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Customers Weigh In on Wholesale Telecom Suppliers

Phil Harvey
8/6/2018

The market for wholesale telecommunications services is changing fast. Customer loyalty is being tested all the time and wholesale suppliers are feeling pressure to become more specialized in hope of hanging onto key accounts. Also, some of the top wholesale telecom services customers in the world aren't talking publicly about any of it.

Those are just a few of the findings in the eighth Ovum Wholesale Customer Survey, where survey respondents and interviewees reflect a broad range of types of buyer of wholesale telecoms services.

Ovum quizzed fixed and wireless network operators, fixed and wireless virtual network operators, converged service providers that sell fixed and wireless services, content owners, and even non-telco intermediaries such as systems integrators.

But the biggest names in, and users of, bandwidth today -- the large Internet content and cloud-centric companies such as Alibaba, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Spotify -- all declined to participate.

"I was very disappointed that none of the many OTTs and content owners I approached took part in the survey," writes the survey's author, Ovum's Wholesale Practice Leader, David James, in a response to Light Reading's questions. "However, in my experience they are very reluctant to contribute to wholesale research or speak at wholesale conferences even when present. They seem to prefer one-to-one communications to multi-lateral."

James notes that the OTT providers and content owners are a major force in wholesale telecoms, which is still growing. "Many traditional wholesale services are rapidly becoming commoditized and prices and margins are being driven down," James said. "However, Ovum forecasts that wholesale revenues will increase in part because of increasing access to communications services and the Internet from developing markets, and also from carrying traffic for the OTTs."

The wholesale market is one we're watching because it's going to be a key supplier to telecom service providers when they can't meet their customers' retail bandwidth and connectivity needs with their networks. 5G services and IoT are just two examples where telcos are likely to use indirect suppliers to provide network capacity and hosting when needed.

The need for innovation in wholesale telecom services is growing in importance, the Ovum survey states, as customer needs evolve and as wholesalers reach out to new markets. But while it ranks in the upper tier of importance for customers (see graphic below), innovation isn't currently an essential measure in wholesale supplier selection. However, nearly two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents expect it to become more important in the next two years, more than for any other criterion.

Innovation: Importance and Performance
Source: Ovum Ltd.
Source: Ovum Ltd.

Though most companies that use wholesale services have several suppliers, the pressure is on for suppliers to win a larger portion of their customers' business -- and innovation in products, pricing and communication plays a role. "This can be done many different ways, such as by developing innovative pricing offers, reducing time to delivery, improving service resilience and recovery, or providing more consistent and powerful portals and B2B interfaces," analyst James wrote in his most recent blog on the subject.

— Phil Harvey, US News Editor, Light Reading

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