Why Asian wireless operators score lower on innovation

By SR Raja, Mobile Monday Bangalore

The prevailing differences between wireless service operators and mobile value-added services companies on issues of scale and revenue share have become a key impediment to innovation among operators. As a result, south Asian operators rank lower on the innovation scale compared to peers in Western and East Asian markets.

South Asian operators score lower when measured on product and business model innovation, said Ashish Thomas, director at SingTel Group Innovations, at the April edition of Mobile Monday Bangalore. The same companies, he said, score high on process and cost innovation. With mobile data revenues as a percentage of total revenues earned by an operator set to grow, it becomes vital to answer the question, “What is missing?”

Some of the answers that emerged at the MoMo session included user-defined access, which means that carrier-controlled access needs to give more friendly and open access; contribution and collaboration, which is non-existent today and needs to take form through developer communities and easy interfaces. There was also much debate about Web 2.0 and Mobile 2.0 and the concluding argument indicated that Web 2.0 needs to understand Mobile 2.0!

Dig this: if a page does not load while surfing at home, you would try again and again, probably excuse the internet service provider (ISP), change browsers or retry later. The same user’s behaviour is quite different when it comes to mobile. One failed attempt at browsing is sufficient to hit the call center button and demand quality of service from the wireless operator. Why? One answer probably is that wireless operators are not yet mere bit pipes (a la their ISP kin) and therefore their walled garden — carrier controlled nature — brings with it this liability of service. Nonetheless, what was evoked unequivocally was, “don’t underestimate the long-term.” Using relevancy, localization, widgets that are simple to use, widgets that provide perceived savings in cost, time and freedom to choose a personalized set are some of the definite ways forward.

SingTel also shared some of its areas of interest, including, retail proximity solutions, advertising, bio-sensoring amongst the more usual SMS mobile banking/commerce/finance solutions. Most interesting was the case study of SingTel’s ‘NetBus’ service — an SMS-based service that gives the user at a bus-stop the arrival time of his chosen bus. The company unbuilt and rebuilt the service using high relevancy and localization and now has more than two million subscribers against just 10,000 four years ago. It is the one application that has the potential to crash the network even today.

Now that, my friends, is worth pondering — unbuild and rebuild…hmm…

Author: SR Raja is a telecom software specialist and founder trustee of the Bangalore chapter of Mobile Monday, a global community of mobile industry professionals and developers.