This market review provides a comprehensive assessment of the global telecommunications industry based on financial results through December 2018 (4Q18). The report tracks revenue, capex and employee for 130 individual telecommunications network operators (TNOs). For a sub-group of 40 large TNOs, the report also assesses labor cost, opex and operating profit trends. Our coverage timeframe spans 1Q11-4Q18 (32 quarters). The report's format is Excel.
The telecom industry has changed drastically over the last decade, as demand for data continues to surge due to smartphone adoption and increasingly ubiquitous mobile broadband infrastructure. TNOs have diversified their service offerings and overhauled their operations to meet rising data demand. They have invested heavily in their networks, employees, and acquisitions. Many are engaged in whole-company initiatives around "digital transformation."
Their efforts have delivered an incredible range of services to billions of users. But the sector's health is mixed: operating margins are at best stable, top-line revenues for the sector remain challenged, and TNO capex requirements remain high due to 5G and fiber. Further, telcos need to manage their own internal labor costs carefully. These remain nearly 16% of revenues; even those telcos engaged in layoffs are also hiring new staff to cope with new technologies and changing market demand. There are also concerns of a looming recession. Telcos face an uncertain future.
1. The long-term revenue growth rate of the telecom sector is in the 0-2% range. In 4Q18, growth was -0.2% on a fixed (constant) exchange rate basis. Actual revenue growth in 4Q18 was lower, down 2.4% YoY to $456B. .
2. Even the modest growth currently achieved by the telecom sector requires high levels of capital investment in networks. The industry's long-term capex to revenue ratio (capital intensity) is in the 16-18% range, on average. Telcos also use M&A to expand into adjacent markets; AT&T-Time Warner is just one example. The debt from such deals can drive up the operator's interest payments and make it harder to fund capex, however.
3. On a revenue per employee basis, the telco sector has been stagnant since 2011: the figure was $360K that year, and averaging $353K for the last four quarters. Labor costs per employee grew 2% in 2018 to $55.5K.
4. Telcos employed 5.2 million people in 2018, just up 1.3% YoY. We expect employee totals to begin declining in the next 1-2 years. India alone may cut up to 100K employees in that timeframe, due to Jio's consolidation & BSNL reforms.
5. Capex for 2018 was 16.4% of revenues, in line with 2017. The highest it has been since 2011 was 17.8% in 2015, when 4G buildouts were still important; there is opportunity for growth.
6. Telco network investments rose for the first three quarters of 2018, but a quiet fourth quarter left 2018 telco capex at $301B, just 1.3% higher than 2017. The weak 4Q18 result of $83.9B (down 3.4% YoY) does not bode well for 2019. The slowdown could be due to operator caution about market demand. Yet competitive realities will require operators to spend big on 5G and fiber in 2019-20. The market's average capital intensity will exceed 17% by the end of this year.
7. The M&A climate remains strong for the sector in 2018. Noteworthy deals include the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, Comcast's acquisition of Sky, the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular; and Vodafone's $18B acquisition of Liberty Global's Germany and Eastern Europe cable and broadband assets.
8. TNOs recorded strong profits but average annualized operating margins have been flat and hovering at around 13% over the last 11 quarters. Labor costs are one driver: annualized labor costs per employee have been rising, up 4.5% in 2018 to $55.4K (from $53.1K in 2016). As 5G approaches, TNOs will keep up the pressure on their staff spending. They will also continue to look for ways to reduce customer acquisition & retention costs, through both technology investments & business partnerships.
Key Topics Covered
3. Single-company drilldowns
4. Key stats through 4Q18
5. Operator rankings
6. Rev, capex and headcount
7. Deep dive cost analysis
8. Subs & traffic
9. Exchange rates
10. About (including methodology)
- A1 Telekom Austria
- Advanced Info Service (AIS)
- Altice Europe
- Altice USA
- America Movil
- Bezeq Israel
- Bharti Airtel Limited
- Bouygues Telecom
- Cable ONE Inc.
- Cellcom Israel
- Cequel Communications
- Charter Communications
- China Mobile
- China Telecom
- China Unicom
- Chunghwa Telecom
- Cincinatti Bell
- CK Hutchison
- Com Hem Holding AB
- Consolidated Communications
- Cyfrowy Polsat
- DEN Networks Limited
- Deutsche Telekom
- Dish Network
- Dish TV India Limited
- DNA Ltd.
- Fairpoint Communications
- Far EasTone Telecommunications Co. Ltd.
- Frontier Communications
- Globe Telecom
- Grupo Clarin
- Grupo Televisa
and many more...
List of Figures & Charts
- TNOs: Annualized revenue ($M) and YoY growth (%), 1Q14-4Q18
- TNOs: Annualized capex ($M) and capital intensity (%), 4Q14-4Q18
- Labor cost/revenue (%), 2018
- Labor cost and labor cost per employee, 2018 YoY change (%)
- Change in annualized operating margins (YoY percentage point difference 4Q13-4Q18)
- Local currency value vs. US$ (QoQ change)
- Top 20 share of the market, 4Q18
- Top 20 TNOs by total capex, 4Q18
- Top 20 TNOs by total revenue, 4Q18
- TNOs: YoY growth in single quarter revenues
- TNOs: Annualized capital intensity, 4Q11-4Q18
- TNOs: Revenue and RPE, annualized 1Q14-4Q18
- TNOs: Capex and capital intensity (annualized), 1Q14-4Q18
- TNOs: Total headcount trends, 1Q11-4Q18
- TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2011-18
- TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2011-18 ($ Mn)
- TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 4Q14-4Q18 ($ Mn)
- TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 4Q14-4Q18
- Top 41 TNOs by total opex, 4Q18
- Top 41 TNOs by labor costs, 4Q18
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