In a blog post, Paul Budde, arguably Australia's best-known telecommunications analyst, said the mobile telecommunications industry was resisting change, but the players should see the reality and transform themselves, else technology would do it for them.
He said the changes in the fixed telecommunications industry had been the operators being pushed back into the infrastructure utility market. As a result, there had been a drop in their market valuations.
"The major use of mobile phones is in data (95%+) and the use of data will only increase," Budde noted. "That means that in order to be able to handle all of this broadband traffic the underlying backbone network needs to be fibre-based."
Independent operators were slowly taking over the operation of mobile towers as it was not economical for mobile operators to run their own towers and deploy a fibre network, Budde said.
As most NBN connections were fibre-to-the node, there was a chance for mobile operators to provide competition if they had deep fibre networks. "For example, a last-mile 5G connection to directly compete with the NBN... could open up more market opportunities for mobile virtual network operators."
He said that the NBN Co, the company rolling out Australia's national broadband network, would have to decide on its next move after the network was completed in 2020. "Fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-curb are the most likely options here, and 5G is certainly one of the options to drive proper high-speed broadband into people’s homes."
Budde said a convergence was taking place. "Increasingly the backbone networks for the mobile operators will mimic the NBN and there will be little room for duplication of these networks – 4G and 5G access points are their ‘nodes’ in the mobile networks. So wireless will increasingly be a last-mile retail element rather than a basic network."
He said changes in the market were already evident in the US where MNO valuations were falling while those of tower operators were going in the opposite direction.
"Rather than resisting change the MNOs should take a leadership role in the transformation of the industry, especially with the inevitable changes that are going to occur in the post-NBN 2020 period. A holistic approach will be needed instead of one that is aimed at protecting a sharp divide between mobile and fixed networks," Budde said.