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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Time to get out of the box!

Mobile Operators are at the crossroads of an exciting Journey. They need to choose to become the best of breed connectivity player delivering Internet access, Talk and text services, OR become a next generation services provider delivering multi-media and end user applications. Now I am not here to pass judgement or to say which is better (ok I do have a view), however they must choose a path as trying to dance between the two will only cause increasing prioritization challenges and conflicts of investment strategies. My intent with this article is to open the eyes of operators so that they may see an opportunity before them.
In order to move forward Mobile Operators need to get back to what they were known for, when Mobile Networks were the next best thing driving innovation and service creation.  Remember when we couldn't send more than 30 characters in a message, or the first time you viewed the Internet through your mobile? I mean, come on, how cool was that! The status of Mobile Networks going “All IP” has finally arrived and hence a new horizon has been reached!  So, what are we going to do differently?
Despite a growing view that Over the Top (OTT) players “own the customer relationship”, I suggest you ask yourself this simple question:  “Who do you call when you can’t access certain content or make a Skype call or even view your Google maps?”…. The majority of us first call our mobile operator, with a common statement of “Hey, I can’t access my Apps, Content, or speak to my family whilst trying to avoid your expensive long distance charges!” In my view, if the operator is being asked to be accountable, then shouldn’t they leverage the role as a differentiator as well? Operators have a great chance to remove demarcations and show their customers a true value service, where predictability in end user costs are provided – therefore reducing bill shock when accessing high bandwidth services; and where customers can choose what type of content they want.
I believe, there are some very exciting services that Mobile Operators should consider, if they haven’t already, offering to their customers:
·         Media:  This is the most obvious avenue, given Mobile networks are moving to an all IP network, they can now prioritize and effectively optimize traffic to balance quality of experience whilst minimizing loads on the network to minimize impact on other customers. There are equally exciting opportunities to work with local content providers and/or broadcasters. Operators provide significant value in that they can provide very detailed information on the profile of the individual watching the content (no this is not about selling information, but about profiling a customer base to drive demand and more importantly relevance of advertisements and content to the end user. This is something broadcasters fail to do today when we are watching on our TV’s at home, Yes Broadcaster and Content providers can predict, based on time of day but that is really it, to have the opportunity to know , who is watching what type of content and when would increase the granularity and market insights. This means broadcaster could tell their advertisers that they could increase the profiling of viewers for specific shows and ultimately realize a better ROI for their programming.
·         Applications: Yes we all know the demand and “stores” of applications are expanding rapidly, however, they remain tied to specific Operating System stores and as such, remain difficult to share amongst friends with different operating systems. Mobile Operators are quite unique in that they don’t care if a customer prefers an Iphone over an Android, or Nokia above Blackberry (hey it could happen). Therefore, consider an application store, which is run by the Operator, where customers are able to recommend applications to friends, create apps and share them across a broader market without worrying what Operating System their application is based on or what type of device their friends choose to use.  And because of this, they then see the relevance and value of a Operator enabled store that much faster! Equally, local hosting of the applications improves customer experience for the application owner – especially for the growing number of high bandwidth demanding services, as well as localization of Internet traffic. For Application developers, in local markets, it is always a choice of what app store do you start hosting your application on. Yet, mobile operators have an opportunity to help the application developer access multiple Operating Systems and, at the same time, promote their particular application to a broader audience. The value for the operator, as mentioned earlier, comes in optimization of those access applications across their “all IP” mobile network and I would suggest sharing the advertising monetization with the app developer.
·         Service Bundling: Historically we have looked at bundles based on a mobile device, phone line and access to the Internet. But, these days, all of these elements are a given. Why not change this to become: access your top three social media pages, favourite content sources and/or applications? By collecting all of this data, Mobile Operators can then share with the customer what other content or apps may be of interest based on similar profiles without divulging personal data! Equally in understanding these preferences for customers operators can start to prioritize or optimize traffic to ensure customers receive an exciting experience whilst also working with the content or service owner to consider hosting high demand services with the operator to reduce overseas Internet expense and improve performance.
·         Advertising: This has become a fact of life, whether you like it or not, it is here to stay. We see ads everywhere on line and where the Mobile Operator can add value, is to use this to help the customer gain access to content and services at a lower cost. Before you skip past this idea, consider for a moment an option to buy into Ad categories which are of relevance to you and use these as credits to offset your new profile based service bundles or expand your bundle to other services at little or no extra cost. We have tended to forget that the Advertisers will consider all avenues to reach their potential customers as long as they are more likely to view the advertising. Let’s face it, if you know the ads being shown are of relevance and then you are more likely to click on the ad. Combine this with basic profile data of Day, Time, location and personal preferences to create the greatest likelihood of interest for both the end customer and the advertiser. in the end it is the operator who is actually facilitating the relationship and making it beneficial to both!
Mobile Operators are at a cross roads, they have the capability to redefine the customer experience through optimization, prioritization and packaging. The “all IP” network means it is much easier to introduce over the top services which could be viewed on laptops, mobiles or tablets (and increasingly TV’s!) The traditional Over the top providers (OTT’s) may become agitated with this approach, however, in my opinion; it is ultimately what we have been missing for some time.  A healthy competition and a realization that mobile operators have more than one choice, when it comes to delivering a content and service rich diversity and high quality customer experience. It is up to the OTT players to excite the operators in how they are going to partner in service creation, customer growth and end to end service assurance. OTT’s have a choice to make as Operators are now in a position to shop around.

Mobile Operators therefore need to identify the role they want to play, build the above capability or identify the partners (not suppliers) who they can work with to achieve the same. However, whatever the decision, the end result MUST be that they take responsibility for the end to end customer experience and that is only possible if they embrace the Over the Top model, recognize that the era of talk and text is moving to all IP and OTT players are increasingly challenging mobile operators for this space. Going all IP means Operators can now leverage the growing standardization that Operating systems for mobile devices have brought us and ultimately it is the OTT’s who have provided the opportunity to Operators to create their own services, or as I like to say perhaps now is the time for Mobile Operators to go “OTT to the OTT!”


Doug Peris said...

Nathan, nice shout out about the advertising potential for telcos. Why couldn't or dint a telco invent WhatsApp? Because they were too blinkered about losing SMS revenue.

Michael Lagunowitsch said...

Interesting read and good traffic management analogy. Though I think a one way traffic spike is apropo for further fixed and mobile Operator consolidation as the foundations of Infrastructure, Applications and Content coalesces on its inevitable journey towards ubiquitous utility.

Nathan Bell said...

Hi Michael and Doug, taking on board both of your comments there is one common factor here, something is going to have to give and Mobile Operators are in for an interesting few years. Think about how often you send messages via SMS vs. applications now, not saying SMS is gone but a lot less use than we used to just 3-5 years ago!