Tag: carriers (Page 1 of 7)

The Power of Platforms (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the power of platforms. In that post, I tried to trace the line from the shift of platform power and suggested that (in mobile) after carriers and operating systems, we would now be looking to services and applications. I specifically pointed out the shift that Apple’s initial break-up of the first powerhouse, the network operators (or carriers if you prefer that term) was under threat from Android, which itself struggled with a number of things.

Android has the challenge of platform fragmentation (and Tim Cook had some scathing remarks and stats as to that tonight). So our current poster-boy rushes to make use of the time lent to it whilst the others are busy with fragmentation (Android) and new platform roll-outs (Microsoft and, yes, BlackBerry).

Apple Reacts

Now, today, Apple showed us that it understands this thing (unless it was incidental but I doubt that): the products it presented at its annual WWDC weren’t so mindblowing if you’re not an out-and-out fangirl (OK, maybe with the exception of the new Mac Pro; that was pretty cool). But aside from that, they showed overdue UI adaptations and slick weather apps plus they borrowed a little bit from Microsoft (gasp!) on the “flat design” (which shouldn’t have been that big a surprise as I’m sure this was the first time that Sir Jony Ive looked longingly to Redmond) as well as from BlackBerry (even bigger gasp!) on the innovative (and insanely useful) gesture controls, which make life a lot easier on a small screen (and I would argue that the BlackBerry Hub is a whole lot more useful than the bits and pieces Apple showed us tonight).

Tight Service Tie-ins

However, the big one was not in these rather cosmetic changes (unless you believe the “biggest, best, boldest” ever rhetoric of the Apple execs. It was deeper and more profound but also such that one doesn’t necessarily want to harp about it all that much (and you’ve got to hand it to them: boy, do they run product presentations well). If you watch the video of the presentation again, you will realise this was mostly about tying in services and applications: Air Drop, iWork on iCloud (might work if they only would get Pages and Numbers up to scratch; hyped about Keynote though, so I can finally force my 80 MB decks down people’s throats on Windows machines…), iTunes (with radio or not), improvements on mail, calendar, etc., sharing options that include Facebook and Twitter out of the box, etc, etc all do one thing: they tie into the platform better. They deliver additional hooks that make it harder to switch to someone else. And that is smart.

This will work as long as there is no application or service platform evolving that may choose someone else – perhaps (gasp!) even to the exclusion of iOS. Because, you see, Apple for the time being only (!?) leverages its current OS platform power. It “only” makes use of the might it has from the previous regime in order to carry it into the next one. It does so better than most (all?) at the moment but it is still a crutch, and a crutch won’t win you a race. And hence I will sit waiting and watching. Because OS is not the last frontier of platform domination!

#justsayin’

The Power of Platforms

Mary Meeker has just released her almost iconic annual “Internet Trend” report. In it (on slide 7), she points out that 88% of the smartphone OS share is now “made in USA”. Now, this might be good for the patriotic US soul but it signifies a much more important thing and that is the shift from carrier control to platform control. If you are an EU politician, you may lament that the current winners are from North America, but the fundamental shift does not actually depend on it (there will be Canada on the map next year again, and we may well see some Asia-led one, too).

The forced break-up by Apple

The introduction of iOS by Apple moved the access to the ultimate customer, the end user, from carrier to platform owner. With hindsight, carrier execs are probably pulling their hair out that they allowed this but they were falling all over each other when Apple came out with its shiny iPhone back, when?, in 2007.

This introduced a monstrous disruption in the telecoms industry as it marked a move from where carriers could dictate what they would or would not allow over their networks to being virtually at the mercy of the platform owners. It was, however, less about the shiny devices (though it helped their market cap to untold heights) but more about the platform approach. And therefore, Apple was, of course, quickly joined and then swiftly overtaken by Android. Today, they now rule the roost (though Apple is fast falling behind).

