by Yves Gassot
The United Statesí telecommunications services industry posted consolidated sales of EUR 239 billion in 2011. Compare this figure to those of the related television services industry (116 billion) and the European telecommunications sector (248 billion for the EU-27). For the past two years or more, mobile services revenues (126 billion) have surpassed those from broadband and data (53 billion) and the shrinking fixed telephony segment (60 billion) combined.
Like most Western countries, the industry has experienced major upheavals in recent years. For decades US telephony had been essentially structured around a private monopoly. In 1982, as the result of an antitrust lawsuit, AT&T agreed to divest itself of its regional companies. It preserved its domestic and international long-distance activities but then had to fend off aggressive competition in those markets from MCI and WorldCom, while the regional companies remained very dominant in their local markets. Ultimately the heightened competition in long distance and the overinvestment that led to the bursting of the bubble (and the historic collapse of WorldCom) in the early 90s paved the way for the Baby Bells. After multiple mergers, including the ultimate absorption of MCI and AT&T, the Baby Bells grew up into the two market leaders: Verizon and AT&T.
While both American and European markets are hemorrhaging landlines (-9% per year in the US) and the related phone revenues, there are at least two differences on the US side:
In these differences we can see why the marketsí valuation of telecom securities varies depending on whether they are looking at the big European operators or the North American market leaders.
Are US operators benefiting from a lack of competition, while Europe is handicapped by its more than 90 active mobile operators (EU-27)? This is a much-discussed point. According to the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) the US market, which has four national operators and a handful of others with more limited coverage , is less concentrated than most national markets in the Old World, and much more so than the European market as a whole (if the entire 27-country Union were considered a true single market). Furthermore, if you consider the advantage of the economies of scale in a market as large as AT&T and Verizon have (each with more than 100 million customers), the absence of any truly pan-European operators seems to be a handicap.
Overall, though American operators too must face the major changes of an all-IP world where services and applications are shifting to OTT players, this marketís leaders appear to be in the best position to deal with these challenges.
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