The Resurgence of India’s Telecom Industry

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The telecom industry in India was in a pretty tight spot due to various challenges led by the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) contention. AGR is a fee-sharing mechanism between the Government and the telecom providers who shifted to ‘revenue-sharing fee’ model in 1999, from the ‘fixed license fee’ model. Telecom providers are supposed to share a percentage of their AGR with the Government. While the government says that AGR includes all revenues from both telecom as well as non-telecom services, the operators contend that it should include only the revenue from core services. While the legal proceedings continue, India’s telecom industry continued facing other challenges such as one of the lowest ARPUs in the world and intense competition.

However, COVID-19 has given the industry a boost, changing the market dynamics and due to the increased interests of global investors. In his report, The New Normal for Telecom Providers in Southeast Asia, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Shamir Amanullah talks about how the telecom sector has fast evolved as the backbone of business and social interactions as the adoption of applications such as video conferencing and collaborative tools surge. Streaming services such as Netflix have become the go-to source for entertainment, putting the telecom sector in the spotlight today.

India’s monthly active internet user base is estimated to touch 639 million by the end of December, thanks to the COVID-19-induced measures that have forced people to stay indoors. Currently estimated at 574 million, the number of monthly active internet users has grown 24% over that of 2019, indicating an overall penetration of 41% last year. Further, It is estimated that India will have more than 907 million internet users by 2023, accounting for nearly 64% of the population. There are also around 71 million children aged 5-11 years, who go online using devices of family members exhibiting high future digital adoption in the Gen Z.

India’s rural areas are driving the country’s digital revolution, with a 45% growth in internet penetration in 2019 as compared to 11% in urban India. Rural India has an estimated 264 million internet users and is expected to reach 304 million in 2020. Local language content and video drive the internet boom in rural India, with a 250% rise in penetration in the last four years. Mobile is the device of choice for 100% of active users to browse the internet.

Global Interest in the Indian Market

Reliance Jio

Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries  (India’s most valued firm) has raised an estimate of USD 20.2 billion in the past four months from 13 investors by selling about 33% stake in the firm. To put this into context, India’s entire start-up ecosystem raised USD 14.5 billion last year! Besides Google and Facebook, the list of investors includes Qualcomm Investment Ventures, Intel Capital, KKR, TPG, General Atlantic, Silver Lake, L Catterton, Vista Equity Partners, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Google’s new investment gives Jio Platforms an equity valuation of USD 58 billion. The investment today from Google is one of the rare instances when it has joined its global rival Facebook in backing a firm. Google and Reliance Jio Platforms will work on a customised version of the Android operating system to develop low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, according to Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries. These phones will support Google Play and future wireless standard 5G, he said.

Jio is increasing its focus on the development of areas such as digital services, education, healthcare and entertainment that can support economic growth and social inclusion at a critical time for the economy. At the Reliance Annual General meet, it was announced that  Jio has developed a complete 5G solution from scratch that will enable us the launch of a world-class 5G service in India. Jio also revealed that the company is developing Jio TV Plus, Jio Glass, and more.

With an estimated 387 million subscribers as on 31st March 2020 making them the largest in the country, Jio Platforms provides telecom, broadband, and digital content services. Leveraging advanced technologies like Big Data Analytics, AI, IoT, Augmented and Mixed Reality, and Blockchain, this platform is focused on providing affordable internet connectivity with the content to match.

Bharti Airtel

Bharti Telecom, the promoter of Bharti Airtel, has sold a 2.75% stake in the telecom operator for an estimated USD 1.15 billion in May 2020 to a healthy mix of investors – long-only and hedge fund – across Asia, Europe and the US. The promoter entity will use the proceeds of the stake sale to pare debt and become a “debt-free company”.

It was reported that Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth USD 2 billion in Bharti Airtel. This translates to a 5% stake based on the current market valuation of the telecom operator. There have also been conversations about the possibility of an agreement on a commercial transaction where Airtel would offer Amazon’s products at cheaper rates. However, Bharti Airtel has clarified that it works with digital and OTT platforms from time-to-time but has no other activity to report.

Airtel has also shared plans to integrate technology and telecom to build a digital platform to take on Jio’s ambitions of evolving into a tech and consumer company. To scale up its digital platforms business, Airtel has been betting on four pillars: data, distribution, payments, and network.

Bharti Airtel also announced it has partnered with Verizon to launch the BlueJeans video-conferencing service in India to serve business customers in the world’s second-largest internet market. They have an estimated 328 million subscribers as on 31st March 2020 making them the 2nd largest in the country.

The Third Player

Vodafone Idea Limited

Vodafone has an estimated 319 million subscribers as on 31st March 2020 making them the 3rd largest telecom provider in the country. There was unvalidated news that Google had shown interest in Vodafone but that does not seem relevant now given their investment in Jio.

The AGR case remains a significant factor for the telecom sector, particularly for Vodafone given their precarious financial position.

