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超越5G,移动世界寻求自我重塑

路透社 2017年02月28日

数十年来,电信公司一直希望打破价格下降的趋势和消费者监管的束缚,在本地市场发展互联网服务,结果却总是在突然崛起的新型全球公司面前落败,不免有沦为管道运营商的趋势。面对这种困境,他们都准备将自己改造成一家互联网企业,以摆脱电信行业低增长的束缚,并借助5G技术来自我改造。

为了逃离价格下降和严格监管的循环,从Vimpelcom到西班牙电信(Telefonica),各大电信运营商都准备将自己改造成一家互联网企业,以摆脱电信行业低增长的束缚。

本周在巴塞罗那召开的世界移动通信大会(Mobile World Congress)上,各大电信公司将在不同程度上认同这样一种观点:数十年来,基于出售数以百万计的数据包的可预测商业模式,正在失去增长动力。

在光鲜亮丽的新手机和围绕网络技术实现的激烈争论背后,此次欧洲最大的年度技术大会上,我们将会看到业内领先的电信公司纷纷开始影响深远的业务变革。

西班牙电信将推出其称为“第4平台”的广泛计划,目的是帮助消费者和企业客户加强对数据的控制,而不是将这项业务拱手让给谷歌(Google)、Facebook和亚马逊(Amazon)等网络巨头。

俄罗斯及新兴市场电信运营商Vimpelcom将打破电信业务的许多规则,将自身重新塑造为一家科技公司,进入快速增长的信息应用领域。

美国电信业巨头美国电话电报公司(AT&T)为实现业务多元化,已经完成了一系列大规模交易,包括以670亿美元收购Direct TV,其以1,100亿美元收购时代华纳(Time Warner)的交易也在等待批准。

安理律师事务所(Allen & Overy)全球电信业务负责人汤姆·勒文律师表示:“电信运营商所面临的监管与定价压力,迫使他们不得不转向相近领域,寻找新的收入和利润来源。”

“但对于具体做法,业内并没有达成共识。”

另外,电信行业在结构上能否应对巨大的变革,也是一个未知数。数十年来,电信公司一直希望打破消费者监管的束缚,在本地市场发展互联网服务,结果却总是在突然崛起的新型全球公司面前落败。

俄罗斯实验室

这些巨变出现的时机,恰逢电信公司准备提供新的网络。新网络不仅可以满足手机上加速增长的数据使用,还能够满足汽车、工厂、办公室甚至农田里的数据需求。新一代5G网络将为电信公司提供新的业务选择,但同时也会面临计算机、互联网以及其他拥有数字计划的行业参与者日益激烈的竞争。

在俄罗斯,由于传统电信业务的压力、西方的经济制裁,以及政府规定导致硅谷巨头不得不化身为规模更小的本地企业,为企业的联合创造了空间,因此对于希望改造成互联网市场参与者的电信公司来说,俄罗斯成为了世界上最先进的实验室。

俄罗斯第三大电信运营商Vimpelcom,正在对业务进行自上而下的大规模改革,同时准备加大在流媒体音乐和在线出租车服务等领域的互联网合作。此外,公司还将孟加拉国、阿尔及利亚等新兴市场作为重点,该公司服务的手机用户数量排在世界第六位。

俄罗斯第二大网络提供商Megafon收购了姊妹公司Mail.ru的控股股份——该笔交易与威瑞森(Verizon)收购Facebook的作用异曲同工。公司还计划提供社交媒体网站VKontakte的最新移动版本。Mail.ru是俄罗斯重量级的互联网公司。

到目前为止,俄罗斯最大的电信公司MTS尚没有动作,但公司高管暗示,他们也认为互联网服务才是公司未来的根本所在。

与此同时,西班牙电信的一位资深人士透露,公司认为其“第4平台”战略,能够促进增长,使公司更积极地应对全球互联网巨头的竞争,同时也是现有业务的一次合理进化。

这位知情人士称,该战略的基础是公司长期以来对通信服务的投资,在欧洲和拉丁美洲广泛的地理覆盖,以及除了基本通信连接外提供有利可图的高级服务的努力,而且并不需要规模庞大的额外投资。

“现在是该向‘第4平台’转变的时候了,即数据时代。这是西班牙电信(新)的股权故事。”他提到了公司为提高利润率所做的努力,如支持客户分析海量数据,提高业务的智能化水平等。

其他电信公司采取的措施较为保守。

另外一家新兴市场运营商挪威电信(Telenor)涉足了数据分析领域,而沃达丰(Vodafone)通过2014年收购Cobra Automotive,正在向工业互联网和联网汽车应用等新兴领域进军。

电信公司是否具备互联网企业的DNA?