The Power of (Somewhat) Open Systems

Seen from today, a lot of criticism of the early leader, Apple, is centered around closed systems. People complain that iOS is too restrictive and does not allow them to do what they want to do (take any number of services, be it iCloud, iMessage, Game Center or anything else – they only function on Apple devices). Alas, back in 2007, that didn’t sound so bad. Because, you see, back then there was a) hardly any interaction and b) the one there was was restricted in “my” (haha) carriier network. But then, who cares, right? My friends are on any number of networks, and they change frequently, too. The carriers, however, thought that they could tie people in. Hell, some even thought they could become cool (anyone remember Vodafone Live!?). But that should not happen. And therefore the world changed.

Then came Android and, with it, the ability to dip into an even larger ecosystem, namely Google’s. I mean, who doesn’t use them, right? And with their “don’t be evil” motto, they took it up another notch. The Apple users were thenceforth fanboys and irrational, high-spending hipsters. Proper geeks would go with Android. Now though Google also starts showing signs of wanting to rule the world. The don’t be evil thing hasn’t been heard for some time

The Next Step?

And if you go through Ms Meeker’s deck a little further, you’ll find a lot of slides where Sina Weibo, Tencent, Amazon, eBay, etc feature. And you know what? Neither those companies nor their users give a toss whether the service is being delivered on iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10 or otherwise. They just want their service. And this is the challenge the current platform owners have (and it might sound vaguely familiar to the one carriers had): how to keep your users tied into your platform? It started of on the “it’s easier, better, simpler” lure. However, on most both iOS and Android people now start to realise that that might not be so: why does Google force me into a Gmail account (or is it Google+ now?) in order to get the most out of my shiny new phone? Why does Apple not allow me to share XYZ with my friends independent of what handset system they choose to use? This, incidentally, is why it makes insane sense for BlackBerry to release its BBM solution across other operating systems, too… (but this will be the only corporate plug today).

In short, when you look at the overall ecosystem, people want Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo, Line, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, WhatsApp, you name it. They don’t really care where. Does this sound familiar? The first iPhone users went to AT&T because they were it was the only carrier that had it. Today, they’d scoff at a carrier that doesn’t have it (just ask Sprint, they allegedly struck a [too?] rich deal to get it).

What this means is that, in the (near) future, it will be less about operating systems (come on, who cares about them?) but more about actual applications. So what’s the winning one? Facebook? Twitter, Skype? I’d argue there’s more to come. We’ve heard of Line, Kakao. So what about Alibaba (check slide 69 on Ms Meeker’s deck), or Tencent’s We Chat (slide 65)? It is services and products users crave. These are platforms all right! The only reason they went for the platform owners was that they had better access routes than the (previous) incumbents. Now though they might have called in old Goethe’s Faust:

Do you not see the ghosts I’ve called?
Came in the night when I was asleep.
Here in the dark far too big.
The ghosts I’ve called won’t let me go. 

So then, dear friends, what next?

giffgaff: Doing Good! More to Do?

All the way back near when it was founded, I wrote a post about giffgaff, an MVNO with a twist running on (and actually owned by) the UK operator O2 (which is of course now owned by Telefonica). The twist with giffgaff is that it termed itself as being “people-powered”. Nice buzzword, huh? When I wrote that post, it was pretty much on the basis of early news, PR and not much more. Now, though, I know better what it is because, you see, I just swapped the phone deals for my two children over to giffgaff (away from Vodafone where they were on a 30-day-rolling contract).

No Frills

So, here’s what it does (and, more significantly, doesn’t): giffgaff doesn’t have shops, it doesn’t have sales reps, call centres, etc. In other words: it doesn’t have much overhead. It does have a network (not its own, it piggy-backs on the mothership, i.e. O2), simple tarifs, very low prices and the quickest way I have ever ordered any phone product online.

Beating the Power Law of Distribution (?)

