Shared data plans are one of the crucial areas for operators. It seems to be where the innovation and competition is happening. The evidence is strong but mainly circumstantial. Which is why the new paper from real-time specialist Openet makes a timely read.
The first thing that catches the eye is the financial evidence from AT&T and Verizon in the States. Comparing first quarter results from 2013 and this year, AT&T reports an increase in the number of shared data customers from 10 million to 30 million. The percentage of those customers on 10GB plus account also rose from 25 percent to 46 percent. Meanwhile Verizon reports shared data accounts growing from 30 to 50 percent in the same period and ARPA (Average Revenue per Account) rising by just over six percent.
As part of its connected car programme with Audi, it is reported that AT&T will be encouraging customers to add their car as a device from this summer. After all, what is a car but a big tablet with wheels, that happens to take you and yours wherever you want to go. Whilst our cynicism on the subject of connected cars is well known, promoting a car as a device for your shared data plan is not something that a giant such as AT&T would do lightly.
The paper provides some solid examples of operators offering shared data plans and benefitting from doing it. It also points to the spin off benefit of increasing the number of cellular tablets being sold. 60 million were sold in the US last year alone. Over 10 million of these were sold with embedded cellular connectivity, which will clearly please mobile operators. EE in the UK has a shared data plan that encourages customers to add people to their plans. Meanwhile Sprint are pursuing the social approach and Bell Canada, a pioneer of shared plans, is offering up to 10 devices and mobile TV as an add on.
As well as the obvious benefits to operators, there are definite benefits that customers are feeling. According to JD Power’s customer service survey, customers on shared data plans are more satisfied with their provider than those who are not on shared data plans – in fact over 20 points more satisfied and spending an average of $30 more.
An added, and perhaps sometimes overlooked benefit, of shared data is that it puts customer more in charge of their own destiny and services. There is a real focus on the whole area of self service at the moment, and the term itself has evolved from ‘self care’ to ‘self service.’ As customers get more used to managing groups, whether family, friends or business, they become more proficient at managing their services and products. As they do that, the irritation with calling call centres to provision services – or simply not bothering – begins to disappear, again to the advantage of operator and customer.
Obviously shared data, like self service, is not something that operators can switch on at will. The Openet paper outlines the functionality that is required to make shared data plans a reality. As well as the now ‘given’ functionality of real-time usage tracking and balance management, operators will need to be able to integrate the user profiles and hierarchies, as well as enabling users to manage their group of devices. Add to that challenge the fact that many shared data users are families and controls of various kinds need to be managed from the main device and an offer catalogue needs to be designed that defines which services can be used by the group and what happens when certain thresholds are reached.
The real-time journey is on-going, and now that marketing is becoming involved, that journey is still in its early stages. With the tools described in the paper, operators will be in a position to offer a variety of shared data plans, as well as begin to properly collaborate with Over the Top (OTT) players, for instance by offering some form of ‘sponsored data’ plans. The arrival of LTE will, in turn, trigger more challenges and more opportunities, for the communications industry’s own customers and, increasingly, for customers of other sectors, such as TV, and a range of healthcare, automotive and financial services.