许多电信公司并不看好同行所采取的部分侵略性的措施,尤其是关于基于客户数据商业化的商业模式。

欧洲收入最高的电信运营商德国电信(Deutsche Telekom)认为,这种商业模式在极其注重隐私的德国是行不通的。相反,公司将中心放在了新兴的互联工业领域和云计算。

德国电信的主要增长策略可能是留住美国市场。公司在美国通过提供无限制数据套餐和国际漫游数据包,引领了移动行业的改革。通过积极营销,T-Mobile已经从中获益,并让竞争对手们付出了代价,目前其规模已经接近德国电信的核心德国业务。

而法国维旺迪(Vivendi)在过去十年间开始整合电信与传媒资产时的不幸遭遇,则为押注电信公司改造的投资者敲响了警钟。

对于习惯于可预测现金流和稳定监管界限的电信运营商来说,主要问题可能出在文化方面:多数公司并没有进行这类激烈转型的勇气。

勒文表示:“解决如何在不降低用户可靠性预期的情况下让企业家的DNA发挥作用,以及确认机构股东的财务预期等,并不是一项简单的任务。”勒文所指的是健康的股息发放,这依旧是电信行业吸引投资者的主要因素之一。(财富中文网)

译者:刘进龙/汪皓

Seeking to escape a cycle of falling prices and tight regulation, big telecom operators from Vimpelcom to Telefonica are set to reinvent themselves as Internet players to escape the industry's straitjacket of low growth.

This week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will feature phone companies in various stages of acceptance that the industry's predictable, decades-old business model based on selling data packages by the millions is running out of steam.

Beneath the facade of shiny new phones and dusty debates over network technical implementations, Europe's largest annual technology fair will see top phone companies parading far-reaching business makeovers.

Spain's Telefonica is set to introduce a broad plan it calls the "4th Platform" to help both consumer and business customers keep greater control over their data rather than giving it away to web giants Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Russian and emerging markets operator Vimpelcom is tearing up many parts of the telecom rule book to remake itself as a tech player in the fast-growing world of messaging apps.

U.S. telecom giant AT&T has inked a series of huge deals to diversify by acquiring Direct TV for $67 billion and is awaiting approval to buy Time Warner for another $110 billion.

"Regulatory and pricing pressure on telecom operators forces them to look to adjacent areas for new sources of revenue and margins," said attorney Tom Levine, head of Allen & Overy's global telecoms practice.

"There isn't a consensus on how to do this."

It's also an open question whether the industry is structurally capable of big change. Telcos have dreamed for decades of breaking free of the shackles of consumer regulation and branching out into Internet services in their local markets, only to be consistently beaten by newer, global upstarts.

RUSSIAN LABORATORY

These dramatic changes come as telcos brace to offer new networks ready to handle not just spiraling data use on phones but in cars, in factories and offices and even crop fields. The new generation of 5G networks will provide them new business options but also spells mounting competition from computer, Internet, and industrial players with digital plans of their own.

Russia has emerged as the world's most advanced laboratory for telecom companies seeking to reinvent themselves as Internet players, as classic telecom business pressures, Western economic sanctions and government rules that reduce Silicon Valley giants to small local players create space to combine forces.

Vimpelcom, Russia's No.3 operator, has undertaken a top-to-bottom overhaul of its business while gearing up for deeper Internet partnerships with the likes of streaming music and online taxi services. The company also focuses on emerging markets from Bangladesh to Algeria and is the world's sixth largest operator in terms of number of mobile customers served.

Megafon, the No. 2 network provider, has acquired control of sister company Mail.ru, a major Russian Internet player—the Russian equivalent of Verizon buying Facebook—and plans to offer a new mobile version of social media site VKontakte.

Top Russian telecoms player MTS is so far sitting on the sidelines, but its executives have signaled they too believe their long-run future lies in Internet services.

Meanwhile, Telefonica sees its "4th Platform" strategy as a way to stoke faster growth and compete aggressively with globally dominant Internet players while being a logical evolution of existing businesses, a senior company source said.

The strategy builds on its long-standing investments in communications services, its broad geographic reach across Europe and Latin America and efforts to offer advanced money-making services on top of basic communication connections, but does not require making huge new investments, the source said.

"Now is the turn of the fourth platform: the data. That is Telefonica's (new) equity story," the source said of its bid to boost margins by, for example, enabling customers to analyze mountains of data to make their own businesses run smarter.

Other phone companies are taking more modest steps.

Norway's Telenor, another emerging markets operator, has pushed into data analytics, while Vodafone is making inroads in new industrial Internet and connected car applications, through its 2014 acquisition of Cobra Automotive.

DO THEY HAVE THE DNA?

Still, many telecom operators take a dim view of some of the aggressive moves being made by these peers, especially when it comes to business models based on commercializing customer data.

Deutsche Telekom, Europe's largest telecom operator by revenue, sees this as no-go territory in privacy-conscious Germany. Instead, it is focused on making strides into new connected industrial arenas and cloud computing.

Telekom's main growth story is likely to remain the United States where it revolutionized the mobile industry by offering unlimited data plans and international roaming packages. Using aggressive marketing, T-Mobile has gained at the expense of rivals, making it nearly as big Telekom's core German business.

France's Vivendi, which embarked on a grand misadventure last decade to combine telecom and media assets, offers a cautionary tale for investors betting on these new reinvention stories.

For telecom operators used to predictable cash flows and firm regulatory boundaries, the main issue may be cultural: Most just don't have the stomach for such drastic transformation.

"Working out how to bring in that entrepreneurial DNA, without disappointing users' expectations of reliability, and recognizing the financial expectations of institutional shareholders, is not easy," Levine said of healthy dividend payouts which remain the industry's main draw to investors.

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