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.
Although the number of solutions Amazon AWS is offering has become very large, here are 5 ideas of what Amazon could be adding next.
There are thousands of APIs out there. However what is missing is an easy way for companies to control their costs. In line with other marketplaces Amazon runs, there could be an API marketplace. An API marketplace would allow third-party API providers to let Amazon do the charging. Companies would be able to pay one bill to Amazon AWS and use thousands of APIs. Also third-party API providers would be winning because they often can not charge small amounts to a large set of developers. Amazon already sends you a bill or charges your credit card, hence adding some dollar/euro cents for external API usage would be easy to do. The third-party API provider would avoid having to lock-in users in large monthly usage fees to offset credit card and management charges. Amazon of course would be the big winner because they could get a revenue share on these thousands of APIs. End-users would also be winning because they can easily compare different APIs and get community feedback from other developers and pick those APIs with the best reputation. The typical advantages of any online marketplace. Also cross-selling, advertisement, etc. and other areas can be reused by Amazon. A final advantage would even be to have Amazon be in the middle and offer a standard interface with third-parties offering competing implementations. This would allow developers to easily switch providers.
A lot of applications would be helped if they could use language APIs that are paid per request. Language APIs is a group name for text-to-speech, speech recognition, natural language processing, even mood analysis APIs. These are all APIs that are available individually but there is a clear economies of scale effect. The more speech you transcribe or text documents you process, the better your algorithms become. Also there is an over-supply of English language APIs but an under-supply of any other language in the world, except for Spanish, French and German perhaps. Another problem with existing APIs is that a high monthly volume is needed in the even the most basic subscription plan. Examples are Acapela VaaS pricing that costs a minimum of €1500. Very few applications will use this amount of voice.
M2M APIs and Services
Amazon is already working hard on Big Data solutions. M2M sensors can generate large volumes of data pretty quickly. S3 or DynamoDB would be ideal to store this data. However what is missing is an easy way to connect and manage large number of sensors and devices and their accompanying applications. There are few standards but with examples like Pachube, Amazon should be able to get inspired. Especially the end-to-end service management, provisioning, SLA management, etc. could use a big boost from a disruptive innovator like Amazon. Also M2M sensor intelligence could be offered from Amazon, see my other article about this subject.
Mobile APIs and Solutions
With billions of phones out there, mobilizing the Web will be the next challenge. Securely exposing company data, applications and processes towards mobile devices is a challenge today. BYOD, bring-your-own-device, is a headache for CIOs. We do not all have a MAC so we can not sign iPhone apps and launch them on the App Store. Ideally there would be a technical solution for enterprises to manage private app stores, deploy apps on different devices and be able to send notification to all or subsets of their employees. Also functionality like Usergrid in which developers would not have to focus on the backoffice logic would be of interest. Also tools to develop front-end for different devices would be appreciated, examples like Tiggzi come to mind. There are a lot of island solutions but few really integrated total solutions.
Support APIs and Services
Amazon is becoming more and more important in the global IT infrastructure business. This means that solutions will move more and more to the Cloud and sometimes be hybrid cloud. With these complex solution scenarios in which third-parties, Amazon and on-site enterprise services have to be combined, risks of things going wrong are high. Support services both from a technical point of view:
- detect failures and to automatically try to solve them
- manage support ticket distributions between different partners
- measure SLAs
as well as from a functional point of view:
- dynamic call centers with temporary agents
- 3rd party certification programs in case small partners do not have local resources
- 3rd party support marketplace to offer more competition and compare reputations
are all areas in which global solutions could disrupt local and island solutions that are currently in place.
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.
There are several long tail sales channels that are currently showing results. Clear examples are Amazon, Netflix, Google, etc. However there is a key area that is currently not resolved: long tail post-sales support.
In the telecom world, operators are not launching long tail applications because they can not offer post-sales support. A lot of small innovative solutions are not meeting the public because the operator can not afford consumers or small businesses to call massively their call centers. Every call-center call costs €1 or more and training call center agents on thousands of niche applications is virtually impossible.
A director in a tier 1 operator told me the other day that what we are missing is the container for long tail post-sales support. His logic was that the second biggest invention after the Internet was the container and the pallet. They allowed goods to be shipped cheaply all over the world. The Internet accelerated the purchases but the container made it possible that China and others produced it and the rest of the world consumed it.
We need to find the container for long tail post-sales support. The simple solution that allows people to understand which services and solutions have a best-effort, basic or top-class support and to get their problems resolved in the shortest and easiest way.
