5G industry news Acceleration & Innovation

Research Spotlight: A path to revenue growth

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Anna Kurmanbaeva on 29 Sep 2021
  • Last modified 5 Oct 2021
Top-line revenue growth has eluded telecoms operators ever since the market for basic connectivity services became saturated. However, the deployment of 5G networks – and the transformation of operators’ networks and IT systems – has given the industry some confidence in its ability to leverage new technologies to build new products and services and new revenue streams.

Telcos believe their future revenue growth lies in B2B, not B2C. New research from TM Forum’s Research & Media team shows that the most promising B2B services include security, IoT and cloud, with double-digit percentage growth possible for each into 2024.

TM Forum's analysts provided a preview of their research during a Digital Transformation World Series session. The analysts looked at 32 of the world’s largest communications service providers (CSPs), comparing their financial results for the period from 2018 to 2020. The combined revenue of this set of telcos represents about 70% of the service revenue in the telecoms industry, and analysis was based on a data model produced using the CSPs’ publicly available financial results. Specifically, they focused on revenue for B2B services including security, IoT and cloud and for B2C services including TV and payments.

Where’s the money?

Of the 32 CSPs analyzed, 17 provide clear breakdowns of their B2B revenue. Based on this data, TM Forum's analysts, Mark Newman and Dean Ramsay calculated that overall growth in B2B revenue was about 3.5% from 2018 to 2019. Revenue declined by the same percentage from 2019 to 2020 because of the pandemic, but the analysts expect growth in B2B revenue in the upcoming three years.


“Unfortunately, we picked a period that was probably not ideal because of the pandemic,” Mark Newman acknowledged. “It’s our belief that the B2B business is growing – relatively modestly, but it is growing.”

Telcos typically earn B2B revenue in three ways:

  • Selling connectivity/access to network services
  • Resale of software or hardware provided by partners (IoT devices are a good example)
  • Professional services, which could be traditional managed network services or more complex professional integration services in new areas like security, IoT and cloud

For the core telco business, EBITDA is maybe in the mid-30s as a percentage,” Mark Newman said. “If we look at the services businesses, telcos don’t break out their EBITDA…, but even the most successful professional services firms are making an EBITDA margin of about 20%. We believe that telco EBITDA margin in [professional] services is actually a lot lower than 20% – it’s probably half of that or even less.”

He adds: “So, that’s an interesting starting point for thinking about these new services. On the one hand we’re saying that growth is all in IoT, security and cloud, but is that services? What is the margin, is the question?”

When it comes to connectivity, TM Forum’s research finds that many observers and even CSPs themselves believe that it is, or is fast-becoming, a commodity. But many of the new services that operators are exploring like network slicing are, indeed, connectivity.

“So, then you start thinking about well, how do you monetize ‘better’ connectivity – connectivity-as-a-service?” Newman said. “Do you monetize it by selling more of it, or [through] higher prices?”

Types of telcos

Another way to explore the potential for B2B growth is to consider which types of CSPs are likely to succeed. Today, B2B services are delivered primarily by large incumbent CSPs, but that may be changing. Newman and Ramsay identified four categories of telco as shown in the graphic below.


“If you’re an incumbent, your B2B revenues would go down every year if you did nothing, and that’s because the core…connectivity business – is stagnating,” Newman said. “So, if you sit down and do nothing as a defender, you may lose 5% of revenues per year.”

For challengers and prospectors, on the other hand, B2B revenue can be incremental growth because they don’t serve the market now.

“So, if we relate our core theme, which is a path to revenue growth, it does kind of depend on who you are and how much legacy you have, because in practice many of these growth areas are compensating for decline in the core,” Mark Newman explained.

“To cut to the chase, the question is: Can you grow your new areas more quickly than you lose business in your legacy areas? That’s the race that everyone is up against.”

To learn much more about the revenue potential for security, IoT and cloud, and to find out what steps  CSPs should take now to grow revenue in the future, watch Research Spotlight: A path to revenue growth on demand here.

Registration to the Digital Transformation World Series is required to watch the recording. Not registered yet? There’s still time. Register here to get access to all the keynotes, panel discussions and master classes. Communication service providers can register for free.