After years of virtually no innovation from telecom operators, 2014 will be different. Not because telecom dinosaurs have all of a sudden become lean mean innovation machines. Quite the contrary. Most operators are still focusing on rolling out THIS YEAR’s (instead of today’s) “innovative” service which will be just a copycat of some famous dotcom.
So why the excitement?
2014 will be the pivot year. The year that will be marked in history books as the year old school lost and innovators won.
The first Ryanair-like disruptive telecoms will leave their borders and start bankrupting “traditional telecoms”. Cross-platform voice/video 4G apps will reach the tipping point. Cloud Telco PaaS will be reality. Individual communication solutions or iCommunication will be a reality. Web 3.0 will include voice & video communication. NFV will be driven by non-telecom players. WAN SDN will be deployed by more than only Google, Amazon, etc. Cloud Media Streaming will reach the tipping point. Internet of things will meet Cloud will meet Big Data will meet Mobile will meet disruptive communication solutions. Early adopters paradise…
2014 will be an exciting year for those that love telecom innovation!!! Bit pipe nightmares becoming reality for others.
None of the incumbant telecom providers has put into place any Blue Ocean Strategies. Blue Ocean Strategies have made the Circus, Wine, Gaming, Airline, etc. industries exciting again, so why not apply it to the telecom market. The only telecom players, I know of, that implemented some blue ocean strategies are Free in France, GiffGaff in the UK and Freedompop in the USA. So why not do a Blue Ocean Strategy exercise in this blog post.
Here is my strategy canvas:
Traditional operators focus on charging heavily for calls and SMS although lately more and more packages with free minutes are available. International calls however are still charged extremely expensive. Mobile phones are subsidized up to 24 months and as such you need to stay with them for at least this period. Operators spend a lot of their money investing in the roll out and maintenance of their networks. They also have very complex pricing plans and as such need heavy investments in BSS.
MVNOs try to compete on price and most often do not subsidize mobiles. They do not have their own network as such they do not need to invest in it. They offer less tariff plan options. You are often free to change whenever you want. To make up for not subsidizing mobiles, you can get mobile loans which means you have some sort of permanence.
So how would Blue Ocean Mobile do it differently?
In line with Free’s example, call costs should be eliminated, including international costs. Mobiles should not be subsidized but cheap mobile loans should be offered for those that do not bring their own device [BYOD]. Blue Ocean Mobile should focus on LTE and try to win LTE licenses. However instead of doing heavy investments in installing antennas everywhere, Blue Ocean Mobile should only install antenna’s in those areas where few people live but connectivity is required, e.g. major highways. This is in line with Free’s strategy. However unlike Free, the operator’s network should not be built with unreliable WiFi hotspots. Instead specially designed “Personal Antennas” should be sold to everybody who wants one. What is a personal antenna? A personal antenna is a nanocell LTE antenna. A personal LTE antenna in your home that not only gives service to you but also to neighbours and people close to your home. The idea is that you become a sort of mini-LTE ISP to which others can connect. For every KB that gets transferred through your personal LTE antenna, you will get a revenue share. So it is in people’s interest to put the personal antenna in a place where it can service a lot of people and to have a good backbone Internet connection. People should be able to win back their investment in the Personal Antenna in a few months and make money afterwards. This should allow Blue Ocean Mobile to seriously lower their investment in rolling out an LTE network and to get free mouth-to-mouth advertising. Via a software-defined network [SDN] management system all nanocell LTE antennas are controlled by Blue Ocean Mobile.
Since Blue Ocean Mobile is focusing only on data traffic, it should work together with “over-the-top players” to offer a compelling list of services. Ideally Android Phones and the iPhone will use the data network for calling others instead of a circuit network. Customers should have a full range of BYOD management options so small and medium-sized businesses can easily manage the phones of their employees as well as push enterprise applications towards them.
