Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is the fourth curve the next step for carriers?

Chetan Sharma in a great GigaOM pice recently presented the challenge facing the mobile carriers of today as they are facing more and more competition from Over The Top (OTT) players in every possible area they are present in today.

Chetan argues that if carriers are to stay relevant, once the revenues from providing data access will follow the already dwindling voice and messaging revenues, they have to aggressively move into the OTT space themselves. If not, they will either die or become utilities with low margin operations.

While I agree with this conclusion, I think Chetan may be overestimating the probability of success a strategy like this will have for carriers.

Most carriers today are relatively slow-moving behemoths that mainly pay close attention to issues as ARPU, churn and minimizing the cost of support operations. Most carriers are de facto utilities already. They have little internal innovation history (except for some face-saving pop-up offices in the valley) since most of the already meager service innovation, like SMS and MMS as well as data access technologies where mainly created by the network equipment manufacturers and standard bodies (where carriers are represented). In some cases, like SMS, these services were almost an afterthought.

The poor and slow track-record within innovation make them uniquely ill equipped to be able to participate in the OTT revolution. But there are exceptions to this. There are carriers, mainly in developing countries in Asia and Africa which have been able to launch innovative services when keeping the eye on improving the life of their users instead of only their ARPU. 

In fact, because of cutthroat competition and slim margins, these carriers have been forced to focus on delivering services, such as payment and microfinancing services, to their customers in order to boost revenues and customer loyalty. In less competitive markets this has not been necessary.

I believe that the future for many major operators today is to embrace their inner utility company and in essence focus on access and access quality while maintaining a close focus on cost. These are their core strengths and something they easily can do well without having to change who they are.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece about how innovation for carriers is happening in Asia and Africa where margins are much thinner.