Telecommunications Network Operators: 3Q23 Market Review
Telco topline stages recovery but capex slips further; margins surge amid opex cuts
By Arun Menon

This report reviews the growth and development of the telecommunications network operator (TNO, or telco) market. The report tracks a wide range of financial stats for 139 telcos across the globe, from 1Q11 through 3Q23. In the annualized 3Q23 period, telcos represented $1.76 trillion (T) in revenues (-3.5% YoY), $257.6 billion (B) in labor costs (-1.2% YoY), and $318.7B in capex (-3.5% YoY). They employed approximately 4.53 million people as of September 2023, down 1.6% from the prior year.

Below are the key highlights of the report:

Revenues: Telco topline grew slightly by 0.3% on a YoY basis to post $437.8 B in the latest single quarter ending 3Q23. Revenues for the annualized 3Q23 period were $1,759.4B, down 3.5% YoY over the same period in the previous year. In the last two quarters, YoY growth in service revenues has handily outpaced equipment revenues, as 5G device sales ease. At the operator level, five of the top 20 best performing telcos by topline growth in 3Q23 on an annualized basis include Saudi Telecom (7.8%), America Movil (6.9%), Airtel (6.0%), Charter Communications (1.9%), and Telefonica (1.7%). By the same criteria, the worst telco growth came from AT&T (-18.3%), KDDI (-8.6%), SoftBank (-7.0%), NTT (-6.1%), BT (-5.1%) during the same period.

Capex: Capex spending declined by 7.7% on a YoY basis to post $73.4B in the latest single quarter ending 3Q23. Capex for the annualized 3Q23 period was $318.7B, down 3.5% YoY over the same period in the previous year. At the operator level, five of the top 20 best performing telcos by capex growth in 3Q23 on an annualized basis include Airtel (43.2%), Reliance Jio (37.2%), Charter Communications (30.8%), Comcast (24.9%), and Telefonica (5.1%). By the same criteria, the worst capex growth came from China Unicom (-16.6%), China Mobile (-15.0%), BT (-14.9%), SoftBank (-11.7%), and AT&T (-7.7%) during the same period. Capital intensity is on the downswing: it was 16.8% in 3Q23, from 18.2% the year prior.

Opex and labor costs: Total opex for the telecom industry in the annualized 3Q23 period stood at $1,484.2B, a decrease of 4.7% over 3Q22 on YoY basis. Excluding depreciation and amortization (D&A) costs, total opex declined by 5.0% on YoY basis to record $1,147.7B in the annualized 3Q23 period. One significant element of telco opex is labor costs, which include salaries, wages, bonuses, benefits, and retirement/severance costs. Annualized labor costs declined by 1.2% YoY in 3Q23 over the annualized 3Q22 period. However, total opex declined faster, pushing labor costs as a percentage of opex (excluding D&A) up from 21.6% in annualized 3Q22 to 22.4% in annualized 3Q23. Annualized labor costs per employee grew slightly to $56.6K in 3Q23 compared to $56.2K the prior quarter.

Profitability margins: Both EBITDA and EBIT margins witnessed an uptick in the annualized 3Q23 period compared to 2Q23 – annualized EBIT margin grew from 15.4% in 2Q23 to 15.6% in 3Q23, while annualized EBITDA (operating) margin ended 3Q23 at 34.8%, as compared to 34.6% in the previous quarter.

Regional trends: The Americas region rebounded to become the single largest region by revenues in 3Q23 with 37.8% of the global share. On a capex basis too, the Americas region dominated the global share in the latest quarter with 37.8% share. Europe continued its lead into the latest quarter by having the highest regional capital intensity on an annualized basis: 19.7% capex/revenue ratio in 3Q23.

