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The future of mobile is cross-sector collaboration: CEOs

ITEM: As the mobile sector plunges headlong into the digital services era, the industry must take the lead on innovation and learn to collaborate with partners both inside and outside the industry, top mobile executives said Wednesday.

Kicking off the keynote sessions at Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2015 on Wednesday, four operator chiefs outlined various visions for the future of their mobile networks. And while 5G inevitably came up a lot, a common thread for everyone was the need for the sector to embrace innovation culture and collaboration.

“If you want to be no. 1, you have to take the lead in innovation. If you follow, you will fall behind,” said China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua.

But that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself, he added. “We need cross-sector collaboration to drive innovation. It's a very long [value] chain, and we can’t cover every single point in that chain. This is very important.”

David Thodey, board member and former CEO of Telstra, agreed, stressing that while collaboration is good, that doesn’t mean telcos should take a backseat to their collaboration partners.

“We do need more collaboration because we can’t do everything ourselves, but we can’t simply take what is given to us,” he said. “We do need to be part of that innovation culture, but we must take the lead role in driving that innovation.”

Kaoru Kato, president and CEO of NTT DoCoMo, highlighted “co-creation of added value” as a key step in DoCoMo’s growth strategy. In other words, VAS doesn’t just come from in-house, but by collaborating with the right partners.

As an example, Kato cited DoCoMo’s partnership with duty-free store chain Laox announced on Tuesday. Under that partnership, starting in October, Laox will offer discounts to customers of China Mobile and KT who use DoCoMo’s international roaming services while travelling in Japan.

Kato also extended the same co-creation philosophy to social-issue solutions via collaborations with sectors such as healthcare and agriculture.

“The mobile industry has plenty of room for further expansion,” he said. “Collaboration will allow us to make social contributions with our mobile services.”

Thodey of Telstra noted that it does take a shift in mindset for operators to be able to lead in innovation and collaborate accordingly. “We have to create a culture where innovation is celebrated and recognized, but you also need to put money behind that.”

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and CEO of Telenor Group and chairman of the GSM Association, pointed out that collaboration is already happening in the mobile sector, “but we could be better at it.”

Baksaas added that it was important for operators to collaborate with each other as well as external partners, if only to comply with the GSMA’s general principle of interoperability and seamless connectivity of all services.

“Operators need to develop and maintain that practice of interoperability,” he stressed. “We have that reputation of reliable delivery of communications from A to B no matter where you are – we must never lose that. That requires collaboration, alignment, and creation of new business models for our partners.”

Telstra’s Thodey also said there needs to be more collaboration with regulators, governments and policymakers for things like a shared vision of mobile’s impact on the economy and society, spectrum allocation, common open standards, a consistent and light-touch regulatory regime, and digital inclusion initiatives, including the kind of public-private partnerships such as the one driving Australia’s NBN project.