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Strategic Transformation in the Telecommunications Industry: A Perspective from Game Theory

Buenos Aires, Argentina

2 de agosto de 2023


The article addresses the transformation of the telecommunications industry in the era of digital disruption within the context of game theory. Originally, the sector operated under a non-cooperative game, stabilized by a Nash equilibrium that favored individualistic strategies of large companies. This scenario led to suboptimal outcomes for the market, exemplified by price wars. However, the entry of technology companies, specialized in large-scale Internet services such as Over-The-Top (OTT) services, has challenged this old equilibrium.

In the face of these changes, traditional telecommunications companies are facing a strategic decision: to adapt or become obsolete. This has led to a transition towards cooperative games and the formation of coalitions, aiming for a more efficient Pareto equilibrium. An emerging mechanism in this new paradigm is implicit collaboration through the exchange of network resources. This strategy allows companies to increase their overall utility without the need for formal alliances, contributing to a more efficient Nash equilibrium.

The approach of each company varies depending on the regional context. In North America, the trend is towards a new type of Nash equilibrium influenced by a more individualistic corporate culture and regulatory framework. In Europe, on the other hand, a more cooperative strategy is favored, in line with the concept of a “core” in game theory, where stable coalitions benefit all players.

In summary, the telecommunications industry is in the midst of a transition toward a state that balances both competition and cooperation. This change is context-dependent and influenced by cultural and regulatory elements, offering a path toward greater efficiency and competitiveness in the sector.


The telecommunications industry has historically been a key driver of technological advancement and economic development. Initially shaped under strict regulatory frameworks, the industry has experienced increased competition due to rapid technological evolution. This change has been further intensified by the entry of non-traditional players, such as platform technology companies. The services they offer not only act as substitutes for traditional services but also introduce innovative offerings, leveraging the existing network infrastructure of telecommunications operators. This paradigm shift challenges established structures and demands a profound review of business and technological strategies in the telecommunications sector.

In this new environment of competition and collaboration, game theory has emerged as an essential tool for understanding the multifaceted interactions among various market players. This mathematical framework, catapulted to prominence by academic figures like John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, and John Nash, offers invaluable analytical insights. It not only allows modeling competitive tactics, such as pricing strategies and market expansion, but also extends to the analysis of alliances, mergers, and collaborations. In an ecosystem where the line between competition and cooperation is increasingly blurred, game theory enables the detailed study of equilibriums, dilemmas, and cooperation mechanisms, including scenarios of stable coalitions and the identification of situations in which one actor’s welfare cannot be improved without worsening another’s. Thus, it becomes an indispensable tool for adapting and successfully navigating the transformed telecommunications industry.

Next, we will delve into unraveling the multiple levels of interaction in the ever-changing telecommunications industry. We will examine the role that game theory plays in shaping business strategies, with particular attention to how these strategies are influenced by, and in turn influence, cultural and regulatory elements in different regions.

From Specialists to Platforms: The Transformation of the Competitive Equilibrium in Telecommunications

Before delving into the current complexity of the telecommunications industry, it is essential to understand its roots. Initially, the sector was fragmented into two types of entities: telecommunications companies, or Telcos, which emerged over a century ago, initially focused on providing communication services—first telegraphs, then telephony—and cable television companies, known as Cables, which emerged over half a century ago with the aim of improving television signal reception and distributing content. Telcos operated under strict regulations, while Cables were primarily engaged in the distribution of third-party programming. Both coexisted in markets characterized by stability and low dynamics.

However, the introduction of the Internet and technological advances that enabled the transport of voice and video services over the Internet platform marked a turning point. Telcos and Cables began to converge in their offerings, evolving into communication service providers, also known as CSPs. This transformation introduced a new competitive dynamism in the market, particularly regarding the provision of Internet connectivity services.

In the current changing competitive landscape, game theory becomes relevant, highlighting the model of ‘non-cooperative games.’ This theory, introduced by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in their pioneering work ‘Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,’ established the foundations for both strategic analysis in situations with multiple actors and the mathematical representation of the scenario in which these interactions take place, which mathematicians called a ‘game.’ In the specific context of the telecommunications industry, communication service providers (CSPs) act as players in a ‘non-cooperative game,’ seeking to maximize their utility independently.

