Telecom in Tough Times: The Big Will Get Bigger
An ebbing tide lowers all boats, but some boats will ride a bit higher in the water.
The tortured metaphor is mine, but it sums up the outlook for 2009 of Yankee Group SVP Ashvin Vellody. He follows the "Anywhere Economy" -- the telecom industry and the businesses it enables -- covering in particular enabling technologies, and he expects the big telecom companies to weather the storm better than other sectors.
Given the carnage on Wall Street, recent unemployment data, and other grim economic portents, his view is slightly less optimistic than it was whencame out last month; he expects to release revised numbers in December. "We were forecasting a downturn of a few percentage points, we're looking now to shave off a few more points."
But he still holds to the premise that big service providers (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, France Telecom) will chug along through the next few quarters.
Following the shock of the last bubble popping, he says, these companies were conservative in managing their balance sheets, so their free cash flow is high and they are not strapped for credit. "Network expansion plans could be delayed in some cases, but they remain on track."
The scarcity of credit, though, is squeezing vendors, who rely heavily on R&D, and who face price-conscious customers and demands that they share risks and costs on big projects.
One cost of the downturn: "It will be a huge challenge for innovative ideas to come to market." Startups will struggle, leaving big companies to take a larger share of innovation projects, which they are not really set up to do.
Acquisition-hungry software companies like Oracle and Amdocs, he says, could gain ground through the tough quarters ahead. "How to integrate is the challenge." Also buying: Cisco and Juniper, along with the big service providers. "The big are getting bigger," he says.