Communications Services: What now makes a winning value proposition?

Introduction

This is an extract of two sections of the latest Telco 2.0 Strategy Report The Future Value of Voice and Messaging for members of the premium Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Service.

The full report:

  • Shows how telcos can slow the decline of voice and messaging revenues and build new communications services to maximise revenues and relevance with both consumer and enterprise customers.
  • Includes detailed forecasts for 9 markets, in which the total decline is forecast between -25% and -46% on a $375bn base between 2012 and 2018, giving telcos an $80bn opportunity to fight for.
  • Shows impacts and implications for other technology players including vendors and partners, and general lessons for competing with disruptive players in all markets.
  • Looks at the impact of so-called OTT competition, market trends and drivers, bundling strategies, operators developing their own Telco-OTT apps, advanced Enterprise Communications services, and the opportunities to exploit new standards such as RCS, WebRTC and VoLTE.

The Transition in User Behaviour

A global change in user behaviour

In November, 2012 we published European Mobile: The Future’s not Bright, it’s Brutal. Very soon after its publication, we issued an update in the light of results from Vodafone and Telefonica that suggested its predictions were being borne out much faster than we had expected.

Essentially, the macro-economic challenges faced by operators in southern Europe are catalysing the processes of change we identify in the industry more broadly.

This should not be seen as a “Club Med problem”. Vodafone reported a 2.7% drop in service revenue in the Netherlands, driven by customers reducing their out-of-bundle spending. This sensitivity and awareness of how close users are getting to their monthly bundle allowances is probably a good predictor of willingness to adopt new voice and messaging applications, i.e. if a user is regularly using more minutes or texts than are included in their service bundle, they will start to look for free or lower cost alternatives. KPN Mobile has already experienced a “WhatsApp shock” to its messaging revenues. Even in Vodafone Germany, voice revenues were down 6.1% and messaging 3.7%. Although enterprise and wholesale business were strong, prepaid lost enough revenue to leave the company only barely ahead. This suggests that the sizable low-wage segment of the German labour market is under macro-economic stress, and a shock is coming.

The problem is global, for example, at the 2013 Mobile World Congress, the CEO of KT Corp described voice revenues as “collapsing” and stated that as a result, revenues from their fixed operation had halved in two years. His counterpart at Turk Telekom asserted that “voice is dead”.

The combination of technological and macro-economic challenge results in disruptive, rather than linear change. For example, Spanish subscribers who adopt WhatsApp to substitute expensive operator messaging (and indeed voice) with relatively cheap data because they are struggling financially have no particular reason to return when the recovery eventually arrives.

Price is not the only issue

Also, it is worth noting that price is not the whole problem. Back at MWC 2013, the CEO of Viber, an OTT voice and messaging provider, claimed that the app has the highest penetration in Monaco, where over 94% of the population use Viber every day. Not only is Monaco somewhere not short of money, but it is also a market where the incumbent operator bundles unlimited SMS, though we feel that these statistics might slightly stretch the definition of population as there are many French subscribers using Monaco SIM cards. However, once adoption takes off it will be driven by social factors (the dynamics of innovation diffusion) and by competition on features.

Differential psychological and social advantages of communications media

The interaction styles and use cases of new voice and messaging apps that have been adopted by users are frequently quite different to the ones that have been imagined by telecoms operators. Between them, telcos have done little more than add mobility to telephony during the last 100 years, However, because of the Internet and growth of the smartphone, users now have many more ways to communicate and interact other than just calling one another.

SMS (only telcos’ second mass ‘hit’ product after voice) and MMS are “fire-and-forget” – messages are independent of each other, and transported on a store-and-forward basis. Most IM applications are either conversation-based, with messages being organised in threads, or else stream-based, with users releasing messages on a broadcast or publish-subscribe basis. They often also have a notion of groups, communities, or topics. In getting used to these and internalising their shortcuts, netiquette, and style, customers are becoming socialised into these applications, which will render the return of telcos as the messaging platform leaders with Rich Communication System (RCS) less and less likely. Figure 1 illustrates graphically some important psychological and social benefits of four different forms of communication.

