Change is on the Telefónica horizon with towers and workforce restructure

Telefónica has announced plans to accelerate the strategy of monetizing its tower assets after getting the green light from the Board of Directors.

The woes of Telefónica have been quite apparent in recent years. Despite owning regionalised businesses which are either market leaders or at the top-end of the scale, the firm has been drowning in debt. In bygone years, it was rumoured the firm was struggling with €53 billion debts, though it does seem to have gotten a handle on things.

At the end of 2018, thanks to several cost saving initiatives, debt had been reduced to €41.785 billion. During this period the firm did toy with a number of divestments (O2 UK) and an IPO of the tower infrastructure business, Telxius. This IPO fell through, but the business unit does present a new opportunity.

Following the Board Meeting, the team is pushing forward with plans to generate more profits through monetizing both passive and active telecoms equipment. And it does appear there are profits to be made.

Telefónica currently claims to own roughly 68,000 sites globally, either directly or through subsidiaries. Of those 68,000, tower infrastructure business Telxius owns approximately 18,000, with the remaining 50,000 owned by other units within the group. 60% of these assets are located within the four major markets (Spain, UK, Germany and Brazil).

By comparing the value of these assets with market benchmarks, Telefónica believes it can generate €830 million in revenues and €360 million in OIBDA. Another attractive component is the belief these sites would only require €25 million in maintenance capital expenditure across the year.

While this strategy might be considered as a means to aid rivals, the numbers are attractive to a business which is facing financial and competitive strain. Aside from the debt which is still looming above the heads of executives, subscriptions data is not the most attractive either as you can see from the table below:

Total access (connections/subscribers on network) in millions
Year Spain Germany UK Brazil South HISPAN North HISPAN
2015 41.97 48.36 25.29 96.92
2016 41.23 49.35 25.76 97.22
2017 40.99 47.6 25.31 97.91 58.45 72.57
2018 41.55 47.09 32.98 95.3 56.91 73.56

What is worth noting is that ‘total access’ accounts for everything which is running across one of the Telefónica networks in that region. That could mean mobile, wholesale, MVNOs, TV or broadband. That said, the numbers tell a story for themselves; Telefónica isn’t really going up or down, just hovering around.

If the traditional means of making money, attracting more subscribers, isn’t necessarily paying off the debtors, Telefónica needs to think about new strategies. Monetizing the tower infrastructure assets is certainly one way to go, and restructuring the workforce is another idea which might save money across the year.

Alongside the tower monetization announcement, Telefónica Spain has also said it is currently in negotiations with trade unions concerning its workforce. In short, that means some will be retrained, some will be encouraged into retirement and others will be shown the way to the door.

“The collective agreement we signed four years ago has enabled us to make great advances and has provided us with social and labour stability during this period,” said Emilio Gayo, Chairman of Telefónica Spain.

“Now we have to be more ambitious and evolve into a more digital company that is ready for the challenges ahead.”

Although Telefónica Spain is not putting any numbers out into the public domain, reports have emerged that the workforce will be trimmed by roughly 5,000. Those over the age of 53 will be offered a ‘voluntary individual suspension plan’, while the plan is to double the training budget to reskill staff members.

With an eye on the horizon, Telefónica is seemingly preparing to future-proof its largest expense; employees. The management team anticipates more than half of sales will be through digital channels in a few years’ time, while legacy fixed and mobile networks will be shut down during the ‘modernisation’ period. This will make a number of people redundant.

In fairness to Telefónica , it is creating plans to help evolve the skill sets of employees, but with any business evolution there will always be the messy job of headcount reduction.

T-Mobile staff start getting twitchy over Sprint merger

A letter has emerged from T-Mobile Workers United, with the union asking Deutsche Telekom executives to confirm jobs will be safe following the merger between T-Mobile US and Sprint.

According to Reuters, the union, representing around 500 employees from the telco, have seemingly decided to skip out T-Mobile US CEO John Legere and gone straight to group boss Tim Hoettges. The union is seeking assurances jobs will be safe should the merger between the two telcos survive legal challenges which are emerging.

Although there have been several assurances from Legere the merger will be a net creator of jobs, this is under the assumption growth can be achieved through the union. It might sound like a good headline, but reading into the statements, Legere is suggesting job creation will be down to synergies between the firms and a more assertive challenge to AT&T and Verizon.

