Keep it simple stupid

Susana Schwartz
13 Mar 2009

There's a lot of talk about the potential of mobile advertising, location-based services, and customized charging- and policy-based applications. While everyone speaks of the creation of personalized and distinct services through melding these types of services with social networks and mashups of data, no one seems to have a formula for monetizing these social phenomena. Most service providers start by struggling to embrace concepts like service delivery platforms (SDPs) and service-oriented architecture (SOA), which then trigger a struggle for justifying the services that would ride on top of these very expensive platforms.

Perhaps operators need to take an 'upside-down' approach to building new services. In particular, it seems the more mature markets' juggernauts may have something to learn from smaller, more agile companies that are allowing the energy of the market to drive them one way or the next.

For example, Virgin Mobile was the first to master 'peer-endorsed advertising' with its Sugar Mama program (where subscribers earn minutes for their monthly wireless bills by viewing advertising campaigns, surveys and other 'creative materials.') The company furthered its success with the next iteration of mobile advertising, called 'Fund my Phone,' where advertising spots from Sugar Mama are pushed to subscribers with Facebook accounts that wish to amass free mobile minutes. That then inspired Facebook to jump on that bandwagon by creating Beacon, an information sharing service that now boasts more than 44 third-party partner sites - all of which gather user information using JavaScript code and Facebook cookies to identify shared users and their behaviors - whether gaming with Kongegrate or watching movie reviews at Fandango, or purchasing items on eBay, and so on.

Is it possible that all service providers - whether prepaid, post-paid, content-driven or just simple text and SMS-driven - can learn from the simplicity of that model‾

KISS principle

Rather than build the platforms first with the goal of racing to participate in the sexier Web 2.0 services, operators might do better to build value adds on top of simple services that leverage existing real-time charging and billing capabilities. As they build on those simple services, perhaps there can be a natural evolution toward SDPs and SOA.

Some of the more agile and younger companies in emerging markets are succeeding by doing 'billing-based' services that leverage existing systems, thus avoiding the risk of spending on expensive network equipment to roll out services.

'Some are realizing that both billing and charging functions have significant business cases already associated with them,' says Telcordia's Graham Cobb, director of service delivery marketing. 'After all, that is where the money is, which means building services out from billing and charging systems just makes sense from the beginning.'

He maintains it might be better for some companies in certain markets, such as Brazil and parts of Asia where prepaid is a big part of their business, to think up ways to expand current prepaid billing and charging capabilities into services that attract new audiences.

For example, one Telcordia customer, Oi, has become the largest telecoms company in Brazil with more than 31 million customers and $14.5 billion in annual revenues. The company did not manage to do so by pioneering Web 2.0-type social services, but rather by layering new capabilities and services on top of its existing prepaid billing and charging systems.


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