Increased competition, a forced rethink of pricing models and the devastating impact of the economic crisis have weakened Europe’s once thriving telecoms sector
Europe’s telecommunications sector has been the stage for a growing number of merger and acquisition deals in recent months. Deals that are clearly posing a conundrum for regulators and anti-trust authorities, resulting in especially long investigations, and controversial “remedies” for those deals that have been given the green light.
Despite which, virtually all of the parties have by now reached the conclusion that consolidation is inexorable, if not desirable. The sector’s main players have never fully recovered from the aftermath of the Internet bubble and the debt levels that ensued. The increased competition ushered in by new entrants, pricing models that have been destabilised by the arrival of Internet companies offering rival (voice, messaging and video) products, the devastating impact that the economic crisis has had on the countries of southern Europe since 2008… together have weakened Europe’s once thriving telecoms sector. In concrete terms, this has meant a 12.5% drop in revenue for the top five European markets over the past five years, a dramatic decrease in EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and, quite naturally under these conditions, in lower per capita spending on new generation access networks (fibre, LTE) than in the United States.
So consolidation appears to be a natural response to the situation, a way to put an end to the price wars and stabilise margins. Infrastructure sharing schemes may precede or be part of this consolidation, but unlikely to take its place. If these schemes can provide an interesting means of reducing costs, they can also allow price wars to drag on. Unfortunately, most of these consolidation deals are taking place inside national markets.
Once the dust from these mergers has settled, European telcos’ margins improved, and the harmonisation of regulation progressed as Mr Junker has said he hopes it will, it is not hard to imagine that the next stage of market consolidation will be cross-border and beyond. We need to remember that one of the arguments put forth when opening the telecommunications sector up to competition was the ability to create a single European market, and to enable the emergence of a handful of pan-European carriers. The stakes here are high: even if the synergies to be had from a cross-border merger are less obvious, size alone will no doubt have an impact on operators’ efficiency and their ability to invest and innovate. We should also emphasise that the creation of a large handful of telcos operating in most EU markets – replacing today’s one hundred or so national telcos, but also competing against a number of operators that target a very particular clientele – will in no way reduce the choice available to consumers. So we should probably just accept the fact of having fewer national operators, and in turn enjoy more meaningful competition – in a vaster, European-scale marketplace – which extends beyond merely price points.
Indeed, the real challenge for operators is not to engage in a game of industrial Monopoly and to grow and grow just for the sake of it. Instead, they need to ready themselves as best they can to handle three difficult and dramatic changes. The first is one that must force telcos to continue to improve their productivity and agility, to be able to respond to a fast-changing environment. Even if price wars are currently a trap, it is nevertheless also true that the telecom sector is among those most able to pass digital-driven productivity gains onto consumers, and to generate the means to sustain needed investments. The second change is an accelerate rate of convergence between fixed and mobile infrastructures, spurred by the advent of superfast access. The mobile Internet of tomorrow will be fibre networks’ biggest client. The third game changer is a major one. Namely the increasing influence of software and data on the sector, which will require operators to control quality of service parameters and customer relations in real time.
If the effervescence of the digital ecosystem is today characterised above all by innovative over-the-top (OTT) start-ups, the telecoms sector should not be viewed as the last dinosaur standing, or something akin to CDs being made obsolete by streaming. Regardless of how the future plays out, money will still need to be spent on the networks and the access link in the Internet value chain, with a solid profit outlook in the offing. Something that Europe, which today has no major global Internet platform to its name, would be unwise to overlook.
Valérie CHAILLOU Head of Research, Telecoms Business Unit, IDATE
IDATE reveals global and European rankings
To mark the start of the 8th annual Assises du Très Haut Débit symposium, IDATE is releasing its ranking of countries that lead the way in ultra-fast fixed and mobile broadband subscriber numbers, in Europe and worldwide. An analysis and data culled directly from IDATE’s freshly updated FTTx and LTE global market watch, which examines hundreds of countries and operators.