Blue Ocean Mobile should also try to avoid investment in BSS. Tariff plans should be easy with the customer defining how many free megabytes they want to purchase for a fixed monthly fee and a simple extra charge for overage. So instead of operator defined tariff plans, everybody has a personalized tariff plan that they can adjust every day. Calls and SMS are charged based on data traffic not on per minute charges. VoIP solutions is the standard. Blue Ocean Mobile does not have a circuit network or SS7.
Blue Ocean Mobile is also copying the long tail support from Giff Gaff in which customers give support to other customers and are responsible for marketing. Unlike Giff Gaff not only prepaid but also subscriptions are supported. Like Giff Gaff customers get a revenue share when they participate in support or marketing.
Blue Ocean Mobile’s strategy is just very high-level and still needs in-depth analysis but it is an open invitation for innovative people to start applying Blue Ocean strategies to anything they feel in need of disruption.
Maarten Ectors is a senior executive who is an expert in applying cutting edge technologies (like Cloud, Big Data, M2M, Open Hardware, SDN, etc.) and business innovations to generate new revenues. He is currently looking for new challenges. You can contact him at maarten at telruptive dot com.
LTE roll-outs are taking place in America and Europe. Over-the-top-players are likely to start offering large-scale and free HD mobile VoIP over the next 6-18 months. Steeply declining ARPU will be the result. The telecom industry needs new revenue: telecom revenue 2.0. How can they do it?
1. Become a Telecom Venture Capitalist
Buying the number 2 o 3 player in a new market or creating a copy-cat solution has not worked. Think about Terra/Lycos/Vivendi portals, Keteque, etc. So the better option is to make sure innovative startups get partly funded by telecom operators. This assures that operators will be able to launch innovative solutions in the future. Just being a VC will not be enough. Also investment in quickly launching the new startup services and incorporating them into the existing product catalog are necessary.
2. SaaSification & Monetization
SaaS monetization is not reselling SaaS and keeping a 30-50% revenue share. SaaS monetization means offering others the development/hosting tools, sales channels, support facilities, etc. to quickly launch new SaaS solutions that are targeted at new niche or long tail segments. SaaSification means that existing license-based on-site applications can be quickly converted into subscription-based SaaS offerings. The operator is a SaaS enabler and brings together SaaS creators with SaaS customers.
3. Enterprise Mobilization, BPaaS and BYOD
There are millions of small, medium and large enterprises that have employees which bring smartphones and tablets to work [a.k.a. BYOD - bring-your-own-device]. Managing these solutions (security, provisioning, etc.) as well as mobilizing applications and internal processes [a.k.a. BPaaS - business processes as a service] will be a big opportunity. Corporate mobile app and mobile SaaS stores will be an important starting point. Solutions to quickly mobilize existing solutions, ideally without programming should come next.
4. M2M Monetization Solutions
At the moment M2M is not having big industry standards yet. Operators are ideally positioned to bring standards to quickly connect millions of devices and sensors to value added services. Most of these solutions will not be SIM-based so a pure-SIM strategy is likely to fail. Operators should think about enabling others to take advantage of the M2M revolution instead of building services themselves. Be the restaurant, tool shop and clothing store and not the gold digger during a gold rush.
5. Big Data and Data Intelligence as a Service
Operators are used to manage peta-bytes of data. However converting this data into information and knowledge is the next step towards monetizing data. At the moment big data solutions focus on storing, manipulating and reporting large volume of data. However the Big Data revolution is only just starting. We need big data apps, big data app stores, “big datafication” tools, etc.
6. All-you-can-eat HD Video-on-Demand
Global content distribution can be better done with the help of operators then without. Exporting Netflix-like business models to Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin-America, etc. is urgently necessary if Hollywood wants to avoid the next generation believing “content = free”. All-you-can-eat movies, series and music for €15/month is what should be aimed for.