However, in recent times, their ARPU is expected to increase by over 40% from USD 1.23 to USD 1.88, through increased pricing. The stock market is responding positively to Vodafone with the stock almost doubling in the last 1 month

 


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For more information on Ecosystm’s “The New Normal for Telecom Providers in South East Asia”, report please contact us at info@ecosystm360.com


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Vodafone Strengthens Enterprise Offerings in UK

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While Vodafone remains one of the leading global telecommunications providers, they face the need to transform their services and reach out to a wider audience. The customer base of a typical telecom provider is shifting, and they can no longer afford to just focus on consumers and need to include enterprises in their go-to-market strategy. Beyond the usual offerings of connectivity and mobile plans, Vodafone Business has solutions for Unified Communications, IoT and Cloud, to help grow their enterprise customer base. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Tim Sheedy says, “Vodafone is one of the most successful telecom providers in the business space. Vodafone Business already represents around 30% of the Vodafone Group revenue, and unlike most in the telecommunications sector, they are showing growth (albeit moderate!).”

The Role of Telecom Providers in the Cybersecurity Market

An area where enterprises continue to need guidance and support is cybersecurity. The results of the UK Government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 found that 32% of UK businesses had experienced a cyber-attack in the previous 12 months. More than a third of UK organisations have made changes in their cyber policies because of the GDPR – a majority focusing on policies first. It is not surprising therefore that Vodafone should identify cybersecurity as the next area of focus for their enterprise offerings.

Sheedy says, ”Cybersecurity services are one of the fastest-growing areas in technology. But because of this, it is a also a crowded market with everyone – from the big telecom providers, IT services providers, big audit firms, mid-sized technology providers down to the smaller cybersecurity experts – playing for this growing spend. It can, however, be argued that telecom providers have some of the deepest experience in cybersecurity and managing the risks – their networks are probably the most targeted by hackers and malicious actors. Telecom providers have massive teams just to stop threats from one or two countries. With all the work they do to protect their own network, they should have the skills to help protect the networks and assets of their clients.”

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alex Woerndle concurs, “Telecom providers are perfectly positioned to transition into managed security service providers (MSSPs).  They already have the experience in providing a range of managed services, the ability to scale to support clients and some ready-made expertise internally in their in-house cybersecurity capabilities.”

Vodafone’s Foray into Cybersecurity

Vodafone Cyber Enhanced focuses on selected cybersecurity areas – threat analysis and intelligence, managed firewall and managed security services. The global Ecosystm Cybersecurity study finds that the solutions that organisations will invest in most in 2020 are Security Operations (SecOps) & Incident Response (by a third of global organisations) and Threat Analysis & Intelligence (by 20% of global organisations).

Commenting on the areas Vodafone is focusing on, Woerndle says, “Threat analysis and intelligence is where a lot of established SecOps providers and MSSPs are really focusing now. Previously it was simply a matter of monitoring alerts and reporting. Businesses and in-house security teams are now seeking more proactive assistance in searching for threats, before they become attacks. The challenge they face is catching up – effectively jumping from just being another SecOps centre (SOC) monitoring and reporting alerts, to matching the more mature SOCs with proactive threat intelligence to help clients mitigate before an attack is launched. This takes time, as it needs maturity of the SOC and the team, and also data, which established providers have accrued plenty of, over an extended period. While a managed firewall is not really a new service, it makes some sense to couple it with other managed security services to deliver a broader program. Vodafone is absolutely targeting the areas that businesses are looking into presently.”

Woerndle adds, “MSSPs will be crucial to the security sector moving forward. There has been a rapid growth of vendor solutions creating a very confusing market for tech buyers. This is coupled with a  tight labour market for skilled people who can manage the tools. It is not surprising , therefore, that 86% of organisations across the world will look to engage with an MSSP when deploying a cybersecurity solution, according to Ecosystm research.”

Sheedy sees an opportunity for Vodafone to go global with their cybersecurity capabilities. “If Vodafone can compete with the bigger players (and perhaps partner with or complement the offerings of the smaller ones), then they should find a significant opportunity, especially within their larger clients – particularly as they move into the software-defined networking space. However, given the confusion around cybersecurity, they should expand their focus beyond larger enterprises to businesses over about 100 employees. As one of the largest global telecom providers, with one of the largest networks, they can be an important player in the cybersecurity space – growing the spend in their business clients. And while this is a UK play for now, one assumes that they will look to expand across their operating countries as Vodafone Cyber Enhanced gains traction.”

 

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Ecosystm Snapshot: Vodafone and Arm partner to drive Internet of Things deployment

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Vodafone and Arm announced a strategic agreement at MWC19 to work on simplifying IoT services and reduce the costs confronted by the organisations on the implementation of IoT.

The Vodafone-Arm agreement expands on the previous collaboration which was on integrated SIM (iSIM) technology, a system on chip(SOC) design which can be reprogrammed with respect to the requirements. The iSIM allows customers to remotely provision and manage IoT devices across the globe which proposes reduced complexities and offers significant cost reduction.

