Vumatel/Fibrehoods deal underlines the FTTH Economics of Scale Factor


Economics of scale is a critical success factor for open access fibre networks. Achieving scale gives open access network providers a strong competitive advantage. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is a critical tool used by fibre network operators in achieving scale. The Vumatel acquisition of Fibrehoods represents the latest M&A deal in the open access fibre market. This deal continues the fibre M&A trend seen in 2016.

Vumatel buys Fibrehoods

In 2014, Vumatel entered the Fibre To The Home (FTTH) market. While there were existing fibre network operators, the entry of Vumatel kick started the entry of many new operators to the market. This in turn triggered a rapid fibre land grab. By March 2016, we estimate there were 196 thousand houses passed. Note this number excludes VDSL subscribers, as in some markets VDSL, who use FTTC, are included in the reported FTTH numbers. The figure below shows the rapid growth in FTTH houses passed over the last two years.

FFTH Market Oct 2016

Scale is critical for an open access fibre network operator

Fibre network scale is a critical success factor for an open access network provider, with scale being measured by the size of its FTTH network. The network operator’s expanding network footprint drives sales momentum among retail service providers using its network. In effect, the open access network operator offers more opportunities for the retail service providers to sell retail services.
The key benefit is that FTTH scale also translates into economic scale in that the operators balance sheet grows stronger. Economic scale means that the operator can access cheaper capital with better terms than smaller operators. This is a strategic competitive advantage as building out FTTH networks is a capital-intensive business.

Open access operators can gain scale through a combination of a build and/or buy strategy:

  • Build strategy: In terms of building out FTTH networks, we foresee a total of R12 billion being invested in open access FTTH networks over the next three to four years. This estimate is based on market announcements and our assessment of capital required to deploy the announced fibre networks. This strategy works well when an operator deploys fibre in areas where there is no existing fibre network to compete against.
  • Buy strategy: We have seen the buy strategy exercised over the past two years, with a significant ramp-up in 2016 MA activity.

M&A is part of the fibre network strategy

“M&A is a key tool used by fibre network operators to expand their networks”

Fibre network operators typically start out as niche operators, who focus on a specific high-income geographical residential area. As the operator gains market traction, it seeks new areas to deploy fibre thus driving the scale of its business.
In doing so, it faces two challenges: (1) funding the network expansion, and/or (2) deploying fibre in an area where there is an existing competing network.

  • Funding: Network operators either sell equity or take on long term debt to fund network expansion. We have seen both options exercised in South Africa. For example, Investec acquired an equity stake in Vumatel and Rainbow Capital acquired an equity stake in Metrofibre Networx.
  • Competitive: The operator can choose to (1) buy the existing network operator, (2) reach a network sharing agreement, or (3) decide to not enter that geographical market. Typically, we see options (1) and (3) being taken. Network sharing and co-build strategies are seen on long-haul fibre routes.

In SA, we have yet to see a new FTTH entrant build FTTH infrastructure in areas where another new entrant has already built out their FTTH network. We have seen new entrants build-out in competition to Telkom’s DSL network. Part of the reason is that there are enough attractive geographic areas for new entrants to choose from. This has led to an explosion in new FTTH players over the last two years that in turn has resulted in a fibre land grab.

There are a limited number of early win attractive areas wherein to deploy fibre. To gain scale and to enter these attractive markets means that the SA fibre operators must move into the M&A phase, and the market has done just that.

The following table (as at 25 Oct 2016) lists the M&A activity in the FTTH market. As can be seen, we have moved aggressively into an M&A phase. Note that the table excludes the establishment of fibre network operators and only focuses on M&A.

FTTH M&A Deals

Source: Company press releases 2015 to 2016, the Date column represents the year in which the deal was completed. It is not the deal announcement date. The Not Complete comment implies that the deal is still awaiting final regulatory/competition approval.

Here are noteworthy fibre deals that were terminated:

  • Vodacom offered to buy Neotel, the deal was terminated in Q1 2016 given the regulatory hurdles that the deal encountered.

The table shows that the year 2016 will be remembered as the year that FTTH M&A commenced.

The FTTH M&A activity seen in SA is reflective of global trends. Global market observations show that consolidation is a natural part of the FTTH market. Examples of such country markets are the UK and USA.