However, the issue of business rationalisation has not been addressed head on. Whenever two large businesses are brought together through a merger, redundancies are unavoidable. This is a point which has not been addressed by the management teams, with senior managers simply pointing to the potential for growth.

Irrelevant as to whether there will be job creation through an aggressive network rollout or a taking the combined business into new, regional markets, there will be overlap between the two businesses. Not every lawyer, accountant or HR employee will need to be retained as the team will seek cost efficiencies during the integration process. The other thing you have to think about is the retail presence.

It won’t be in every location, but there will of course be hundreds of jobs at risk as the merged business seeks to rationalise its presence on the high street. There are going to be numerous locations where both Sprint and T-Mobile US have a physical store within minutes of each other; a choice will have to be made and job cuts will be evident. Being a net creator of jobs does not mean there will be no redundancies.

These staff are perfectly entitled to feel nervous, as the issue has not been directly addressed and any logical person would say there will be redundancies.

BT to close 90% of UK office locations

BT’s cost-efficiency strategy has managed to avoid the headlines in recent months, but today it has announced it will be shutting down 270 of its 300 office locations around the UK.

Unions have been very vocal opponents of the strategy, suggesting it is the telco’s way of spring cleaning, taking the opportunity to shepherd out old bodies. This announcement might be one of the first steps in the consolidation plan, as new CEO Philip Jansen looks to shore up the spreadsheets and finally realise the potential of the £12.5 billion acquisition of EE.

Snuck in with an announcement about modernising eight offices, BT will close 270 of its 300 office locations around the UK in pursuit of a more attractive profit column. If it is any consolation for the members of staff involved in the re-shuffle, these eight refurbed offices will have 5G connectivity.

Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Ipswich, London and Manchester have been identified as key locations for the business moving forward. In some cases, the same office will be used, though details have not emerged on which staff will be moving into a new space.

“The Better Workplace Programme is about bringing our people together in brilliant spaces, and transforming the way we work,” said Jansen.

“Revealing these eight locations is just the first step; we have dedicated teams working on identifying the best buildings to move into and which ones to redesign for the future. As a result of this programme, BT people will be housed in inspiring offices that are better for our business and better for our customers.”

In all honesty, this is a process which BT has been forced into more than making a choice. The telcos is one of the least profitable in the larger segment, while difficulties in managing the relationship with regulators.

Redundancies and restructuring strategies are never pleasant topics to discuss, however BT does need to ensure it is a business built for the next generation of connectivity. The world has changed dramatically and at an astonishing pace over the last decade, forcing telcos to make some difficult decisions.

13,000 redundancies were announced in May last year, and there have been rumours Jansen might be preparing for another announcement in the future. The last financial results passed without any new cuts, but that is not to say there won’t be more in the future. Most of these cuts will be made in the back-office and middle-management functions, with the UK workforce taking the sharpest part of the blade.

Closing offices and consolidating operations is a sensible business decision, few companies will be blamed for making such financial decisions, though it seems to be more of a material development here. The restructuring strategy of BT is becoming very real.

Telstra confirms 6000 jobs to be cut by the end of this year

Australian telco Telstra has announced steady progress for its T22 restructuring plan, allowing it to retire AUS$500 million of legacy IT equipment and bring forward 6,000 job cuts to 2019.

The restructuring plan, T22, was introduced during June 2018 in an effort to simply the structure of the business and improve profitability. The plan is to remove 8,000 roles in total from the business, through replacing legacy systems, digitising certain processes and simplifying the management structure of the business.

According to Telstra executives, who’s jobs are seemingly secure, the firm had become a burdensome beast and needed streamlining. This plan was set in motion not only to reduce the complexity of the organization, but also deliver AUS$2.5 billion in cost efficiencies by 2022.

In today’s announcement, 6,000 of the planned redundancies have been brought forward from 2020 to 2019, increasing the restructuring costs for this financial year by AUS$200 million and introducing a AUS$500 million write down of the value of its legacy IT assets. Investors might not have expected such a hit in 2019, but the news should not have come as a surprise.

“We understand the significant impact on our people and the uncertainty created by these changes,” said CEO Andrew Penn. “We are doing everything we can to support our people through the change and this includes the up to $50 million we have committed to a Transition program that provides a range of services to help people move into a new role. We expect to have announced or completed approximately 75 percent of our direct workforce role reductions by the end of FY19.”