Growing disparities in fixed ultra-fast broadband
At the end of 2013, ultra-fast broadband (UFB) access – i.e. with a throughput equal to or above 30 Mbps – represented 29% of all broadband connections worldwide. This marks real progress as the percentage stood at 22% just one year ago. FTTH/B is still the mostly widely deployed technology, accounting for 60% of UFB subscribers around the globe, followed by cablecos’ FTTx/D3.0 systems, which account for 29% of users, and VDSL for 11%. In terms of subscriber numbers, all UFB architectures combined, the United States is by far the global leader with 62.5 million subscribers at the end of 2013, compared to 42.4 million for China and 27 million for Japan. France is in eighth place with more than 2 million subscribers. Of course this ranking changes depending on the indicators that are taken into consideration, such UFB subscribers’ share of a country’s total broadband customer base. Here South Korea tops the ranks, ahead of the United States, Japan and China, with 66% – versus 64% for Japan, 60% for the United States and 22% for China. As to the technologies deployed, the US is the undisputed VDSL market leader with some 11 million subscribers, well ahead of the UK and its 2.1 million subscribers. The United States is also the world’s biggest FTTx/D3.0 market, with 42 million subscribers, again ahead of the UK which is home to 3.1 million subscribers, followed by Spain where competition between FTTH/B and FTTx/D3.0 is fierce.
Accelerate 4G rollouts
Julien GAUDEMER, Consultant at IDATE
The volume of NFC transactions is estimated by IDATE at 4.6 billion EUR in 2014 to reach 53.8 billion in 2018
In its latest report, IDATE provides an overview of the mobile and online payment market. It provides the main figures for each market segment (in-store payment, carrier billing, remote online payment). The latest market trends are analyzed, as well as the position and evolution of the main players (especially Telcos and internet Players).
Mobile payment markets are still nascent for the most part, the technical aspects are mature and plenty of commercial offers exist. However, the majority of online and mobile payments are still made by debit or credit card while in-store payments are still made by cash, cheque or payment card.
• IDATE estimates that e-commerce is a 1,145 billion EUR market generating 34.8 billion transactions (according to CapGemini) in 2014. M-commerce has generated 115 billion EUR in revenues, through 29 billion transactions including about 13% of alternative payment systems (other than payment cards).
• Regarding in-store payment with NFC mobile solutions, IDATE estimates that 278 million NFC-enabled mobile phones will be used in 2014, and 28 million users are likely to use their NFC phone to make mobile payments. The volume of NFC transactions is estimated by IDATE at 4.6 billion EUR in 2014 to reach 53.8 billion in 2018. All these figures have to be compared with the few hundred trillion USD of global payment transactions per year. If the figures show differences between these markets, other stakes need to be taken into consideration to better understand the overall market payment ecosystem.
• Regarding carrier billing systems, this market is estimated by IDATE to reach 18 billion EUR in 2014, with about 30% of direct online carrier billing.
From the user point of view, the mobile wallet battle focuses on ease of application and added value compared to payment by debit card. Most mobile wallets currently available are no easier to use than a debit card, and do not have the critical mass to be used at a large scale.
Julien Gaudemer, Project leader of this report, says “The main added value is the other services included in the wallet: loyalty programmes and offers management.” However, some players try to reduce the overall payment process in-store: Apple initially developed iBeacon technology for in-door geolocation but it could be used to automatically pay for goods when leaving the store. Alternatively, PayPal has developed payment during ordering (e.g. for the Mc Donalds application) to avoid the in-store payment step.
• Mobile wallet applications can now manage various payment cards, loyalty programmes and offer coupon storage to make them more attractive than traditional payment systems. These features allow service providers to get users’ purchasing habit data in order to provide targeted advertising and offers. In addition, players that are already involved in the advertising market (like Google) are able to increase advertising prices due to a better targeting technique
• Internet giants and new mobile payment players are trying to change the traditional payment ecosystem to gain more revenue. The payment market itself does not bring as much in revenues globally, which is why they are especially trying to bypass all intermediaries between themselves and the user’s money. For instance, Paypal wants to avoid payment systems (like Mastercard and Visa), banks and telcos. Google uses its mobile operating system Android to provide an integrated payment system (using NFC) and a mobile wallet, avoiding telcos and other related intermediaries (like Trusted Service Management services). From the merchants’ perspective, payment service providers need to convince them to adopt their solution: transaction commissions and interchange fees are therefore the key stake as, if they are too high, merchants will not use them. Besides, the recent development of the virtual currency “BitCoin” has been seen as an innovation for some observers but as a threat for the financial sector by others. Many small players have developed new services around the new currency to convert it into traditional currencies or use it on a mobile device or in-store.