Fibre Network M&A Outlook

Long term sustainability in the open access FTTH network market is defined by one key word “scale”. Scale is generated through network expansion. Operators drive scale through a combination of a build/buy strategy. To date, we see little evidence of operators building competitive fibre networks in the same geographical area.

Furthermore, the South African National Integrated ICT Policy White paper (Oct 2016) promotes open access networks with the objective of limiting duplicate infrastructure build. We therefore expect that M&A will continue to be an important tool to grow network scale. In addition, we expect that more private capital will be attracted to the fibre market.

In 2017 and 2018, we expect further consolidation in the FTTH market. Small open access network operators, who cannot generate enough scale, will ultimately close or be acquired.

The M&A fibre market theme for network operators will be: buy or be bought.

Blue Label Telecoms – Cell C Deal Update

In October 2016, Blue Label Telecoms announced that it had increased its offer to R5.5 bn for 45% equity in Cell C. In December 2015, the company offered R4 bn for 30% equity. The new offer does not change the fundamentals of the refinancing deal. We expect that the new deal will not bring any new added benefit to Cell C.

October 2016 Announcement

 In a SENS note (5/10/2016), Blue Label Telecoms announced that it had increased its proposed equity purchase in Cell C, and now offers to buy 45% for R5.5 billion. The acquisition will be made through its wholly owned subsidiary The Prepaid Company Proprietary Limited (“TPC”).  The R5.5 billion will be made up from the following cash sources:

  • R2.0 billion via a vendor consideration placement with NET1 UEPS Technologies Inc, through its South African subsidiary Net1 Applied Technologies South Africa Proprietary Limited, at a price of R16.96 per share, which represents a 10% discount to the 30 business day weighted average traded price; and
  • R3.5 billion from available cash and funding facilities.

New Refinancing Structure

Under the new deal, the equity structure will look as follows:

  • the subscription by TPC (The Prepaid Company Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 45% of Cell C’s total issued share capital for a subscription consideration of R5.5 billion;
  • the subscription by MS10 (senior management of Cell C) for shares comprising 10% of Cell C’s total issued share capital;
  • the subscription by MS15 (Albanta Trading 109 Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 15% of Cell C’s total issued share capital; and
  • the subscription by 3C (3C Telecommunications Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 30% of Cell C’s total issued share capital, for a subscription consideration equal to an amount which will result in Cell C’s net borrowings being reduced to a maximum of R8.0 billion at the time of receipt by Cell C of the respective subscription considerations.

In the December 2015 deal announcement, Cell C staff were going to buy 29.42% equity, split in two tranches of 11.77% and 17.65%. Under the current deal, we assume that MS10 and MS15 refer to these two tranches of equity purchases for the Cell C Staff. The Cell staff will now own 25% equity in the operator.

Similarly, according to the December deal announcement, 3C was going to retain 35% equity. Under the new deal announcement, 3C will only retain 30% equity in Cell C.

The following diagram sets out the proposed new shareholding of Cell C:

Blue Label Telecoms - Cell C - October 2016.jpg

Source: Blue Label Telecoms SENS 5/10/2016

Deal impact on Cell C

This deal is about refinancing Cell C, reducing its long term borrowings to a maximum of R8 billion, while providing a strategy for the 3C Telecoms shareholders to reduce their risk and exposure through Cell C. The deal offers the opportunity for Cell C management and staff to participate at an equity level, while it provides Blue Label Telecoms an investment opportunity in an industry they understand.

The deal will improve Cell C’s profit after tax (PAT) margin by reducing interest payments. However, it will have no significant impact on the operator’s operational performance. The deal gives Cell C better access to future funding through Blue Label Telecoms.

Deal impact on the market

We don’t expect the deal to radically change Cell C’s strategy. Cell C has already embarked on an aggressive subscriber acquisition strategy.

The challenge for Cell C is that it has not translated its successful subscriber acquisition into revenue market share. Cell C has grown its market share, but its share of the mobile revenue has not grown in proportion to its subscriber growth.

Over the coming year, we expect Cell C to focus on growing its revenue market share by attracting the higher value customers to its network. Cell C is using new product innovation and pricing to draw in high value customers.