According to Penn, plans are on track and the majority of the work is behind the team. Employees are yet to discover their fate, however the consultation is expected to finish in mid-June

Headcount FY 2018 total revenue Revenue per employee
Telstra 32,293 $20.05 billion $620,877
BT 94,800 $30.01 billion $316,561
Telefonica 120,138 $54.33 billion $452,229
Verizon 144,000 $130.863 billion $908,770

All figures in US Dollars

While Telstra executives might not like the balance of the spreadsheets as it stands, you can clearly see from the table above it is not in the worst position worldwide. Restructuring plans are certainly having more of an impact at some telcos, take BT for example, though some might be aggrieved when being forced into redundancy.

That said, NPAT (net profit after tax) for 2018 was AUS$1.2 billion, 4.1% of total revenues. When compared to Verizon, where profits represented 8.1% of total revenues, or Telefonica where it was 7.4% for 2018, you can begin to see why the management team is under pressure to find efficiencies across the business.

Redundancies, while never pleasant to talk about, are commonplace in the telco industry and will continue to be so. As businesses evolve, more processes become automated and more technology becomes redundant. This will have an impact on any workforce, but when you consider the complexities of managing a network or securing the digital lives of customers, the demand of digitisation becomes more apparent for the telcos.

Unfortunately for Telstra, it also happens to operate in an environment which makes delivering connectivity incredibly challenging and expensive (i.e. the scale of Australia and the geographical isolation of some communities). Add in the fact it will now longer be able to work with Huawei or ZTE, the vendor pool becomes smaller, adding more financial risk to the procurement channels. All of these factors add up to more financial outlay when it comes to the business of delivering connectivity, and pressure to improve operational efficiencies.

Trade union slams BT restructuring plans

Trade union Prospect has hit out at BT’s drawn out plans to cut 13,000 staff as part of a restructuring plans to cut £1.5 billion a year from the spreadsheets.

Holding an open ballot to measure the reception of BT’s ‘People Framework’, the proposed organizational structure following the restructure, BT employees represented by Prospect have overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. 96.3% voted against the proposal.

While former CEO Gavin Patterson spent years forking out cash on various schemes, including rights for English Premier League and European Champions League football, his last actions were at the polar opposite end of the scale.

Announced in May 2018, the wide-ranging restructuring plan was to create a new BT business, one which is designed for the digital era. Alongside trimming the workforce by 13,000, the team would also overhaul its supply-chain and relocate from its central London HQ. BT claims many of the cuts would be sourced from back office and middle-management roles, supposedly protecting the workforce which will perform network maintenance and upgrades.

Over the last couple of days, new rumours have emerged out of the BT office suggesting new CEO Philip Jansen and his team are considering 25,000 cuts on top of the aforementioned redundancies. Should the rumours turn out to be true, BT’s workforce would be trimmed down to roughly 75,000.

In reaction to the original cuts, Prospect conducted an open ballot on BT’s ‘People Framework’, the new internal pay and grading structures. This framework is designed to create fewer management roles, each with more accountability, and de-layering the management organization.

“The rejection of the ballot by BT members gives a clear message to CEO Philip Jansen that he is not bringing his staff along with him in his future vision for BT,” said Prospect National Secretary Noel McClean.

“Good companies are built from the inside and organisational change on this scale is rarely successful when it is imposed on people. These changes will not just see the knowledge, skills and legacy of BT vastly reduced, but will severely impact local jobs and grassroots technology industries supporting local economies.”

While redundancies are certainly far from an ideal situation, BT does need to do something. The telco is currently bloated, representing one of the worst revenue returns per employee across Europe. These are the figures which shareholders would have been looking at when Jansen entered as CEO and you can guarantee he was given a mandate to improve this aspect of the business.

BT currently generates £254,200 per employee per annum, and though this compares to £275,900 at Orange, £327,100 at Telecom Italia, £350,800 at Deutsche Telekom and £405,300 at Telefonica. When you look at the value of assets per employee, the numbers are equally as unattractive. BT clearly needs to do something to alter these numbers.

Prospect has suggested the new system would create a less transparent pay review system to workers across all levels and divisions. It has also questioned whether the telco would be fit to serve the wider digital ambitions of the UK as a result.

Jansen might have been able to keep himself out of the media spotlight so far into his reign, but with his first earnings call only a couple of weeks away, the new CEO might well be called into the limelight to address this conflict. The initial announcement certainly attracted political attention, and we suspect this ballot might well do the same.