To this model, John Nash added a layer of complexity by conceptualizing the ‘Nash equilibrium,’ a state of strategic stability that can be exemplified using the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma.’ This dilemma shows that while cooperation could lead to a higher collective performance, individual incentives drive parties to adopt selfish strategies, resulting in suboptimal benefits for all. This phenomenon is particularly evident in price wars, where CSPs, in their attempt to capture more market share, end up eroding overall profit margins. In such circumstances, a Nash equilibrium is reached: a state in which no CSP would benefit from unilaterally changing its strategy, especially when operating in an environment of nearly perfect information in which all parties are aware of each other’s tactics.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a theoretical game that illustrates why two individuals may not collaborate, even if doing so results in a better outcome for both. In this game, two prisoners have the option to betray each other to get a shorter sentence. However, if both betray, both receive a longer sentence than if they had cooperated and remained silent. This game highlights the conflict between individual and collective well-being and is commonly used to illustrate the instability of non-cooperative agreements.


This period marked an unparalleled peak of stability in the telecommunications industry. Companies could anticipate their competitors’ decisions with remarkable accuracy, allowing them to sustain effective strategies for profitability. However, several factors, such as rapid digitization, deregulation in nearly all markets, and the emergence of innovative business models, irreversibly transformed this once predictable landscape.

The Disruption of the Status Quo

The emergence of companies focused on large-scale Internet services constitutes a substantial reconfiguration of the business environment. By challenging established practices and threatening the profit margins of historical operators, these new players have shaken the old Nash equilibrium.

Often referred to as “disruptors,” these innovative firms have revolutionized the industry with radically different approaches. Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms, in particular, stand out. They enable services such as video streaming, voice communications, and instant messaging directly over the Internet, utilizing the infrastructure of CSPs. While initially seen as mere complements to conventional telecommunications services, their influence has grown to become central elements in content consumption and communication services.

This paradigm shift places traditional telecommunications companies in a complex strategic dilemma. They must decide between adapting to the changing landscape, which may involve collaborating with these revolutionary actors, or facing the risk of obsolescence. However, adapting to this new reality entails not only investment in infrastructure but also the reinvention of their business models.

This is where game theory evolves into a more complex form, often referred to as “cooperative games.” In this new paradigm, the traditional notion of Nash equilibrium is extended to consider coalitions among players that can be formed to jointly enhance their outcomes. These agreements can manifest as strategic partnerships for the construction or sharing of telecommunications networks.

The challenge now lies in finding a “new equilibrium,” one that not only allows traditional companies to coexist with the new entrants but also creates space for innovative forms of collaboration. This new state of equilibrium more closely resembles the “Pareto equilibrium,” where actors seek not only to maximize their own utility but also aim to improve that of the group, resulting in more balanced benefits for all parties involved.

In summary, the arrival of non-traditional players in the telecommunications industry has triggered a transition from an environment shaped by the Nash equilibrium to a more fluid and collaborative one. In this new scenario, both competition and cooperation coexist in a delicate balance. The prevailing strategies will be those that can effectively navigate between these two poles.

Divergent Strategies

Individualistic Strategy: Seeking a New Nash Equilibrium

In North America, a region known for its competitive business environment and a regulatory framework that traditionally favors free enterprise, telecommunications operators have adopted an individualistic approach to navigate the changing landscape. Instead of forming coalitions or strategic partnerships, each company focuses on adjusting its own tactics and strategies to find a new type of Nash equilibrium within this more complex and dynamic context.

This individualistic trend is driven by several factors. One of the most significant is the regulatory framework, which often prioritizes fierce competition over collaboration between companies. Antitrust policies and strict regulations on the use of shared infrastructure are examples of how the regulatory environment can discourage collaboration.

Furthermore, the business culture in North America tends to value innovation and self-reliance, which in turn promotes a competitive rather than cooperative stance. In this environment, companies seek to maximize their utility through product differentiation, investments in emerging technologies, and the adoption of disruptive business models.

However, this individualistic strategy is not without risks. In the absence of collaboration, each operator assumes the full risk and cost associated with innovation and infrastructure expansion. This could result in a suboptimal overall market, where operators miss out on opportunities for synergies and economies of scale that could arise through joint efforts.

In summary, in North America, the prevailing strategy is individualistic, marked by the pursuit of a new Nash equilibrium. While this strategy may offer certain advantages in terms of agility and adaptability, it also presents significant challenges, including the possibility of suboptimal outcomes in the global telecommunications market.