Broadband Infraco – Treading water

In summary, Broadband Infraco (BBI), a wholesale telecommunications operator, is in a concerning financial position. Failure by BBI to grow its revenue, outside of the top four customers, coupled with its current net burn rate (operating costs less revenue), will most likely see the operator run out of cash to fund its operations by March 2017. Should this happen, the government will be forced to reconsider its strategy regarding BBI. Unpacking the latest Broadband Infraco report shows that it’s key challenge remains it’s poor financial position.

On the 23rd August 2016, BBI presented its FY2017 Q1 report to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services. This note presents a brief review of the operator’s financial outlook.

Broadband Infraco Revenue: FY2016 Results and FY2017 Forecast

The following chart and table presents BBI’s historical and forecast revenue:

Broadband Infraco - Pic 1

Source: Broadband Infraco Annual Reports (FY2012 to FY2015), FY2017 Q1 Performance Report submitted to the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services

Historically, BBI has benefited from South African government support. It concluded a multi-year contract with SITA (the State IT Agency) and sold 70% of the international submarine capacity (on WACS), that it had purchased, to the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Analysis of the presented FY2016 information shows the following:

  • BBI earned 90% of its FY2016 revenue from four customers: Cell C, Neotel, SITA, WACS (DST, the sale of the international submarine capacity).
  • SITA is BBI’s single largest customer, who accounted for 33% of the revenue.
  • The combined SA government revenue, DST and SITA, accounted for 43% of this revenue.

Analysis of the forecast FY2017 revenue information shows the following:

  • SITA will remain BBI’s single largest customer, representing 27% of the forecast FY2017 revenue.
  • BBI plans to significantly grow the revenue earned from the rest of its customer base (and from new customers) by 219%, from R47 to R150 million.
  • BBI will remain dependent of the top four customers, given that the operator forecasts to earn 81% of its future revenue from this group. On paper, BBI’s revenue is at risk, given the high revenue concentration in the top four customers. However, it is unlikely that the revenue from this group is under threat. If there was any risk, it would arise from the pending sale of Neotel to Liquid Telecom. Following the completion of this sale, Neotel’s spend with BBI will likely decline.

The BBI challenge is its financial position. The following charts show the historical and forecast EBITDA margin and retained earnings trends:

Broadband Infraco - Pic 2

Source: Broadband Infraco Annual Reports (FY2012 to FY2015), FY2017 Q1 Performance Report submitted to the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services

  • By March 2017, BBI expects its accumulated loss (or negative retail earnings) to surpass R1 billion.
  • The 7% EBITDA margin was achieved through a combination of revenue growth and cost reduction. BBI plans to continue these initiatives in FY2017.

So what are Broadband Infraco’s Strategic Initiatives?

A study of the top ten strategic risks, that BBI has presented in its FY2017 Q1 report, provides some insights into the company’s strategic intentions. The risks associated with the issues raised in this post are presented here (not all the risks are presented):

Risk #1 – Likelihood not to continue as a going concern – actions taken:

(a) Continue with key focus and drive on sales by all executives and KAMS, and (b) Enter into long term tenure with customers
(a) Continue cost optimisation of Cost of Sales and Operational costs – by renegotiating fibre maintenance and leases with the suppliers, (b) Continue with cash management initiatives, through daily bank reconciliations and working capital management
(a) Continue with renewed intensity to source funding from commercial banks, developmental institutions and specific vendors

Risk #6 – Difficulty to raise funds – actions taken:

Continue interactions with suppliers, commercial banks and developmental institutions to source funding for working capital, ring-fenced projects and selective maintenance projects.
Continue with renewed intensity to source funding from commercial banks, developmental institutions and specific vendors.

Risk #7 – Damage to the reputation of Broadband Infraco – actions taken:

Pro-active relationships are being put in place with IT Web, Tech Central, Money Web and Business Day to source inputs from BBI before publication.
Pro-active integrated PR & Marketing strategy to be activated to convey BBI‘s positive success stories.
High brand visibility is being maintained through all stakeholder – related events and programmes.

These actions show that BBI is embarking upon a reputation management campaign to ensure that the market does not perceive BBI as a supply risk in its capacity as a supplier.

