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Offering vertical-specific services directly to enterprises might not deliver the strong and stable future craved by telcos.

It looked for all the world like a dead cert, yet this week has given us reason to pause for thought.

It was assumed that the market faced a simple choice: chaos versus strength and stability, and it would therefore flock in the seemingly obvious direction. However, it appears not to be the case.

I am of course referring to the results of a survey published by ABI Research this week that revealed that far from craving telco services tailored to the unique demands of their industry sector, a majority of enterprises today simply aren’t all that interested.

According to the research firm, 55% of the businesses surveyed expect to use telcos for connectivity alone, while only 31% plan to use telcos for value-added, vertical-specific services on top of connectivity.

Only 13% expect telcos to create ecosystems for IoT, data-related IT, and cloud services, ABI Research said.

"While telcos aspire to soon become technology enablers for several end markets, more than half of the actual technology implementers surveyed show limited interest beyond basic connectivity," noted Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at ABI Research.

This tempers the rhetoric somewhat from telcos and vendors regarding the promise of new network technology to allow them to go after individual verticals, such as manufacturing, retail, transport and logistics, and so on.

"Implementer requirements and telco strategies seem to be disparate for the moment," Mavrakis said.

Where does that leave enterprises that aren’t interested in tapping telcos for vertical-specific services, but want to undergo a digital transformation?

Well, it plays nicely into the hands of systems integrators, and cloud-based service providers like Amazon and Microsoft.

According to ABI Research, only 4% of survey respondents aim to use telcos for cloud computing services today, and this will drop to 1% in the next five years.

That doesn’t mean companies won’t use the cloud at all. ABI said companies will increasingly adopt hybrid cloud services; it expects the percentage of companies using hybrid cloud to increase to 38% from 12% over the next five years.

"Competing with Web-scale companies in their own field is impossible for telcos," Mavrakis said, noting that Verizon "has done well" to sell its cloud business.

"Other tier one telcos will follow suit," he predicted.

ABI’s survey suggests that if telcos want to succeed in providing vertical-specific services, they might have to take them to market via partners – like systems integrators and Web-scale cloud providers – rather than offer them directly to enterprises.

This would leave them with a smaller slice of revenue, but wouldn’t see them miss out altogether on the opportunity.

In this scenario, we can expect to see partnerships aplenty, and some will doubtless work more effectively than others. Telcos must ensure they avoid a coalition of chaos and give enterprises a strong and stable path forwards.

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