White House congratulates itself for catching AI bug

President Trump is set to sign several bills into law, each of which aims to stimulate US ambitions in future technologies and productivity.

While the lion’s share of the attention will be directed towards artificial intelligence, there are other bills which have been slipped in including advanced manufacturing and Quantum Information Science. One of the more important groups which is emerging from this announcement, the National Council for the American Worker, is perhaps the one which will get most over-looked though.

“I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future,” Trump said in a White House statement. “This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

Focusing on the National Council for the American Worker for the moment, this is an area where the US could genuinely prove itself to be forward-looking, instead of focusing on aging buzzwords.

The top-line aim for the Council will be to craft the masses to ensure they are suitably qualified and positioned to reap the benefits of tomorrow’s society. This means investigating how curriculums can be altered to ensure the right skills are being offered to young people, but also awareness campaigns to generate an understanding of what will be required of young people in the world of tomorrow.

What is less clear is the impact on the people of today. This is not directly covered in the press jargon, though there is an objective for the Council to work with the private sector to ensure the skills chasm is reduced. The White House has not said it directly, though this is pretty much as close as any government has come to recognising technologies such as AI are not going to be beneficial to everyone in today’s society.

Government rhetoric surround AI has been pretty consistent around the world. Firstly, AI will create wonderful products and services for consumers, and secondly, it will make businesses more profitable, creating new job opportunities. This might be true, but no-one has recognised there is going to be pain.

People will be made redundant. Jobs will be lost to software, automation and consolidation. Some people will not be suitable candidates for the newly created roles. These scenarios are utterly unavoidable. Unless government recognise this pain, nothing can be done to adapt to it. If nothing is done, there will be elements of society who will be left behind, qualified for roles which no longer exist. Governments have to wake up and be mature.

Elsewhere the President has unveiled a National Strategic Plan on Advanced Manufacturing and has also signed the National Quantum Initiative Act into law. Quantum Information Science is an area which seemingly fits perfectly into the Silicon Valley mould, looping back around to the semiconductor revolution which spurring the region into action decades ago. With 5G on the horizon encouraging exceptional growth in computing power, this is a segment which will almost prove critical in the future.

The framework is there for some potentially beneficial legislation, though we’ll see how this plays out. It could create a forward-looking landscape however it might just create a landscape which says its forward-looking.

Nordic winter hits hard as Ericsson loses exec and Nokia cuts more jobs

Swedish Ericsson and Finnish Nokia both announced they’re losing people as the endless winter nights take their toll.

Ericsson’s SVP, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations, Helena Norrman, is calling it a day after 21 years at the company, with ten of those on the executive team. She’ll be hanging around for a quarter or two, to keep the transition smooth and presumably have a hand in finding her replacement.

“Helena has been instrumental in reshaping and modernizing Ericsson’s global marketing and communications strategy and function,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “With a deep understanding of the company’s priorities she has helped Ericsson navigate through periods of both massive change and considerable challenges. Helena has been a valued member of the Executive Team and I wish her all the best in her future ventures.”

On a personal note, I got a chance to hang out with Helena when I was over in Stockholm last summer and found her to be smart and tough, but at the same time friendly and approachable, in other words great at her job. I’m sad to see you go Helena, but wish you all the best with your next thing. Here were are getting the beers in, on a boat in Stockholm, with Helena on the right.

Ericsson tour boat beers

Over in Helsinki Nokia is trimming another 350 Finnish employees in a further dive to cut costs, as previously reported by Light Reading. “Our industry is one where a constant focus on costs is vital and the planned transformation measures are essential to secure Nokia´s long-term competitiveness,” said Tommi Uitto, Nokia’s Country Manager in Finland. “Such decisions are not easy, but we will do our utmost to support our personnel during the change process.”

“Nokia has made good progress in executing on its strategy, with momentum in providing high-performance end-to-end networks, targeting new enterprise segments and creating a standalone software business. Our early progress in 5G is strong and we continue to increase our investment in this critical technology.

“We will redouble our efforts to ensure that Nokia’s disciplined operating model remains a source of competitive advantage for us, and that we maintain our position as the industry leader in cost management, productivity and efficiency. Finland will continue to be an important country for Nokia to achieve these goals. To this end, we are also currently recruiting into key new technologies in all our campuses in Finland.”