But how, do you ask, can they run a network with all its customer queries, moans and whining, small and big problems? And that is exactly where I originally voiced concerns: You see, they use fora instead. If you have a question, just post it to their forum and the users will answer. According to the power law of distribution, this is a tricky one as only very few users contribute a lot and most contribute nothing. However, by the looks of it, they answer a) more quickly and b) more competently than a poorly paid, poorly trained, probably somewhat frustrated (whatever happened to the glistening career) call centre worker. The MVNO has a programme for users encouraging to participate in the community. They will earn points (convertible in additional phone credits) for spreading the word (marketing) and helping out other users on the fora (customer service).

So (and here’s a theme for me): giffgaff effectively used some basic tools from the social and commercial toolbox to drive customer acquisition and customer service: incentivise people and, in doing so, make sure you align their commercial interests with your own.

And whilst there seem to have been growing pains, it seems to work more or less really rather well. And all this for £12 per month for a “bucket” of 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited (!) data. Can’t beat that!

Is There More?

This then got me thinking: what if they would expand on this bucket (and, perhaps, forum) ideas and start customizing them for the more “discerning” user. Something for SME for instance, travelers, professionals, etc. Higher bucket prices but better tailored for business needs. Premium buckets for, say, dedicated concierge services (the crux is that the customer service required for that is quantifiable and directly accountable). With the basics still covered (cf. supra under “No Frills”), it should still be possible to run the basic service at similar margins (and note that I assume that they have positive margins) but start building in the fatter bits of the market in return for the higher reliability, security and no hassle that business users require. The thing is, you see, they do not require tedious and generally hopeless customer service over phone lines you have trouble even finding or reaching (20 minute waiting time is not rare as we probably all know).

Such a service would probably not for everyone but. You would have to be comfortable to transact your business online (but more and more people – and, yes, probably 100% of readers of this blog – do so anyway), you would arguably have to have at least a basic understanding of some tech issues (again, cf. supra) but, hey, you would be targeting the growing part of the economy, i.e. the one that either is purely digital or successfully leverages (terrible word, I know) digital outlets for its business. Bingo!

There Are Blueprints Galore!

Come to think of it: it is exactly how so many of the online stalwarts disrupted traditional businesses. And it seems almost ironic that this has not yet happened in an industry such as mobile telecoms! Amazon (first books, now almost everything), Zappos (first only shoes, now part of Amazon and, well almost everything), eBay, PayPal, First Direct and any other number of online banking services), Charles Schwab, eTrade and those folks (stock trading), Okado (groceries), Money Supermarket, confused.com, etc. (insurance brokerage), etc., etc., etc., etc. Virtually all e-commerce business models rely on realizing higher efficiencies through digital scale combined with lower overheads.

And virtually all of them originally were told that this was a niche for a few, that only geeky people with no money would use it. And in virtually all those cases, the doubters were wrong. So, then, O2, let your “gaffer” (that’s the title the giffgaff CEO goes by) lose and go for it. There’s money to be made (and I might just be persuaded to leave Vodafone, too).

To the others (Vodafone, are you listening?): it’s not too late. Get in whilst you can!

Carnival of the Mobilists # 270

Greetings, friends. Due to the English inability to have bank holidays on days other than a Monday, this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is a day late but it is here nonetheless, and with verve! I have spent reading through a plethora of good stuff from the trenches of mobile:

Our friends from All About Symbian (yes, that name is still around!) have a bit of a prolific blogging streak and brings us two contributions this week looking at aspects of device and OS design respectively. Since both are intriguing, they get a double mention.

First, the function of home screens (note the plural) is queried and the question is as simple as it is compelling: if you have seven (or nine or eleven) “home” screens, do you then actually still have a home screen? Do you also have nine homes? Steve posits that simplicity should arguably win it, which of course is the opposite of what the iPhone’s all-app grid or Andoid’s army of home screens do today. Interesting!

Secondly, Steve looks at the burgeoning size of smartphones. He points out that the Nokia N95 screen size of a whopping 2.6” was huge by the standards then. It is dwarfed by the Samsung Galaxy S III’s 4.8” screen though. And the question is raised when is big too big. The answer is suggested to be at the end of people’s arms: Steve points out that hands are not growing as quickly as the screensizes (if indeed at all) and that therefore there should indeed be a perfect size for a phone – which 4.7” or bigger is, alas, not.

