Tuesday, January 11, 2011

KPN: forward-integrated network or backward-integrated marketing?

Talking to a friend on the 'telecoms debt' side of the market, a relation between sewer-based FTTH and open access appeared.

There are two assumptions:
  • Telcos have a tendency or desire to become as vertically integrated as they possibly can.
  • There are basically two kinds of telcos: those focusing on networks, and those focusing on services.
Telcos focusing on networks start off by building passive networks. They then do forward integration, by adding active elements and finally may even end up providing services. Example: Reggefiber.

The other kind look at themselves as sales & marketing organisations. They do backward integration by adding active network elements (for control, higher margins) and may end up building passive networks, if the cost thereof is low enough. Example: Tele2. But in a way too: KPN.

The latter point (cost of passive networks) is precisely where sewer-based networks come into play. There's a start-up in the Netherlands that claims it can cut the cost of laying fibre in half. So my friend said: if they could somehow cut the cost in half yet again, building FTTH would become so cheap as to be justified by any sales & marketing driven telco. As a result, open networks would become a thing of the past. Obviously, the sewer poses some tough challenges, so it remains to be seen if this start-up will fly and build its own vertically integrated telco on top of its sewer-based network.

The other interesting question raised by this discussion is: what will Eelco Blok's new strategy be? He is taking over as KPN's CEO later this year, and the question he might want to answer is very fundamental: is KPN a netwok company, with forward integration, or a sales & marketing company with backward integration?

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