On one hand any job loss announcement sends out the message that the company is struggling to make a profit. But as Uitto noted, this sort of thing is not uncommon among kit vendors and Ericsson has been on a massive downsizing of its own, so these 350 redundancies need to be kept in perspective. Meanwhile Norrman’s departure is a loss to Ericsson, but maybe it will take this opportunity to get someone in from the outside with a different perspective on the company.

The biggest stories of 2018 all in one place

2018 has been an incredibly business year for all of us, and it might be easy to forget a couple of the shifts, curves, U-turns and dead-ends.

From crossing the 5G finish line, finger pointing from the intelligence community, the biggest data privacy scandal to date and a former giant finally turning its business around, we’ve summarised some of the biggest stories of 2018.

If you feel we’ve missed anything out, let us know in the comments section below.

Sanction, condemnation and extinction (almost)

ZTE. Three letters which rocked the world. A government-owned Chinese telecommunications vendor which can’t help but antagonise the US government.

It might seem like decades ago now but cast your mind back to April. A single signature from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) almost sent ZTE, a company of 75,000 employees and revenues of $17 billion, to keep the dodo company.

This might have been another move in the prolonged technology trade war between the US and China, but ZTE was not innocent. The firm was caught red-handed trading with Iran, a country which sits very prominently on the US trade sanction list. Trading with Iran is not necessarily the issue, it’s the incorporation of US components and IP in the goods which were sent to the country. ZTE’s business essentially meant the US was indirectly helping a country which was attempting to punish.

The result was a ban, no US components or IP to feature in any ZTE products. A couple of weeks later manufacturing facilities lay motionless and the company faced the prospect of permanent closure, such was its reliance on the US. With a single move, the US brought one of China’s most prominent businesses to its knees.

Although this episode has been smoothed over, and ZTE is of course back in action, the US demonstrated what its economic dirty bombs were capable of. This was just a single chapter in the wider story; the US/China trade war is in full flow.

Tinker, tailor, Dim-sum, Spy

This conflict has been bubbling away for years, but the last few months is where the argument erupted.

Back in 2012, a report was tabled by Congressman Mike Rogers which initially investigated the threat posed by Chinese technology firms in general, and Huawei specifically. The report did not produce any concrete evidence, though it suggested what many people were thinking; China is a threat to Western governments and its government is using internationally successful companies to extend the eyes of its intelligence community.

This report has been used several times over the last 12 months to justify increasingly aggressive moves against China and its technology vendors. During the same period, President Trump also blocked Broadcom’s attempts to acquire Qualcomm on the grounds of national security, tariffs were imposed, ZTE was banned from using US technologies in its supply chain and Huawei’s CFO was arrested in Canada on the grounds of fraud. With each passing month of 2018, the trade war was being cranked up to a new level.

Part of the strategy now seems to be undermining China’s credibility around the world, promoting a campaign of suggestion. There is yet to be any evidence produced confirming the Chinese espionage accusations but that hasn’t stopped several nations snubbing Chinese vendors. The US was of course the first to block Huawei and ZTE from the 5G bonanza, but Australia and Japan followed. New Zealand seems to be heading the same way, while South Korean telcos decided against including the Chinese vendors on preferred supplier lists.

The bigger picture is the US’ efforts to hold onto its dominance in the technology arena. This has proved to be incredibly fruitful for the US economy, though China is threatening the vice-like grip Silicon Valley has on the world. The US has been trying to convince the world not to use Chinese vendors on the grounds of national security, but don’t be fooled by this rhetoric; this is just one component of a greater battle against China.

Breakaway pack cross the 5G finish line

We made it!

Aside from 5G, we’ve been talking about very little over the last few years. There might have been a few side conversations which dominate the headlines for a couple of weeks, but we’ve never been far away from another 5G ‘breakthrough’ or ‘first’. And the last few weeks of 2018 saw a few of the leading telcos cross the 5G finish line.

Verizon was first with a fixed wireless access proposition, AT&T soon followed in the US with a portable 5G hotspot. Telia has been making some promising moves in both Sweden and Estonia, with limited launches aiming to create innovation and research labs, while San Marino was the first state to have complete coverage, albeit San Marino is a very small nation.

These are of course very minor launches, with geographical coverage incredibly limited, but that should not take the shine off the achievement. This is a moment the telco and technology industry has been building towards for years, and it has now been achieved.