Software-defined networking (SDN) market is estimated at €816 million in 2014 projected to reach nearly 7 billion by 2019
IDATE publishes a status report on Software-defined networking/Network functions virtualization standardisation efforts, which explores telco and equipment suppliers’ positioning on future network architecture concepts. This analyses the strategies and degree of involvement of the ecosystem’s various stakeholders. It also provides SDN/NFV market figures.
SDN and NFV associated with cloud computing at the core of telcos’ and equipment suppliers’ strategies
SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualisation) are seen as the main upcoming technological disruptions in networking architectures. They allow a network to be more programmable, open and scalable.
Entire ecosystem invested in standardisation
The telecoms and IT industry is involved in the standardisation initiatives taking place around SDN and in the work being done by ETSI on NFV.
Traditional equipment manufacturers, and especially the top suppliers of switches and routers – Cisco,
Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei – are the players most actively involved in this area.
The top telecom carriers are more interested in NFV, and are involved both in standardisation efforts and in conducting proofs of concept.
Virtualisation in telco networks making progress, but more slowly than in datacentres
The first available SDN equipment was designed for datacentres, and was thus installed by companies operating in that field and cloud service providers. Pioneer SDN and NFV products for telco networks are now available as well. The carriers that are the frontrunners in this area – including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, NTT and Telefónica – have all announced plans for a large-scale transition to a new networking architecture.
The global SDN and NFV market in 2014 is estimated at €816 million. Telcos still account for only a sliver of the market: 5% in 2014. But as more and more carriers make the transition, this share is forecast to grow to 19% by 2019 .
The SDN and NFV market (million EUR)
Source: IDATE, SDN and NFV for telcos, June 2014
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014
Video game business models and monetization
Interview with Yves GUILLEMOT Co-Founder and CEO UBISOFT
Conducted by Philippe CHANTEPIE
French Ministry of Culture and Communication;
Associate researcher, Innovation & Regulation Chair, Paris
C&S: We have entered the 8th generation of consoles. Do you consider it likely that this will upset the market positions of publishers and console manufacturers?
Yves Guillemot: This new generation of consoles brings many changes, incorporating all the innovations from parallel markets and multiplying their potential through technological power. These platforms reach an unparalleled high level of performance, immersion and opportunities which allow us to create even more powerful game experiences. Each generation of consoles has large implications for publishers who need to invest heavily to maximize power and be able to seize the great opportunities that arise.
On the other hand, the strong growth in mobile and PC markets, driven by social games, permanently connected and free access, is a challenge for traditional industry players, with new economic and editorial models that differ from more traditional games. These models started being introduced at the end of the previous generation of consoles. New platforms like the Playstation 4 or Xbox One have fully integrated these developments and allow us to put the player at the center - before, during and after the game experience - and to give him/her an increasingly active role in changing content.
C&S: Casual gaming has grown rapidly and has already started occupying a predominant position. Do you think it is likely that this will continue to increase?
Y.G.: Casual gaming is not a new phenomenon. In 2006 the Nintendo Wii had taken a big step towards attracting video games and a new audience, part of which is now plays more traditional games. The rise of social networks, mobile games and online greatly amplified this phenomenon and globalised the supply and the audience to which it is intended. The video game market today encompasses nearly 2.5 billion players, compared to 500 million previously. This is a pool of significant growth for our industry. For example, one of our flagship brands Just Dance is a dance game first released on the Wii, which has sold 49 million copies since 2009. It was particularly popular during the Christmas season.
C&S: We are witnessing significant changes in revenue models. Are these new models mature enough and able to renew the game console segment?
Y.G.: These new models are growing dynamically and also continue to evolve. Some examples or experiences have shown us the difficulty of maintaining high market shares and good consistent results. Without a miracle, renewal is necessary to adapt to a changing marketplace. Ubisoft deploys and uses these models, while consolidating and diversifying a portfolio of original brands for which we control the entire creative and commercial process. Beyond the video game, our goal is to increase the visibility and attractiveness of our franchises by being increasingly present on new media such as television, with the Raving Rabbids TV series, and soon the cinema with the adaptation of franchises like Assassin's Creed or Splinter Cell. The Raving Rabbids Futuroscope theme park attraction, open for several months, is also a success.
C&S: Do you consider that the development of competition in the video game industry will lead to transform the production system of game publishing and how?
