August 2021 in telecoms: what can’t you miss?

CURATED: GSMA Intelligence takes on Standalone networks and consumer gaming developments

As expected, MWC Barcelona saw an array of announcements on the leading innovations, developments, and partnerships that will shape the future of the industry. It comes as no surprise, then, that as the dust settles post MWC, most of the announcements and updates from the industry in the last month have focussed more on the day-to-day activities ranging from spectrum, network coverage, M&A and other updates.

For this edition of CURATED, based on our Industry updates, we bring you the latest developments on 5G SA networks and consumer gaming alongside our views on what these developments indicate and how they are shaping the future of industry.

5G SA: How long is the journey to become mainstream?

Did you know…

By mid-august, 15 operators* from 12 markets have already deployed commercial 5G services on Standalone (SA) networks. And, 90 operators* from 45 markets, representing around 38% of operators who have either launched or planning to launch 5G, have also announced plans for SA deployments (conducting trials, forging infrastructure and solution partnerships) after having initially launched 5G on non-standalone (NSA) network. Standalone (SA) networks are expected to be one of the key enablers for myriad 5G use cases across enterprise and consumer markets; this explains why the investment in these networks is a natural step for operators in their 5G journey.

According to a recent GSMA Intelligence survey, operators foresee the following as top benefits from deploying SA networks.

Source: GSMA Intelligence Network Transformation Survey 2021

The momentum and progress is also reflected in the following announcements from operators sharing updates on their coverage plans, new launches, partnerships, and trials:

ThemeIndustry Update
TrialAug 4: StarHub launches 5G Standalone market trial
July 27: M1 launches 5G Standalone market trial
LaunchJuly 16: KT launches commercial SA 5G network
Test new featuresAug 3: Nokia achieves 5G SA carrier aggregation with Taiwan Mobile
July 28: M1 and Samsung deploy 5G VoNR service on 5G SA network
PartnershipsJuly 19 : Taiwan Star Telecom selects Nokia to extend its 5G footprint
July 17: Vivo partners AIS to conduct network test
July 16: Movistar contracts Ericsson, Nokia for 5G SA deployment
Coverage updatesJuly 27: M1 plans to reach 75% nationwide coverage with its 5G SA network by the end of 2021

So what?

The true success of 5G based on SA will only happen when it becomes more mainstream. How long this will take, therefore, becomes one of the key questions to answer! Any network evolution is a gradual process and can take anywhere from months to years depending on the specific operator circumstances, strategies, and investment decisions. However, referencing the lifecycle of existing LTE networks, based on GSMA Intelligence data, it took operators (data used for 150 operators) an average of around 2.5 years to upgrade from LTE to LTE-Advanced. This does not suggest a direct correlation for understanding the lifecycle of an SA upgrade from NSA, but it serves as a good analogy. LTE-Advanced, of course, was a technical advancement on existing LTE networks, whereas a move from NSA to SA will likely be more significant for most operators’ and might take similar or more time than LTE upgrades. It will be interesting to how long it takes for SA networks to become mainstream.

Meanwhile, in the near to medium term, building on established coverage of LTE, NSA will continue to do the heavy lifting of 5G but operators still need to incorporate SA network planning in their long term roadmap.

Related reading:

5G SA means business – but also consumer
5G SA networks are going global, ready to become mainstream

*Number of operators includes both Mobile and FWA 5G launches

The shift in consumer gaming behaviour and opportunities for operators thereof

Did you know…

According to a GSMA Intelligence consumer survey: 60% of the adult population across 20 developed countries play digital games at least once a week. But, what percentage of gamers pay for these? On average, only 1/3rd of gamers pay for games. The recent gaming surge among consumers coupled with only 1/3rd paying for them presents monetisation opportunities in the gaming ecosystem.

