Going over the top with mobile social networking

Keith Willetts, TM Forum
11 Dec 2009
A lot has been written about the seeming failure of the communications industry to capitalize on the boom in applications flying "over the top" of fixed and mobile networks. Apart from the welcome growth of mobile data revenues, the revenue generated by Web-based services like Google, Facebook and iTunes bypasses the communications players.
Indeed, many service providers see the growth of over-the-top (OTT) services as somewhat negative because carriers pick up the network infrastructure costs of keeping up with the bandwidth demands of these services, while the OTT players get all the revenue. If you're an OTT provider, the cost to play around with new business models is low -- you don't have to invest millions of dollars in something and hope it works, so you can try different things with very little risk.
Actually, this feeling of somehow being robbed by the next guy in the value chain isn't exclusive to the communications industry. If you talk to people in the music or the movie business, they too see everybody, including telecom, as bad guys invading their turf. So everyone is nervous about everyone else -- are they friends or foes?
Human nature being what it is, it's probably better to assume foes until proven otherwise. But unless everyone finds a way to collaborate and grow the overall pie rather than just stealing revenue from one another, few in the value chain will make any money. It's as simple as that.
But it seems to me that things may be changing. Instead of a model where the OTT players are leveraging the investments of the communications companies, it may be possible to reverse the situation and allow communications companies to create new revenue from the Web players' investments. Or at least there's potential -- if they work together.
I'm talking about a close marriage of smartphones, fixed and mobile broadband services, service delivery platforms, and social networking. None of these things is new, of course: Facebook announced its 300 millionth member and just turned a profit for the first time in its five-year history. Today, most people interact with Facebook, MySpace or Bebo when they're in front of their computer screens, not via their mobiles, even though many of these sites have apps available for various mobile devices. Why? Because the user experience isn't great when you are on a tiny browser without a keyboard.
But smartphones are changing all of that. The user experience on an iPhone, for example, is good enough that e-chatters don't have to stop when they're away from their laptops. It can be an anytime, anyplace experience.


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