Cooperative Strategy: Moving Toward the Core of the Game

In contrast to the individualistic strategy that dominates North America, the European region exhibits a more collaborative approach in the telecommunications sector. This model resembles the concept of “cooperative games” in game theory, where companies form coalitions to maximize their joint utility. This approach aligns with a regulatory environment that tends to favor or, at the very least, not discourage collaboration between companies.

Operators in Europe recognize the inherent benefits of collaboration, including the potential to share the costs of investing in new technologies and infrastructures, such as 5G networks or even fixed-line networks. This also facilitates the quicker adoption of standards and regulations, resulting in a more efficient and effective implementation of new technological solutions.

In the field of game theory, this collaborative approach leads to what is known as the “core of the game,” which is the set of stable strategies within these coalitions. This concept, developed by theorists like Lloyd Shapley, indicates that in situations where participants cooperate, there are stable arrangements that benefit all parties involved, preventing any subset of players from having incentives to deviate.

It is relevant to note that European Union policies on telecommunications and technology often promote cooperation and standardization. Regulatory efforts are more collaborative and seek to balance the needs of operators with those of consumers and the public good. This is reflected in initiatives such as the “Digital Single Market,” which aims to harmonize regulations and enable freer flow of services and capital in the sector.

In summary, in Europe, the cooperative strategy aimed at the core of the game demonstrates how a collaborative-friendly environment can lead to optimal outcomes for all participants in the telecommunications market. This approach has the potential to create a more integrated, efficient, and competitive market in the long term.

Implicit Collaboration: Network Resource Sharing

One of the mechanisms that could be used to break the previous Nash equilibrium and move towards a more efficient state in the telecommunications industry is implicit collaboration through the sharing of network resources. Unlike formal coalitions or strategic partnerships, this type of collaboration does not require complex agreements or drastic changes in the corporate structure.

The Mechanism of Exchange

In the complex landscape of modern telecommunications, every inch of network infrastructure matters. A company could choose to share vital elements such as transmission towers or its fiber optic network in exchange for a fee or access to similar resources. Far from being a reckless transfer of assets, this strategic move enables an increase in the utility of both parties, without the constraints and commitments that come with formal alliances. In this scenario, a new, more beneficial Nash equilibrium could be redesigned, where both competition and cooperation find their place, resulting in a more efficient market.

The opening up of a network may, at first glance, seem like a risky decision for competing operators, as the network is a strategic resource. However, for this collaboration to materialize, operators must discover the long-term advantages that balance and justify the apparent loss of such a valuable asset.

Practical Examples and Regional Contexts

In North America, where the regulatory environment and business culture favor competition, this type of resource exchange could be seen as a light collaboration strategy that does not violate antitrust laws.

In Europe, with its tendency to favor or at least not hinder collaboration, resource sharing could fit well within the existing legal framework, further facilitating its implementation.

Implications for Smaller Operators

For operators with varying scales of operation, network resource sharing opens a door to new strategies. For entities with more limited resources, this approach enables access to infrastructure and technologies that enhance their competitiveness. Conversely, for larger companies, this model offers a way to optimize their assets while facilitating a quicker and more agile entry into emerging markets or specific niches.

In this way, network resource sharing presents itself as a versatile and adaptive strategy. Its development not only helps overcome old patterns of competition but also offers a flexible framework to adapt to diverse regulatory environments and varied business cultures. In this ever-changing landscape, this tactic could be crucial in the transition of the telecommunications industry towards a more agile, efficient, and competitive state.


The telecommunications industry is undergoing a complete transformation, driven by technological advancements and market changes. Old non-cooperative strategies supported by Nash equilibrium states are losing relevance. Instead, network sharing and resource exchange are emerging as new guidelines for successful competition in the context of this new millennium.

By adopting a tactic of Implicit Collaboration through Network Resource Sharing, the industry can transition to an equilibrium that maximizes general well-being. This approach, grounded in the theories of figures like von Neumann, Nash, and Shapley, becomes especially relevant in the context of Latin America, where trends and policies similar to those in Europe offer a mosaic of new opportunities and complexities. Even for smaller operators, network resource sharing opens the door to a more level playing field, allowing them to “compete” with larger rivals, contributing to market diversity and dynamism.

In summary, changes in network sharing and resource exchange strategy represent an evolutionary leap in decision-making in the telecommunications sector. In such a volatile market world, these flexible adaptations are indispensable. These changes not only have the potential to reshape the industry but also open new avenues for sectors in constant transformation