To carry on the existing relationships this agreement is expected to bring Vodafone’s IoT global platform and Arm’s IoT software services to offer organisations a world of connected systems. This characterises a major initiative enabling a wide ecosystem of manufacturers to tap into the potential of trillions of connected devices.

Speaking on the subject, Ecosystm’s Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner thinks that “this announcement will help customers who look to and need a cellular-based IoT solution. Traditionally, mobile devices require a physical process to change their SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card when there is a change of ownership or carrier, but in a world of trillions of connected devices, this is just not practical.”

Arm’s announcement of its iSIM is the latest in a series of announcements to resolve the size, cost, and scalability of SIM cards. SIM cards are critical for secure identity so the challenge has been to create a cost-effective IoT System On Chip (SOC) that has the SIM function embedded on it. Through its Kigen product family, Arm’s tech buyers will be able to build solutions on the latest cellular standards and specification suitable to run on 5G and backward compatible networks.

Vodafone’s customers will now be able to create a cellular-based IoT solution that can be continuously connected and deployed globally, giving them better investment protection and reduced operational costs. In addition, customers will have the choice of managing these devices through a ‘single pane of glass’ on either Vodafone’s IoT platform or Arm’s Pelion IoT Platform.

“Any time complexity is removed from an IT or mobile solution, customers respond by deploying and using that solution more” says Vernon. “ SoC-based solutions tend to have more functionality that allows for innovation, so we should expect to see an uptick in cellular-based IoT deployments”

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Does Vodafone and IBM’s Cognitive Connection Make IoT Sense?

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Recently IBM and Vodafone announced a new strategic commercial agreement, as a joint venture, to provide their clients with the ability to integrate multiple clouds that have a need to access emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, Edge Computing and Software Defined Networking. Under an eight-year engagement valued $550 million (€480 million), IBM will provide managed services to Vodafone Business’ cloud and hosting unit.

Businesses are becoming more and more challenged to run their operations and business processes in a seamless manner as data is distributed and managed across more and more clouds. Together, Vodafone Business and IBM aim to remove these complexities to support the basis of any digital transformation and enable a company to share data freely and securely across its organization.

On the surface, this announcement makes sense if you are a Vodafone business customer who wants to take the next step in a digital transformation journey. The convergence of multi-clouds has the ability for companies to enrich their own data management systems with external sources. With the purchase of Red Hat late in 2018, IBM now has the ability and credibility to offer that capability. However, as many IoT-based solutions create the data to fuel these cloud processes, IBM has not had a clear Edge Computing or network connectivity strategy. This is where Vodafone can help IBM connect the edge of the network to the enterprise systems. This announcement seems like a complimentary win-win situation for both sets of IBM and Vodafone customers.

Red Hat is undoubtedly one of the premier cloud management companies and IBM invested heavily in its multi-cloud connectivity assets. IBM is hoping that the deeper that Red Hat is involved in the multi-cloud connectivity market, the more it will pull through IBM’s high-value business services in cognitive computing and machine learning and other compute-intensive technologies.

However, this market is still shaking itself out and there are many other competitive offerings to Red Hat. There are startups such as RightScale and Morpheus who can offer up multi-cloud management. Alternatively, as a mature company, VMware competes head to head with Red Hat and has had a long-standing partnership with Vodafone. In particular, VMware and Vodafone have partnered in telco specific functions such as NFV and 5G.

To understand the importance of VMware in the midst of this announcement is to appreciate the end-to-end customer experience that VMware can bring to telco customers such as Vodafone. As 5G rolls out and NFV-based network slicing becomes a valuable onboarding differentiator VMware could offer its vCloud NFV solution to Vodafone’s customers. Vodafone’s customers could have access to the same multi-cloud services from VMware and not IBM while obtaining AI, cognitive and ML services available from the major public cloud providers (such as AWS, Google and Microsoft). VMware’s position at the edge of the network would, therefore, appear to leapfrog IBM’s position. Vodafone Business’ customers could bypass IBM and its cloud services strategy. At the end of the day, IBM could be left with only the managed services contract while missing out on analytics and cognitive business services.

To negate this scenario, IBM will have to lead more and more with Red Hat and be willing to downplay the cognitive and machine learning services. Business solutions in vertical markets such as agriculture are extremely price sensitive and customers will look closely at the cost of connectivity followed by the cost of data acquisition to enrich their business outcomes. We believe that if the cost to run data science and cognitive services are too expensive, then Vodafone customers will seek the same tools and services from other cloud service providers and not IBM.

Finally

Our advice to tech buyers who are in the midst of business transformation should consider how they fuel their decision-making engines for analytics, machine learning, and cognitive computing. Real-time processing and dissemination of business outcomes is one of the table stakes for a successful digital company. As a result of that, seamless end-to-end processing across a complex and distributed enterprise infrastructure is a challenge that needs to be overcome. Tech buyers should ask if IBM’s edge computing strategy and Vodafone’s connectivity are mature enough to funnel IoT-data generated smart data to a broad inter-cloud infrastructure.

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