7. NFC, micro-subscriptions, nano-payments, anonymous digital cash, etc.
Payment solutions are hot. Look at Paypal, Square, Dwolla, etc. Operators could play it nice and ask Visa, Mastercard, etc. how they can assist. However going a more disruptive route and helping Square and Dwolla serve a global marketplace are probably more lucrative. Except for NFC solutions also micro-subscriptions (e.g. €0.05/month) or nano-payments (e.g. €0.001/transaction) should be looked at.
Don’t forget that people will still want to buy things in a digital world which they do not want others to know about or from people or companies they do not trust. Anonymous digital cash solutions are needed when physical cash is no longer available. Unless of course you expect people to buy books about getting a divorce with the family’s credit card…
8. Build your own VAS for consumers and enterprises – iVAS.
Conference calls, PBX, etc. were the most advanced communication solutions offered by operators until recently. However creating visual drag-and-drop environments in which non-technical users can combine telecom and web assets to create new value-added-services can result in a new generation of VAS: iVAS. The VAS in which personal solutions are resolved by the people who suffer them. Especially in emerging countries where wide-spread smartphones and LTE are still some years off, iVAS can still have some good 3-5 years ahead. Examples would be personalized numbering schemas for my family & friends, distorting voices when I call somebody, etc. Let consumers and small enterprises be the creators by offering them visual do-it-yourself tools. Combine solutions like Invox, OpenVBX, Google’s App Inventor, etc.
9. Software-defined networking solutions & Network as a Service
Networks are changing from hardware to software. This means network virtualization, outsourcing of network solutions (e.g. virtualized firewalls), etc. Operators are in a good position to offer a new generation of complex network solutions that can be very easily managed via a browser. Enterprises could substitute expensive on-site hardware for cheap monthly subscriptions of virtualized network solutions.
10. Long-Tail Solutions
Operators could be offering a large catalog of long-tail solutions that are targeted at specific industries or problem domains. Thousands of companies are building multi-device solutions. Mobile & SmartTV virtualization and automated testing solutions would be of interest to them. Low-latency solutions could be of interest to the financial sector, e.g. automated trading. Call center and customer support services on-demand and via a subscription model. Many possible services in the collective intelligence, crowd-sourcing, gamification, computer vision, natural language processing, etc. domains.
Basically operators should create new departments that are financially and structurally independent from the main business and that look at new disruptive technologies/business ideas and how either directly or via partners new revenue can be generated with them.
What not to do?
Waste any more time. Do not focus on small or late-to-market solutions, e.g. reselling Microsoft 365, RCS like Joyn, etc. Focus on industry-changers, disruptive innovations, etc.
Yes LTE roll-out is important but without any solutions for telecom revenue 2.0, LTE will just kill ARPU. So action is required now. Action needs to be quick [forget about RFQs], agile [forget about standards - the iPhone / AppStore is a proprietary solution], well subsidized [no supplier will invest big R&D budgets to get a 15% revenue share] and independent [of red tape and corporate control so risk taking is rewarded, unless of course you predicted 5 years ago that Facebook and Angry Bird would be changing industries]…
Fujitsu just presented SaaSification on Cebit. Existing applications can be easily brought to the Cloud and sold via App Stores and SaaS marketplaces. IBM is also working on SaaSification and even adds multi-tenancy.
What is next?
Everybody wants to have a full App Store or SaaS Marketplace, so SaaSification is the next step after launching your store. However converting a client/server application to the Cloud is only step 1. Step 2 is creating new services that are specifically built for the Cloud.
What does Built-for-the-Cloud means?
Cloud-Ready applications should also accept the new reality of APIs. Both for exposure as well as consumption. This means that applications need to be redesigned according to application slices.
So if SaaSification wants to be successful then it needs to add quick enablers for multi-tenancy, big data, integration with external APIs as well as API exposure, etc. This integration concept can be called iPaaS or integration platform-as-a-Service. iPaaS should not only focus on exposing or integrating APIs but on providing complex services by integration multiple SaaS solutions together.
Other enablers should be added as well. Basically 80% of a SaaS solution consists out of the same elements or tries to solve the same problems. These could all be provided via a SaaSification PaaS:
- Blog – to describe the newest ideas.