Y.G.: In recent years, production of video games has become considerably more professional. Our industry is constantly evolving: our businesses, the technologies we use, as well as the habits and customs of the consumers, such as being permanently connected with their phones. These changes are revolutionizing the way we design our games. We must constantly renew and adapt to propose the most innovative and immersive creative experiences. For example, a game like Watch Dogs allows our players via mobile applications connected to the game console, to play anywhere and anytime; it also allows their friends who do not have game consoles to help them progress in the game. Our mission is to provide our players ever stronger and enriching experiences while finding technical solutions allowing us to reduce our costs and therefore our risk. To remain agile and ready to face these challenges, we actively invest in R & D in France and abroad.
C&S: Which factors do you think are the most disruptive of the game economy factors present or future: free to play, an actor like Steam, etc.?
Y.G.: The free-to-play model was born in Asia to circumvent the problems of piracy of the PC game business model. This model has experienced significant growth in recent years in Western markets. By removing entry barriers, it allows players to experience games and be free to invite their friends and invest if they like the content. This model has now gone beyond the sphere of casual games in which it was previously embedded to move towards more traditional experiences and platforms such as consoles. Ubisoft has been present in this segment for some years with games like Settlers Online, Howrse, and more recently with Trials Frontier, and The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot.
C&S: The Montreal studio set-up seems to be a supporting model of this industry. What elements of this support do you consider are the most strategic to strengthen the ecosystem of this sector?
Y.G.: Canada, but also other territories around the world, has been able to highlight craft, creativity and innovation as a driver of economic development. These territories were able to discern the many benefits that the digital creation industry and jobs with high added value could bring. In addition to the direct incentives, education is also specialized in these areas to form a diverse pool of talents. Two key factors in this success that are important in the eyes of the gaming industry are the unique efforts and the simplicity of public procedures.
Yves Guillemot founded Ubisoft in 1986 with his four brothers, and was named CEO of the company in 1988. Starting off by importing and translating video games from England, Yves and his brothers immediately used the distribution business to fund the creation of games, starting with Zombie in 1990 for Atari ST. Yves has overseen the phenomenal growth of Ubisoft into an internationally renowned and respected creator of quality video games with 29 studios, distribution in 55 countries and with more than 9,200 employees around the globe. For the 2013-2014 fiscal year it generated sales of 1.007 billion euros.
Born in Brittany of France's west coast, Yves grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. All five Guillemot brothers worked summers in the family agriculture supply business. Later, Yves attended business school in Paris, formalizing his education in the creation and sustenance of an enterprise. Yves is married and enjoys playing video games with his three children.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014
For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
Deputy Managing Director
Director of TV & Digital Content Business Unit
It is no secret that the shift to digital has had a huge impact on the music sector: the multiplication of distribution channels, the shift from owning albums to listening on the fly, along with piracy have resulted in a significant drop in revenue for the sector, the arrival of new unlimited music services and, more generally, the core revenue stream shifting from the sale of recorded music to exploiting all of the rights attached to an artist.
The role of live performance has also changed. While it has always been a special event, providing a venue for fans to meet the bands as well as being a promotional vehicle, concerts had long been a by-product of records. Today, they have become not only essential revenue streams, but also an essential means for music lovers to discover artists, and for artists to develop their careers. In addition to the their growing weight in music industry economics, the live concert market is also being affected by the internet: the use of social media to promote an event, online ticket sales, the importance of metadata in creating and maintaining ties with fans, new forms of interaction during concerts, etc.
Among these many developments, digital technologies open up new opportunities in the realm of recording and broadcasting concerts. As with recorded music, video, news and now books as well, the rise of digital and the web is steadily creating new ways to distribute recordings of live concerts, which had long been the sole dominion of a handful of TV channels, and so confined to only the most popular artists. The proliferation of online distribution channels is already driving up demand. At the same time, on the supply side of the equation, new, cheaper recording and distribution solutions continue to lower the barriers to entry. So more and more players are getting in the game. They are coming from new sectors of the digital ecosystem: pure player concert sites, internet giants, telecom and consumer electronics industry players… but very few live event organisers.
It is within this new environment that IDATE was commissioned by musical, concert and variety show union, PRODISS, to provide an analysis of what impact digital technologies are having on live performance.
> The report and its summary (in French) are available online at: www.proscenium.fr/thinktank/
Deputy Managing Director
Director of TV & Digital Content Business Unit
Original production in the US had long been the fiefdom of the top TV networks and a limited group of premium cable pay-TVs. Today, however, all cable channels are developing an original production policy, operating alongside their reruns of series produced by the big networks.
