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Google, Facebook Gaining Network Equipment Clout

Patrick Donegan
9/26/2016
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Did you know that web-scale Internet companies (WICs) such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook , Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Alibaba Group and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) will spend $26.8 billion on network equipment hardware, software and services in 2016? And that the average network equipment vendor (whatever that might be) is generating around 9% of revenues from these key customers nowadays?

Did you know that the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Google more patents than Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) last year? And that vendors rate the WICs more highly as movers and shakers in the networking industry than their core communications service provider (CSP) customers -- except when it comes to the Internet of Things?

You didn't? Don't worry. Neither did the Heavy Reading team until we started asking questions around these and many other issues on behalf of vendor and CSP clients earlier this year.

Differentiating in the standards-dominated telecom world is never easy. Ask any service provider. Ask any vendor. Whisper it, but it's not always easy for industry analyst firms either. But where the role of the WICs in the networking infrastructure ecosystem is concerned, I'm pretty sure the Heavy Reading analyst team is managing to differentiate its coverage from other industry analyst firms -- and in a really fundamental way.

Analyst firms have been covering the WICs for many years. They've done it from all manner of different perspectives in the value chain -- consumers; the WICs themselves; the data center; online services; social media apps; smartphones; CSPs. You name it, the list goes on.

But until now -- to our knowledge, at any rate -- no one has publicly released anything really comprehensive in terms of what the rise of the WICs as networking powerhouses means for network equipment vendors, their revenues, margins, business models and customer prioritization strategies.

We're releasing Webscale Internet Companies: New Drivers of the Network Equipment Market today, covering these issues and many more. This new research represents a tremendous -- I believe groundbreaking -- effort by the Heavy Reading team at understanding the opportunities and challenges that the WICs and their approach to the networking sector present.

The opinion that matters most will obviously be that of our clients. But from where I stand -- and in terms of research that we've made available to our entire client base -- I suspect this is the single most important and potentially influential piece of research I've ever been involved in bringing to market. I'll be taking our findings on the road with supporting strategy workshops under NDA on client premises, starting in the second half of October.

One of the team's main findings is that in the coming years, strong capex by the WICs on networking equipment -- potentially in more diversified market segments -- will offset softness in traditional CSP capex. This points to a more positive outlook for vendors than conventional thinking would suggest. We also think there are major new opportunities for vendors to partner with the WICs -- as customers to sell into direct, obviously, but also as value-added channels to market for cloud services, leveraging their leadership in areas such as big data analytics and artificial intelligence.

We've known for some time that the WICs tend to view the Internet value chain differently from CSPs. Through our research, we've now arrived at a much better understanding of how this drives the WICs to engage differently with vendors in the communications ecosystem, including with respect to acquisitions, partnering, standards-making and patent policy.

Whether your company is short on insight into the networking strategies of these oft-secretive firms -- or you already know plenty, but need an independent analyst firm's perspective to challenge your assumptions -- I hope to help figure out the specific implications of our findings for your company in the coming weeks.

— Patrick Donegan, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading

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VicePres73166
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VicePres73166,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/4/2016 | 1:43:37 PM
Re: Couple of Things
It is an interesting discussion, hwoever I am not sure I follow the comment below?

"" One of the team's main findings is that in the coming years, strong capex by the WICs on networking equipment -- potentially in more diversified market segments -- will offset softness in traditional CSP capex.  ""

is that true or are WIC looking for royality free contributions to their open source projects?

 
pdonegan67
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pdonegan67,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/10/2016 | 4:19:13 AM
Re: Couple of Things
Interesting points.

What we found in the report is that many vendors appear to be materially under-estimating the importance of the WICs in the IoT value chain. Does the WICs' command of data analytics put them truly in the "driving seat" as you suggest, I don't know that I'd go quite that far.

The fact that IoT is one of the areas that AT&T and AWS have chosen to focus on in their new partnership indicates a very strong recognition of the value that each party brings to the other. Our report is predicated on this new reality of collaboration between WICs and CSPs, which is one of the things that we believe makes it of stand-out importance.

