Network infrastructure is the basis for all funding of telco activities; as such, telcos must not only keep the cash cow alive, but also strengthen it. Management of network infrastructure is easily belittled as a subject for engineering nerds — but it must be treated as a key strategic matter.

Outsourcing the management of or sharing network infrastructure delivers many benefits, and we expect telcos to do this more and more in the years ahead. Telcos need to balance the simultaneous requirements of cost control, enhanced business flexibility, and innovation to incorporate the right approach to external network infrastructure management into their future strategies. Equipment vendors, meanwhile, must adjust their business to keep up and partner with traditional IT services providers.

Many more telcos are moving toward sharing or outsourcing some or all of their network assets and operations to partners or suppliers, becoming “telcos without networks.” This provides an opportunity for some telcos to shift their focus and resources to:

  • Cost control and transparency. The decision to share or outsource network assets and their operation is primarily driven by financial needs, in particular to bring the total cost of ownership down, spread expenditures over time, and allocate costs in a more transparent manner.
  • A better customer experience. Increases in data traffic require telcos to enhance their network and service delivery infrastructures and improve network coverage in order to maintain the quality of the customer experience. Moreover, telcos face regulatory requirements for improved rural network coverage, which can be more readily satisfied by network outsourcing.
  • Service and portfolio innovation. Relying on external providers to ensure the long-term viability and efficiency of network operations allows telcos to free up resources. This can help transform a telco’s company culture, orienting it toward greater service and portfolio innovation.

We expect many more telcos to engage in network outsourcing and sharing in the years ahead; this will have significant implications for the shape of the industry and the rest of its participants. For instance, differentiation via service will increase; telcos will enter into alliances similar to those formed by airlines; equipment vendors will increasingly compete with IT services firms; more telcos will merge as a result of network sharing; and regulation might compel greater separation of network activities.

Telcos should prepare strategically for these developments. We analyze the potential for network sharing and outsourcing in our Telcos Without Networks research report.