Not only this, the survey also brought to light the shifting consumer behaviour:

  • A preferential shift to gaming on smartphones (thanks to multitude of games available on cloud platforms,
    affordable smartphones, and the increasing availability of 5G networks and devices)
  • Gaming is now for every age group, however, the proportion of people playing varies among different age groups.
    72% of 18–24 year-olds play games at least once a week, while 42% of people in the 65+ age group do so

Undoubtedly, the changing consumer behaviour and surge in gaming creates new monetisation opportunities for operators beyond connectivity or upselling larger data packages, and also creates opportunities for other players in the gaming ecosystem. This is also corroborated in the following recent developments in industry on the gaming front:

ThemeIndustry Update
Partnership for third party sellingJuly 30: Movistar partners Microsoft to offer Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to customers
July 16: Sri Lanka Telecom partners with Swarmio to launch gaming platform
E-sports launchJuly 27: Ooredoo Qatar, in partnership with Quest, launches eSports brand
Cloud gaming launch in partnershipJuly 24: Facebook launches its Cloud gaming service on iOS through a web app

So what?

It is clear that the Industry sees an opportunity in gaming and is making progress towards trying to capture it. The question then becomes what are the options available to operators for monetising the opportunities in gaming and what success will look like. Drawing insights from the same GSMA Intelligence report, there are four routes available for operators to capitalise on the opportunities: Two in B2C (selling third party games, develop in-house games) and two in B2B (offer networks services e.g. edge and private networks to gaming and media companies or develop e-sports products). Operators will derive their success in the form of new revenues, premium customer base, reduced churn alongside other benefits highlighted in the report. Now, which route to take will then depend on some underlying factors such as market profile, network assets of operators, and their strategies?

Clearly the gaming industry is expected to grow manifold in the coming years and it’s time to capitalise on the opportunities.

For more detailed insights related on consumer gaming behaviour, the options available to operators and the underlying factors please refer to the following GSMA Intelligence publications:

Gaming comes into its own: capitalising on shifting consumer behaviours
Consumer gaming: assessing the new revenue opportunity for operators
Consumer gaming in the 5G era: Is there a new opportunity for operators

Finally, do you know that…

All of the above analysis is based on news curated by our team of analysts, and taken from our Industry Updates feed. Visit our feed today for more of the news shaping the mobile industry of tomorrow. It comes without interference!

By Radhika Gupta, Head of Data Acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

Consumer gaming in the 5G era: is there a new opportunity for operators?

We knew it was not a matter of if, but when; like with music and video in the past, digital transformation is now disrupting the gaming industry. Shifting consumer behaviour is a major driving force, as is recent progress with enabling technologies such as cloud, 5G and immersive reality. Here we look at the transformation of the gaming industry across different areas, and analyse what it means for mobile players.

 Gamer behaviour is changing

Gaming is a popular pastime for people of all ages. GSMA Intelligence Consumers in Focus research shows that 60% of the adult population across the 20 major countries we analysed plays digital games on consoles, PCs or mobile devices at least once a week. That is a significant user base. Our research also shows that gamer behaviour is changing. First, there is a shift of gaming time from consoles to mobile devices, especially smartphones. This brings greater reach and higher consumer engagement, owing to the ubiquitous adoption of smartphones and the plethora of games available on mobile app stores.

Second, like with music and video, a subscription model is now emerging for gaming, as consumers show interest in it. Today, gamers have a broad and diverse range of options to choose: these include subscriptions for consoles (e.g. PlayStation Now, Nintendo Switch Online, Xbox Game Pass), cloud gaming subscriptions (e.g. Google Stadia, Tencent Start, GeForce Now), subscriptions designed for mobile (e.g. Apple Arcade, Google Play Pass) and subscriptions provided by game publishers (e.g. Uplay+, Origin Access).

What does this mean for the gaming industry?

It means disruption and innovation. The advent of mobile as a gaming platform and the rise of cloud-based gaming have disrupted the position of consoles as the dominant platform, opening up the market to new competitors. Console sales have been hit in recent years, while some OEMs have enhanced the gaming capabilities of their smartphones. Flagship mobile devices (e.g. the Samsung Galaxy S21, Razer Phone 2 or Asus ROG Phone 5) are marketed specifically for gaming, with aftermarket accessories that can turn these devices into dedicated mobile gaming consoles.

It also means a new business opportunity. Let’s do the math; 15% of gamers (in the 20 countries we analysed) already have a gaming subscription; half of gamers are not interested in a gaming subscription (for now); that leaves an incremental market of at least 35% of gamers. If subscription gaming is to work as a mass-market commercial product, gaming companies will need to attract non-paying gamers and turn them into paying gamers.

