Telecommunications Network Operators: 4Q23 Market Review
European telcos and China Mobile steer revenue uptick, as capex downtrend persists; industry headcount drops to 4.5 million
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 4Q23. For the full-year 2023, telcos represented $1.77 trillion (T) in revenues (-0.7% YoY), $263.1 billion (B) in labor costs (3.0% YoY), and $315.1B in capex (-3.6% YoY). They employed approximately 4.50 million people as of December 2023, down 1.5% from the prior year.

Below are the key highlights of the report:

Revenues: Telco topline posted a modest growth of 1.7% on a YoY basis to post $445.3 billion (B) in the latest single quarter ending 4Q23. Revenues for the full-year 2023 were $1,775.8B, down 0.7% YoY over the previous year. In the latest quarter, YoY growth in equipment revenues surpassed service revenues, mainly due to the strong year-end device sales by major telcos such as China Mobile, AT&T, and Deutsche Telekom. At the operator level, five of the top 20 best performing telcos by topline growth for the full-year 2023 include America Movil (7.7%), STC (Saudi Telecom) (7.3%), Airtel (5.0%), Telefonica (4.5%), and Orange (4.3%). By the same criteria, the worst telco growth came from AT&T (5.2%), KDDI (-4.6%), SoftBank (-3.5%), NTT (-3.3%), and Verizon (-2.1%) during the same period.

Capex: Capex spending declined by 4.1% on a YoY basis to post $85.9B in the latest single quarter ending 4Q23. Capex for the full-year 2023 was $315.1B, down 3.6% YoY over the previous year. At the operator level, five of the top 20 best performing telcos by capex growth for the full-year 2023 include Airtel (34.3%), Comcast (25.5%), Charter Communications (18.5%), KDDI (13.1%), and Telefonica (9.9%). By the same criteria, the worst capex growth came from SoftBank (-20.5%), Verizon (-18.7%), Deutsche Telekom (-18.7%), BT (-15.3%), and Reliance Jio (-10.8%) during the same period. Capital intensity is off the peak: it was 17.7% in 2023, from 18.3% the year prior.

Opex and labor costs: Total opex for the telecom industry in the year 2023 stood at $1,504.8B, a decrease of 1.5% over 2022. Excluding depreciation and amortization (D&A) costs, total opex declined by 1.1% on YoY basis to record $1,169.5B in the year 2023. One significant element of telco opex is labor costs, which include salaries, wages, bonuses, benefits, and retirement/severance costs. Labor costs grew by 3.0% YoY in 2023, pushing labor costs as a percentage of opex (excluding D&A) up from 21.6% in 2022 to 22.5% in 2023.

Profitability margins: Both EBITDA and EBIT margins witnessed a slight improvement in the year 2023 when compared to 2022 – EBIT margin grew from 14.6% in 2022 to 15.3% in 2023, while EBITDA (operating) margin ended 2023 at 34.1%, as compared to 33.9% in the previous year.

Regional trends: The Americas region managed to sustain its dominance in 4Q23, with 38.0% global share of the total telco market revenues. On a capex basis though, the Asia region finally surpassed the Americas region with a 39.6% of the global share in the latest quarter. Europe maintained its lead in the latest quarter as the region with the highest annualized capital intensity, reaching 18.7% in 4Q23.

Table Of Contents

  1. Report Highlights
  2. Summary
  3. Market snapshot
  4. Analysis
  5. Key stats through 4Q23
  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 – 1Q19-4Q23
  2. Regional trends by: Revenues, Capex – 1Q19-4Q23
  3. Opex & Cost trends
  4. Labor cost trends: 1Q20-4Q23
  5. Profitability margin trends: 1Q20-4Q23
  6. Spending (opex, labor costs, capex): annual and quarterly trend
  7. Key ratios: annual and quarterly trend
  8. Workforce & productivity trends: 1Q14-4Q23
  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, 1Q16-4Q23
  14. TNOs: Revenue and RPE, annualized 1Q16-4Q23
  15. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity (annualized), 1Q16-4Q23
  16. TNOs: Total headcount trends, 1Q16-4Q23
  17. TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2011-23
  18. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2011-23 ($ Mn)
  19. TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 1Q16-4Q23 ($ Mn)
  20. TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 1Q16-4Q23
  21. Top 79 TNOs by total opex, 4Q23
  22. Top 79 TNOs by labor costs, 4Q23
  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: 2011-23
  27. Top 79 TNOs by total net debt: 2011-23
  28. Top 79 TNOs by long term debt: 2011-23
  29. Top 79 TNOs by short term debt: 2011-23
  30. Top 79 TNOs by total cash and short term investments ($M): 2011-23


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