Broadband Infraco Financial Challenge – Revenue and Net Burn Rate

BBI’s FY2017 revenue forecast is premised on growing the revenue contribution from customers, other than the top four, by 219%. Failure to grow the customer base will see further pressure placed on BBI’s ability to fund its operations and invest in network capex. Failure to invest will result in the operator becoming more constrained in its ability to generate new revenue.

The inability to invest will result in the operator losing the opportunity to win new customers. Furthermore, the inability to fund replacement capex will see the BBI network deteriorate, leading to poor service delivery. This in turn will cause customers to move away from BBI.

BBI will require financial assistance within this year from the government to continue as a going concern if it (1) fails to grow revenue, outside of its top four customers, and/or (2) is unable to reduce its burn rate.

Overall, Broadband Infraco operates in a competitive market where the slightest slip-up results in lost business. Quite likely, the SA government will need to review its plans regarding this operator.

The current FY2017 financial forecast sees this company treading water.

In closing, what are the SA Government options?

The strategic options that the SA government could consider, are presented in the following table:

Broadband Infraco - Pic 3

As shown, the SA government has a key decision to make over the coming year. What to do with Broadband Infraco!

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The Role of WiFi and Mobile Broadband

The WiFi relationships uncovered through preliminary analysis would suggest that mobile subscriber WiFi usage is far more prevalent than may at first appear. In the higher income countries, the greater use of WiFi by mobile subscribers would indicate that their per unit cost of broadband would be lower than that of their counterparts residing in lower income countries.


In this post, we uncover relationships between mobile broadband, WiFi usage and fixed broadband adoption.

The information used in this analysis is sourced from OpenSignal (with permission), International Telecommunications Union (ITU, fixed broadband household penetration) and the World Bank (GDP per Capita, PPP). Specifically the data used in this post are taken from the following sources:

  • Global State of Mobile Networks (August 2016) Report, OpenSignal
  • 2015 ICT Statistics, ITU
  • World DataBank, dataset from World Bank

We typically use this type of analysis to draw inferences about market behaviour. They provide good departure points for robust discussion about what market factors drive consumer behaviour.

Fixed Broadband Household Penetration (2015) vs. GDP per Capita (2015)

This chart shows the country adoption of fixed broadband per household versus the GDP per Capita (PPP).

Over the years, we have seen this classical plot presented where we have explored the relationship between GDP per Capita (as a proxy for income) and the various telecommunications indicators. While we can raise various arguments for and against this type of a plot, it nevertheless does provide an indication of whether your country is inline, above or below your peer countries.

The Role of WiFi - Pic 1

Source: ITU 2015 Indicators, World Bank 2015 GDP per Capita (PPP), Africa Analysis, data plotted for the 93 countries presented in the OpenSignal report

Fixed Broadband Household Penetration vs. Average 3G/LTE Speed

The graphic shows the plot of the fixed broadband household penetration and the average 3G/LTE speeds.

The Role of WiFi - Pic 2

Source: Africa Analysis, OpenSignal (2016, data plotted for the 93 countries presented in the OpenSignal report), ITU 2015 Indicators

While there is some data scatter, we can make some interesting observations:

The higher the fixed broadband penetration, the higher the 3G/LTE speeds. The trend suggests that in the more broadband abundant markets, mobile operators have needed to increase the average speeds in order to compete against their fixed broadband counterparts.

In countries with lower fixed broadband penetration, the following reasons can be put forward to explain the observations:

  • Mobile operators are not under strong competitive pressure to increase the average 3G/LTE speeds. Perhaps mobile operators believe that consumers have very little broadband choice and, therefore, there is less pressure on the mobile operators to invest in their networks.
  • There is a lack of spectrum for LTE, thus mobile operators are limited to 3G.
  • In developing markets, where the mobile operators are deploying 3G, they may have the licence requirement to achieve a certain population coverage, and therefore, focus on extending reach before focusing on increasing the capacity to offer higher 3G/LTE speeds.

Fixed Broadband Household Penetration vs. Time Spent on WiFi

Intuitively, it makes sense that as the country’s fixed broadband penetration rises, so does the time spent by mobile subscribers on using WiFi.