The prominent cloud gaming services in operation are run by the big companies with established cloud and content delivery network infrastructure footprints (e.g. Microsoft, Google and Tencent), but mobile players, such as Apple and a range of operators, are making progress here too. Also, last week, Netflix confirmed its intention to enter the gaming market (certainly a big development).

Why are operators looking at gaming, and why now?

So far, operators have mostly benefited from gaming indirectly through upselling, as heavy gamers need larger mobile data allowances. However, the shift of gaming to mobile devices, coupled with technology innovation that heavily involves (or is led by) operators (e.g. cloud, edge, 5G) are driving new thinking.

5G is important for (at least) two big reasons. First, streaming requires cloud-based content access, delivery and consumption, which in turn requires high-speed connectivity and low latencies – this is 5G territory. The rollout of 5G networks enables the faster and low-latency connections that smartphone gamers need to have higher-quality, uninterrupted cloud-based gaming sessions.

Second, 5G users are more engaged with gaming than 4G users (twice as much to be precise) and are more interested in having gaming services bundled with their mobile connectivity contracts (40% higher interest). Also, nearly half of people playing games on their smartphones frequently find the enhanced gaming experience enabled by 5G appealing – especially among younger generations (see chart). This is something for operators to consider when designing their 5G and multi-play offerings and tariffs.

Figure: Appeal of enhanced gaming as a new 5G use case

Percentage of respondents*

* Of those who play games on their smartphones frequently (at least once a week) Question: “5G is expected to create new ways to deliver services to consumers. To what extent does gaming appeal to you?”

Source: GSMA Intelligence Consumers in Focus Survey

What are the strategic routes to gaming for operators?

An increasing number of operators are aiming to monetise the transformation of gaming via a more direct role. We have identified four possible routes for operators. Two of them are B2C-focused: selling third-party gaming services or developing own-branded services, often bundled with mobile or quad-play offerings. The other two are B2B-focused: offering premium network capabilities (e.g. edge technology, network slicing and private networks) to gaming/media companies or developing e-sports. These routes are not mutually exclusive – a complete gaming strategy may well involve a combination of these options.

Selling third-party gaming services (bundled with mobile) represents the fastest and most common approach for operators, but it is largely a customer acquisition/retention strategy. Developing own-branded gaming services offers greater monetisation. As with video streaming, operators will find it challenging to have a cloud gaming service that is competitive globally; however, it is within their reach to launch competitive propositions for local markets. A range of operators have already launched local cloud gaming propositions, including Deutsche Telekom, TIM, Vodafone Italy, China Mobile and the three South Korean operators. KT and SK Telecom each aim to reach 1 million gaming subscribers over the next 2–3 years; this would correspond to around 10% of their 5G subscriber bases (assuming that most gaming subscribers will be 5G users).

What is the incremental revenue opportunity for operators?

Our revenue opportunity model considers multiple factors, such as the current adoption of subscription gaming, the probability that core gamers will adopt a subscription in the future, the 5G effect (a function of 5G penetration and 5G gamer behaviour) and pricing dynamics. We sized both the direct (gaming subscription revenue) and indirect contribution (core ARPU uplift) of gaming. The indirect contribution is important, as the average mobile spend of 5G paying-gamers is 20% higher than that of 4G paying-gamers, meaning 5G gaming attracts premium mobile subscribers.

Taking 2020 mobile revenue as the base, gaming subscriptions could generate up to 4% of new revenues for operators in 2025. This ranges from 3% in the UK, Italy and the US to 4% in South Korea. Given that annual mobile revenue is set to grow low single-digits in three of the four markets (and declining in Italy), the gaming opportunity, which comes on top of these figures, can be remarkable. In addition, operators are exploring the gaming opportunity in a period when traditional pay-TV revenue is under pressure and falling in some markets, providing one more reason to try and do well in gaming.

As mobile increasingly shapes the future of gaming, we will continue to track and assess technology developments, gaming adoption, and business opportunities. You can read more on this topic in our latest report Gaming comes into its own: capitalising on shifting consumer behaviours.

By Pablo Iacopino, Head of Research and Commercial Content, GSMA Intelligence