Our industry is, at last, thinking outside the box. In fact, almost every part of the industry seems to be focused on climbing out of their own box and getting into someone else’s. There doesn’t seem to be a communications player not trying to get into payments, for example, including – we are now beginning to believe – Apple.
Why? Because, as Charmaine Oak puts it so well, “payments constitute that magic ingredient that can enable the provider to acquire and retain customers across multiple channels.”
Collaboration with those erstwhile enemies the Over the Top (OTT) players is another example of operators straying from their comfort zones. Telecoms operators now realise that collaboration is the foundation of all strategy. In the recent TM Forum report, the service that most operators will support in two years’ time using real time charging and policy management capabilities will be ‘OTT collaboration.’ Over 60 percent of those surveyed said this is the plan, and as many said they will collaborate with partners of various descriptions.
One is to answer the question ‘what is in it for them (the OTT players)?’ Thus, what shape is a business model or models that a) works and b) makes sense to the customer, operator and OTT player. The second is the business case itself, which need to be flexible and quick to prove.
Leaving aside, for the moment, any complexities there might be in delivering services such as sponsored data – and while some point to serious complexities, other might ask ‘can you rate a page two ways’ – let us mull the questions.
The answer to the first question is twofold. To begin with OTT players found a universal platform – the internet – and sat on it making a lot of noise. People came to them and if their application, game, service or product took off, they became successful. As they became successful, they started making money and as they made money, operators wanted a share of it. Thus the now redundant net neutrality arguments. Now, with varying degrees of urgency, OTT players want the customer insight and context that operators have (or are capable of having).
They also don’t do billing in the way that operators do. In-app Direct Operator Billing (DOB) is, in itself, one of the biggest opportunities that operators have. New research shows us that the Swiss spend over €15 via DOB, playing games in the evening.
Examples are emerging of operators – mainly in Asia Pacific – partnering with Facebook, Google and the rest. Many offer zero rated apps, some operators are beginning to provide context to the point of offering products that entice customers into impulse purchases. This is fine, as long as the offer is relevant and the customer is not bombarded with ‘relevant’ offers. The example of the bar that offered a free cold drink to passers by was fine in theory. Except some were passing by on a train so became a) thirsty and b) irritated.
Examples will continue to appear over the next couple of years. They will vary depending on region, culture and of course context. Business models will continue to be discussed. Pitfalls will be discovered, the most obvious is the danger of providing ‘freemium’ services, as discussed by Tony Poulos.
The age of experimentation is in full swing, and soon the examples will become mainstream. The next step – and the answer to the second question – is establishing business cases for these collaborative models. The good news is that we have heard that the autumn will bring with it papers that focus on business cases for a lot of these models.