The Role of WiFi - Pic 3

Source: Africa Analysis, ITU 2015 Indicators, OpenSignal (2016, data plotted for the 93 countries presented in the OpenSignal report)

Given that there is some data scatter, we can still make some interesting observations:

  • In the higher fixed broadband markets, more mobile subscribers will have access to WiFi at their homes, thus they would switch from mobile to fixed broadband when they are at home.
  • In addition, the availability of WiFi is driven by the greater availability of fixed broadband to serve as backhaul to the WiFi sites. Thus, we see the rise of more public WiFi sites.
    This observation can serve as a strong motivator for decisive mobile operator WiFi strategy.
  • At a country level, we would put forward that the greater use of WiFi will, in general, lower your cost of broadband access as WiFi is either used at rates ranging from no charge to at most price parity with fixed broadband.

This trend shows that as fixed broadband is deployed, mobile operators will experience more competition.

GDP per Capita vs. Average 3G/LTE Speed (Mbps)

The plot of GDP per Capita vs average 3G/LTE speed shows that the average speed increases as the country’s GDP per Capita increases.

The Role of WiFi - Pic 4

Source: Africa Analysis, ITU 2015 Indicators, OpenSignal (2016, data plotted for the 93 countries presented in the OpenSignal report ), World Bank (2015)

While there is some data scatter, we can make some interesting observations:

  • There is a wider spread of data points for the higher GDP per Capita (PPP) countries. Inspection of the data shows that there are fewer higher GDP per Capita countries where the average 3G/LTE speed was measured on the low side. Rather, these countries would be deemed to be poorly performing.
  • In the lower income countries, under GDP per Capita of USD20,000 (PPP), we can see a much less scattered and, more likely, a stronger relationship between GDP per Capita and the 3G/LTE average speed. This observation can be ascribed to various factors, but what it does show is that these countries are placed at a strategic competitive disadvantage regarding strategic capabilities to grow the country. This is based on the observation that broadband is critical to a country’s development.

In Summary

Analysis of the OpenSignal data does highlight interesting subscriber behaviour. When this data is combined with other 3rd party data (ITU and World Bank), we uncover interesting relationships.

  • In higher fixed broadband countries, mobile operators offer higher average 3G/LTE speeds. This is most likely driven by the need to compete against the higher fixed broadband speeds.
  • In the high income countries (as measured by GDP per Capita), subscribers have more broadband choice (mobile and fixed) regarding speed and availability. There is wider availability of good quality WiFi networks, both in and outside of the home. Therefore, subscribers spend more time on WiFi.

These relationships would suggest that WiFi usage is far more important than operators may want to admit to. The data does suggest that a more clearly articulated and executed WiFi strategy is called for.


OpenSignal is the leading source of insight into the coverage and performance of Mobile Operators worldwide. OpenSignal data is directly measured from consumer devices as opposed to traditional methods of simulating or approximating mobile experience. With over 15M downloads, the OpenSignal app represents the largest crowdsourced measurement of Mobile Networks. Operators across the globe use OpenSignal data for competitor benchmarking, network spend optimization, understanding true customer experience and more. OpenSignal also works with regulators and analysts globally and is backed by top tier investors including Qualcomm, Inc.


Ruling imposed on the MTN / Smart Village acquisition

The MTN acquisition of Smart Village led to an interesting competition condition imposed by the Competition Commission – namely that MTN needed to introduce an open access model for Smart Village. The ruling does raise an interesting question about access to telecommunications infrastructure in gated communities. This note explores the Competition Commission ruling, looks at the issue of competition in gated communities, and considers possible future operator strategies.

The Challenge of Consumer Choice in Gated Communities

Consumer choice can be completely eliminated in gated communities through the establishment of a monopoly provider in these communities. These localised pockets of monopoly come into existence either through the home owners’ association providing an exclusive mandate to an infrastructure provider or by the behaviour of the telecommunications infrastructure provider. The creation of such monopolies results in the gated community consumers being denied choice. Furthermore, the MTN acquisition of Smart Village highlighted this competition issue.

What is the Competition Commission Ruling?

The following text is extracted from the Competition Commission news letter dated July 2016.

