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eLetter – Telco webification
3rd January 2012

The Webification of Telecom Needs Cyber-Metering

I joined the rebels in the early years of the Internet ‘disruption’, when the concept of VoIP rattled the foundation of the Telecom Establishment. I even published an article titled “IMS or Internet VoIP – who will win?” back in Feb 2006. My conclusion was that there were strong convergence forces that demand VoIP to behave more like Telecom, in complying with regulation (Lawful Intercept, Privacy) and managing traffic. These requirements break the peer-to-peer model, which was then considered sacrosanct. Most of all, web players had to find ways of monetising the service – or go bust, and the web model did not allow for usage-based payment.

Telecom is also forced towards convergence with the web. Telcos have exploited the Internet as a free transit resource, offered WAP and bundled VoIP packages for years. However, it took a smartphone revolution to accelerate the true ‘webification’. Still, web apps on mobile devices are not the end-game, but only a start. So far, what we have is merely a collection of functions on the same device, some go to the web and others go to the Telco. It is inevitable that we will soon see these functions blended in new combinations that are even more intuitive and more convenient to use.

What I did not foresee back in 2006 (who did?) was the explosive success of social networks. The new statistics are staggering: a recent study (see Figure 1) shows that 30-35 per cent of the 18-24 year old group visit SNS sites five or more times per day, with some admitting to doing so in bed and in the bathroom!

 

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Figure 1: Frequency of visiting SNS sites by age groups 18-24 and 45-64

Data Source: Ofcom Consumer Research October 2011.

Even more surprising is the behaviour of 45-65 year old users, of whom 20-30 per cent access SNS once a day. These older users have not grown up with this technology – but they are actively joining SNS in their droves. This phenomenon creates a large mass of communicators to be addressed.

Make no mistake. This is not a sideshow for Telecom. This is what future communications look like. Adding mobility to SNS has had a tremendous effect on the take-up, because mobility fits nicely with the SNS chattering classes. No wonder the large Mobile Operators cannot, and will not, give up on RCS (Rich Communication Suite) – it is their only hope of staying in the business of serving subscribers, rather than merely carrying a mass of data in the proverbial fat bit pipe.

The intensive use of SNS tools has profound effects on Telecom. Yes, it does increase the use of communication, as users contact more people in their ever-widening circles, and they do that more frequently than before. However, the rise of SNS connectivity also has a negative impact. As a result of checking on friends’ status every day, you would do less calling and texting, as evident from the survey results shown in Figure 2.

 

 


Figure 2: What do people do LESS because they use SNS

Data Source: Ofcom Consumer Research October 2011.

SNS are now entering a second phase – no, no, please do not call it SNS 2.0! In this phase, SNS become tools for other applications. User generated content stored through these SNS, plus the elaborate personalisation (privacy rules permitting) will be used by applications that provide for different requirements and, perhaps, blend in Telco-provided functions. For example, user nominated SNS content, that is constantly updated, may be used as ‘media bites’ that are played when waiting for the call to connect, or waiting for a reply during a chat. This is an enhancement of ringtones, which links automatically to the user’s content. Such ‘little’ enhancements are sometimes the making of big success, when the original idea flopped before.

It is clear that the communication application layer is moving to the web. Telco apps must be webified. The symbiotic existence of web and mobiles is already bearing fruit, but there is a lot further to go. I have not seen much evidence of ‘impulse’ calling (like impulse buying) from SNS and the long awaited Click-to-Call is still long awaited. I would hazard a guess that this is due to cost barriers – crossing over from the free zone of web services to the charging zone of Telecom services. With all the talk of business models and monetisation, we have not found a way to bridge this gap.

Perhaps what we need is a cyber ‘meter’ mechanism that ticks over as we go about communicating, and accumulates tiny payments as SNS is used. This should change the mind-set towards charging by usage instead of the frustrating flat fee. Such cyber-meters could then be used seamlessly in calling, texting, image sharing, video streaming, even emailing or anything else. With usage based revenues that may be shared with apps developers, the potential of Telco webification will be realised.

 

Rebecca Copeland

Rebecca Copeland
Editor

Ericsson
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