Some of the most popular series in the United States have been produced not by these heavyweights, or by HBO: Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead (AMC), The Americans (FX), Rectify and Top of The Lake (Sundance).
This new strategy has been especially profitable for AMC which originally aired only reruns: in 10 years, its earnings from cablecos has gone from $0.22 to $0.35 a month per subscriber.
Consultant at IDATE
IDATE estimates that industry losses due to the various forms of illegal video consumption – namely P2P, downloads and streaming – totalled €6.3 billion in Europe in 2013, which translates into 37.8% increase from 2010 to 2013.
The main reason for this rise in online video piracy is the lack of attractive video on-demand (VoD) services in Europe, which is due in large part to:
• a very scattered offering, which is hard for users to navigate through;
• the fact that legacy pay-TV providers have captures the rights for the most premium content, and are taking a defensive approach to new distribution channels;
• very few online sales options;
• certain regulatory restrictions, such as the media chronology in France and Germany for feature films.
The VoD sector’s consolidation, and the inroads being made by American companies, especially in the subscription VoD segment, is expected to breathe some life into Europe’s video-on-demand market, and contribute indirectly to scaling back users’ reliance on piracy. IDATE estimates that industry losses due to piracy should decrease by 6.5% between 2014 and 2018.
Head of the Telecom Strategy Business Unit
Mobile growth still strong with 6.6 billion subscribers worldwide at the end of 2013 and forecast to reach more than 8 billion by the end of 2018
IDATE, partner analyst at the LTE World Summit 2014 (23 to 25 June 2014 in Amsterdam) reveals the findings of its World telecom services watch.
After the trough of 2009 and hesitant growth in 2010, the global market has been growing at a moderate pace since 2011. Growth in 2013 stood at 2.4% “we have observed that, by and large, telecom services are recovering more slowly than the economy as a whole,” reports Didier Pouillot, head of IDATE’s Telecom Players & Markets Business Unit.
Now in a recovery phase, telecom markets in advanced countries are proving somewhat resilient, whereas in fast-developing markets the underlying momentum is coming from volume. This phenomenon is telling of a mature industry now driven more by demographics than economics. In Africa/the Middle East, for instance, the drop in regional GDP in 2009 (-6%) and its rebound in 2010 (+16%) had very little impact on telecom services growth rates which remained very high both years: +8% and +9%, respectively.
Revenue from telecom services
According to IDATE, global telecom services revenue will increase from €1,186 billion in 2013 to €1,341 billion in 2018, representing an average annual growth of 2.5%.
• Revenue from mobile services will grow by 17% between 2013 and 2018 (+3% a year on average), reaching €826 billion in 2018.
• Revenue generated data transmission and Internet access will enjoy more substantial growth (+24% between 2013 and 2018, i.e. an average +4% per annum), to reach €338 billion in 2018.
• Fixed telephony revenue will continue its sharp decline: -15% between 2013 and 2018, i.e. dropping by an average 3% a year, down to €177 billion in 2018.
More mobiles, more users
According to IDATE, the number of mobile customers worldwide should top the 8 billion mark by the end of 2018 (+21% in 5 years).
• The number of fixed Internet subscribers will grow more slowly (+18% between 2013 and 2018, +3% a year on average). The one billion mark is not expected to be reached before 2020.
• Traditional landlines continue to loose ground as VoIP and mobiles gain.
The spread of broadband
According to IDATE, the number of fixed broadband subscribers is expected to reach 858 million worldwide by 2018, for a penetration rate of 12% of the global population. The number of LTE customers is shooting up, and LTE-Advanced users are expected to increase swiftly in early adopter countries.
IDATE forecasts more than 1.3 billion LTE subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2017, generating a total €400 billion in revenue
Two major factors will work in broadband’s favour:
• The success of bundled offers (fixed telephony, VoIP, TV, mobile telephony) and the appetite for video applications.
• Telcos’ investments in migrating their infrastructures to mobile or fixed broadband.
Scalability of operators
• European operators are still in trouble, with a growth momentum that is running out of steam, despite strong investment needs
• North American telcos are benefiting from a solid growth rate at home, especially in the mobile market.