On 29 January 2016, the Competition Commission approved with conditions a merger whereby Mobile Telephone Networks (Pty) Ltd (“MTN”) acquired Smart Village (Pty) Ltd (“Smart Village”). MTN is a global communications partner and cellular network operator. Smart Village is mainly active in providing fixed line fibre broadband access to the residential market.

The merger presented a horizontal overlap in relation to the provision of fixed-line broadband fibre optic access network as both parties deploy fibre in gated residential estates. Both parties also operate as Internet Service Providers and offer internet connectivity services to residential estates where fibre is deployed. The Commission found that each gated residential estate constitutes a distinct separate geographic market as gated residential estates generally do not permit the duplication of fibre infrastructure in the respective gated estates. In that regard, there was no geographic overlap arising in the assessed markets. Smart Village holds 100% of the market in each of the gated residential estates wherein it has laid the fibre, thus the merged entity would have monopoly power over each of the gated residential estates.

The Commission found that the vertical relationships arising from the merger would result in a substantial lessening and prevention of competition. The merged entity would acquire a position that would allow it the ability to exercise market power. This could be exercised through foreclosure strategies over its fibre infrastructure in the gated residential estates. In addition, the Commission found that the merged entity would have the incentives to do so as MTN is also able and intends to expand its downstream services offerings in the gated residential estates. Such foreclosure conduct would ultimately harm consumers in those estates where such conduct would be perpetuated and prices are unlikely to decline when there are no viable competitive choices. MTN would also be in a prime position to leverage market power on its fibre into downstream services such as internet connectivity, TV on demand services and security services through bundling strategies.

The Commission found that the input foreclosure strategy could be remedied through the imposition of conditions relating to open access model to the fibre infrastructure on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and having transparent and market related pricing. With an open access model, customers in gated residential estates would be afforded choice in terms of product and price offerings. The Commission was further of the view that as long as MTN’s ability to leverage its market power over fibre is curtailed by the adoption of an open access model on a non-discriminatory basis, other potential exclusionary strategies such as bundling are also unlikely to be achieved.

A Brief Global Review

The issue of access of telecommunications infrastructure within buildings or private estates has been dealt with in other jurisdictions. The key themes that run through the regulations are the protection of consumer choice and the encouragement of broadband growth.

Here are a few country examples:

  • Portugal
    • Decree-Law 123/2009 was published, setting out the legal regime applicable to the construction of infrastructures to lodge and install electronic communication networks and to the construction of telecommunications infrastructures in housing developments, urban settlements, concentrations of buildings and buildings. The essence of this law is that it obligates infrastructure sharing within the abovementioned settlements and buildings.
  • Qatar
    • In 2013 ictQATAR (the national regulatory authority) issued a set of instructions to service providers, developers and building owners that specially stated that exclusive telecoms infrastructure usage was prohibited. ictQATAR stated that end-users must have the possibility to choose between the offers of all and any service provider to the public licensed in Qatar and the arrangements which have a negative impact on competition, i.e. exclusionary or exploitative effects, between service providers and/or developers and/or building owners are forbidden.
  • Singapore
    • The telecom riser ducts (or simply risers) in buildings are administered by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) under the provision of the Telecommunications Act, 1999. IDA’s policy is to reserve the risers for use by fixed-service facilities based operators (FBOs). Any other person or enterprise intending to use the risers shall seek permission from IDA.

In other jurisdictions, different methods of access to in-building or estate infrastructure exists. Where these regulations exist, they serve to promote fair competition.

Gated Communities in South Africa

A key characteristic of South Africa is the number and growth in gated communities.

These gates communities represent concentrated pockets of high-income households who are the prime target segment for the uptake of FTTH services. The challenge, however, is that the home owners’ associations typically sign exclusive contracts that give a single telecoms service provider or infrastructure provider exclusivity in the provision of services to that estate. Alternatively, the exclusivity relationship may arise when the telecommunications infrastructure provider deploys infrastructure and binds the gated community to an exclusive contract that excludes other competitors.

In either approach, the exclusivity behaviour serves to entrench a localised monopoly in a gated estate. Once such a monopoly exists, there exists the conditions for both horizontal and vertical closing out of other competitors. Consumers are thus deprived of freedom of choice.

