Carriers must think laterally to score in an OTT market

Carriers are going to need to think and act laterally if they’re to gain relevance in an over-the-top (OTT) mobile data market. This is the message from Openwave SVP for product management and marketing, John Giere, who said that with customer experience representing a key driver of growth, carriers need to drop their linear approach to billing and services and start taking advantage of their unique access to end-user data.

“Customers are doing a number of different things on their devices, from SMS to social networking and, eventually, shopping. Carriers, meanwhile, are too often caught up with the notion of selling each of these things as a separate offering,” says Giere. “It’s a very simple but dramatic step to take yourself out of just trying to sell your customers individual pieces and move into selling them a customer experience.”

Openwave VP for EMEA Will Blench says that carriers aren’t pushing the boundaries on the kinds of queries they could run on the information they’ve got. “But it’s a bigger question, really,” he says, “it’s not just about data, it’s about the strategic intent from a marketing point of view.” Blench says that while the technology to analyse data is in place, too many operators are still in basic mode when it comes to addressing and understanding their customer base. “The big transition for operators is still one of how they’re going to move from being technology-focused organisations to becoming customer-experience, consumer-led companies. Too many of them are still focused on the business of shipping handsets and running a network.”

Giere points to what he says has been a fixation with the technology factor as a key component in many carriers’ sluggish response to OTT offerings. “When we first introduced our optimisation solutions, a lot of the carriers we spoke to were very much in the frame of mind that, once LTE arrived, all their problems were going to disappear,” says Giere. “The trouble is, growth for telcos has more or less plateaud while the OTT, web-based companies like Google and Apple are soaring.” Giere says that survival in today’s market is less about the technology and more about the valuation curve. “The telcos have handed over the revenue reins to these OTT guys. If they don’t grab them back quickly, they’re going to lose.”

For Giere, the only way carriers can grab the reins back is through “creating a much quicker, more dynamic customer experience.”Doing that will involve simplifying customer offers and billing, making them quick and personalised by putting together a price plan innovation programme together with an analytics package that understands what users are doing, why they’re interested in using services and what kinds of services operators should be looking to up-sell to them. Giere uses the example of localised social networking services as one way in which some of the company’s Asian clients were able to create packages that make both the end user and the service provider “more sticky.”

Another client has trialled the concept of leasing high-definition video services to customers who might only want high-bandwidth services for a couple of hours at a time in any given month. Giere says that other popular approaches have seen carriers combining a variety of applications in one user-specific, tailor-made offering that allows them to access certain sites at a reduced rate when they’re topping up for other services. “Look at the services your customers are using and package them with a reduction in the data rate, enhanced speed or other services that are user-specific,” he says.

Blench adds that operators need to work on simplifying data plans if they’re to build customer loyalty. “No one can understand their operator’s price plans,” he says. “They send users all these text messages and alerts, but no one really has any idea how much data they’re using. What’s a megabyte when you’re using Skype on your mobile phone? No one knows.” Blench adds that there’s a big gap between consumer expectation and what network operators deliver today. “The big transition is going to have to take place in the next ten years. Carriers can bridge that gap or they can just become utility companies,” he says.

If that sounds a little pessimistic, both Blench and Grier say that Android, far from creating new challenges, has actually evened up the stakes again in favour of the operators. Blench believes that the “Apple experience” has become commoditised; the arrival of Android means that everyone can access apps now, eliminating something that had initially been a key differentiator for Apple. The imminent arrival of HTML5 and in-browser apps with in-app billing look set to stack the monetary odds in the carriers’ favour, with “at least as much, if not more” money being made based on browsing behaviours rather than application-related behaviours. “I think any consumer would rather see an app or a service appear on their mobile bill than on their credit card,” says Blench.

Earlier this week, Openwave announced a partnership with United Arab Emirates provider du to provide context-aware mediation and messaging services as well as initiatives to inform customers about data consumption while allowing them to instantly top-up data services using Openwave’s Smart Policy software.


  1. Avatar Richard Burdge 21/06/2011 @ 12:21 pm

    Will is totally right that the technology is in place, but operators are failing to use customer data effectively to provide each customer with services that are relevant to them.

    Our recent research of more than 1,000 mobile subscribers shows that customers want to be treated as individuals and doing so, operators could build brand loyalty – 24% would be likely to recommend their service provider if they felt they were being treated as an individual.

    Carriers that can successfully transition into customer-centric organisations will be able to offer a more personal customer experience, and this is a huge competitive advantage in a saturated market where players must work harder than ever to win and retain customers.

  2. Avatar Bojja 25/07/2011 @ 11:41 am

    CONTENT IS THE KING… this statement is very true much beyond doubt. In the age of convergence, where diversified content – information and entertainment, you name it, on the diverse platforms. Welcome, the Over-the-top services or simply OTT, where it is gaming, Videos or movies on Demand, TV-Commerce or VOIP services. The logic is simple….irrespective of your device, TV or computer or gaming console or your mobile, you can enjoy viewing all of the above OTT services without any hassle, thanks to the open source network like internet.

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