Now we can move onto the why. Everyone knows 5G will be incredibly important for relieving the pressure on the telco pipes and the creation of new services, but no-one knows what these new services will be. We can all make educated guesses, but the innovators and blue-sky thinkers will come up with some new ideas which will revolutionise society and the economy.

Only a few people could have conceived Uber as an idea before the 4G economy was in full flow, and we can’t wait to see what smarter-than-us people come up with once they have the right tools and environment.

Zuckerberg proves he’s not a good friend after all

This is the news story which rocked the world. Data privacy violations, international actors influencing US elections, cover ups, fines, special committees, empty chairs, silly questions, knowledge of wrong-doing and this is only what we know so far… the scandal probably goes deeper.

It all started with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a Russian American researcher called Aleksandr Kogan from the University of Cambridge. Kogan created a quiz on the Facebook platform which exposed a loop-hole in the platform’s policies allowing Kogan to scrape data not only from those who took the quiz, but also connections of that user. The result was a database containing information on 87 million people. This data was used by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica during elections around the world, creating hyper-targeted adverts.

What followed was a circus. Facebook executives were hauled in-front of political special committees to answer questions. As weeks turned into months, more suspect practices emerged as politicians, journalists and busy-bodies probed deeper into the Facebook business model. Memos and internal emails have emerged suggesting executives knew they were potentially acting irresponsibly and unethically, but it didn’t seem to matter.

As it stands, Facebook is looking like a company which violated the trust of the consumer, has a much wider reaching influence than it would like to admit, and this is only the beginning. The only people who genuinely understand the expanding reach of Facebook are those who work for the company, but the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the data machine. And it is scaring people.

Big Blue back in the black

This might not have been a massive story for everyone in the industry, but with the severe fall from grace and rise back into the realms of relevance, we feel IBM deserves a mention.

Those who feature in the older generations will remember the dominance of IBM. It might seem unusual to say nowadays, but Big Blue was as dominant in the 70s as Microsoft was in the 90s and Google is today. This was a company which led the technology revolution and defined innovation. But it was not to be forever.

IBM missed a trick; personal computing. The idea that every home would have a PC was inconceivable to IBM, who had carved its dominant position through enterprise IT, but it made a bad choice. This tidal wave of cash which democratised computing for the masses went elsewhere, and IBM was left with its legacy business unit.

This was not a bad thing for years, as the cash cow continued to grow, but a lack of ambition in seeking new revenues soon took its toll. Eight years ago, IBM posted a decline in quarterly revenues and the trend continued for 23 consecutive periods. During this period cash was directed into a new division, the ‘strategic imperatives’ unit, which was intended to capitalise on a newly founded segment; intelligent computing.

In January this year, IBM proudly posted its first quarterly growth figures for seven years. Big Blue might not be the towering force it was decades ago, but it is heading in the right direction, with cloud computing and artificial intelligence as the key cogs.

Convergence, convergence, convergence

Convergence is one of those buzzwords which has been on the lips of every telco for a long time, but few have been able to realise the benefits.

There are a few glimmers of promise, Vodafone seem to be making promising moves in the UK broadband market, while Now TV offers an excellent converged proposition. On the other side of the Atlantic, AT&T efforts to move into the content world with the Time Warner acquisition is a puzzling one, while Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo’s content assets have proved to be nothing but a disaster.

Orange is a company which is taking convergence to the next level. We’re not just talking about connectivity either, how about IOT, cyber-security, banking or energy services. This is a company which is living the convergence dream. Tie as many services into the same organisation, making the bill payer so dependent on one company it becomes a nightmare to leave.

It’s the convergence dream as a reality.

Europe’s Great Tax Raid

This is one of the more recent events on the list, and while it might not be massive news now, we feel it justifies inclusion. This developing conversation could prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2019 not only because governments are tackling the nefarious accounting activities of Silicon Valley, but there could also be political consequences if the White House feels it is being victimised.

Tax havens are nothing new, but the extent which Silicon Valley is making use of them is unprecedented. Europe has had enough of the internet giants making a mockery of the bloc, not paying its fair share back to the state, and moves are being made by the individual states to make sure these monstrously profitable companies are held accountable.

The initial idea was a European-wide tax agenda which would be led by the European Commission. It would impose a sales tax on all revenues realised in the individual states. As ideas go, this is a good one. The internet giants will find it much more difficult to hide user’s IP addresses than shifting profits around. Unfortunately, the power of the European Union is also its downfall; for any meaningful changes to be implemented all 28 (soon to be 27) states would have to agree. And they don’t.

