Telecom 2.0
Business Today|July 26, 2020
TELECOM COMPANIES ARE BUILDING DIGITAL REVENUE STREAMS TO JUMP INTO THE GLOBAL FRAY
MANU KAUSHIK
Let’s just accept it. Telecom is no longer exciting, the way it used to be about 20 years ago, when mobile telephony was just picking up in India, and call rates were so high that only high net worth individuals and senior executives could afford them. Free incoming calls, which started in 2003, unleashed market potential the way Reliance Jio has changed the data market by bringing down the per-gigabyte cost to the dirt-cheap level.

If one were to divide the history of the telecom sector according to its landmark moments, the 1999 New Telecom Policy, the 2012 Supreme Court verdict in the 2G case, and the 2016 entry of Jio would stand out. Now, there’s another big trend underway that has the potential to change the face of telecom forever.

The makeover of pure-play telecom service providers into digital companies is here. At the center of this shift is the ongoing fight between telcos and OTT (over-the-top) players, the largely untapped potential of digital services in India, and the huge valuation upside of becoming a digital player.

All leading telcos have taken the plunge. Each is taking a different path to tap the trillion-dollar opportunity. As per the Ministry of Electronics & IT estimates, half the potential $1 trillion value in 2025 will come from digital ecosystems such as financial services, agriculture, healthcare, logistics, jobs/skills market and e-governance. “With the need for digitalization across industries growing rapidly, the telecom sector had to move from being a network provider to one that offers customised digital services,” says Karthikeyan Natarajan, President and COO at tech solutions firm Cyient.

EMERGING BUSINESS MODELS

Giving enterprise solutions. Jio has tied up with Microsoft to bring Azure cloud on its network targeting SMEs

Partnerships with industries such as healthcare, education, entertainment. Airtel is selling HDFC & Bharti AXA insurance plans Vodafone Idea has launched a business continuity plan to ensure its enterprise customers do not face disruption in services

Leveraging cloud, AI, automation, and blockchain. Jio bought Haptik last year to challenge Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in the IoT market

As connected devices and drones pick up, and automated cars become reality, all telcos are building capabilities to serve these large markets.

The Next Big Leap

For long, telcos were providing the connectivity layer, and anybody could use that layer to provide services. Despite investing heavily in building networks, they missed the chance to run their own content. As a result, they were compared to infrastructure companies – with comparable valuations – offering dumb pipes. Content companies such as YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook, which used telcos’ networks, made billions of dollars using the latter’s backbone. “The digitisation-led disruption is threatening for telcos as it puts their capex under pressure. Telcos have to deal with competition from tech firms like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix and Apple to redefine their operational landscape,” says a telecom consultant.

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