Building blocks recently spoke to Anu Shah, head of IMImobile Europe, who shared his vision of the rich address book and talked about how operators need to pick their partnerships, and their service offerings, carefully.

What’s driving the adoption of social networking on the mobile?

Operators working with existing social networks. It may seem like many social networks appeared overnight but you need a certain skill set to launch a successful social network. Operators need to enhance and enrich an existing service rather than just compete directly with it. They shouldn’t be trying to replicate what other players like Google are doing, but making the same services work in their own environment.

Where do you see the main business opportunities?

The phonebook, location, billing, and CRM are operator assets that are left to be exploited. As long as you’re interacting with consumer you can evolve with the consumer. An online competitor won’t be able to create the network side, so the online services will always be at a disadvantage.

Operators have access to the address book which is a clear jumping off point for consumers. A myriad of consumers’ daily activities, including social networking, start from the address book. Operators need to connect the address book up to social networking services amongst other communication activity.

The rich address book is the one area where consumers interact on a daily basis, so this enhanced phonebook is a jumping off point for social networking activities, for email activities, for IM activities. IT might allow you to share a music playlist to your contacts direct from the address book, or allow you to create events and send them to contacts either via a client app, on WAP or over the web.

Operators always have an advantage over an online retailer, they just need to accept that the PC will remain at the centre of the music experience. But operators can provide realtones and ringback tones among other, so if you buy a track and you get this other stuff for free, suddenly you have a differentiated service. If you leverage network assets properly you can differentiate against the Googles of the world. Social networking aggregation is just one small piece of the puzzle. You need a cloud based service that allows you to back up your address book and content. It’s still an astonishing problem that people have when they change their phone – how to move their content. Lots of operators have solutions to deal with this but no one really knows how to find them. This back up should be given as part of the service, it should be a hygiene factor.

Do you see a struggle for ownership of the customer?

We see operators going into two different areas. Either focusing on network services – providing the core network – or they’re going to have to focus on consumer services. Operators focusing on consumer services are going to have to differentiate themselves not only from ISPs but other operators as well.

Operators do not launch services quickly enough for a consumer centric market and they sometimes make the mistake of offering single services instead of offering building blocks to make differentiated services. Rather than offering a point solution, such as advertising or music, they need to connect them all together and create a live and evolving environment. Operators are trying to do it all in house when they should look to partnerships in order to be a consumer services provider.

So, some operators will happily choose to be dumb pipes. In four or five years in a market there might be one or two operators that have their own network while everyone else is either sharing or outsourcing.

How do you monetise social networking?

Advertising will not be a major revenue source in 2010. It’s not the product, it’s the fact that the media agencies aren’t mature enough. It’s not easy enough for them to buy mobile inventory. But some mobile advertising is working today, in-app and in-game stuff for example. So you could upsell services and perhaps have a premium offering, an ad-free version.

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