If telecom service providers continue to believe that they own their customers because they have a billing or customer care relationship with them they are in for a really big shock. Those massive investments in billing, payments and customer relationship management systems in the past may soon be of little value unless there is a wholesale change of mindset within the operators themselves.
Customers needs and wants are changing rapidly, especially in emerging markets where a mobile handset is providing not only a means to communicate but a window to the world via internet access.
Telecommunications, once the domain of nationally owned PSTN monopolies, has burgeoned into a multimedia, multi-network, highly competitive grab-fest for the hearts and minds of the consumer, and the old roles simply do not apply any more. Billing, once the jewel in the crown, is threatened with becoming a mere commodity in the rapidly arriving next-generation world we keep hearing about.
The incredible success of prepaid mobile worldwide and the discovery that prepaid customers are easier and cheaper to manage has stimulated operators into encouraging their postpaid customers to convert. However, prepaid customers are less likely to hang about if a competitor comes up with a better deal. In some markets, it is cheaper to buy a pre-loaded, prepaid SIM than to top up an existing one -- guess how much loyalty that generates?
There was, for some time, an almost ridiculous theory among operators that if any "outsiders" wanted to sell digital content to "their" customers they had to work hand-in-hand with them because they not only owned the customer, they also had their money. In the early days of digital content downloads such as music and games the operators, with the notable exception of NTT DoCoMo, demanded between 50% and 70% of revenues from content developers and providers for the privilege of selling to their customers.