The GSMA-backed rich communication service initiative Joyn has been heralded by GSMA as the answer to the threat operators have faced to their communications revenues. However, the service has split opinion among the industry’s forecasters; some are encouraged by the progress the service has made, whereas others believe it is too little a step taken too late. Albeit from a standing start, Joyn now seems to be gaining momentum; in recent weeks, Spain’s big three operators have thrown their weight behind the cause, along with SK Telecom in South Korea, which takes the number of markets where the service has been launched to four.
One thing is clear: success for Joyn is dependent on mass adoption from operators as well as their customers. If consumers cannot connect with all of their friends using Joyn, they will simply use a different service to communicate with them. They will not accept, particularly if they are paying a premium for the service, that it may work with only a quarter of their friends, for example.
I have had the opportunity to witness a first-hand demo of Joyn, courtesy of Jibe – the Silicon Valley start-up which is developing applications and technology for the initiative. And I was pretty impressed by the functionality. Being able to have a real-time video chat with your friends while playing a multi-player game, editing documents or sharing photos is something I can certainly see consumers getting used to. It removes fragmentation from the communication process; rather than sending a picture and then phoning a friend afterwards to talk about it, or editing a document and then discussing the changes that you’ve made, it makes perfect sense to do all of this in real time. From a consumer perspective, this feels to me like a natural next step for communication services.
Pricing could present a stumbling block, though. If this is supposed to be an attempt to provide a supplementary messaging revenue stream for operators then the service must somehow be monetised. Movistar in Spain has already launched its service free of charge, and according to Amir Sarhangi, CEO at Jibe, operators are going to have to take a leap of faith on this one.
He says that the Joyn initiative presents an opportunity to get back into the communications game, and to do this, they need to change their mentality. Rather than asking what the business case is before pledging an investment they should instead take a leaf out of Google’s and Apple’s books, he argues.
“[They] are nimble companies; they’ve first gone out to get the consumer attention and then figured out how to monetise it. You don’t always have to have a clear financial model beforehand,” he says.
Having said that, he speaks of a future where the carrier could offer a bundled package for a selection of three Joyn-enabled apps, for example, for around £5 per month, and the operator would prioritise the customer’s traffic while they are using these apps. But if operators want to charge for this service, they will first need to hook consumers in and get them dependent on using it.
I just cannot see all operators taking such a leap of faith, when they have enough investment and service development to manage already. Many web businesses have taken this kind of leap over the last decade and recent history is littered with the names of those whose faith has not been rewarded. Some very big names, meanwhile, continue to struggle with their business models. Much will depend on the ability of the GSMA and its most powerful members to whip up widespread support. And even that may not be enough.