• If several major telcos from emerging countries continue to enjoy swift growth rates of close to or above 10% (Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom), a number of them saw their growth flatten and tumble to virtually nil in 2013 (America Móvil, MTN, Oi, Vimpelcom). But margins remain high: EBITDA margins of between 30% and 40%, and even higher in some cases. Several of these operators are widely engaged in international expansion strategies.
[ITW] Wolgang KOPF, Senior Vice President for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs Deutsche Telekom AG
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st Quarter 2014
Re-thinking the EU telecom regulation
Senior Vice President
for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs
Deutsche Telekom AG
Conducted by Ulrich STUMPF WIK-Consult GmbH
C&S: What is your vision of the single telecoms market in Europe in terms of market integration, services, players and competition?
Wolfgang KOPF: We need to understand two things: the ICT sector is of strategic importance for Europe's competitiveness and future well being, and the sector is subject to increasing global competition. To stay competitive, we have to exploit synergies and achieve scale in-country as well as cross-border. Competition authorities must refrain from imposing excessive remedies that undermine merger synergies and scale advantages, preserving an artificially fragmented market that hurts the global competitiveness of Europe's economy on the long term. In this context, policy makers should recognize realities of global competition. Instead of welcoming quasi-monopolistic competition coming from outside Europe it would be better to focus on the competitiveness of European ICT Industry. A more global approach to competition would benefit end-users with more investment and superior quality.
On the sector specific regulatory side, Europe suffers from a patchwork of 28 different regulatory environments compared to other economic regions of the world. A harmonized regulatory framework and cross-border competition will constitute major building blocks of a true Single Market. The current level of fragmentation cannot be good for an industry so much dependent on scale as ours. Further harmonization providing for a less complex and more predictable regulatory regime and its consistent application in all member states are necessary for a single telecoms market in Europe. This does not mean to offer the same service at an equal price across Europe as countries differ e.g. with regard to topology, population density, purchasing power etc. Therefore a single market approach has to cater for the still existing differences which include diverse product and pricing schemes for consumers across Europe.
C&S: The Draft Connected Continent Regulation introduces a more Eurocentric model of regulation based on stronger Commission powers. Do you believe that ultimately a single market requires a single EU regulator?
W.K. : When looking at the regulatory oversight in Europe, one thing is absolutely clear: The current institutional three layer setting that involves national regulatory authorities, BEREC and the EU Commission in virtually all regulatory decisions is far too complex, leads to lengthy proceedings and uncertainty and is definitely not a sustainable model in such a fast moving sector. We would prefer a clear allocation of tasks and competences between the EU level and Member State level in order to provide for faster, more stream-lined proceedings and more predictable decisions.
This does not necessarily mean that we need to build up a new bureaucracy at a time when we are considering significantly reducing the level of asymmetric regulation. The more we reduce the amount of complex regulation, the easier harmonisation will be. In such a dynamic market less bureaucracy is usually more conducive for innovation and investment.
C&S: Many responses to the Commission's single market proposals point out the lack of an impact assessment and underline that the proposals have little chance of achieving their stated targets. Do you share these criticisms?
W.K. : First of all, we share the Commission's analysis of the state of the telecoms sector in Europe and agree that framework conditions have to change to put the European digital economy back on track and support more investment in high-speed broadband networks. The objective of a policy reform for the sector was also confirmed by European heads of state and government at their Summit in October. The Single Market Regulation could become a key element to help the EU ICT sector to regain its former strength.
The announcement of the Single Market initiative by Commissioner Kroes in February 2013 raised high expectations in the sector as well as in the investors' community and discussions with the Commission were indeed promising. However, the proposals presented by the Commission in September struck a difficult balance between pro-investment elements and additional burdens for the European telecoms sector.
While we particularly welcome the Commission's proposals for a better coordination of spectrum management in the EU, we believe that proposals in the draft Regulation that further undermine the revenue base and investment capacity of the sector, such as on roaming and international calls, should be removed. A stronger emphasis should be put on fostering new investments in NGA infrastructures and establishing a level playing field for EU telecoms companies to enable them to better compete with global companies in the Internet value chain. On open internet regulation, a full harmonisation at EU-level could, if appropriate and future-proof, provide for legal certainty and support more investment and innovation in the sector. Here it is essential to provide for more commercial freedom for new business models. This would also be in the interest of other sectors of the economy as well as consumers who would benefit from a higher variety of service offerings.
Now the Regulation is in the hands of the European legislator and it remains to be seen whether the intended goal, i.e. to strengthen the European telecoms sector, can be achieved. Recent draft amendments seem to worsen the whole package further.
