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Telecom Blue Ocean Strategy

January 16, 2013 4 comments

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:

Telecom Blue Ocean

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.

Can an operator give away 1GB/month or more for free? This MVNO believes it can…

After Free.fr in France, the US is also getting its “Enfant Terrible” of the telecom market. Just when everybody thought becoming Bitpipes would be the way forward, this US MVNO is going to give away broadband for free. We are talking about FreedomPop. FreedomPoP will give subscribers 1GB/month for free. Except for Freemium, it will also copy other dotcom techniques like Social Marketing & Sales. For every subscriber you bring, you get more bandwidth. Additionally you can swap the bandwidth that you do not use with others. FreedomPop will also provide some Wimax-iPhone-shell that allows multiple users to connect.

How are they going to make money?

The short answer: still unknown. The long answer: Skype founders are behind the company so VoIP is probably charged. People that spend more than 1GB will have to pay $0.01/MB or $10/GB. There is also talk about making money with value-added services.

Conclusion

It is still too early to understand the impact of what FreedomPop will have on the 4G mobile market in the US. However the fact that Freemium, Social Marketing & Sales, etc. are used means that finally some operator is doing their homework and translating Web practices into Telecom practices…

Disruptive Innovations that can Kill the Telecom Industry

February 14, 2012 1 comment

Killing the mobile broadband oligopoly

For years operators have paid billions for spectrum. Millions of man-years have been spent on building standards like GSM, GPRS, CDMA, 3G, LTE, etc. Can disruptive innovation kill this in a few years?

Yes, it can. The FCC is finding out that large parts of the USA are still not covered by mobile broadband. After years of lobbying by groups like the New American Foundation, the FCC has finally decided to start with White Spaces. White Spaces are also being rolled out in the UK.  White Spaces allows spectrum to be opened for public usage, which was previously used by analog television or to separate different adjacent channels. White Spaces have been referred to as “WiFi on Steroids”.

Another disruptive technology is software-radio networks in which mobile devices use software-driven radio technology instead of hardware-driven radio technology. This allows a mobile device to be compatible with different standards and to switch and evolve quickly. Putting software-radio in a mobile phone will make it possible to use dynamic white spaces, in-door networks, etc.

A final disruptive technology is Openflow. Openflow, is part of software-driven networks, in which routers, bridges, firewalls, loadbalancers, etc. are implemented on software-level. Networks can be virtualized and used with different QoS and configurations at the same time.

Google and Microsoft are major backers of the White Spaces initiative. They also control two important mobile operating systems. Google is also running pilots with fiber-to-the-home. Google has its own routers and other network technology.

Google could easily be the first White Space operator and use a Fon-like way to roll out their network.

Killing ARPU

SMS is already death, and it will be just a matter of months before operators will see deep dives in revenue. Apple could make the iMessage protocol public and Android could come with a standard iMessage-enabled solution and people would no longer send SMSes but would not even realize it.

Next one on the list are calls. Roaming is already seriously being challenged for years by Skype and others. Operators are planning for VoLTE, or voice over LTE, only by 2013-2014. However most will start rolling out LTE in 2012. This is the ideal situation for Voxtrot, and others, to use the vacuum to get people accustomed to free calls. By the time VoLTE will be available there might just be one market price for it: FREE.

Other value-added services, are already being substituted. MMS is called Twitter & Facebook mobile app now. PBX are now on the Cloud. Call centers are now offered as a service.

Killing ROI

Operators are pushed by the market to invest in LTE roll-outs. However why would you need LTE? There is not a single operator service at this moment that will make people queue up in front of their stores to get an LTE subscription. There are a million and one reasons in the form of mobile apps, mobile video streaming, social networks, HD Video-calls, etc. that can push customers towards the over-the-top-players.

So network investment is only going to rise and revenues from the new technologies will be meager at best, if not cannibalizing high-ARPU services.

With Mega Upload and other sharing sites being disabled, illegal file-sharing is not going to go away. P2P is likely to come back with a vengeance. It is easy to shut down large sites. However what if special encrypted P2P apps are used to distribute the location of content and botnets for distribution. There are a lot of computers that are connected to the Internet but are badly secured. Instead of using them for spamming, Mega Upload 2.0 services can use them to store and distribute content. As long as these “hacked” computers use HTTP(S), it will be very hard for operators to distinguish regular do-it-your-self websites from illegal content hubs.

Killing the operator’s established business model

Operators have educated subscribers that everything that comes from them has to be paid for. Disruptive operators like Free.fr are undoing this education by giving a lot of services for free when you pay the monthly subscription fee.

