Impact of Economic Crisis on Telecom Industry

recessionThe financial crisis that engulfed the world last year is now playing out in full proportions. This has spread to each industry and telecom industry is no exception. The impact of the recession in the western world and economic slowdown in the emerging countries is being felt in a big way by all the players in the ecosystem. It can be predicted that 2009-2010 will mark a very difficult and crucial period for the entire industry. This post is to analyze the impact of the crisis on each of the players and what can they do to minimize the impact

 

Carriers: It was earlier thought that the carriers would be spared from the impact of economic crisis. However, it is increasingly evident that they are indeed getting impacted due to restricted access to capital and consumers limiting their usage. In many emerging markets across Asia and Africa, the operators are small and dependant on the foreign capital to expand. The operators are constrained not only by the capital for investment but also by the lack of working capital. Lack of new investments is having an adverse impact on network coverage expansion. 3G auctions planned in many countries have also been shelved for fear of non participation by large operators. Investments in new technologies like LTE and WiMax are likely to be scaled down and I would not be surprised if many proposed installations of WiMax are permanently permanently after reviewing the business plans in light of current crisis. International long distance carriers are likely to see sharp fall in the traffic, due to lower IT spending and lower cross-country investments, which is unlikely to be compensated by the increase in traffic due to travel restrictions across the companies. The operators may resort to tariff reduction in a bid to increase the minutes of usage (MoU) but this would restrict their ability to offer flat data prices or other innovative data models. I foresee consolidation happening amongst carriers as the weaker ones bow out of the industry.

 

The operators would do well by concentrating on cost reduction initiatives. They may follow the initiatives of the Indian operators by adopting light-asset operation models, putting greater pressure on equipment vendors to adopt new models like managed service and capacity service. The carriers would do well by actively engaging in all kinds of infrastructure sharing opportunities. The cash rich operators may look for new M&A opportunities and cash strapped carriers will do well by limiting the handset subsidies. It is estimated that the industry spends over $50 billion in handset subsidies alone.

 

At least in the next three years, the traditional CAPEX will experience a CAGR of -3% to -4%, which forebodes a turning point for industry transformation. When revenue from voice services and traditional CAPEX cannot cover operators’ total cost of ownership (TCO), new services and new investment will become new opportunities and breakthrough points. New information consumption models, mobile broadband, and Internet applications will become the highlights of growth. This is the right time to evolve new business models to increase services consumption. Enhanced service consumption would ultimately benefit the carriers when the things start to improve. Operators can present mobile broadband as a viable alternative to fixed internet

 

Handset Vendors: Handset vendors were the first ones in the ecosystem to feel the pinch of the economic crisis. The replacement cycles lengthened which resulted in the lower replacement volumes and overall demand for new phones. At the same time, the device vendors witnessed heavy down-trading of devices by consumers leading to lower ASPs. The operators in the developed economies started to reduce the subsidy which also had an adverse impact on the value of the market size. The consumers on their part started to go for lower value contracts when their contracts were up for renewal and that lead to further erosion of device ASPs. Various device vendors and industry analysts have estimated the demand to be lower in 2009 by 5-10% over 2008.

 

Handset vendors need to focus on the costs and supply chain. Vendors may need to shift their high cost manufacturing units to locations where the cost of production is lower. New cross currency dynamics may also play a part in optimizing costs. They also need to rationalize the number of models to have better utilization of marketing monies. The emerging markets like India, China, Nigeria, etc. have been adding record subscriber additions which to a large extent are compensating the device vendors for loss of replacement volumes. The handset vendors should focus on value for money models and can learn from their experiences in emerging markets. I mean they can launch highly successful models of the developing countries in the developed markets and thereby increasing their market share as well as lower the cost of the model due to economies of scale. The handset vendors may also need to take a relook at their business models, partly due to the fact that carriers across the world are reducing subsidies and partly to emerge as end to end solutions player (e.g. RIM, Apple). The lower margins in the devices can be off-set with some of the services revenues if the solution is easy to use and relevant to consumer needs.

 

Equipment Vendors: The equipments vendors would be under pressure due to reduced investment by operators. However, if they focus on the managed services, they can get additional recurring revenue streams that would make up for the lower spending on network. The equipment vendors should wear the consulting cap and develop a provocative point of view on critical issues (like mobile broadband) that would entice the customers into spending. The vendors should try to develop new business models based on revenue share rather than fixed costs where the payments are linked to the benefits that the customer gets from the solution.

 

Content and Application (C&A) Providers: In one of my previous posts, I had predicted that the mobile entertainment would increase in times of recession. I got many responses from the readers both for and against the argument. I still stand by it that if the content is really good and affordable, it could be the cheapest source of information and entertainment in such times. If there are applications that help in job search or skill enhancement, they are bound to find favor amongst consumers. Relevance and pricing would be the key. However, lack of available funding to finance the development of new applications, and faster migration to ad-funded services – would have an impact on revenue growth.

 

C&A providers need to take a hard look at their business models and need to incorporate new ways of reducing cost of ownership for the consumers. C&A providers can look at sachet model to offer content at affordable pricepoints or they can offer unlimited access to content for a fixed fee. With the launch of new application stores by Nokia, Samsung, Microsoft, etc. the content providers should focus on the new application stores to compensate for any loss on the operator portal.  The economic downturn will push operators to release their grasp on the mobile content industry and open-up mobile Internet. This would be a great opportunity for the content providers to increase their revenue share and offer content at affordable price.

 

In summary, it is clear from the above discussion that each of the players of the ecosystem would need to take a relook at their business models. The winners would be decided on the basis of the innovation that they can bring to their business models. The survival of organizations would not depend on how fit they are but how responsive are they to change.

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