If there was one message that rang clear from Telecom Asia's Telco Strategies conference, it was that operators needed to make themselves relevant again and focus on the consumer rather than just fading into obscurity as the dumb pipe that only gets called up when things break.
Napoleon Nazareno, president and CEO of Smart Communications in the Philippines, spoke of how amazing and yet how scary it was to see his technology-savvy grandson grow up as a digital native, able to express himself and his love of gaming peripherals through his YouTube channel to a borderless world. The challenge for large organizations is extracting the skills from this new tribe of experts and how they can use the mountain of data they have to extract new wisdom.
Smart provides free access to Facebook and Twitter, and its Facebook page is the third most popular page in the country. Nazareno said it was about staying relevant and to "out - OTT" the OTT players rather than wait for them to invade.
Across the board, it was clear that operators realize that cultivating app developers was key to any future success. Virtually all operators have launched software incubators and start-up funds. KDDI won a Telecom Asia award for its A-Fund for Android developers.
Analytics was also at the top of at the agenda when Amrish Kacker, partner at Analysys Mason, summed up the telco's dilemma of having lots of data but no business model by which to make money.
The risk, of course, is a backlash that may come with a perceived invasion of privacy.
He said data has moved from an operator knows best approach (traditional usage analytics) to a customer knows best approach focusing on customer analytics, social networking and self-care. But what Kacker views as the next step is a pooled information approach from the telco, customer, restaurants, shops and other industry players.