C&S: By the time the single market regulation can be approved, it will likely be just one year away from the next review of the regulatory framework. To what extent could the provisions set out in the Draft Regulation of the Commission be postponed and taken up in the next Telecoms Package Review?
W.K. : Time is of essence in this fast moving sector. The analysis clearly shows that Europe has been falling back in the last decade and that the framework conditions are part of the problem. In time of crisis it is not the best idea to postpone. If we see a chance to have some quick fixes we should grasp every opportunity to improve the situation for the European industry.
To postpone until the next telecoms package review would not mean just a year of delay as suggested by the question. We expect the Commission to presents proposals for a complete review of the telecoms regulatory framework not before mid 2015. Then we will have a full legislative process, possibly concluded by 2018 with implementation in 2020 by Member States when using the typical instrument of a Directive. I have sincere doubts on whether we can afford to wait another five years until we see a new framework to become effective.
C&S: The telecoms operators deplore the lack of a level playing field given the far less formalised regulatory environment for OTT players. In what areas to you believe is the most urgent need for action and what is your view on the Draft Regulation with regard to these concerns?
W.K. : Since the time of adoption of the EU regulatory framework in 2002 the communications market has significantly changed. Today, the migration to all IP in electronic communications networks is increasingly diminishing the distinction between traditional telecommunications services and IP based communications services. Much text, voice or video communication is increasingly substituted by equivalent internet based services, e.g. software applications and social networks. Convergence is already a reality. From our industry point of view it is not acceptable that we have to play by different rules for comparable services. From a consumer protection point of view it is neither understandable why consumers need less protection when the like services are provided by an internet company or a handset manufacturer. To ensure consistent application, the rules established for traditional telecommunications services must also apply for equivalent and functionally substitutable IP-based communications services.
Furthermore, well established principles in the telecoms sector like transparency, interoperability, non-discrimination and the right of switching providers need to be transposed to all players in the broader internet market. Why are you not allowed to switch all your Apps when you switch from Android to IOS and vice versa? What is the difference to number portability? A level playing field and symmetric rules, applicable to all market players along the value chain, will help keeping markets open for competition and protect consumers irrespective of the underlying technology over which services are provided. This is a key requirement to provide for competitive framework conditions for the European ICT industry.
The Commission has recognised the need for action (see Communication COM(2013) 634/4) and intends to address the level playing field between telcos and OTT players in the next telecoms review.
C&S: An important part of ex ante regulation provided for by the current EU framework is triggered by Significant Market Power. To what extent can regulators take account of the competitive constraints imposed by OTT services in the current framework when defining markets and assessing market power?
W.K. : The asymmetric sector-specific price and access regulation of incumbent operators was established once to promote competition after the liberalisation of the telecoms markets in Europe. Today's telecoms markets are characterised by very strong and widespread infrastructure based competition in the fixed and mobile markets. Therefore, it is time to remember under which caveats the current regulation had started. It was subject to a near time sunset. Furthermore, the industry faces intense competition by global OTT players, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. For example, the volume of daily OTT-messaging traffic is already twice the volume of SMS traffic and growing fast (estimation by Informa, May 2013). In 2012, $23.2 bn. of mobile network operators' SMS revenues have been lost due to the enormous popularity of OTT messaging services ($54.4 bn. in 2016, estimation by Ovum, Sept. 2012).
Since those players use different pricing schemes (consumers pay ‘only' with their data), traditional market analysis tools fail to completely capture the level of the competitive pressure on traditional telecoms services. Furthermore, regulatory and competition authorities continue to rely on partly obsolete market definitions. Competition policy needs to find a way to how the competitive pressure of OTT services can be measured and thus the markets defined according to market realities.
C&S: Competition concerns have led antitrust regulators to approve mergers and infrastructure sharing agreements only under strict conditions (divest activities, hand back or sell off rights to use spectrum). Do you believe more consolidation is required in the European telecoms industry and do you see major flaws in the application of competition law?
W.K. : The European telecoms industry needs to operate on an efficient scale in order to meet the NGA investment challenge. High amounts of sunk fixed costs, long-term amortization periods and the need to continuously adopt new technologies and upgrade infrastructures make scale an inevitable and critical requirement for European telecoms to be able to provide competitive, state of the art networks.
