The Growing Diversity amongst Operators on Service Success

Telephony was the first user generated content (UGC) service.  Operators provide a pipe, and we filled it with a conversation.  It fulfills a basic human need, the need to communicate, and as been successful around the world.  As telecommunication services become more sophisticated we’re witnessing a divergence amongst operators on service success.  The roots of this divergence comes from local market conditions such as cultural, regulatory, competitive and national pricing factors.  Let’s examine some of those differences.

  • Caller Ring Back Tone: that tune you hear rather than the usual ringing tone when you call someone.  South Korea is generally considered the birthplace of the service.  We’ve also seen success in countries such as India, yet a relatively low take-up in countries such as Singapore.  With this service cultural factors have a big impact.  South Korea has a strong local popular music scene, India too.  Singapore with its diverse population does not have a unified music scene.   So imagine the scenario, you’re in Singapore and you call a friend only to hear some wailing rather than the usual ring-back-tone, it does not encourage take up of the service, unless its to get back at the individual subjecting you to the wailing.
  • VoiceSMS: that simple service that enables people to send a voice message rather than an SMS.  Some countries, for example Indonesia, have shown rapid taking up, while trials in India and Singapore have generated poor results.  The driver is local market related; it’s to do with the literacy rate, with low literacy it’s easier to listen to a message than read one.  While in text-mad countries like Singapore, with a big bundle of SMS included in your plan, why would a customer want to pay for an additional VoiceSMS service?
  • Bundling: In the US there’s a revolution underway, the old cable TV monopoly is dead.  Verizon FiOS enables customers to have a far richer TV experience, as well as voice and data (20 Mbits down / 5 Mbit/s return) for just $95 + tax.  While in the UK, the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) struggle with their video strategy, limited by the real-world throughput of ADSL, e.g. that annoying bell-wire in the home wiring that acts as an aerial for inference.  Cable at only 50% coverage of households, and monopolistic control of TV content by BSkyB, the local market conditions of the UK makes creating a competitive bundle of voice, video and data for all except BSkyB and Virgin difficult.
  • Missed Call Summary: the SMS alert received when your mobile is turned on that list the calls missed while the phone was off.  It’s a simple business case, it stimulates calling by 1.5-4%.  But in the US, where customers buy big bundles of minutes to avoid overage charges, such stimulation is bad for operators because it means customers use a little bit more of their bundle, which costs additional network resources.  Local pricing factors limit what services will be considered for launch by operators.
  • Family bundle: shared minutes plans have proven very popular in the US.  Some operators have over half their customers on shared minutes plans.  This then enables VAS (Value Added Services) to be targeted to those plans, e.g. family finder a location based service.  Disney achieved 30% take-up of that service at $9.99 per month, before it closed down.  In Europe, evolving from a usage based model, shared minute plans are only starting to emerge; mobile phone purchase is generally an individual purchase.  While in the US, it tends to be linked to a household decision, hence the greater interest in quad-play.  On the issue of sticker-shock from quad-play; customers are not stupid, if they have 3 bills for $50 per month, and they can consolidate that to one bill for $120, they know they’re saving $30 per month – its what they do with their credit card debt.
  • Push to Talk: Blue collar workers love it because they work in a highly interrupted environment; it’s not about conversations rather issuing instructions.  PTT was once promoted as a cool service teenagers would adopt.  How detached from reality can someone be?  Teenagers love SMS because they can have a private conversation with their friends, even within ear shot of their parents, try doing that with PTT.  Cultural factors are critical when evaluating services.
  • i-mode: Back in the 90s, when we used dial-up to access the internet, Japan was in a sorry state with respect to internet access.  Most young people did not have a fixed phone line at home because it required a sizeable deposit to NTT, so they did not access the internet.  i-mode (NTT DoCoMo) provided a convenient way to access Japanese content, email and did not require a big deposit.  In addition, NTT DoCoMo controls the value chain in Japan unlike any other operator in the World – even Verizon.  So they could define the handsets, the software, the business models and had a hungry market.  This is an example of local market factors creating a unique situation.  I think we’ve seen enough i-mode failures outside Japan to realise it is specific to the Japanese market.

The list of examples goes on, in the Middle East there are some quite unique local market factors that I do not have space to cover here.  So whenever anyone quotes a service success in another market, we must analyse why it was successful in that market, then examing the similarities and differences between the markets to better understand its chances in the local market.