Helping mobile operators to work smarter and thrive in the years ahead

By February 4, 2011Mobile

Keen observers of the mobile operator community will have observed that these giants of the telecommunications industry have pretty much woken up to the fact that their early vision of dominating the mobile internet in the way that say Google and Facebook dominate the wired web just isn’t going to happen.  They are now in the process of figuring out what that means for their strategy and their organisational structures, and a big part of that is getting a better understanding of the trends in the market and learning to be lean and innovative – all things that startups excel at.

When I was recently asked to give a talk to 30 board level and senior execs from one of the top four UK operators to help them with this problem my first thought was that it would be a great opportunity to feed in some ideas that will both help the operator thrive and to work better with startups.  My second thought was that many of you will have first hand experiences of what it is like to work with them today and good ideas about how they might change in the future.

If that is you please contribute in the comments.  The more ideas the better.  Although whilst cheaper access and better rev share deals are clearly important it would also be great to hear ideas which talk more to organisational behaviour – e.g. open APIs etc

If you need help getting started, they sent me these bullets to guide my talk (my first thoughts in brackets at the end of each bullet).

  • To give delegates an overview of the main challenges facing technology/IT/telecoms/media companies in the next 3-5 years (increasing pace of change, ubiquitous networks, declining bandwidth costs, massively rising data consumption, content prices trending towards zero)
  • To provide a view on the implications of these challenges on the way that large corporations operate (big markets created quickly, need to partner with/acquire start-ups to access them, innovation processes become pre-requisite for sustained success, push decision making out to the front line)
  • To provide some perspectives on how the challenges might impact [Operator] (alternatives to cellular will proliferate, calls will become data making the data tariff all important, network data quality will become the basis for competition, other services should be provided cross network and not linked to network ownership, micropayments are a big opportunity)
  • To provide some ideas around what corporations learn from successful start-ups  (launch early, make it ok to fail, allow employees to benefit from their successes)
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  • Hi Nic,

    I think whichever operator becomes really ‘customer focused’ they will thrive rather than relying on an typical oligopoly approach of all matching each other with poor customer propositions (in many instances) while claiming to be customer focused.

    Many people want 12 month contracts, the operators typically push a minimum of 18 month and 24 month contracts and then make it difficult to switch.

    Many monthly contracts are priced at a level that includes a minimum of 600mins when customers average 150/200 mins etc.

    Many people want to be able to make a reasonably priced call from their phone when abroad (not possible) – instead many people I know who reside in the UK but are from overseas carry a separate sim card for use when traveling or jump on a Wifi to use Skype.

    One only needs to look at the range of substitute offerings springing up and attacking the incumbents to recognize there are lots of areas that they could focus on in their core markets rather than let substitutes/ competitors come in and grow like Skype, Telediscount, ‘Say no to 0870’, WhatsApp, all the Phone Cards emigrants use to phone home, Google Talk etc

    The challenge is to recognize that particularly in austere times people become a lot more focused on value and as the above players integrate more tightly with Smartphones more and more people will shift to these service providers rather than use their phones.

    The world is changing very quickly and unless the operators adapt and innovate (and shift the focus from short term profiteering on certain services i.e. overseas roaming) they will continue to lose wallet share as services currently used by early adopters become more mainstream.


  • Close to the operators!

    Fascinating opportunity, I’ve worked a great deal with operators in the mobile data arena.

    Operators have a number of challenges. Ironically I think culture is the biggest. I think you can divide people into two camps: technical and product/content. Having seen companies like Playfish, Groupon, PopCap etc all prosper I know that where they were strong is they had a vision of product/content. Sure they had smart techies, but the techies executed on the UIX/service/vision.

    Operators have very limited UIX/vision. A lot of them are in decision making roles because they’re good technicallly or at project managmenet and not because they want to change the world through their product. I’ve never, ever, ever had an operator get excited about content in the same way that content people do, its like expecting a magazine printer to write for Vogue, they may be in the same industry but they’ve got nothing common.

    The only way to make it work would be to set up seperate content or product incubators. Hive them off miles away from the dull campuses and lets them “do their thing”. But the real problem is at some stage they the cultures would have to get together.

    Impossible? No.

    But you need senior management who really understand what they don’t know.

    Apols for the long post but this is a really interesting field and one I spend a lot of time looking at!

  • Thanks for a great comment!

    Technical vs product is a great point.

  • Thanks Alan. Some good stuff here.

  • Ben Hookway

    At risk of being a cheat, I would go to this slide set from VisionMobile

    Slide 22 is a great summary of the frustrations of trying to get the telecoms companies to innovate and work with emerging companies.


  • Thanks Ben. This is a fantastic slide deck.