There is good news and bad news in the global tier-one telco business. For service providers in some parts of Asia, the good news is that there are billions of prospects yet to be converted into customers, especially for mobile data services. Eventually, though, problems might lie ahead. 

Between 2009 and 2015, most telcos, perhaps as many as two thirds, experienced revenue growth. The bad news is that up to a third of tier-one telcos saw negative revenue growth, especially in Europe.

The issue is “why?” that pattern exists. One line of thinking is that continent-specific factors are at work (market fragmentation, heavy regulation, wholesale policies, lack of incentives for investment to create new products). Another line of thinking is that, as a “mature market,” Europe points to inevitable revenue erosion in all legacy services (fixed voice, mobile voice and data), as well as modest returns from relatively-new services such as internet access.

We will know a bit more over the next decade, if revenue growth begins to “go negative” across a broader set of geographies or countries. Asia, which now drives most of the global growth, has one singular advantage: lots of people to convert as customers of new internet access services. That also applies for Africa. Those two continents will be, on the whole, the last to see any revenue pressures from market maturation, though most companies will face vigorous competition.