The Freemium business model is likely to find its way into the telecom industry. The model in which 90-98% of the users get the service for free and 2-10% generate the revenue by purchasing premium services. Combined with advertisement, this is the model of big successes like Zynga, Linkedin, etc. Disruptive players that adopt Freemium are likely to start offering services outside of their country borders since the more people participate, the better. With a winner-takes-it-all business model expect roll-outs to be very aggressive.

What can the telecom industry do?

The first thing operators should do it to tell their providers that their top problem is the lack of new revenues that will sustain the industry. Not LTE roll-outs, not fiber-to-the-home, not customer experience management, etc.

Telling telecom providers that new revenue solutions will be a top priority for 2012 will shift R&D budgets into the right direction.

The second thing operators should do is to stop using their existing purchasing techniques to try to generate new revenues. Nobody will be able to invest 5 months into an innovative solution, spend 3 months doing business development, pass 3 months on filling out RFIs, pass another 4 months filling out RFPs, 2 months on contract negotiations and 6-8 months on delivery. The industry can not wait 2 years to launch the first solution. Especially the herding nature of operators is making any introduction of new innovative services difficult because everybody wants a market leading solution but nobody is willing to be the early adopter.

The response should be different. Joint innovation teams that are able to break the “established rules”; that are able to launch “beta-quality” services to early adopters; that are able to innovate with both technology, business model and go-to-market strategy, etc. Operators should be embracing innovation and learn from the IT industry and even better the dotcom industry on how innovation is done quickly, efficiently and successfully…

Thinking differently about monetizing telecom services

January 12, 2012 2 comments

Free, the disruptive French telecom operator and ISV, is changing the rules. Via Femtocell and via controlling the WiFi access points of its customers, Free is planning to offload a lot of mobile traffic via its fiber network. This is translated into very sharply priced mobile calling and data plans. Free’s Founder is telling the telecom industry they should no longer try to make money with communication but focus on identity and payment services.

Free is right to change the rules of the game instead of waiting for non-telecom disruptive players to do so. However what else could Free do to generate extra revenues?

Social Mobile Graph

Facebook is talking about social commerce in which friends, family and colleagues are taking an active role in your buying behaviour. At the moment social networks are either for business reasons, e.g. LinkedIn, or for pleasure, e.g. Facebook. However both need a lot of maintenance effort in which you need to send or accept invites from people who you might have known 20 years ago.

What if your calling and messaging behaviour could take away a lot of this burden? If you call somebody mostly during business hours then this person is likely to be a business contact, especially if other business contacts of yours have the same behaviour. Your addressbook and linkedin could be automatically updated. However you could go a lot further and see which restaurants your direct business contacts call more often. Anonymizing this information and creating public APIs and a marketplace for app developers could lead to a lot of innovative services that can be monetized.

Numbering Plan Apps

The numbering plan is probably one of the most under-used operator assets. However everybody knows how to dial a number. Why not let other people make new numbers, e.g. based on non-existing country codes or using the # or * combinations? People would be able to make premium services for everything from voting, surveys, competitions, money transfers, etc. Putting *120* in front of your number could mean that the caller is paying you 1,20 euros per minute to call you. It is up to you to redirect your number to an application that makes people want to call you. You might have a large numbering app market to choose from. Add a # and a number at the end and you could have thousands of applications behind one number. The operator would get a revenue share.

Call Center as a Service

Call centers are mainly used by large corporations. However small groups of ad-hoc people could benefit from them as well. Ad-hoc software support hot lines in which experts can be freelancers could be of interest to some. But it could even be as simple as housewives that can help you with recipes. As long as rating the participant’s value, dynamic joining and leaving of participants, paying participants a revenue share, configurable participant selection rules, etc. are provided, the applications are limitless.

A lot more

These are just ideas but there are a lot more possibilities that you can implemented. Especially if you can control both the mobile device as well as people’s access point. However the past has shown that trying to get a few people pay a lot of money for a service and operator’s trying to do it all by themselves, have not been successful. Innovation is not only needed in the product domain but also in the business domain. Models that should be explored are:

  • Freemium, whereby most do not pay but get the traffic to your service and only a minority pay for advanced usage. Many examples in the web 2.0, e.g. LinkedIn, Zynga, etc.
  • Long Tail, whereby not only a couple of high paying  groups are targeted but instead thousands of niches are targeted via the use of a general platform or third-party eco-system, e.g. Google Adwords, Facebook Apps, etc.
  • Revenue Share, whereby others get the bulk of the revenue because they take the risk and the operator gets a small share but gets it from a large group of revenue sharers, e.g. Apple’s App Store
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