Real time self service key to prepaid mobile broadband revenue increase

Real time self service (RTSS) is the key to encouraging consumers, especially those who prefer prepayment, to spend more on mobile data consumption, with operators in Western Europe missing potential annual incremental data revenues of €4bn, according to research released by Northstream and Chinese BSS vendor AsiaInfo-Linkage.

RTSS deployments have so far focused on opex reduction through attempts to cut customer use of call centres. While Northstream found that mobile operators in Western Europe could stand to save €540m annually with RTSS, the firm argued that the focus should be in revenue enhancement rather than cost management.

“Our research shows that RTSS has a much larger potential impact on data revenue gain than on opex savings in both the pre- and post-paid customer bases, yet operators are still focussing on opex savings,” said Bengt Nordstrom, CEO of Northstream.

The firm focused in particular on the Italian and Swedish markets. In Italy operators could boost data revenues by €750m annually, Northstream said, by giving customers greater control over their consumption. The firm highlighted customer control of shared data plans as an example.

Operators need to drive greater return on their mobile broadband network investments, said Mohammed Sha, director of product marketing at AIL, and RTSS is the ideal way to enable customers to spend more on data. And while RTSS without parallel back end investment will not reap results, upgrading the back end without RTSS could be just as pointless, he suggested. “Investing in the back end without RTSS is like having great products in the store with no window displays. You’re making it really hard for customers to buy your service,” he said.

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AIL’s longer term vision of RTSS is sophisticated and appealing, depicting users converting their unused SMS capacity into a top-up data allowance and gifting it to another customer, possibly paying a small conversion and/or transaction fee for the privilege. In another scenario a user could convert spare voice minutes into a time value for specific application usage, such as an hour of Facebook consumption.

Such capabilities could pave the way for mobile services as tradable P2P commodities, which is certainly an interesting idea. However, question marks hang over both operators’ ability and desire to fulfil these kind of advanced transactions.

More prosaic self service solutions will be essential for driving mobile broadband uptake, however, said Nordstrom. “If we look at operator businesses in Europe it will only be economically be feasible to serve the prepaid market with mobile broadband, which is very underserved today, through self service and provisioning. This is why it has started and taken off strongly in markets like Malaysia and India,” he said.

Another scenario, whereby application-specific network resource allocation is sold to end users by third parties—content providers that own film libraries for example, much like Amazon bundles the access costs of Kindles into its eBook retail prices—might also be on the horizon. AIL’s Sha hinted that the firm has a solution to enable this scenario in development.

He also said that the firm would be willing to strike deals with operators that saw them paying for RTSS deployments, and the necessary back end upgrades, with a share of incremental revenues. “This could definitely be on the table,” he said.

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