Figure 1:  Psychological and social advantages of voice, SMS, IM, and Social Media

Psychological and social advantages of voice, SMS, IM, and Social Media Dec 2013

Source: STL Partners

The different benefits can clearly be seen. Taking voice as an example, we can see that a voice call could be a private conversation, a conference call, or even part of a webinar. Typically, voice calls are 1 to 1, single instance, and with little presence information conveyed (engaged tone or voicemail to others). By their very nature, voice calls are real time and have a high time commitment along with the need to pay attention to the entire conversation. Whilst not as strong as video or face to face communication, a voice call can communicate high emotion and of course is audio.

SMS has very different advantages. The majority of SMS sent are typically private, 1 to 1 conversations, and are not thread based. They are not real time, have no presence information, and require low time commitment, because of this they typically have minimal attention needs and while it is possible to use a wide array of emoticons or smileys, they are not the same as voice or pictures. Even though some applications are starting to blur the line with voice memos, today SMS messaging is a visual experience.

Instant messaging, whether enterprise or consumer, offers a richer experience than SMS. It can include presence, it is often thread based, and can include pictures, audio, videos, and real time picture or video sharing. Social takes the communications experience a step further than IM, and many of the applications such as Facebook Messenger, LINE, KakaoTalk, and WhatsApp are exploiting the capabilities of these communications mechanisms to disrupt existing or traditional channels.

Voice calls, whether telephony or ‘OTT’, continue to possess their original benefits. But now, people are learning to use other forms of communication that better fit the psychological and social advantages that they seek in different contexts. We consider these changes to be permanent and ongoing shifts in customer behaviour towards more effective applications, and there will doubtless be more – which is both a threat and an opportunity for telcos and others.

The applicable model of how these shifts transpire is probably a Bass diffusion process, where innovators enter a market early and are followed by imitators as the mass majority. Subsequently, the innovators then migrate to a new technology or service, and the cycle continues.

One of the best predictors of churn is knowing a churner, and it is to be expected that users of WhatsApp, Vine, etc. will take their friends with them. Economic pain will both accelerate the diffusion process and also spread it deeper into the population, as we have seen in South Korea with KakaoTalk.

High-margin segments are more at risk

Generally, all these effects are concentrated and emphasised in the segments that are traditionally unusually profitable, as this is where users stand to gain most from the price arbitrage. A finding from European Mobile: The Future’s not Bright, it’s Brutal and borne out by the research carried out for this report is that prices in Southern Europe were historically high, offering better margins to operators than elsewhere in Europe. Similarly, international and roaming calls are preferentially affected – although international minutes of use continue to grow near their historic average rates, all of this and more accrues to Skype, Google, and others. Roaming, despite regulatory efforts, remains expensive and a target for disruptors. It is telling that Truphone, a subject of our 2008 voice report, has transitioned from being a company that competed with generic mobile voice to being one that targets roaming.

 

  • Consumers: enjoying the fragmentation
  • Enterprises: in search of integration
  • What now makes a winning value proposition?
  • The fall of telephony
  • Talk may be cheap, but time is not
  • The increasing importance of “presence”
  • The competition from Online Service Providers
  • Operators’ responses
  • Free telco & other low-cost voice providers
  • Meeting Enterprise customer needs
  • Re-imagining customer service
  • Telco attempts to meet changing needs
  • Voice Developers – new opportunities
  • Into the Hunger Gap
  • Summary: the changing telephony business model
  • Conclusions
  • STL Partners and the Telco 2.0™ Initiative

 

  • Figure 1:  Psychological and social advantages of voice, SMS, IM, and Social Media
  • Figure 2: Ideal Enterprise mobile call routing scenario
  • Figure 3: Mobile Clients used to bypass high mobile call charges
  • Figure 4: Call Screening Options
  • Figure 5: Mobile device user context and data source
  • Figure 6: Typical business user modalities
  • Figure 7:  OSPs are pursuing platform strategies
  • Figure 8: Subscriber growth of KakaoTalk
  • Figure 9: Average monthly minutes of use by market
  • Figure 10: Key features of Voice and Messaging platforms
  • Figure 11: Average user screen time Facebook vs. WhatsApp  (per month)
  • Figure 12: Disruptive price competition also comes from operators
  • Figure 13: The hunger gap in music

Apple iCloud/iOS: Killing SMS Softly?