A combination of in- and cross-country consolidation is required to exploit available economies of scale and density. For example, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that moving from 25 percent to 30 percent average market share per mobile network operator would yield a cumulative €30-45 bn. of additional free cash flow until 2020. As a result of the pooling of existing customers and networks which occur in a merger and intensified utilization of networks, it can become economically viable to increase network coverage to certain rural areas that previously could not be served economically. In order to achieve the objective of a true Digital Single Market, it is necessary to eliminate inefficiencies and to establish operators that can sustain a pan-European footprint.
European policy makers and merger control should adequately take into account the advantages of consolidated operations, in particular acknowledge the value of superior network quality and changing consumption patterns in the light of technological convergence and abstain from artificially reversing market-driven developments. Competition is best safeguarded by competitors that operate on an efficient scale. Market entry that simply relies on preferential treatment by competition authorities is inherently inefficient and unsustainable. Spectrum reservation and exclusive wholesale access amounts to a subsidisation of entrants that distorts competition and investment incentives.
Competition authorities still mainly focus on short term price effects and underestimate dynamic efficiencies, long-term investments and quality implications. This leads to less favourable market outcomes. One striking example is the H3G/Orange merger in Austria: The EU Commission had concerns that the elimination of one out of four mobile network operators in Austria could have led to less competition and higher prices. Thus, the approval was tied to the implementation of structural remedies, such as the provision of wholesale access for MVNOs and a fourth entrant spectrum reservation. Nonetheless, no network operator entered the spectrum auction. The reason is the intensive price competition in Austria which questions the return on investment.
During the T-Mobile/Orange merger proceedings in the UK the Commission abstained from a new entrant remedy and thus chose a far more moderate approach. Mobile customers in the UK still benefited from post-merger price declines and a significant quality increase due to the widespread rollout of 4G networks.
These examples show that we need a comprehensive analysis of the price-quality ratio (so called quality adjusted prices) instead of an isolated focus on short term price effects. Competition policy must apply a new approach concerning dynamic efficiencies which are so important for investment intensive industries such as the telecom industry.
C&S: Which cross-border synergies do you expect for European network operators?
W.K. : Cross-border scale economies typically exist on a higher level of the value chain, namely services. The main driver to capture the full potential of cross-country synergies for telcos is to integrate IT applications and network management platforms across countries. Harmonized rules and procedures could help to allow pan-European telecom operators to realize additional synergies. The BCG study estimates that the basis for potential cross-country synergies for European network operators theoretically adds up to about €95 bn. a year and a cumulative €840 bn. through 2020. However, such synergies are expected to be reaped only over a period of 10 or more years, since the realization depends on lengthy replacement cycles of the existing network and IT infrastructure. In this context, we have to make sure not to mix-up harmonisation with additional, non-proportionate burdens for the industry.
C&S: Do you expect that the reform of the EU regulatory environment brought about in 2013-14 will provide the stimulus required to achieve the roll-out objectives of the Digital Agenda?
W.K. : In July 2012 Commissioner Kroes announced to realign the European regulatory policy in order to enhance the broadband investment environment. The Recommendation on consistent non-discrimination obligations and costing methodologies, adopted in September 2013, was the first tangible result of the announced policy change. It provides for price stability of the unbundled local loop, and allows more flexibility for the pricing of NGA wholesale products where infrastructure competition and effective non-discrimination are present. The Recommendation is an important political signal that certainly helps promoting confidence in the regulatory policy in Europe. However, this was only a first step in the right direction and further steps are needed to promote a healthy European telecoms sector, able to ensure investments in future broadband networks. As I see no alternative to this route, I am confident that we will make further progress to re-establish the competitiveness of this strategically important sector.
Wolfgang KOPF (49) has been Senior Vice President for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs at Deutsche Telekom AG since November 2006. He is responsible for Regulatory Affairs, Competition and Media Policy, Spectrum Strategy and Public Affairs. Wolfgang Kopf joined Deutsche Telekom Group in 1995 where he held various senior positions since. He studied Arts and Law at the Universities of Mainz and Speyer, specializing in European and International Law. He also holds a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from the University of London. During his training as a lawyer, he worked for a leading international law firm and the European Commission. Wolfgang Kopf is a Board Member of GSMA. He is also a Member of the Foundation Board of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen and a Board Member of the Brussels based Economic Think Tank BRUEGEL. Furthermore, he is the co-editor of two German Law Journals.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st quarter 2014
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