- Forum – for people to get answers from the community.
- IT PaaS – where you run the actual business logic and UI. Data storage is assumed to be provided by the Big Data elements.
- Portal and Mobile Portal – allows to quickly define the “static” content for the web and mobile site.
- Deployment management – ideally continuous deployment or integration tools that allow fast feature by feature deployment.
- A/B testing – allow new features to be deployed to subsets of users and check which version of a feature has the highest impact on the bottom-line. A/B testing was made popular by Amazon.
- Automated testing – lots of testing can be automated but especially end-to-end and performance testing are the harder tests that should be focused on.
- Configuration management – manage the version control of the code.
- Metering and billing – be able to meter the resource usage by users, companies or any other element you want to meter and be able to bill users both for subscriptions as well as for usage, ideally with advanced set-up with overage, etc.
- Marketplace listing and provisioning – automate the listing of products on the marketplace as well as the provisioning of new services.
- Single sign-on & identity management - allow companies to use their own user credentials (e.g. SAML), authorization for third-parties (e.g. oAuth), etc.
- Reporting and data warehousing – this can be part of the big data stack but especially being able to create ad-hoc reports for instance for A/B testing . Of course regular business reporting needs to be included as well.
- ERP – accounting, resource management, etc.
- CRM – sales and lead management
- Operations & Maintenance – automation of back-ups, monitoring both for the performance and fault management but as well business monitoring.
- Support – helpdesk, ticketing system, SLA management, etc.
- Social integration – tools to add social aspects like Facebook apps, Twitter feeds, etc.
The idea is not that a SaaSification PaaS offers all these solutions by custom development. Instead the SaaSification PaaS should allow startups to assemble an ideal architecture by combining different solutions from different providers. For example you would be able to select the support solution you prefer, e.g. desk.com, zendesk.com, etc. and this solution would be completely integrated into the overall stack, e.g. CRM integration with help desk and fault management together with sign sign-on.
SaaSification 2.0 should focus on making sure that 2-5 people can start a new dotcom solution and focus on creating a killer service and not on building up yet another stack of solutions for configuration management, support, billing, etc. If a SaaSification PaaS can shorten the time to launch with months and reduce the needs to operate the solution with several people then startups will see the value. Instead of SaaSification PaaS a good term could be Incubation PaaS, to incubate SaaS solutions. Once the business model and solution is proven, there will be money to move to a custom-build stack but during incubation and crossing-the-chasm enterpreneurs should be able to focus on delivering value to their customers and not on re-inventing the startup wheel.
I want to take the opportunity to make some suggestions that would make Fon a really disruptive player.
Fon has some really nice residential WiFi routers. A basic version, the Fonera Simpl with an optional antenna, Fontenna, to reach more distance. Additionally there is the Fonera 2.0 N which allows a community of developers to extend the product with new functionality. Finally they can embed their software into operator’s existing WiFi routers.
Fon’s routers are based on OpenWrt, an open source Linux firmware distribution for embedded devices. Developers can create extra plugins / packages that can be deployed on the router.
How to make Fon more disruptive?
For many technical people having access to a global set of WiFi points all over the globe is a really good reason to buy a Fon WiFi. Unfortunately non-technical people might be lost in the technical details about how you can access somebody’s else Internet and might be scared of other people using their Internet. So for most people the Fon offering is like a vitamine and not really a painkiller.
By changing the value proposition of Fon towards becoming a painkiller for more people, Fon would be able to get more active demand for its products from consumers and also via telecom operators.
Fon painkiller example: Parental Control
Most parents would not care less which router is used to access the Internet. The only thing they know is that their offspring knows a hundred times more about Internet then they do. Additionally they know that Internet is full of dangers for kids and teenagers. Children always tell their parents they need Internet to do their home work. But reality is that most surfing is not done for homework
So what if Fon would have an OpenFlow compatible WiFi router with FlowVisor combined with a Cloud solution. To spare the technical details, the summary is that parents would be able to partition their Internet access based on who is accessing. What would this bring?
