Telecommunications Network Operators: 1Q19 Market Review

Telecommunications Network Operators: 1Q19 Market Review
Telcos keep a lid on capex as industry revenues fall by 3% YoY in 1Q19
By Subramanian Venkatraman and Matt Walker


This market review provides a comprehensive assessment of the global telecommunications industry based on financial results through March 2019 (1Q19). 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 1Q11-1Q19 (33 quarters). The report’s format is Excel.


The global telecom industry continues to be constrained at the top line. Revenues declined YoY by 3% in 1Q19, to $456B ($1,823B annualized). Total capex was $70B in 1Q19, declining at about the same rate as revenues. Labor costs were a bit higher at $72B in 1Q19.

Telcos are beginning to deploy 5G and invest in the media business, but most are doing so cautiously. Telco profit margins remain tight, nothing new for the telecom industry. Operators are getting more concerned about debt, though. The net debt (debt minus cash) of the global telco sector was roughly half of revenues in 2018, after having been in the 30-40% range of revenues at the cusp of the LTE buildout cycle. Few telcos have room in their budgets for a 5G capex splurge.

Key findings of our 1Q19 “Market Review” include:

1) The long-term revenue growth rate of the telecom sector is in the 0-2% range. In 1Q19, growth was 1% on a fixed (constant) exchange rate basis. Actual revenue growth in 1Q19 was lower, down 2.7% YoY to $456.5B.

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 16-17% range, on average (16.4% in 1Q19). 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 annualized figure was $360K that year, and averaging $355K for the last four quarters. Labor costs per employee, on an annualized basis declined YoY by 1.1% in 1Q19 to $55.5K.

4) Telcos employed 5.2 million people in 1Q19, in line with 1Q18. 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 1Q19 alone was 15.4% of revenues, the same as in 1Q18. First quarter capital intensity is usually low, while 4Q is the highest. The biggest capex quarter in the last decade was 21.4% of revenues in 1Q15, when 4G buildouts were still important.

6) Telco network investments continued a declining trend, as capex touched $70B in 1Q19, down almost 2.5% YoY. The weak 1Q19 result and continued supply side uncertainty 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 2019. Noteworthy recent 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. All eyes are set on the much talked about merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, which will result in the combined entity to become the second largest mobile operator in the US.

8) Telco industry operating margins have been hovering at around 11% over the last 11 quarters, on an annualized basis. Many operators point to high labor costs as impacting margins, and plan layoffs and/or restructuring to cope. On a per-employee basis, the global average for labor costs (on an annualized basis) in 1Q19 was $56k, down 1.1% compared to the year earlier. As 5G approaches, TNOs will continue to keep up the pressure on their staff spending. They will also continue to look for ways to reduce the labor cost component of customer acquisition & retention costs (CAC and CRC), through both technology investments & business partnerships.

  • Table Of Contents
  • Figure & Charts
  • Coverage
  • Visuals

Table Of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Analysis
  3. Single-company drilldowns
  4. Key stats through 1Q19
  5. Operator rankings
  6. Rev, capex and headcount
  7. Deep dive cost analysis
  8. Subs & traffic
  9. Exchange rates
  10. About (including methodology)

Figure & Charts

1) TNOs: Annualized revenue ($M) and YoY growth (%), 1Q14-1Q19
2) TNOs: Annualized capex ($M) and capital intensity (%), 1Q14-1Q19
3) Labor cost/revenue (%), 2018
4) Labor cost and labor cost per employee, 2018 YoY change (%)
5) Change in annualized operating margins (YoY percentage point difference 1Q13-1Q19)
6) Local currency value vs. US$ (QoQ change)
7) Top 20 share of the market, 1Q19
8) Top 20 TNOs by total capex, 1Q19
9) Top 20 TNOs by total revenue, 1Q19
10) TNOs: YoY growth in single quarter revenues
11) TNOs: Annualized capital intensity, 1Q11-1Q19
12) TNOs: Revenue and RPE, annualized 1Q14-1Q19
13) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity (annualized), 1Q14-1Q19
14) TNOs: Total headcount trends, 1Q11-1Q19
15) TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2011-18
16) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2011-18 ($ Mn)
17) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 1Q14-1Q19 ($ Mn)
18) TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 1Q14-1Q19
19) Top 41 TNOs by total opex, 1Q19
20) Top 41 TNOs by labor costs, 1Q19


Argentina Finland Japan Norway Taiwan
Australia France Kenya Oman Thailand
Austria Germany Kuwait Philippines Turkey
Bahrain Hong Kong Luxembourg Poland UAE
Brazil India Malaysia Qatar UK
Canada Indonesia Mexico Russia USA
Chile Israel Morocco South Korea
China Italy Singapore Spain
Denmark Netherlands South Africa Sweden
Egypt New Zealand Saudi Arabia Switzerland


A1 Telekom Austria Cincinatti Bell Hathway Cable & Datacom Limited PLDT TDS
Advanced Info Service (AIS) CK Hutchison Idea Cellular Limited Quebecor Telecommunications Tele2 AB
Altice Europe Clearwire Iliad SA Reliance Communications Limited Telecom Argentina
Altice USA Cogeco KDDI Reliance Jio Telecom Egypt
America Movil Com Hem Holding AB KPN Rogers Telecom Italia
AT&T Comcast KT Corporation Rostelecom Telefonica
Axiata Consolidated Communications Leap Wireless Safaricom Limited Telekom Malaysia Berhad
Axtel Cyfrowy Polsat LG Uplus Sasktel Telenor
Batelco DEN Networks Limited Liberty Global Shaw Communications Telia
BCE Deutsche Telekom M1 Singtel Telkom Indonesia
Bezeq Israel DirecTV Manitoba Telecom Services SITI Networks Limited Telkom SA
Bharti Airtel Limited Dish Network Maroc Telecom SK Telecom Telstra
Bouygues Telecom Dish TV India Limited Maxis Berhad Sky plc Telus
BSNL DNA Ltd. Megafon SmarTone Thaicom
BT Du MetroPCS Communications SoftBank Time Warner
Cable ONE, Inc. EE Millicom Spark New Zealand Limited Time Warner Cable
Cablevision Elisa Mobile Telesystems Sprint TPG Telecom Limited
Cellcom Israel Entel MTN Group StarHub True Corp
CenturyLink Etisalat MTNL STC (Saudi Telecom) Turk Telekom
Cequel Communications Fairpoint Communications NTT SureWest Communications Turkcell
Charter Communications Far EasTone Telecommunications Co., Ltd. Oi Swisscom Veon
China Mobile Frontier Communications Omantel Taiwan Mobile Verizon
China Telecom Globe Telecom Ooredoo Tata Communications Limited Virgin Media
China Unicom Grupo Clarin Orange Tata Teleservices Vivendi
Chunghwa Telecom Grupo Televisa PCCW TDC Vodafone
Vodafone Idea Limited Wind Tre Windstream Zain Zain KSA


MTN Consulting,LLC

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