Telecommunications Network Operators: 2Q19 Market Review

Telecommunications Network Operators: 2Q19 Market Review
Industry revenue recorded its fourth straight quarter of declining revenue, as capex surged 5% YoY in 2Q19
By Subramanian Venkatraman and Matt Walker

This market review provides a comprehensive assessment of the global telecommunications industry based on financial results through June 2019 (2Q19). 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 1Q11-2Q19 (34 quarters). The report’s format is Excel.


The global telecom industry continues to be constrained at the top line. Annualized revenues declined YoY by 1.6% in 2Q19, to $1,821B. Revenue decline moderated slightly in 2Q19 as single quarter revenues fell -0.4% YoY to $453B. Second quarter capex was strong, recording 5% growth from 2Q18 to $72B. Annualized capex thereby increased slightly to $303B in 2Q19, from $299B in 1Q19 or $302B in 2Q18. The capex uptick was due mainly to China. Telco spending on employees, or labor costs, amounted to $290B in 2Q19 on an annualized basis, roughly flat YoY.

Telcos are beginning to deploy 5G and invest in the media business, but most are doing so cautiously as recession warnings are growing. On October 14, the IMF downgraded expectations for 2019 and said the macroeconomic outlook remains “precarious.” Recessions tend to hit telco revenues hard. A slowdown in telco revenues result in both additional layoffs and a slower growth rate in 5G spending. Few telcos have room in their budgets for a 5G capex splurge. Telco profit margins remain tight, nothing new for the telecom industry. Operators are getting more concerned about debt, though, and more interested in open networking, cloud partnerships, asset spinoffs, and other tactics to reduce capex requirements.

Key findings of our 2Q19 “Market Review” include:

1) The long-term revenue growth rate of the telecom sector is in the 0% to 2% range, after adjusting for currency translation. In 2Q19, single-quarter revenue dropped by 0.4% YoY on a fixed exchange rate basis. Actual revenue growth in 2Q19 was lower, down 0.5% YoY to $453B. Both figures are slightly below the sector’s long term growth range.

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 (16.6% in 2Q19). 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. Such deals also inevitably come with layoffs.

3) On a revenue per employee (RPE) basis, the telco sector has been stagnant since 2011: the annualized figure was $362K that year, and the average figure for the last four quarters was $353K. Labor costs per employee, on an annualized basis declined YoY by -0.2% in 2Q19 to $55.8K. Over the last 12 months, the fastest growing operators on an RPE basis include Omantel, Zain, Reliance Communications, Shaw, and Telenor.

4) Telcos employed 5.2 million people in 2Q19, in line with 2Q18. 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) Annualized capex for 2Q19 alone was 16.6% of revenues, a little higher than 1Q19. That was due to a strong second quarter. Single quarter capex grew 5% YoY in 2Q19 to $72B, after two consecutive single-quarter declines. This increase mainly came from China’s big three telcos, which combined generated capex of more than $11B in 2Q19 (YoY increase of 16%). The market’s average capital intensity will exceed 17% by the end of this year.

6) The M&A climate remains strong for the sector in 2019. Many telcos see their core markets declining, and are buying their way into other markets while also streamlining their asset base. 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. However, after the M&A deal paperwork is signed, integrating operations and actually achieving synergies continues to be a challenge for telcos. Managing the debt from these acquisitions is just as hard, as AT&T and others are discovering.

7) Telco industry operating margins have been very stable for the last 11 quarters, hovering at around 13.7%, on an annualized basis. Net margins vary substantially, impacted by depreciation costs, taxes, debt payments, workforce restructuring, and a whole host of other factors. In order to grow margins, many operators plan layoffs or similar workforce restructuring (e.g. voluntary retirement). At the same time, telcos are hiring in new technical areas (e.g. SDN) and are always hiring salespeople. On a per-employee basis, the global average for labor costs (on an annualized basis) in 2Q19 was $56k, down 0.2% compared to the year earlier. As 5G approaches, telcos will see their sales & marketing costs grow. They will 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

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

Figure & Charts

1) TNOs: Annualized revenue ($M) and YoY growth (%), 2Q14-2Q19
2) TNOs: Annualized capex ($M) and capital intensity (%), 2Q14-2Q19
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 2Q13-2Q19)
6) Local currency value vs. US$ (QoQ change)
7) Top 20 share of the market, 2Q19
8) Top 20 TNOs by total capex, 2Q19
9) Top 20 TNOs by total revenue, 2Q19
10) TNOs: YoY growth in single quarter revenues
11) TNOs: Annualized capital intensity, 2Q11-2Q19
12) TNOs: Revenue and RPE, annualized 2Q14-2Q19
13) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity (annualized), 2Q14-2Q19
14) TNOs: Total headcount trends, 2Q11-2Q19
15) TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2011-18
16) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2011-18 ($ Mn)
17) TNOs: Capex and capital intensity, 2Q14-2Q19 ($ Mn)
18) TNOs: Revenue and RPE trends, 2Q14-2Q19
19) Top 40 TNOs by total opex, 2Q19
20) Top 40 TNOs by labor costs, 2Q19


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


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