Certain states, Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg, have a lot more to lose than other nations have to gain. These are economies which are built on the idea of buddying up to the internet economy. They might not pay much tax in these countries, but the presence of massive offices ensure society benefits through other means. Taxing Silicon Valley puts these beneficial relationships with the internet players in jeopardy.

But that isn’t good enough for the likes of the UK and France. In the absence of any pan-European regulations, these states are planning to move ahead with their own national tax regimes; France’s 3% sales tax on any revenues achieved in the country will kick into action on January 1, with the UK not far behind.

What makes this story much more interesting will be the influence of the White House. The US government might feel this is an attack on the prosperous US economy. There might be counter measures taken against the European Union. And when we say might, we suspect this is almost a certainty, such is the ego of President Donald Trump.

This is a story which will only grow over the next couple of months, and it could certainly cause friction on both sides of the Atlantic.

Que the moans… GDPR

GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation. It was a pain for almost everyone involved and simply has to be discussed because of this distress.

Introduced in May, it seemingly came as a surprise. This is of course after companies were given 18 months to prepare for its implementation, but few seemed to appreciate the complexity of becoming, and remaining compliant. As a piece of regulation, it was much needed for the digital era. It heightened protections for the consumer and ensured companies operating in the digital economy acted more responsibly.

Perhaps one of the most important components of the regulation was the stick handed to regulators. With technology companies growing so rapidly over the last couple of years, the fines being handed out by watchdogs were no longer suitable. Instead of defining specific amounts, the new rules allow punishments to be dished out as a percentage of revenues. This allows regulators to hold the internet giants accountable, hitting them with a suitably large stick.

Change is always difficult, but it is necessary to ensure regulations are built for the era. Evolving the current rulebook simply wouldn’t work, such is the staggering advancement of technology in recent years. Despite the headaches which were experienced throughout the process, it was necessary, and we’ll be better off in the long-run.

Next on the regulatory agenda, the ePrivacy Regulation.

Jio piles the misery on competitors

Jio is not a new business anymore, neither did it really come to being in 2018, but this was the period where the telco really justified the hype and competitors felt the pinch.

After hitting the market properly in early 2016, the firm made an impression. But like every challenger brand, the wins were small in context. Collecting 100,000s of customers every month is very impressive, but don’t forget India has a population of 1.3 billion and some very firmly position incumbents.

2017 was another year where the firm rose to prominence, forcing several other telcos out of the market and two of the largest players into a merger to combat the threat. Jio changed the market in 2017; it democratised connectivity in a country which had promised a lot but delivered little.

This year was the sweeping dominance however. It might not be the number one telco in the market share rankings, but it will be before too long. Looking at the most recent subscription figures released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Jio grew its subscription base by 13.02 million, but more importantly, it was the only telco which was in the positive. This has started to make an impact on the financial reports across the industry, Bharti Airtel is particularly under threat, and there might be worse to come.

For a long-time Jio has been hinting it wants to tackle the under-performing fixed broadband market. There have been a couple of acquisitions in recent months, Den Networks and Hathway Cable, which give it an entry point, and numerous other digital services initiatives to diversify the revenue streams.

The new business units are not making much money at the moment, though Jio is in the strongest position to test out the convergence waters in India. Offering a single revenue stream will ensure the financials hit a glass ceiling in the near future, but new products and aggressive infrastructure investment plans promise much more here.

We’re not too sure whether the Indian market is ready for mass market fixed broadband penetration, there are numerous other market factors involved, but many said the initial Jio battle plan would fail as well.

Convergent business models are certainly an interesting trend in the industry, and Jio is looking like it could force the Indian market into line.

Redundancies, redundancies, redundancies

Redundancy is a difficult topic to address, but it is one we cannot ignore. Despite what everyone promises, there will be more redundancies.

Looking at the typical telco business model, this is the were the majority have been seen and will continue to be seen. To survive in the digitally orientated world, telcos need to adapt. Sometimes this means re-training staff to capitalise on the new bounties, but unfortunately this doesn’t always work. Some can’t be retrained, some won’t want to; the only result here will be redundancies.

