At the risk of seemingly downplaying the danger of declining voice and text messaging revenues globally, that is the lesser problem global telcos face. The trend is real. Those trends are also the best argument one could make for mobile operators “gambling” on 5G. If the legacy buisness is going away, and 5G provides a platform for creating big new industries and revenues, then the gamble must be taken.
On a global basis, over-the-top (OTT ) voice and text messaging alternatives displaced more than $84 billion in 2016. In 2017, another 23 percent erosion will happen, representing nearly $104 billion, according to Juniper Research.
Telcos globally might have lost about 19 percent of their text messaging revenues to over-the-top (OTT) alternatives between 2013 and 2015, according to Juniper Research.
In Spain, for example, text message volume peaked as early as 2009, at 9.6 billion messages. By 2015, less than 2.3 billion messages were sent.
In the Netherlands, KPN experienced a 60 percent decline in average text message volume between 2011 and 2013. Similar declines have also been reported in South Korea following the widespread adoption of KakaoTalk, while similar trends have been seen in China.
Though it clearly matters that global service providers are losing voice and text messaging revenue, the bigger question is what suppliers do about that situation. One proven strategy is simply to harvest legacy revenues as long as possible, at the highest rate possible, while making other plans.
In the near term, in developing nations, mobile data is the immediate solution. In developed markets, where mobile data adoption already is robust, acquisitions are the near term solution, while the long term solutions involve creating big new markets in the internet of things and machine-to-machine industries.
Those, and other initiatives are likely to be jarring in some cases. As with the move by Mars from packaged goods into pet services, the range of applications and services businesses telcos and other internet service providers will seek to own and offer will be controversial.
At first glance, it might seem incongruous that Mars, a company perhaps best known for candy brands, is big in the pet services business.
But Mars owns pet food brands Pedigree, Iams and Nutro. Mars also owns the biggest U.S. veterinary operation in Banfield Pet Hospitals. Mars also owns the BluePearl emergency and specialty clinics, and also is buying VCA, the operator of veterinary offices. That represents a diversification away from consumer packaged goods and towards services.
Juniper Research suggests big data and analytics packages for both consumer and IoT (Internet of Things) devices will be fruitful. Juniper also suggests carrier billing, mobile money and mobile identity services will drive new opportunities.
Some of us might argue that even if such initiatives develop, they will be too small to fundamentally reorient service provider revenue streams. Core telecom service revenues in 2016 were about $1.93 trillion. Smaller service providers might have earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation of less than one percent. Tier-one carriers might have EBITDA of as much as 15 percent. So 15 percent of $1.93 trillion is about $285 billion, less than the capital investment carriers will make of about $350 billion.
At the revenue level, replacing lost voice and messaging revenues requires annual new revenues in the range of $100 billion. That might be tough to achieve on the strength of billing services, mobile money and analytics services.