At Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong was reported as “call[ing] on Australian regulators to give carriers like Optus the right to charge rivals WhatsApp and Skype for use of their networks or risk a major decline in network investment.”
With the telecommunications industry unable to monetize over-the-top (OTT) traffic, telcos will struggle to find the funding they need to improve their infrastructure — meaning that network quality could deteriorate. Chua did concede that telcos should work toward partnering with OTT players.
What It Means
SingTel’s argument runs over familiar ground, similar to the ongoing net neutrality debate in the US. My colleagues suggest that telcos will offer tiered access at tiered pricing to OTT players in the future, charging higher prices for better connection speeds and greater data traffic. While I don’t doubt this, price-sensitive Asia may be a harder nut to crack; telcos here run the risk of customer churn by raising service prices.
Aside from speeding up its rate of service innovation, SingTel should:
Some 80,000 visitors ventured to Barcelona to attend the annual congregation for the mobile-minded, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Long gone are the days when one single theme dominated the show. My main impression of MWC was that compared with last year, there was surprisingly little true news. I see evolution not revolution, which is somewhat odd as the overall business environment is clearly changing faster than ever.
Of course, everybody again claimed that they are active in the obligatory fields of cloud, analytics, and customer experience. However, if anything, I feel this convergence of marketing messages creates too many platitudes and undermines the practical use case scenarios that define the mobile mind shift. I went to MWC with several questionsin mind, and my main takeaways of MWC are that:
Instagram’s ‘Instagram Direct’ announcement this morning left me speechless, as I followed the live feed (thank you CNET) from the West Coast. First, let me disclose that I am middle-aged. I’m 45 years of age. What does this mean? I remember AIM in the late nineties. I remember the days when chat sessions evaporated. I remember my first cell phone in 1997 and texting my friends – mostly in Europe at that time. The idea of communicating with people I know first and foremost is not new to me. It is very comfortable – more so than Tweeting or posting.
Bottom line: This is a “catch-up” move for Instagram.
1) Mobile phones have always been about communicating with friends and people we know. The magic of mobile phones early on was that a person’s phone number was their ID. It made it so easy to send SMS or MMS messages.
2) Instagram has 150M downloads, and half of their users are active daily. That is awesome. However, its competitors globally – Kakao Talk, WeChat, etc. – have two to three times that number. Apps like WeChat already allow users to share videos, photos, messages, cartoons, voice clips, etc. to individuals, groups, groups created around an event, etc.
3) Messaging will help them earn more mobile media minutes. I spoke with Chris Hill at Mobidia last week, and he shared some of their data on usage minutes. In their sample from mid-October, Kakao Talk had more than 200 minutes of usage per week, WhatsApp was just shy of 200, while Kik Messenger, LINE, and WeChat fell just below 100 minutes of use per week. If they were to post ads as a means of monetization, minutes spent is key.
Personal communications services, which we define as communication and collaboration services that merge private, social and business communication in one personal view, are becoming part of the work environment. Services like Skype or Google Apps allow users to speak and send messages across multiple communications services to communicate and collaborate just as they would as consumers within a corporate context. Empowered employees expect to use these collaboration channels not just for personal use but also for work.
Although Skype has been around for more than decade, the market for personal communications services in a business context is still very much evolving. The personal communication experience is complex and challenging, as individuals wrestle with multiple communications services to manage an increasingly diverse set of communication and collaboration technologies.
As an analyst who focuses on the future of communications and the implications for business, I will travel to Mobile World Congress (MWC) with several expectations:
There will be a greater focus on business solutions, not just hardware and software exhibits. OK, in many respects, this is probably more of a hope of mine than an expectation. MWC visitors will still encounter hall after hall of software and hardware. Still, I expect many exhibitors, including device players like Samsung, to show a growing awareness by focusing more on actual end user business needs, including a vertical perspective.
Consumerization as a focus area is just heating up. The information workforce is fragmenting. Information workers will increasingly expect to work in a flexible framework. Forrester’s research highlights significant differences in communication and collaboration behavior between age groups. Social media — the communication channel of choice for those now entering the workforce — brings big challenges for businesses in the areas of procurement, compliance, human resources, and IT. However, I expect these themes to be addressed mostly superficially at MWC.
The merger of big data, mobility, and cloud computing is recognised as a large business opportunity. Mobility by itself only scratches the surface of the opportunities in areas like customer interaction, go-to-market dynamics, charging, and product development, which are emerging in combination with big data and cloud computing. I expect providers like SAP to touch on several aspects of this trend. The momentum is supported by the trend toward software-defined networking.
Orange’s CEO mentioned during a business show on French TV that Orange is receiving money from Google for transmitting Google’s traffic (most of which stems from YouTube). No details about the financial arrangement of the year-old deal were disclosed.
Given the well-known explosion in data traffic, carriers must invest a significant amount in their network infrastructure to support this traffic. See the Forrester report, “The Future Of Telecom: Strategies To Move Off The Endangered Species List,” for more information. For years, carriers have argued that online service providers (OSPs) like Google should pay for using the carrier network infrastructure.
So, does the Orange-Google deal mean that Orange has won a true victory and that the balance of power between carriers and OSPs is restored? Does the deal really address the challenges of the carrier world? Hardly.
Carriers rely on video content that drives demand for high broadband connectivity. Moreover, consumers already pay the carriers for their broadband connectivity. In my opinion, there is a valid argument that those end users who want high-quality video should be able to have it at extra cost. But this extra fee could be paid directly to the carrier in the form of a high-end broadband connection fee. Alternatively, the carrier could offer wholesale connectivity to OSPs, allowing the OSPs to offer content that comes with embedded high-quality connectivity.
Carriers have lost a great deal of their relevance for end users. People of all shades, individuals, employees, information workers, etc, are looking for solutions that meet their demand, not connectivity per se.
In our view, four trends matter significantly for carriers since they strike at the heart of their customer facing relationships in the shape of changing end-user behaviour:
Applications have become the focal point for end-users. Phone or connectivity features are less interesting. The carrier brand is not seen as the destination to turn to for app-demand. Merely 18% of business users would turn to a carrier for apps compared to 49% who go directly to the classic app stores. Carriers ought to get closely involved in HTML5 development as it paves the way for OS-independent Web-based apps, thus potentially limiting the influence of operating systems like iOS or Android over the ecosystem. Carries must strive to accommodate where possible app developers to remain somewhat influential ecosystems players.
Users buy devices directly. There is an increasing push by device manufactures (traditional like Samsung and Apple and emerging such as Google, Amazon etc) to sell devices directly to the customer, both business and consumer, and outside the carrier channel. This robs carriers of their main service distribution channel and undermines their potential to monetise value added services.
Carrier-selection is becoming more ad-hoc and temporary. The emergence of embedded software SIMs “interrupts” the relationship between user and carrier. End-users will increasingly be able to select carriers after they purchase a device and for certain circumstances like content consumption or for international roaming. As a result price wars for basic connectivity will increase once again.