In their ruling on the MTN/Smart Village acquisition, the Competition Commission ruling recognised this market behaviour and imposed open access conditions on the MTN acquisition.

Operator Strategies to Gain Access to Gated Community Infrastructure

As FTTH retail competition increases, these pockets of high-income households located in gated communities will become the focus of operators. Operators, however, will not gain access – given the monopoly that exists in these gated communities. We thus expect that there will be a rise in operators seeking mechanisms to break the monopoly in order to gain access.

The challenge is – how to gain access to infrastructure on a fair and equitable basis?

  • Given that there are very few open access networks operating in gated communities suggests that the owners of such infrastructure are employing practices to restrict access. Therefore, the likely route an operator will follow would be to approach a regulatory body to mandate such access.
  • It can be argued that these operators can make a case for being granted some form of access to the telecommunications infrastructure within gated communities. Furthermore, there are likely enough global case studies to illustrate how other national regulatory authorities have dealt with this challenge.
  • Approaching ICASA, to grant access to infrastructure, may not be the most expedient strategy to follow.
  • Rather, we would suggest that an approach to the Competition Commission would be the more economical route to follow. Based on the Competition Commission MTN/Smart Village ruling, we would expect that the operators, who challenge this monopoly situation, would receive a favourable ruling from the Commission.

Pre-emptive Strategies – Developing Wholesale Product Offerings

Operators who hold monopolies in gated communities for the provision of infrastructure should seek to develop open access or wholesale product offerings that offer access to other competing operators. This move can pre-empt the imposition of remedies that can end up being more onerous than what the operator would have developed.

MTN Sells Afrihost

What are the SA Government Spectrum Plans?

On Monday, 9 August 2016, the Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services (MTPS) filed a court bid to stop the spectrum auction process initiated by ICASA. See article below from Bloomberg.

The motivation provided by the Minister is that he wants to halt the process to prevent irreparable harm which unsuspecting interested parties may suffer. Basically, his suit selling point is that the current proposed auction process would prevent new players from entering the market.

Based on the above, the following can be speculated on:

  • #1: Retail / Wholesale Market Structure – Single New Wholesale Operator?
    • The ultimate goal is that the government wants to create a single national wholesale operator who then will offer wholesale services to the retail service providers. This would be akin to the concept of MVNOs hosted on mobile network operators.
    • Previously, the government indicated that this was a concept it supported. The current spectrum allocation does not promote a single wholesale operator concept. The single new wholesale operator concept has been supported by operators such as Cell C.
    • There is very little information as to why the ICT policy has not been issued as the government missed its previously announced publication dates.
    • Possibly, the government has already lined up interested parties or is currently shopping around for such interested parties. Therefore, to continue this process, the government needs to gain control of the spectrum process – hence the court case.
  • #2: Crowded Market – Many new Operators?
    • If the MTPS wants to encourage new players to the SA market, then the SA mobile market can become quite crowded.
    • Based on ICASA’s proposed spectrum lot structure, we could see the number of operators rise from the current four (Cell C, MTN, Telkom, Vodacom) to between six and eight.
    • We would question whether the market would support so many mobile operators.

There is spectrum for a wholesale operator – so why stop the process?

  • ICASA has held back much of the 700MHz spectrum, which would not be up for auction (at least not in the currently proposed process). Our view is that this spectrum would be used for a national wholesale operator, as per government plans. (It would probably also need higher spectrum – either 2 600MHz or 2 300MHz). Therefore, the auction could proceed and the government could have its wholesale network.
  • The Minister (as quoted in the article) specifically mentioned foreign players who may want to enter the market. Our reading of it was that a foreign player would first need to obtain an i-ECS licence before it could participate in the auction and the current process proposed by ICASA does not provide sufficient time for that.
  • Yes, the auction would preclude many local already licensed entities from participating due to the reserve price. However, just about all of those entities would probably not be able to fund national network deployment, even if they won a spectrum licence. Cell C is probably the notable exception.
  • Interestingly, apart from ICASA, the government only names the current MNOs as respondents in its filed papers. Why not Neotel, IS, FNB, Liquid, etc. – all those that could be potential bidders?

