Telcos have 3 enduring assets. They might not be what you think. They’re almost definitely undervalued

Have you pondered what the greatest assets are for telcos with their current business models? We recently looked at their Fundamental telco differentiators but what about assets / strengths?

Some may cite factors such as network infrastructure, spectrum, intellectual property (IP) or employees (and I’ll always include OSS/BSS in this list naturally). These might all be assets, but I don’t necessarily equate these to enduring advantages (except for freehold spectrum rights).

This is probably quite subjective, but I take a slightly contrarian perspective and believe the telco industry’s greatest enduring assets are:

  1. Having the ability to build and maintain access networks in regional jurisdictions by knowing how to overcome localised challenges such as regulations, labour management / logistics and other local conditions. In some cases, these access networks represent a localised monopoly
  2. Having significant real-estate holdings (eg buildings, cable easements, towers, etc), often in valuable areas like CBDs
  3. Having a very large subscriber base that sufficiently trusts the carrier to be billed by them on a recurring basis

I also suspect these are undervalued by many, especially when compared with the initial cohort of network infrastructure, etc.

These are all interesting, but this post takes a closer look at asset #3 specifically and how it could be better leveraged.

At the moment, carriers monetise asset #3 by selling services to them. That’s the main revenue line. The value delivered to these customers is mostly limited to the supply of communications services – the transport of 1s and 0s.

The question I often ponder is whether carriers (and/or we, the OSS/BSS industry) could deliver additional value to these customers?

Working within the confines of data privacy regulations / practices, could the carrier leverage the power of their data science teams to offer value to their subscriber base that goes beyond simply transferring data? For example, could telco meta-data identify opportunities to act as a match-maker that connects otherwise unrelated supply-chain partners such as farmers, logistics companies, supermarkets and financial institutions in novel ways (eg data products, shared network products, application / content sharing, etc)? Could telcos help prospective partners unlock shared insights or arbitrage opportunities by connecting data sets that their subscribers would otherwise not be able to access?

It seems to me that telcos tend to be a bit insular in their data science experiments – that is to use AI / ML to optimise customer retention, customer service utilisation, operational efficiency, etc. It’s the “how do I make things better for ME?” perspective.

What if instead they took the “how do I make things better for YOU?” perspective with these experiments? For example, how can I help customers? Telcos have access to technological might that is the envy of most of their customer-base. Can telcos leverage that by thinking, “Do good for others that they are unable to do for themselves”?

Could we:

  • Help them find more customers (ie other subscribers in the telco’s customer database)
  • Help be a matchmaker that connects them with partners that they might otherwise not think to align with
  • Help solve their business problems by providing additional insights
  • Provide services that extend beyond traditional telco services

In their OSS/BSS stacks, telcos already have powerful tools for optimising businesses (eg CRMs, order management, anomaly detection, process automation, etc), but they’re always pointed inwards to help the telco manage their own business. What if these super-systems were pointed outwards? Could they help their customers optimise the operations of customer businesses?

What do you think? Do any of these ideas resonate? How do you think we can add more value to the ecosystem? How can we help telcos develop ways to add more value? In what ways can we do things differently? How do we extend beyond incremental, more-of-the-same, zero-sum thinking?

I read every comment and email that you send in, so I’d love to hear how you think differently.

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