At the moment teenagers are accustomed to paying for SMS (bulk tariffs) and voice calls (if they use them at all). However since mom and dad pay, they are just worried about staying below their parents ‘ anger limit.
Everything else in the digital world is free to them. Either legally free from the likes of Facebook or Twitter or illegally free from the likes of eMule.
We are at the doorstep of most teenagers switching from SMS enabled phones to smartphones and tablets. This means that there are two possibilities: telecom becomes free or mobile Internet becomes paid.
My guess: telecom becomes free. SMS will be substituted by Twitter and Instant Messaging. A 100-300MB of data traffic can easily pay for thousands of instant messages and social network updates. Likely free mobile apps that optimize data exchanges will be very popular with teens. The net effect will be that teens will no longer see the relationship between sending a message and paying for it. This will prompt them to move massively to the free mobile Internet.
However is there a way to move paid to the mobile Internet?
Not at the current prices. History would repeat itself like in the music industry. A digital technology comes but Hollywood tries to maintain an artificial high price even if distribution prices fall close to zero. CDs cost cents. Digital distribution even less. However you still find CDs that cost more than €15-€25. The result is that teenagers find ways not to pay.
How to do it differently? Move from micropayments (5-15 cents/SMS) to nanopayments (0.01 or 1 cents/event), micro-subscriptions (5-15 cents/month) or freemium. If mobile app designers could have access to a simple interface to charge nanopayments on your phone bill in a uniform matter, then they would not give you an article for free but they would want you to pay 0.05 eurocents for it. You wouldn’t mind such a small fee but lots of nano-cents convert to real money for a successful site. Also micro-subscriptions would allow teenagers to subscribe to a premium service without having any parents worried about phone bills. The last business model (freemium) has been described in another article.
Failure to teach today’s teenagers to pay for the Mobile Internet will mean that free will be tomorrow’s only Digital business model. This is not necessarily bad for site owners that can find ways around it via advertisement or selling customer’s data. However telecom operators will see their only income come from monthly subscription fees that will only go downwards…
SS7 networks or “intelligent networks” have been the core reason why network-based services can not be rolled-out quickly. Specialized skills are needed to launch a new SS7 service.
Currently operators are investing in service delivery platforms or SDPs to move the network intelligence out of SS7. These SDPs will be holding modern copies of the SS7 services.
However do we need intelligent networks? Why can’t we have dumb networks?
The Internet is a dumb TCP/IP network. Intelligence is not in the network but in the applications that run on top of it. Why are telecom networks different? Why do routers have to know if the application is voice, SMS or data? Why does the network have to know about conferencing, numbering plans, etc.?
One example: MSISDN
Why do you want to hard-code an end-user identifier throughout your network & billing systems? Why can’t we have a mechanism like a unique IP address and several DNS names for it. I don’t want to learn a long list of digits to identify a friend. I would like to control my own numbering plan. My direct family starts with 1xx. My friends 2xx. Alternatively I can use their email. I should be able to call a company with its DNS. Ideally I can use the Facebook or Twitter id as well. This would all be possible provided that an internal identifier would be mapped to an end-user identifier instead of using one unique identifier.
Example two: CDRs
Why should every network element know that for every call you need to generate a CDR. However for data, charging is not based on seconds or minutes but data volume? Cannot the metering be done outside the network? Why are we generating millions of CDRs when end-users have a flat-rate or are calling a free number? With software-as-a-service metering can be different per application (pay per GB of storage, per MB of network traffic, per user per month, per company per year, etc.).
The proposal: Define the metering mechanism for each call, SMS or application ad-hoc and use specialized meters outside of the network to meter the service. Time-based meters allow any type of data to pass through to the network but will bill by nano-second, millisecond, second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, etc. You just configure that this voice application needs second-based billing, that adult entertainment application needs minute-based billing and that compute server needs hourly-based billing. Flat-fee calls would not have to be metered and as such don’t need a meter. Meters could be gateways that scan if data goes through. However they could also be event-based and delegate complex metering into an application to warn them when an event has to be billed, e.g. application download, new user registration, etc.
Simplifying the network by taking out complexity to manage/launch/meter/monitor services would substantially reduce the cost of network equipment. Perhaps to such extend that it becomes too small to meter services and as such also metering can be eliminated. Pure bit-pipe operators could probably do with an Excel or Access database as their billing system.
In recent years there has been a lot of startups that have successfully adopted the freemium business model. The freemium business model focuses on giving for free the basic service and charging for the usage of premium features. The basic service should be understood in a wide perspective. It can be a web application but also digital content like software, games, etc.
Telecom services tend to be paid for all the time by everybody. There is nothing like a free lunch in telecom. However Google has chosen the freemium business model for its Google Voice. You get a free voicemail application with voice transcription, visual voicemail, etc. If you want to make international calls then you pay.
Why is freemium better than premium?
More and more internet offerings rely on high volumes of users that use them. Even if you would get a copy of the Facebook platform, you would never be able to compete with them because they already have the established user base and all the social graphs that are linked to this user base.
If you launch a new service and you charge only €0.01 to use it, then the uptake is drastically lower than if it would be free. Imagine that you had a great business idea but the service uptake is going slow due to the initial signup charge, then this gives competitors a window of opportunity to copy the service. If the initial service is free then your uptake will probably not allow competitors to copy the service before it becomes mainstream.
If your new free service is successful then you can launch premium features and get advertisement revenues, hence converting it into a freemium service.
Where does freemium apply?
Freemium is not a hammer and all services are nails. Freemium applies best for innovative services that people are not familiar with. If it does not cost anything, you are willing to try.
Imagine a hypothetical service for improved “network quality of service – QoS” on demand called BoostMe. All users that have a slow ADSL connection (e.g. 1-3Mb) would be able to install a PC client that allows them to decide which applications or down/uploads they want to boost the network speed for. The normal telecom thinking would be: “if you want to have faster ADSL why don´t you contract the 10MB or 20MB plan and pay extra?”. So this new application would cost money the moment you press the “Turbo Boost Me” button.
The freemium entrepreneur would think differently. If I have to develop an application to boost QoS and make necessary changes in my network, then this service is only profitable if at least 20% of the users download it. To make sure I get to the 20%, I can make the application usage free. Free at least until you reach certain limits. Limits could be hours per month or megabytes per month.
What would be the net effect? In the beginning, some early adopters would download BoostMe and see that it really works when they are uploading their heavy Youtube video. They would tell their friends and quickly viral marketing would do its work. However speed is addictive so pretty quickly people would get used to the faster speeds and either pay for extra BoostMe credits or switch to a premium ADSL plan. Additionally having a service with a mass adoption would mean that advertisers become interested. Special advertising deals could be offered whereby you get BoostMe credits if you sign up for a music services, game services, social networks, etc. or if you buy new devices like WiFi routers, etc. The net effect will be that advertisers will pay a large chunk of the free services and the premium services guarantee the profits.
If you would have launched the BoostMe application as a pay as you go, then probably you would never have reached mass adoption and the service would be killed some months later.
From the cost side things look similar. In both cases you would have all the development, marketing and operation costs. If the service is not successful when it is free then it is definitely not successful if you have to pay for it. You would have lost your investment either way.
If the service is successful then after some time you can still convert it to a pay-as-you-go model. The trick is to call the initial service “beta” and to tell people that while in “beta” the service is free. This gives you the option to make the service paid when getting out of beta or to keep it as a freemium service if the model works…