We do note the satellite capacity that Facebook has booked via SES and Euteslat in the report but I can't say that it's a major focus of the report, no. 
VicePres73166
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VicePres73166,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/8/2016 | 2:49:06 PM
Couple of Things
Hi

This looks like a very interesting report. However I am surprised you did not take the view that the WIC will dominate IoT. As most people acknowledge, IoT's value will be data analytics and what you can mash together to build products, rather than IoT sensors and connectivity.  This seems to place the WIC in the driving seat rather than the CSP's?

The WIC also seem to be taking a strong interest in the Satellite segment of telco, and this is no doubt going to have an impact, is this considered in the report? 

Denis
pdonegan67
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pdonegan67,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/6/2016 | 2:56:40 AM
Re: How is their influence felt?
I definitely agree that the WICs view standards essential patents (SEPs) very differently to how vendors view them. WICs are only interested in a subset of their Intellectual Property being re-used by others and their business models tend to want that subset given away (e.g via Open Source communities). For some vendors, proliferation of their IP via third parties, and getting paid for it, is a core part of their business model.

I also agree that they – actually Facebook and Google – are going after reducing the costs of mobile network equipment. Facebook's OpenCellular, for example.

Where I think I disagree is on your last point. I don't believe the cost of using SEPs shifts the needle with respect to the WICs themselves building out their own mobile networks. I don't think those costs figure prominently in their evaluation of that business case (and let's be clear the only one of them even considering that business case today is Google).

But from the perspective of many of the WICs, I think they do view SEPs (correctly) as shifting the needle with respect to a couple of percentage points of costs borne by end user device vendors across the whole mobile ecosystem – and the WICs clearly have an interest in taking a position on that. 
Magnets-are-cool
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Magnets-are-cool,
User Rank: Lightning
10/5/2016 | 7:47:11 PM
Re: How is their influence felt?
I'm not familiar with the licensing terms, but perhaps they're sliced in a way that suits the CSP audience. No doubt the WICs see the SEPs in a different light to how other vendors see them. 

I'm sure the cost to use SEPs is seen as a barrier to the WICs deploying their own mobile networks.

 If, as you imply, the WICs move across from fixed networking equipment and get into mobile networking equipment, expect another shake up.
pdonegan67
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pdonegan67,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/27/2016 | 7:02:28 AM
Re: How is their influence felt?

Great question, Carol.

And here's the answer. Or at least one of them.

It depends very much on who you ask.

Ask Ericsson, Nokia or Qualcomm and they'll tell you – or they'll imply –  that in at least one respect, Google is undermining the very mobile network ecosystem on which so much of its own future is staked.

How? By lobbying via the Fair Standards Alliance for the cost of the use of Standards Essential Patents (SEPs) as used in mobile networks to be reduced. Hack away at the profits they generate from IPR, these three wireless industry leaders will argue, and you put innovation in 4G and 5G at risk.

Ask Cisco, Juniper, Intel and others, on the other hand, and they'll side with Google,. They'll argue that the mobile industry as a whole would be better served by reducing royalties associated with SEPs. 

From what I can see, Google is easily the most vocal of the Webscale Internet Companies (WICs) in lobbying for lower cost access to SEPs. But consider how powerful the WICs would become if others amongst Google's peers – Amazon? Facebook? – were to start lobbying just as hard. We look at this, and much more besides, in the report and in our client workshops around it.

danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/26/2016 | 10:47:01 PM
Re: How is their influence felt?
It's funny – we've long talked about how networking is becoming all about software. There is some truth to that, but there will still be a need for hardware. Some of the largest technology companies in the industry know this, but many of us really don't realize this. 
cnwedit
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cnwedit,
User Rank: Light Beer
9/26/2016 | 9:13:02 PM
How is their influence felt?
Telecom service providers have been following the lead of the Webscalers in adopting SDN and NFV and looking at how to drive cost out of their networks while gaining flexiblity and moving toward automation. I wonder if there are any ways that the Webscale companies are influencing the vendor community that don't also benefit telecom?
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