By Duncan Stewart, Director of Research, Technology, Media & Telecommunications, Deloitte Canada, and Tim Bottke, Telecoms Sector Lead, Deloitte Germany
Post-COVID future scenarios telco operators
While it may be cliché to say that we are in unprecedented times, it’s still true – and it means that history is no guide. The combination of multi-wave pandemic and massive economic contraction has never happened before. In this situation, a wise approach is to create a range of possible scenarios and prepare to thrive in all of them. The goal is not to guess which of the four will happen, but to acknowledge uncertainty and try to anticipate all possibilities.
After interviewing over 30 internal telco experts in April of 2020, Deloitte’s Center for the Long View (CLV) combined the results with proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) analysis to create four widely different scenarios for the telco world of 2023, covering best to worst cases with two middle cases.
As of 20 October, our team has done over 20 deep-dive “labs” with telcos around the world and have come up with specific actions network operators can take now to thrive in all four scenarios: Thrive, Survive, Bitpipe and Cashcow.
As COVID-19 slows and the economy recovers, the shift towards digital may make telco services more valuable for consumers and businesses.
To be ready for this scenario, telcos must differentiate. They need to invest in each of research and development, mergers and acquisitions, and network infrastructure to capitalize on the tailwinds. They also need to play everywhere: B2C and B2B and IoT, urban and rural, fiber and 5G.
Being good enough at infrastructure isn’t good enough: winners need to be the fastest and offer the best coverage, indoors and out. Winners need to digitally transform themselves from operational support systems (OSS) to business support systems, and also use the power of real-time AI to optimize the customer journey. Finally, minimizing physical retail isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.
A very weak economy could see governments become more hands-on, supporting consumers and businesses and regulating industry dynamics, with forced mergers and even re-nationalization as possibilities.
To prepare, telcos need to be superstars at cost minimization. They need to grow market share to drive economies of scale, with a strong focus on urban mobile and fixed markets, with minimal potential for value-added services.
Operators need to have simple, standardized offerings (lots of bundles for retention) with low customer touch points and outsource whatever they can. Capabilities required include lean processes and tight budgeting, being able to work with both governments and competitors, and focusing on high cost efficiency across all customer channels.
Ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks could see high demand for telco services, but a weak economy could see low customer purchasing power and strict regulations on prices.
In this scenario, it’s all about service differentiation and cost efficiency. Telcos need to play in the B2B and B2C mass market, carry commodity bits over fixed and wireless networks and prioritize urban coverage. Providing value-added services will be niche at best, and only when little investment is needed. Winning operators will offer inexpensive and reliable service, built around standardized product offerings. Innovation is still needed: customer service will be automated through chatbots, voice assistants and robotic process automation (RPA).
Capabilities needed by telcos start with in-house automation expertise for the functions just mentioned, but also include cooperating with other telcos, lobbying governments for subsidies, and making their workforce as digital as possible, with recruiting or retraining as needed. Operators may also want to prepare for a potential NetCo & OpCo structure (a structural separation into two parts: one to design, build and operate the network infrastructure, the other to provide commercial service to customers) to optimize for network and retail business models.
Some economic recovery, combined with consumer and business awareness of the value that telcos bring, may allow for moderately increased prices.
If that happens, it’s all about the networks: winning operators need to invest in the best wire-line and wireless networks (urban and rural), but also the best human networks for customer service, both B2C and mass B2B. Unlike in the Bitpipe scenario, telcos will want to have modular or even customized product offerings, especially in B2B.
It’s not just offerings: the winning players will have active key account management, frequent customer contact to upsell or cross-sell services, and deep understanding of both mass and niche customer segments. Telcos won’t be able to go it alone and will want to collaborate with tech and industrial players to offer value-added services. Winning operators will want control over network layer and OSS to ensure quality and drive modernization.
In the 20 labs Deloitte has done with operators, most seem to think the Cashcow and Bitpipe scenarios are the most likely. They could be right, but the pandemic is not over yet – and the goal of scenario planning is to cover all the bases!
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