The payoff for mobile broadband services in Asia-Pacific will rely not just on LTE, but a savvy and wide-ranging partnership between operators and OTT players.
So said Gulzar Azad, Head of Access for Google India, during a keynote panel session at the start of Day 2 of LTE Asia in Singapore Wednesday.
Azad said that LTE will be at the forefront of creating 1 billion connected broadband users in the next five years. But he also stressed that three other things also need to happen: a critical mass of affordable smartphones, scalable economic models around LTE use cases (such as m-healthcare, for example), and cellcos need to start thinking in terms of delivering services, not data plans.
Speaking to your reporter offstage, Azad elaborated on the latter point, saying that operators traditionally think in terms of offering services to their own subscribers inside their own geographical market. “What they could be doing is offering services that anyone can sign up for, because that’s where all this is going.”
Azad pointed out one strategy that hasn’t worked so well for operators: create platforms that mirror global platforms.
“Search, video platforms, social networks – these are global services,” he said. “People will not sign up for services that isolate them to one network. That’s what operators have created. You can’t do something like Facebook or Google Plus with a limited network.”
What does work, he said, is when operators use those platforms and build on top of them. “You can take YouTube and build channels on top of it – aggregate popular content, add your own content. You can do similar things with social networks and mail and search as well.”
All of which adds up to the assertion that the future of mobile broadband will hinge heavily on a “broader mobile partnership ecosystem”, Azad said.
One operator rep on the panel – Suresh Sidhu, chief corporate and operations officer of Celcom Axiata – said while he was open to partnerships, the conversation had to be two-way, and telcos expect something extra in exchange to add value to their customers.
“Imagine being a newspaper that gets the same news from same sources, and what they need is a way to make it more interesting for their readers,” he said. “So how can Google, for example, make Google more interesting to our users?”
Two other OTT reps shared their positive experiences in partnering with operators.
Fabrizio Caruso, senior VP Asia for Opera Software, talked about the importance of being able to bring value to the operator. “For example, Opera can customize its browsers for handset makers, and offer bundled services for consumers with links pre-embedded in the browser.”
Nadine Yap, VP of product at Viki, said that her company partners with telcos in a number of ways, such as exclusive content windows, tuning content to different target markets, and tuning performance to the capabilities of the network and the handset, while they rely on operators to help with marketing.
“If we don’t customize our content, and if we don’t have help from the operators with marketing, we don’t get the uptake we do with a good partnership,” she said.
Meanwhile, Prashant Gokarn, chief strategy officer at Indosat, predicted that the industry would start seeing more alliances of various combinations between OTT players, content companies and telcos.
“Whether it’s between OTT players and new-media companies, or between operators, those kinds of alliances will escalate – and I think many of them will be built around mobile money and mobile advertising,” he said.
While some telcos could choose to go the acquisition route – as SingTel did when it bought Amobee earlier this year, for example – Gokarn added that operators are less likely to go the acquisition route in the coming years. “The days of operators having the cash to throw around and acquire expertise are over.”