Monday, 9 February 2015

The Changing Dynamics of the Telecommunications Industry


Tolu Akinluyi (Senior Manager, Accenture Nigeria) 

They say the only constant in life, is change. In no other industry is this statement more relevant than in the telecommunications industry. Over the last two centuries, mankind has taken gigantic leaps in technology, and these leaps have in turn enabled equally gigantic leaps in telecommunications. When the telephone was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell, it was probably difficult to envision a world of mobile phones, video calls and instant messaging. However the development of enabling technologies such as the integrated circuit, and more recently the internet, have continued to help push the boundaries of possibility in the telecoms industry.
Early telecommunications operators were setup to provide basic voice telephony services to subscribers, by ensuring that physical cables and exchanges were setup to connect various locations across the globe. For these operators, growth simply meant investing in equipment to connect more and more people so as to provide basic telephony services. This connectivity served as a catalyst for technological advances which in turn led to advances in the telecoms industry. This cycle of change continues to redefine the dynamics of the industry.  We are now more connected than ever before. In some countries (for example Finland and Japan), there are now more mobile subscriptions than there are people (IDG). More people across the globe have access to a mobile phone, than have access to a toothbrush or working toilets (UN). It now takes 26 hours for the average person to report a lost wallet, but only 68 minutes for them to report a lost phone (Unisys).
A recent market analysis by Accenture has identified the six key trends which summarize the dynamics shaping the global telecoms industry today. The first of these trends is the commoditisation of core products. The initial products and services which built up the industry continue to decline and will continue to contribute less to telecoms operators’ profits. In other words, there will be a continued migration from wire-line to wireless telecommunications. Between 2011 and 2016, the projected compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) globally of fixed line revenues is projected to be only 2% (Ovum).
The second trend is the replacement of voice traffic with data. Data usage continues to drive growth in network traffic, and this trend will only continue as technological advances help improve the quality of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephony. In the near future, Cisco predicts that voice will make up less than 10% of total mobile traffic.
The third trend is the evolving demands of “always-connected” customers. Telecoms subscribers now have much higher expectations from their providers, and telecoms operators will have to provide differentiated customer service to address the needs of their subscribers, or risk losing them to rivals especially now that technology has reduced the hurdles of switching between telecoms providers.
The fourth trend shaping the industry is disruptive competition. Telecoms operators are currently facing rapid changes in the competitive landscape due to new, non-traditional players entering the industry with lower entry costs and global reach. The rise of these over the top (OTT) players such as skype, poses a significant challenge to existing telecoms operators. For example, the total number of mobile VoIP minutes is expected to grow from 15 billion in 2010 to 471 billion in 2015 (Juniper Research). Operators will therefore need to find other revenue streams to survive.
Now that mankind has made great strides in connecting people, the next challenge is connecting “things”. The fifth trend is the creation of new services as a result of the internet of things (IoT). A thing in IoT, is any object that can be provided with the ability to transfer data over a network. For example, a car can be provided with connectivity to alert the owner about its location and systems status. The worldwide market for IoT solutions is expected to grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020 (IDC).  This trend is expected to drive growth in the telecoms industry over the next few years.
By 2027, it is estimated that emerging markets will generate two-thirds of all global telecommunications revenues. The continued explosion of demand for telecoms services in emerging markets is the sixth trend.
These six trends are just as relevant in the Nigerian context as they are globally. Over the last decade, the Nigerian telecoms industry has experienced tremendous growth.  The contribution of this industry to Nigeria’s GDP has risen from 0.3% in 2001 to 8.53% today. However as the industry has matured, average revenue per user (ARPU) has dropped significantly, subscribers have become more demanding, and Nigerian telecoms operators have started to face the same challenges as other global operators. They must also make changes to ensure that they survive.
The changing dynamics of the telecoms industry will continue to present both challenges and opportunities to telecoms operators. Thriving in the face of these ever changing dynamics will require operators to take a number of proactive steps. Firstly operators must transform their businesses to become truly digital organisations, and take advantage of this to create agile and efficient operations. For example they must use real-time, predictive analytics on top of digital processes in sales, operations and decision making. Secondly, operators must create the required partnerships and collaborations required to take advantage of existing opportunities and create efficiencies (for example active and passive network sharing could help reduce operating expenditure). Thirdly, operators must also evaluate areas of the business (often hidden), where there exists the potential to generate additional customer value or revenue from information gathered across customer touch points. Finally, operators must create a truly customer-centric organization – they must ensure that they understand how their customers experience their products and services (qualitatively and quantitatively), and put adequate mechanisms in place to respond accordingly.
Once thing is certain, advances in technology will continue to produce corresponding changes in the telecoms industry and vice versa. Whilst it may be difficult to know exactly what these changes will be, it is possible for operators to identify key trends and position their businesses to benefit from them.

Written By Tolu Akinluyi
Senior Manager, Accenture Nigeria

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