Table Of Contents

  1. Report Highlights
  2. Summary
  3. Market snapshot
  4. Analysis
  5. Key stats through 3Q23
  6. Labor stats
  7. Operator rankings
  8. Company Deepdive & Benchmarking
  9. Country breakouts
  10. Country breakouts by company
  11. Regional breakouts
  12. Raw Data
  13. Subs & traffic
  14. Exchange rates
  15. Methodology & Scope
  16. About

Figure & Charts

  1. TNO market size & growth by: Revenues, Capex, Employees – 1Q19-3Q23
  2. Regional trends by: Revenues, Capex – 1Q19-3Q23
  3. Opex & Cost trends
  4. Labor cost trends: 1Q20-3Q23
  5. Profitability margin trends: 1Q20-3Q23
  6. Spending (opex, labor costs, capex): annual and quarterly trend
  7. Key ratios: annual and quarterly trend
  8. Workforce & productivity trends: 1Q14-3Q23
  9. Operator rankings by revenue and capex: latest single-quarter and annualized periods
  10. Top 20 TNOs by capital intensity: latest single-quarter and annualized periods
  11. Top 20 TNOs by employee base: latest single-quarter
  12. TNOs: YoY growth in single quarter revenues
  13. TNOs: Annualized capital intensity, 1Q16-3Q23
  14. TNOs: Revenue and RPE, annualized 1Q16-3Q23
  15. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity (annualized), 1Q16-3Q23
  16. TNOs: Total headcount trends, 1Q16-3Q23
  17. TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2011-22
  18. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2011-22 ($ Mn)
  19. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 1Q16-3Q23 ($ Mn)
  20. TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 1Q16-3Q23
  21. Top 79 TNOs by total opex, 3Q23
  22. Top 79 TNOs by labor costs, 3Q23
  23. TNOs: Software as % of total capex
  24. TNOs: Software & spectrum spend
  25. TNOs: Total M&A, spectrum and capex (excl. spectrum)
  26. Top 79 TNOs by total debt: 2011-22
  27. Top 79 TNOs by total net debt: 2011-22
  28. Top 79 TNOs by long term debt: 2011-22
  29. Top 79 TNOs by short term debt: 2011-22
  30. Top 79 TNOs by total cash and short term investments ($M): 2011-22


Operator coverage:

A1 Telekom Austria Advanced Info Service (AIS) Airtel Altice Europe Altice USA America Movil AT&T Axiata Axtel Batelco
BCE Bezeq Israel Bouygues Telecom BSNL BT Cable ONE, Inc. Cablevision Cell C Cellcom Israel CenturyLink
Cequel Communications Charter Communications China Broadcasting Network China Mobile China Telecom China Unicom Chunghwa Telecom Cincinatti Bell CK Hutchison Clearwire
Cogeco Com Hem Holding AB Comcast Consolidated Communications Cyfrowy Polsat DEN Networks Limited Deutsche Telekom Digi Communications DirecTV Dish Network
Dish TV India Limited DNA Ltd. Du EE Elisa Entel Etisalat Fairpoint Communications Far EasTone Telecommunications Co., Ltd. Frontier Communications
Globe Telecom Grupo Clarin Grupo Televisa Hathway Cable & Datacom Limited Idea Cellular Limited Iliad SA KDDI KPN KT Leap Wireless
LG Uplus Liberty Global M1 Manitoba Telecom Services Maroc Telecom Maxis Berhad Megafon MetroPCS Communications Millicom Mobile Telesystems
MTN Group MTNL NTT Oi Omantel Ono Ooredoo Orange PCCW PLDT
Proximus Quebecor Telecommunications Rakuten Reliance Communications Limited Reliance Jio Rogers Rostelecom Safaricom Limited Sasktel Shaw
Singtel SITI Networks Limited SK Telecom Sky plc SmarTone SoftBank Spark New Zealand Limited Sprint StarHub STC (Saudi Telecom)
SureWest Communications Swisscom Taiwan Mobile Tata Communications Tata Teleservices TDC TDS Tele2 AB Telecom Argentina Telecom Egypt
Telecom Italia Telefonica Telekom Malaysia Berhad Telenor Telia Telkom Indonesia Telkom SA Telstra Telus Thaicom
Time Warner Time Warner Cable TPG Telecom Limited True Corp Turk Telekom Turkcell Veon Verizon Virgin Media Vivendi
Vodafone Vodafone Idea Limited VodafoneZiggo Wind Tre Windstream Zain Zain KSA Ziggo


Regional coverage:

Asia Americas Europe MEA