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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.

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MWC 2012 in Barcelona is not focusing on new revenue

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

MWC is supposed to show off the best innovations in the telecom industry. The telecom industry is desperately in need of a new business model to substitute falling revenues and pay for exploding data costs.

There were a lot of LTE innovations that were announced. However these will only generate new revenues for the solution providers and not for the telecom industry as a whole.

M2M was another major innovation area. However there was no announcement of any standardization whereby several large operators would push a common standard. Without this standard it will be hard for large scale M2M projects to deliver large profits. If the telecom industry wants to be seen as the leader in the M2M then they should take a leading role in its standardization.

Augmented reality is also pushing strong. However most players are over-the-top companies and not telecom solution providers or telecom operators.

Lots of new phones and tablets but this will also not generate new telecom revenues but will probably push operators into bit pipes sooner.

Cloud computing, big data, collective intelligence, gamification, etc. were under-represented. A lot of slides but few real mind-blowing products.

Operators are probably the once to blame most for this. There is no clear signal from them that they will be investing in revenue generating solutions in 2012-2013. The only thing you can hope for is revenue sharing. Why if you invest in making a stellar product would you want to go to endless RFPs and complex integration solutions if you could launch the product by yourself and become a successful over-the-top-player?

Europeans have lost their telecom edge…

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Not so many years ago, Europe was the leader in telecom. Nokia was the dominant phone maker. Symbian the dominant operating system. GSM/GPRS/3G driven from within Europe. Ericsson the dominant network solution provider.

Fast forward 2011/2012

Only Ericsson is still leading the network solution market. Their mobile arm is being absorbed by Sony however. Symbian is dead. Nokia is in coma, let’s hope its doctor from the Microsoft hospital is able to revive them. LTE is being deployed widely, except for Europe.

The  new rulers are Apple, Google and Huawei. Countries like South-Korea and Japan have gigabit fiber to the home. Something no European country can match.

What should Europe do?

First of all there is a legal problem in Europe that blocks a lot of innovations from reaching Europeans. Europe does not exist in telecom world. Instead there is a collection of small and medium countries that each have their own incumbant operator and legal framework.

The first thing should be to move the telecom legal framework to European level and stimulate the creation of one open market. It can not be that in Germany or France it is not possible to get a virtual phone number [DID] without having an address of residence. Services like Twilio have a hard time to deploy in Europe because of this.

The European Union should drastically reduce its help to farmers, especially industrial farming, and instead use the funds to build gigabit fiber-to-the-home. The UK model whereby the fixed infrastructure is separated from the go-to-market entities should be a good model to follow. If we want to have more Internet companies in Europe, we should start by having fast Internet in all mid to large cities. As well as LTE access for all Europeans in 2013.

European Silicon Valleys

The next step is to create European Silicon Valleys in which startups and universities get easy access to venture capital. Without European innovation, it is hard to see how the European telecom industry will blossom again. Large telecom operators have shown few success-stories when it comes to telecom innovation. They are better at buying successful startups, then starting new innovations themselves. But before you can buy, you must have them first.

The Alternative

What is the alternative of not doing anything?

European employment will suffer. Telecom hardware and software development will be moved permanently to China and India. With only some small design shops in Europe at best.

Operators will become bitpipes which means that only a fraction of the current employees are needed.

American dotcoms and large corporations will attract all investments.

If there ever was a time to feel European, now is the time…

Separating the 3G/LTE bit-pipe and voice from data to survive

Large operators are focusing on building the fastest and most reliable networks; increasing call and SMS traffic; offering the best data plans for surfing; offering excellent business communication services; building a machine to machine business; offering impressive IPTV; etc. Management effort has to be divided between all these and other businesses. The quest to get departmental budget is long and hard.

So if you are a telecom CxO and you get three business cases, which one do you choose?
1) LTE business case – heavy investment but strategically key and very good ROI
2) IP PBX vs on-site equipment business case – low initial investment and clear business model
3) Telco PaaS business case – low initial investment but unclear business model

Any business leader would say 1 is best, then 2 and do not invest in 3. However there is something called “The Innovator Dilemma“.  LTE will make it easier for dotcoms to offer IP PBX as well as cannibalize voice and SMS revenues because over-the-top players will be able to offer mobile VoIP and IM. Even if a CxO would invest outside of LTE in disruptive technologies then it is still very likely that the best people will want to work in the LTE project and not in a disruptive technologies project.

Note: An operator that does not invest in LTE will be dead in 2 years so investment in new network technologies is crucial for operators to survive in the short-term. So the solution is not to invest only in disruptive technologies.

So what should operators do?

Create a holding company and three independent sub-companies:

  1. The bit-pipe
  2. The cash-cow manager
  3. The future

The bit-pipe company is focusing on the network and its operations. Cost reductions, stability, network quality and new network technologies, e.g. LTE, are key for this company. This company should be able to work on low margins and even work together with competitors if it makes financial sense, e.g. share network resources or resell capacity to competitors.

The cash-cow manager should also be a company focused on maximizing profits and minimizing costs. The cash-cow manager gets to manage the circuits and deliver voice, SMS and traditional telco services. They have the liberty to provide these services on top of other networks if it makes financial sense.