Moving on to even bigger things, and it doesn’t get any bigger than the Chinese market. Andy from Mobithinking has looked at recently released figures from some of the bigger analysists in the space and compacted this in a post that gives us numbers that make the mind of even the hardened mobilista boggle. China has now more smartphones than the US (22% vs 16% of the overall market). China has 3x more mobile subscribers than the US (1bn vs 330m). The country’s largest operator, China Mobile, alone has more than 2x as many mobile subscribers than the population of the US (which is itself the 3rd-largest mobile market in the world – India is a long way ahead of it on #2 though). China has more than 430m mobile Internet users, which is more than the population of either Europe or North America. For more, make sure to read thoroughly!

MobileGroove has a post from guest author Jeff Hasen on something that piqued my interest significantly when I heard about it, namely the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) attempt to regulate the disemination of content via social media (and mobile). Jeff’s background as a reporter and marketer of previous Olympic Games adds further insight. The long and short is that the IOC has set up a “hub” that will post content for more than 1,000 current and former athletes directly from their Facebook and Twitter accounts (which I would suggest is the antithesis of social media). Restrictions as to what you can share apply, however, also to ticket holders (so don’t you dare tweeting that photo of Usain Bolt using a Mac; Acer is a sponsor!). The predictable result? Uproar, mayhem and another big old body having to bow to the anarchic power of social (and mobile) media!

Lastly, something more (seemingly) mundane but (evidently) more practical: MobyAffiliates has a post on AppStore optimization, namely a guide what you need to do in order to make sure that your app doesn’t sink in between those other apps upon launch. This takes everything from app title, keywords, description, icons, imagery, etc, etc. An eminently useful post if I may say so!

As is good tradition on this blog, I will not choose a winner – I think all of them are good and important reads! So go ahead, get a coffee (or glass of wine) and do yourself some good! 🙂

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by MobiThinking. If you want to submit something worthy, please e-mail us at mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com by the end of the week. And if you need more information on the Carnival (or to catch up on a wealth of information from all the previous Carnivals), make sure to visit the Carnival’s own site.

UPDATE: we have had a late bloomer to this week’s edition but I wouldn’t want to omit this, so here we go: The Mobile Payments Today blog brings a report on the jungle that mobile payments still are (using the example of Google Wallet) and highlighting the apparent complexities in connecting the various ecosystems (different POS systems, card providers, loyalty programs etc).

Sweden’s Mobile Wallet

Funny old world this. I haven’t written about operators for a while until last week. And here I am again. They seem to be coming in pairs…

Anyway, there were reports today on an initiative of the four Swedish mobile network operators, namely Telia, Tele2, Telenor and 3. They formed a joint venture (with the witty name 4T), which will deliver (not directly but via PayEx and Accumulate) a unified mobile wallet to at least 97% of all Swedish subscribers on launch.

Older services such as Gallerie in France and Payforit in the UK never really hit it, as ME points out, arguably because of the use of WAP (*shiver*), which was the only available carrier for such services at the time. This time around, it will all be different, we hear, with all handsets from 2006 onwards being supported. The one thing that is not so clear is the technology used… The system is apparently ready for NFC (which I find uber-exciting).

What will be more exciting to users than some tech stats is the fact that the system will be able to handle online, peer-to-peer and man-to-machine transactions (presumably also for women). So rather than with cash or cards, you will be able to pay with your mobile (something predicted by Forbes’ #1 mobile influencer, Tomi Ahonen, for years of course).

The service will also have the same look-and-feel (and the same name!) irrespective of the carrier, which will do a lot to instill consumer trust (as well as avoiding to erect any unnecessary barriers to switch carriers).

All in all, very exciting and indeed commendable!