In conclusion

Without the context of the planned policy, the government’s ultimate goal cannot be clearly understood. However, based on previous positions taken by the government and the motivation presented in its court bid, we conclude that:

  • The government wants to drive the wholesale operator model and has a possible external operator already lined up.
  • Given the government’s financial challenge, we think that the business model would be a form of build-operate-transfer model where the incoming operator finances the network build-out.

The impact of 4G on new Subscriber Acquisitions

The deployment of 4G is having a significant positive impact on subscriber behaviour. This is according to the 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study, a report published by Nokia.

4G, the fastest growing network technology

The report covers key findings regarding the impact of 4G on subscribers, such as:

  • 4G customers are happier. Happier with their mobile data speed. More satisfied with the consistency of their mobile data and as a result, use more data.
  • Globally, 38% of new sign-ups in the last 12 months have been for 4G and the pace is accelerating.

Yet, the research shows there are still barriers to overcome:

  • Mature markets are 2x more likely to use 4G than transition markets
  • 17% of consumers globally are not aware of the network they use
  • Over 30% of consumers in both mature and transition markets stated device incompatibility as the top reason for not yet using 4G
  • Many consumers still perceive 4G to be more expensive.

In South Africa, 15% of the subscribers believe they use the 4G network, while 78% believe that they only use the 3G network. The remaining 7% don’t know what network they use (3G or 4G).

Overall, 4G has a significant beneficial impact on subscriber behaviour:

Source: 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study

Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study
The Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study has been designed to help mobile operators understand current trends in consumer behaviour, in order to make more informed decisions when developing acquisition and retention strategies. The focus of this extensive study is to uncover the core drivers of customer retention by providing detailed and granular insights around consumer perceptions, causes of dissatisfaction and the likelihood to churn across several scenarios.

Drivers of Mobile Customer Retention

Cost and billing was the greatest driver of customer retention. That was in the past. Since 2014, consumers are attributing more importance to service. These are some of the key findings reported by Nokia in its recently completed 2016 Nokia Acquisition and Retention Study.

Drivers of customer retention

A positive customer experience has a direct impact on consumers’ likelihood to stay with their mobile operator. Sounds simple, right? Not quite:

  • Cost & Billing has the greatest impact on customer retention, but…
  • Since 2014, consumers attribute less importance to price and more to service
  • Customer care has 60% more impact on mobile subscriber loyalty than it did in 2014
  • Consumers expect a certain level of service and device expertise and after care to be offered by their operator.

In South Africa, customer care ranks higher, while cost & billing ranks lower than the survey averages across the various countries (developed and developing).

Drivers of Customer Retention Pic
Source: 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study

Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study
The Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study has been designed to help mobile operators understand current trends in consumer behaviour, in order to make more informed decisions when developing acquisition and retention strategies. The focus of this extensive study is to uncover the core drivers of customer retention by providing detailed and granular insights around consumer perceptions, causes of dissatisfaction and the likelihood to churn across several scenarios.

The Importance of Security

Some 47% of global consumers would change operator in the event of a security breach. This is one of the findings reported by Nokia in its recently completed 2016 Nokia Acquisition and Retention Study.


Consumers worry about how secure their personal data is on their phones. In fact, 91% of consumers globally are worried about at least one potential security threat. With increasing amounts of sensitive personal and business information now stored on smartphones, mobile security has become an important aspect of consumers’ relationships with their operator and an increasingly important driver for retention.

  • 47% of global consumers would change operator in the event of a security breach…
  • …and the more concerned a consumer is over security issues, the higher the propensity to churn
  • But less than 50% of consumers have anti-virus software on their smartphones as compared to 87% of laptop/PC users.

In South Africa, 96% of the respondents are worried about a security issue, while 56% would switch network operators if their operator experienced a security breach.

The Importance of Security ASource: 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study

Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study
The Nokia 2016 Acquisition and Retention Study has been designed to help mobile operators understand current trends in consumer behaviour, in order to make more informed decisions when developing acquisition and retention strategies. The focus of this extensive study is to uncover the core drivers of customer retention by providing detailed and granular insights around consumer perceptions, causes of dissatisfaction and the likelihood to churn across several scenarios.