VoIP, NGN investment.
In the face of these industry challenges, there's no shortage of advice. Gartner here says incumbents facing separation should defend the franchise at home and take advantage of it abroad where it is implemented.
Most of the expert suggestions revolve around consumer broadband: triple- and quad-play, multimedia, content partnerships, NGN, Web 2.0, and so on. Which is fine; mainstream telcos serving end-users must explore those options.
But carriers should be just as assiduous in probing opportunities in the enterprise segment.
Sure, every operator has a business or managed services division, but some are doing better than others.
For example, BT. Its global services group boosted revenues 7.8% and ebitda by 13% last year. Outside the UK its sales grew 27% in Q1. In Asia it has just acquired one of the region's biggest IT services firms, Frontline. BT's Asia staff tally is now 27,000, capable of offering managed communications, security, consulting and IT backend services.
BT's numbers are not sensational, but unlike voice or broadband they're in a segment with long-term growth prospects.
By comparison, revenues from AT&T's more traditional enterprise service business expanded by just 2.1% in Q1 over last year, coming off a 3% decline in the Q1.
An Ovum survey finds that the managed enterprise IP market alone is already huge and growing fast because businesses are keen to outsource voice and data. They're looking to service providers to manage metro Ethernet, IP VPN, IP voice and security services to cut costs and improve efficiency, says Ovum.
The survey is sponsored by a vendor (Cisco) but has some worthwhile market data.
Ovum predicts compound average growth of 18% up to 2012 to a market value of $66 billion. Europe is currently the biggest market, but Asia Pacific is projected to have the most rapid growth, with a CAGR estimated at 27%. The biggest segment is managed IP VPN, worth $17 billion, while IP voice will grow the fastest at 39% CAGR.
Importantly, enterprises that have contracted out for IT and comms services are mostly satisfied with the decision.
"The result is opportunities for those able to meet those needs, especially in the areas of managed voice and security," said Ovum research director Peter Hall.
But the opportunity is not just managed network services.