What is the problem? An individual programmer can build a very successful application, launch it on a telecom cloud and get virtually overnight thousands of customers. This programmer would be totally overwhelmed with bug reports, feature requests, integration needs, customization needs, training needs, etc. from thousands of consumers and small businesses. A business can not afford a critical service not to be available during hours or even minutes or seconds. A single programmer might be a guru in building an innovative application but might lack basic skills in supporting it.
The same would be true if we talk about niche solutions, open source solutions, general solutions with long tail plugins, telecom PaaS platforms, etc.
So do I know what the container is? Not yet but I am actively reviewing different solutions. If you are interested in participating then drop me a line: maarten at telruptive dot com.
Launching thousands of services in a long tail marketplace might not be as hard as it used to be. However supporting millions of users with these thousands of services definitely is. Technology seems not to be the limitation of telco long tail, support and monetization are.
What support is needed?
Consumers as well as small, medium and large enterprises have different support needs. For simplicity let’s focus on small and medium. Hundreds of thousands of those are available in most countries. Often IT skills are in the best case basic. No dedicated IT staff. Just a helpful colleague if any. Time and resource shortage are plenty.
Before reaping the benefit of any long tail service, people will have to learn about what is being offered: product awareness. Additionally once the product is purchased, help with configuration/customization, product training, product integration, consultancy, product questions, etc. Finally when things go wrong: rapid workarounds and bug fixes.
Traditionally telecom operators have used sales teams, help desks and support organizations to offer more basic types of support. Scaling these organizations up to provide the previously listed items is often not possible. And if it were, it would be economically inviable.
Why is long tail support different?
Google, among others, promotes a services-based marketplace inside its Google App Marketplace. Although a step in the right direction, it will not resolve all the issues.
These long tail services could be an answer for established brands and the more straight-forward support tasks like product training. However a developer that on a Sunday afternoon builds a cool app and all of a sudden is surprised that 50.000 companies downloaded it on Monday, is not able to offer any reasonable support.
What do small mom&pops support services need?
Specialization and economies of scale would be two key factors. The “lucky developer” has specialized skills around application development. However does he or she has knowledge about how to integrate a corporate single sign-on solution into it? Probably not. Also when the developer will be helping one company, he will not have time to help another one.
So our “lucky developer” will need people with additional skills and be able to increase his/her bandwidth.
Option 1: Community Support
By offering the tools on the marketplace for an online support community to build around this “lucky app”, companies can help one another and don’t repeatedly ask the developer the same type of questions. Some communities have demonstrated to be offering faster and better support then most commercial support organizations. However there is a problem here. Bug fixes can only be provided by the “lucky developer”. (S)He can choose to open source the application code but that would very likely allow others to quickly copy and extend the app and destroy all market advantage.
Option 2: Commercial Product Support
The “lucky developer” can foresee potential success and hire some external company that gets trained on the app and is able to resolve most of the bug fixes. A trusted third-party that can have an escrow with the “lucky developer” and take over development in case something happens to him or her.
However this would take time and would only take place for those apps that have a steady growth to success, not an overnight craze.
Some tools could be beneficial here. Version control to share proprietary code with authorized third-parties to let them generate patches and in case of a deployed application access to a mechanism to test and deploy an updated version. Also standardized CRM solutions and multi-channel helpdesk access can offer a unified and high-quality service even for one person support companies.
Option 3: Commercial Specialized Services
Even if a third-party company gets trained on a product, this does not take away that customers will demand specialized services that are outside of the scope of product support. Examples could be security audits, SLAs about service availability, integration support & consultancy, performance benchmarking, commercial volume discounts & pricing, marketing, legal support, etc.
By itself this can be a totally new services marketplace in which both the “lucky programmer” as well as its customers can contract these services.
Tools are completely different based on which service is offered so standardized tools are difficult. Probably tools could become SaaS offerings from third-parties.
Option 4: Reputation
Bringing together community support, commercial product support and commercial specialized services is not enough by itself. All tools will not help without one key aspect: reputation.
How can the “lucky programmer” differentiate between 50 lawyers, 350 security experts, 20 performance benchmarking firms, 30 SLA validation agencies, 120 technical support help-desks, etc.? The answer is reputation.
If a security expert has found security holes in some of the most famous Internet sites and he certifies your application then this means that your application is having a reputation of being save. The higher the reputation, probably the higher the fees the “lucky programmer” has to pay. So not everybody will be able to afford the best, especially in the beginning. But then again, sometimes companies with a top reputation might want to offer their services for free for those “lucky programmers” that are likely to get them free press.
The same is true for buyers. If you see that an SLA validation authority, that is generally trusted, is certifying that the services was up for 99,9999% in the last 24 months then you probably want to buy this service over a service that is slightly cheaper but has no reputation for reliability. Also you will want to buy bug fixing support from an organization that was able to meet a very tough SLA in the last 24 months and has all its customers raving about it.