Playing the web giants at their own game

Middle Eastern carriers are taking a pragmatic approach in their response to the internet players’ encroachment on their territory. The likes of Facebook and Google may be increasingly referred to as “those who shall not be named” at these events, but at least one regional operator is determined to play the web giants at their own game.

Medhat Amer, CIO of Saudi Arabian carrier Mobily, titled his presentation at the Middle East Telco World Summit in Dubai: “Only 3.0 operators will survive in a 2.0 world.” The perception is that for an operator, the Web 2.0 world is fraught with danger. A show of hands during the presentation asserted that 100 per cent of attendees had Facebook accounts, 90 per cent had LinkedIn accounts and 60 per cent used Twitter. Amer also highlighted the ease with which an iPhone user could replace the device’s default phone service with that of an internet telephony application, moving the operator further down the value chain.

“They (internet firms) are encroaching on our territory as operators. Twitter added 50 million users in three months and we have to follow trends. We had to take this seriously,” he said. “So we decided to use their territory to fight back. We launched a dedicated support channel on twitter.”

 Amer sees the move as a fair exchange: “The internet guys are using our network so we’re using their servers. It’s a win win.” By providing customer service via social networking, Mobily also leverages its brand in those areas where it is threatened. But the reward goes deeper than that. Social networking also allows an operator to gather detailed and unrequested information about the consumer experience, which is something a carrier would typically pay for.

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