The future is a company that will have the bulk of the people and some seed capital that will pay salaries for the next 18-24 months. The mission should be clear: “Focus on new revenues coming from data”. There will be no cross-charging between the other two companies. Either you get new revenues or your future is looking very bad. Why would you be so extreme? Look at McKinsey, Telco2Research, etc. they all say the same. Key telco assets will loose their value in the coming 2-3 years as has happened with location. Or operators start to work on new data revenues NOW or they will have to fire tens or hundreds of thousands of employees in 2-3 years. Telefonica already started a process to fire 20% of the workforce. Separating employees into a new company and giving them one mission will make everybody focus on success. Innovative revenue-generating data services is what the telecom industry needs. Without it everybody will start feeling the pain very soon…

Voxtrot will be stealing calls away from mobile operators!

Voxtrot is built by some of the original Skype team members. Unlike other mobile voip apps, this one has a real potential to change end-user’s behavior. The big difference with Skype and others is that Voxtrot does not assign you yet another username or phone number. You register with your original phone number. When you are calling somebody then Voxtrot will check if the other party is also connected to Voxtrot. If both parties are connected to Voxtrot then the default option will be to use VoIP instead of a mobile call. The Voxtrot call will be  “free” – at least if you are on WiFi or have a large enough data plan – instead of paid. As such Voxtrot will have stolen a call away from the mobile operator…

Although Voxtrot is essentially similar to Skype and others in VoIP technology, the easiness of going VoIP together with the social aspect of inviting all your friends, is really setting it apart from the competition.

Voxtrot is currently only available for Android but plans for an iPhone version were made public.

Operators will have to accelerate their search towards alternative revenue sources or risk becoming bitpipes sooner than later.

LTE will kill the telecom cash-cow. Is your cash-calf ready to take over?

Long Term Evolution, LTE or sometimes also referred to as 4G, is the next generation mobile network technology.  It promises to bring network speed to the mobile that can beat the current ADSL offerings. In the beginning LTE prices might be high but competition especially from new entrants – “the Ryanairs of telecom” / “4G Bitpipes” – are likely to bring affordable pricing plans soon. The US already has the first “4G Bitpipe players”: Clearwire and Lightsquared.

So what does it mean if tomorrow you can have ADSL-like speeds for an (almost) flat-rate. In practice, end-users would be crazy to still pay €0,15 for minute for a call or per SMS. Skype with its optimized codecs (e.g. SILK) will offer better voice quality and will throw in video for free. Instant messaging, Twitter and Facebook chat will completely substitute SMS. This will be the end of the telecom cash-cows: calls and SMS…

What will be the next cash-calf? For those operators that are still looking for the “Killer App” – that single technology that only telecom operators can offer and is extremely successful – I have some news. Postal services are still looking for their killer app after the stamp was substituted by email. So is the music industry. There is no economic law that says that a former monopolist has the right to pick its next monopoly.

So if there is no “Killer App” does it mean that all telecom operators are doomed to become bit-pipes tomorrow? Over time several will but not necessarily all. Although dotcoms have the sexiest solutions, large corporations are unlikely to massively shift their communication services to a heavily indebted 25 people company close to a surf-paradise beach. So due to inertia the abyss is still some years away. However should you just give up and let  consumer ARPU drop year by year?

I believe there is still a window of opportunity for telecom operators to bring new appealing services. However they must be willing to abandon some important historical laws of telecom.

1) Standards slow innovation

Collectively negotiate a standard that is more a political compromise then the simplest, most effective way of doing things is not helping innovation. In the Web 2.0 era, dotcoms launch new ideas all the time. Most of the time it is a “winner takes it all or at least most” market. So the winner sets the standard. How many Twitter competitors do you use?

By designing an architecture around obscure standards, few operators have employees that can explain their company’s architecture. Google and others have invested heavily in their architecture. They constantly update it. But on a blackboard a Google architect can draw you exactly why they choose Bigtable, GFS, etc.

2) Don’t talk about subscribers, call them users

A subscriber is an entity that signs a monthly contract with a telecom operator. By doing so a subscriber seems to subscribe to a list of applications that the marketing department of the telecom operator has preselected as the most adequate for him or her. The operators seems to know what is best for their subscribers. WRONG!!!!!!!!

Call them users and give them the tools to select/create/design/customize/configure the services they want. Let the community vote about which feature is needed. Ask users why they stop using a new service after a week. Let users define the price they are willing to pay by offering multiple alternative solutions in different price ranges with different feature sets.

3) Go from a catalog of few to an infinite catalog

If Telecom can no longer survive based on a few hit services, then they could go to the other extreme: the long tail telco. A long tail telco offers an almost infinite catalog of solutions that combine communication assets with other solutions in order to solve user’s problems, to make them more productive or to entertain them.

Users should be able to combine products to resolve their needs. A good example is what is offered by Invox. Via wizards, templates or a Yahoo Pipes drag-and-drop configuration, small to large enterprises can configure their own telecom services like call centers, PBX, etc. They can easily integrate the best of the Internet (Salesforce, Google, Yahoo, etc.) with IP-based communication. You use what you need. You configured it the way you want it.

What is missing is a market in which those users that don’t want to do it themselves or who need specific support (e.g. custom integrations), can go and find the right help.

Telecom operators should no longer focus on end-user services but on enabling the end-user and an eco-system of independent third-parties to be able to create and sell solutions and services to one another. As long as it is easier, faster and cheaper for a third-party to use an operator’s tools and assets they will see no need to design an alternative solution. This brings us to the next point…

4) Monopolists die because of greediness

Revenue shares of 40-95% are often not in line with the value and risk the operator takes in the value chain. Those operators that think that “squeezing partners until the last drop” is a good long-term strategy, will be the first to die. Innovation needs out-of-the-box thinking. People don’t take risks if they don’t see rewards.

You will need to do more than to just blindly follow these four rules. But by applying them and listening to users, you are on your way to create new cash-calfs…

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