Kids Internet – 3-8 year olds would only have access to a strict whitelist of Internet pages. Parents would not have to find this white page themselves. Instead people and companies could make white lists and parents could subscribe to them. Examples could be a Disney white list, a SuperNanny [the television show] whitelist. Parents would know that their young children could never go to pages that are unsuitable. Young children would have a start page with icons like the iPad in which they can click on the page and immediately go their favourite games or watch cartoons. Children could be limited in the time they can spend on Internet and special bonus points for good behaviour could buy them more time or bad behaviour could be punished with less time. Parents would need an “Apple” friendly interface to pick whitelists and set-up and manage Internet access times.
Pre-teens / Teens Internet – 9-17 years od – restrictions apply. Parents could define studying time slots in which only certain Internet content can be accessed, e.g. Wikipedia. Also here external entities could define whitelists. Time-based filters for open Internet access could also be set. Additionally special purpose filters are set-up, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Skype, eMule, Google+ etc. This would allow teens to access Facebook and other sites but to have their behaviour screened. Teens could be prohibited to upload pictures of persons, share email/telephone or physical addresses, use F* words, access adult content, etc. There would be a dynamic firewall for each service. Parents could have a high-level reporting interface to see what their kids are doing.
Parental control is just one example of how a generic router that is connected to a niche Cloud application could be a painkiller for parents. Operators could have other pain points, e.g. reduce botnets, spam, P2P content optimization, etc. Shop owners could have other pain points, e.g. social games for bars, etc.
A lot of possibilities are opening up if routers could be externally managed and very specific easy to use interfaces and solutions are build towards which communities and external companies can contribute and generate new revenue with.
The fact that every Fon router will give you access to a global free broadband network will be a nice add-on for most…
Cloud Computing is reaching the tipping point. SaaS is on the verge to balloon. Mobile apps are moving to the enterprise as we speak. Small, medium and large companies will need to mobilize their back office systems.
What better a solution can operators offer then a mobile SaaS enablement platform? A platform in the cloud that allows companies to connect in a secure way their back office systems and to expose internal data to third-party mobile SaaS. Hundreds of small software companies can be making specialized mobile SaaS offerings to allow companies to easily “approve travel expenses”, “monitor KPIs on the go”, “remotely reserve a meeting room”, etc.
Unified Back-office Exposure
Companies would find tools to expose internal data sources and back-office systems as web services. Data islands are exposed and protected via technologies like oAuth. User management and security are managed from a central dashboard. Unified web services interfaces can standardize the exposure of different back-office systems, allowing for mobile SaaS applications to work independent from for instance the back-office ERP that is being used.
The operator is the perfect companion to expose internal resources via secure communication links.
Developers can find a list of tools that take the repetitive tasks out of creating SaaS. Federated user management, multi-tenancy data store, mobile interface designer, integration frameworks (messaging, web services, oAuth, etc.), virtual application servers, long tail monetizing tools (e.g. subscription management), on-demand call center and CRM tools for support, etc.
Enterprise App Stores
Employees can access enterprise app stores in which they can use mobile SaaS applications, either on subscription basis (hourly, daily, monthly, yearly, etc.) or after one-time purchasing. Everything goes immediately on the cost center of their department after manual or automatic approval and is paid via the enterprise’s telecom invoice.
Long Tail Support
Eco-systems of support organizations, on-demand call centers, online trainings and certification programs, etc. can all make sure that enterprises get the support they need.
Show me the money
Operators can charge for sign-up or listing fees, get revenue shares from mobile app sales and support subscriptions, etc. Developers can move solutions from public app stores to enterprise app stores and charge instead of €0.79, several (tens of) euros as a one-time or subscription fee. Software would no longer have to be purchased by IT but can be “used when needed” and only paid for when it really solves a business problem. Also end-users would be able to use the software they really need and not have to wait for a corporate policy update.