Be Free! How an ickle player changes an industry

In the UK, there used to be attempts to make mobile calls free to users (Blyk tried to refinance this over permission-based advertising). It failed. In France, Free charges its users but is a) successful and popular with users and b) commercially viable. Oh, and c) it might just disrupt the mobile operator landscape in the long term.

I have been following Free’s endeavours for a while: they started disrupting the market with set-top boxes and subsequent offers around ISP services. They have just extended that to mobile and it has rocked the boat of many people significantly (for an in-depth review see Om Malik’s story on Free; this was followed by a flurry of reporting all over the place). In short, it is about the vision and balls of Xavier Niel. He founded Free on the back of gobbling up – through Free’s holding company Iliad – a lot of dark fibre networks in France (which he could afford last but not least because he sold his ISP pre-bubble rather profitably). Free built out the first triple-play service in France (with broadband, telephone and TV all over IP) and came out with a very competitive price, which it could afford because its parent owned the network.

Now it came out with a mobile offering on top of that. And it starts at €2 per month. Yes, you read that right. For the discerning digital afficionado (which you probably are when you are reading blogs like this one), there is a €19.99/month offer for unlimited voice calls (domestic and to 40+ countries), unlimited texts (and MMS if you are so inclined) and unlimited data. And, yes, you read that right, too. Check it here. The one thing I haven’t checked is international roaming rates but that only bothers a minority, I suppose (and, hey, perhaps they are as competitive).

Now, the really cool thing (or “disruptive” thing if you want to stick to present-day analyst lingo) is how they are doing this (and it is the very thing that makes traditional mobile operators feel so relatively uncomfortable). Since Iliad owns those masses of fibre networks, they can efficiently operate this. Now, they apparently start equipping their set-top boxes with femtocels and reserve a sliver of each of the bandwidth of those for their mobile network. This will greatly reduce their backhaul costs and allows users to enjoy higher bandwidth more often (at less cost to Free, too).

The “disruptive” thinking is, then, “only” applying the Skype model to the world at large, i.e. using the cheap(er) data networks to deliver a service so far associated with minute charges and the like. For Free, not metering, not data is important but the service. IP-driven business model vs old-school per-minute business model. I like this! After all, we are fast moving into a space where data is ubiquitous and merely a means to access services. So you pay for this access. Period.

The interesting thing is that all incumbent operators have swiftly announced that they would match the price. So have they been taking the mickey for all those years? Well… My guess is that they will not be operating with the same margins as Free does; they have been enjoying their place in the limelight for too long. So it will be thrilling to see if they will be able to turn things around quickly enough.

Carnival of the Mobilists # 249

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Remember one of the most wonderful resources for mobile bloggers? yes, it is the Carnival of the Mobilists and this month’s version is live now! It is a best of digest of May’s mobile-related blogs. This month, there are some real goodies! You will find:

  • GoSub60’s Sean Thompson musing the question of whether to “go free”;
  • James Coops from MobyAffiliates looking at the commercial opportunities of – you may have guessed – mobile affiliate marketing;
  • Mobile marketing veteran Russell Buckley looks at mobile couponing as the next billion dollar market (mobile Groupon anyone?);
  • Industry thinker and Futuretext founder Ajit Jaokar looking at whether the “two-sided market” model may not actually apply to carriers (and I tend to agree; here’s another blog post… ;-));
  • Our very own Peggy Anne Salz of MobileGroove (f/k/a MSearchGroove) focuses on marketing to digital natives;
  • The Fonecast’s James Rosewell makes a case for Microsoft to buy Nokia (the rumour of which has just been refuted by Mr Elop himself though);
  • Dennis Bournique of the WAP Review looks at where MeeGo is at these days;
  • Richard Monson-Haefel looks at “omni-mobility”; and
  • finally, my own bit on the evolving role of publishers also found a mention.

Go now and read it over here on Francisco Kattan’s blog and have a great time! 🙂

Oh, and if you want to be part of this, make sure to look up the Carnival online and follow them on Twitter (@COTMobilists).

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