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Telecom’s biggest vendors - 3Q19 edition

The goal of this report series is to equip telecom industry decision-makers with a comprehensive view of spending trends and vendor market power in their industry. To do this we assess technology vendors' revenues in the telecom vertical, across a wide range of company types and technology segments.
This report is focused on technology spending by telecommunications network operators (TNOs, or telcos).
Technology vendors record approximately $200B per year in sales of telecom network infrastructure ("Telco NI") to this industry segment. Telco NI spending supports a supply chain of hundreds of vendors across the globe. That includes well over 100 selling directly to telcos some mix of hardware, software, and services.
We formally launched this quarterly “Telco NI” vendor market share series in April 2019, with a 4Q18 review. This report marks our fourth edition, extending coverage through September 2019 for a total of 27 quarters: 1Q13-3Q19. This edition expands the list of vendors to 119, including some non-active (acquired or bankrupt) companies. As with many markets, the Telco NI market has a long tail of smaller players. The largest 6 vendors accounted for over 60% of market revenues, for the 3Q19 annualized period.
Abstract - 3Q19
Market growth trending downwards, Huawei still dominates
Telco NI vendor revenues amounted to $52.5B in 3Q19, down 0.3% from 3Q18. That's the third consecutive YoY drop in single quarter sales. Annualized (12 month rolling) revenues were $218.9B through 3Q19, up just under 1% from the year prior.
On an annualized basis, Huawei's $44.4B in Telco NI revenues easily beats all rivals, and nearly exceeds the sum of the second and third ranked vendors Ericsson and Nokia. Cisco places fourth with just under half the revenues of Nokia. China Communications Services is fifth, and the only Engineering Services (ES) vendor in the top 10. ZTE ranks sixth due largely to its position in wireless infrastructure and optical  in China and emerging markets. NEC ranks 7th due to strong Japanese fixed networks and in global microwave and submarine markets. CommScope places 8th and is the only cabling & connectivity vendor in the top 10. Intel and Samsung round out the top 10 due to sales in telco data centers and 4G/5G networks, respectively.
Comparing 3Q19 annualized share with 2Q19, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, Amdocs, Hengtong, Corning and a few others held steady. Ericsson, ZTE, NEC, CommScope, Intel saw modest improvements in share. Cisco, China Communications Services, and Fiberhome experienced modest declines. Cisco has been falling for some time in the telco segment, while Fiberhome and China Communications Services have been affected by relatively weak spending trends in China's fixed network sector.
Capex, Opex, and Telco NI vendor revenues
The vast majority of Telco NI vendor revenues still draw on telco capex budgets, so capex remains a useful metric to track. Annualized telco capex was in the $320-330B+ range during the 4G/LTE construction boom, but is now below $300B.
Telco NI vendor revenues have not declined in concert with capex. The main reasons are vendor innovation and telco cost cutting. Vendors have developed more creative solutions to pitch to telcos beyond big capital projects; digital transformation support, for instance. Telcos have continued to outsource key aspects of their operations to vendors, in an effort to benefit from vendor scale and ideas, and increase their flexibility.
Further, capex is not the only consideration, opex is also relevant. Two trends have made it easier for telcos to resource their network infrastructure over the last few years. Both affect the capex/opex split.
One trend is telcos' rising ability to rent network infrastructure assets, such as towers. Renting rather than building tower/data center capacity represents a shift from capex to opex. That has most clearly affected capex in China, where the three telcos now rent from China Tower, and these costs show up as an operational expense.
The rise of software is the other. Hardware products increasingly get much of their functionality from related software platforms. That allows more of a pay-as-you-grow approach, as telcos pay only for the licenses they consume, when features are turned on. Moreover, certain types of software arrangements count as opex, not capex.
The rise of cloud-based software options, not necessarily tied to an owned hardware platform, is also a factor. Telcos are shifting workloads to the cloud, as telcos seek to benefit from both the scale & software expertise of webscale. By moving work to the cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS) says that "telcos not only accelerate their data center consolidation and migration to the cloud, but monetize their path to 5G by offering customers next-generation capabilities in mobile edge computing and IoT." New service development is a major area of telco-webscale collaboration. For instance, Google Cloud's Apigee platform for instance has been adopted by a number of telcos for API development. GCP pitches its work with NTT DoCoMo explicitly as both "reducing costs and improving development efficiency."
Constraints on telco spending
Market hype around 5G continues to build, yet actual spending budgets are constricted. Flat to negative growth in telco revenues is just one factor, and not new. Macroeconomics are not the main issue, either. Interest rates remain low and recession concerns are not severe. More important factors affecting many telcos today are: lack of suitable spectrum for wide-scale deployments; telco concerns about the cost of new spectrum needed for full buildouts; ongoing uncertainty about the fate of Huawei; vendors' desire to buy market share, pushing down the size of contracts; the increasing maturity of open networking (O-RAN in particular); and, the rising ability of webscale/cloud providers and the carrier-neutral sector to help telcos fill out key portions of their network infrastructure.
By vendor type, the best growth over the last few quarters has come in the relatively small NSP (network software provider) and T&M (test & measurement) segments. NSPs have benefited from the multi-year trend of telcos preferring software-based functions & features when available. Prep work for 5G is largely responsible for the steadiness of the T&M vendors. For related reasons, the Engineering Services (ES) and Cabling & Connectivity (CCV) segments of companies have struggled as large network construction projects are less common nowadays. Wireless broadband is increasingly competitive with fixed, enabling telcos to spend less on costly fiber buildouts. Further, telcos are getting wiser about leasing tower & data center (and cloud) capacity rather than building it alone and capitalizing it onto their balance sheets. Finally, telco opex spend on digital transformation projects and service platform development and maintenance has benefited the ITSP group, which grew 4% in 3Q19.
The Huawei chaos will continue into 2020 and beyond
Those waiting for a grand resolution to US-China disputes surrounding Huawei will be disappointed - the company’s problems did not arise with Trump and his trade war. Concerns about Huawei’s private company origins and independence from the Chinese state are fairly bipartisan in the US, and shared by a number of European and Asian governments.
Yet Huawei certainly isn’t going anywhere; it has the broadest portfolio of products in the industry, and its 22% market share in Telco NI is just a bit lower than the sum of Ericsson and Nokia and Ericsson combined. Since its CFO's arrest, the vendor has hardly backed away from its ambitions – and the Chinese government has made clear its support for Huawei’s long term growth.
The now clear connection between the Chinese state and Huawei, however, open up opportunities for competing vendors, including those with open RAN solutions. Most private telcos see clear downsides to relying on a technology supplier so clearly beholden to a state sponsor. For these vendors to leverage the situation, though, this is not the time to mince words.
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Best regards,
Matt Walker
Chief Analyst