BT has been cutting jobs, including a 13,000-strong cull announced earlier this year, Deutsche Telekom is trimming its IT services business by 25%, the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint will certainly create overlaps and resulting redundancies, while Optus has been blaming automation for its own cuts.

Alongside the evolving landscape, automation is another area which will result in a headcount reduction. The telcos will tell you AI is only there to supplement human capabilities and allow staff to focus on higher value tasks, but don’t be fooled. There will be value-add gains, but there will also be accountants looking to save money on the spreadsheets. If you can buy software to do a simple job, why would you hire a couple of people to do it? We are the most expensive output for any business.

Unfortunately, we have to be honest with ourselves. For the telco to compete in the digital era, new skills and new business models are needed. This means new people, new approaches to software and new internal processes. Adaptation and evolution is never easy and often cruel to those who are not qualified. This trend has been witnessed in previous industrial revolutions, but the pace of change today means it will be felt more acutely.

Redundancy is not a nice topic, but it is not always avoidable.

Microsoft recognises AI might screw over some employees

Artificial intelligence has been hyped as the technology which will drive profits in the next era, though few in the technology want recognise how painful the technology will be for some segments of society.

The propaganda mission from the technology world was incredibly present at Microsoft’s UK event Future Decoded. Of course, there are benefits from the implementation of AI. Business can be more productive, more intelligent and more proactive, tackling trends ahead of time and gaining an edge on competitors. There is a lot of buzz, but it might just turn out to be justified.

Despite this promise, Microsoft has seemingly done something this morning few other technology companies around the world are brave enough to do; recognise that there will be people screwed by the deployment.

“There is a risk of leaving an entire generation behind,” said Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose.

The risk here is the pace of change. While previous generations might have had time to adapt to the impact of next-generation technologies, today’s environment is allowing AI to disrupt the status quo at a much more aggressive pace than ever before. Rose pointed towards the explosive growth of data, pervasiveness of the cloud and much more powerful algorithms, as factors which are accelerating the development and deployment of AI.

One question which should be asked is whether the workforce can be re-educated and reskilled fast enough to ensure society is not being left behind? Yes it can, but Rose stated the UK is not doing enough to keep pace with the disruption.

Looking at statistics which support this statement, Microsoft has released research which found 41% of employees and 37% of business leaders believe older generations will get left behind. Now usually when we talk about older generations and a skills gap, retirees comes to mind. However, those in the late 40s or early 50s could be the more negatively affected. The ability or desire to reskill might not be there due to the individuals entering the final stages of their career before retirement, though the risk of redundancy will be present. How are the people who might be made redundant 3-4 years short of retirement going to be supported? This is a question which has not been answered or even considered by anyone.

To help with imbalance, Microsoft UK has announced the launch of its AI Academy, which is targeted on training 500,000 people on AI skills. This is not just a scheme which is aimed at developers, but also IT professionals, those at risk of job loss and executives in both the business and public sector world.

As the technology industry has pointed out several times, there will be jobs created as part of the AI enthusiasm. But here is the risk, are those who are victims of job displacement suitably qualified to take these jobs? No, they are not. Uber drivers who fall victims to the firms efforts in autonomous driving, or how about the bookmaker who will be made redundant by SAPs powerful accounting software. These are not data scientists or developers, and will not be able to claim a slice of the AI bonanza which is being touted today.

But perhaps the risk has been hyped because there is too much focus on the negative? KPMG’s Head of Digital Disruption Shamus Rae suggested too much attention has been given to the dystopian view of AI, instead of its potential to unlock value and capture new revenues. Comfused.com CEO Louise O’Shea said one way her team implemented AI was to pair technical and non-technical staff to, firstly, allow front line employees to contribute to development and make an application which is actually useful, and secondly remove the fear of the unknown. The technical staff educate the non-technical staff on what the technology means and why it can help.

These are interesting thoughts, and do perhaps blunt the edge of the AI threat somewhat, but there will be those who use AI for purely productivity gains, not the way the industry is selling it. These are not businesses which will survive in the long-term, but they will have a negative impact on employees and society in the short-term. When you are lining up in the dole queue, the promise of an intelligent, cloud-orientated future is little comfort.

Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose is right. AI will power the next-generation and create immense value for the economy. But, no-where near enough is being done to help those at risk of job loss to adapt to the new world. The aim here is not to hide the negative with an overwhelming tsunami of benefits, but to minimise the consequences as much as possible. Not enough is being done.