Summary: Our analysis of how Apple’s iCloud, iOS5, and MacOS developments build value and control for Apple’s digital platform, and their consequences on other parts of the digital ecosystem, including the impact of iMessage on text messaging. (June 2011, Executive Briefing Service)

Apple iCloud logo in analysis of impact of iCloud/iOS on digital ecosystem

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Below is an extract from this 32 page Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service here. Non-members can buy a Single User license for this report online here for £995 (+VAT) or subscribe here. For multiple user licenses or other enquiries please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Creating effective commercial strategies in the digital ecosystem, including learning from and dealing with major players like Apple and Google, is a key theme of Telco 2.0’s ‘Best Practice Live!, a free global online event on 28-29 June 2011, as well as of other Telco 2.0 research and analysis.

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Introduction

icloudious 1 - WWDC June 2011.pngApple provided a glimpse into some of the upcoming new features of its key software platforms iOS and MacOS at its WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June 2011. It also announced its much anticipated move into providing cloud based services and away from using the PC as the controlling hub.

iOS and MacOS are Apple’s key software assets – the assets which add soul to Apple’s key money spinning devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac). iCloud is the first iteration of the missing third leg – the software that ties all the devices together seamlessly. Together iOS, MacOS and iCloud are both the differentiator for the consumer and the barrier-to-entry for competitors. They are the soul of the Apple overall platform.

The Apple platform is evolving, and its new features will impact on many players in the value chain: namely the various distributors including mobile operators, aggregators, content creators and of course end consumers.

Nearly every main feature launched seems to support our general theory that Apple is squeezing value from the aggregators and distributors and pushing that value into the device manufacturers (i.e. them). 

Contents

The rest of this webpage covers:

  • iMessage – killing SMS softly? [NB There is additional analysis of this in the full Briefing]
  • iTunes in the Cloud – getting one up on Amazon
  • Notifications – Apple robs Windows Phone and Android advantage 


The full Briefing, which contains the complete section on iMessage, also includes the following sections:

  • The impact of iMessage on SMS revenues, and telco defence strategies
  • MacOS Software – Apple shuts out other retailers
  • Newsstand – Appeasing Publishers (to a degree)
  • MobileMe – just ‘making it work’ …and building the moat
  • iCloud and Video Services – holding fire for now
  • Activation – Cutting the PC cord
  • Photo Stream – yes, but why?
  • Data Centre Economics – making a start
  • Conclusions – Lessons from Apple’s Strategy


1. iMessage – killing SMS softly?

icloudious 1a - iMessage iCloud June 2011.png iMessage, which is the primary mechanism for SMS and MMS features, has been radically reengineered with messages between Apple platform consumers no longer being carried on the mobile network SMS and MMS infrastructure. All of this happens transparently to the consumer and they don’t need to know if their recipients are also using Apple devices – the message routing is determined by the Apple platform.

iMessage is great for consumers as these onnet messages are free, but dreadful for MNOs as they all will probably take a hit on messaging revenues. Apple is competing with the MNO’s core services, and they have even made it easier for consumers to see the value proposition by colouring the bubbles for onnet and offnet messages differently.

Apple has been quite clever in the timing of the release of this feature. Applications such as WhatsApp have already been blamed by some MNOs for declining messaging revenues – in particular KPN that has recently experienced a very significant impact on revenues. Apple effectively is doing nothing differently to them, just improving the consumer experience by making it easier to send and receive offnet messages.

In terms of platform economics, Apple is adding value to the consumer via the device and squeezing value from the mobile network distributors. We believe it is only a matter of time before Apple start offering voice features. This, together with their video conferencing application Facetime, leaves mobile operators staring into the future where they will only be selling data access services.

[NB There’s further analysis of these impacts and defences against them in the full Briefing.]

2. iTunes in the Cloud – getting one up on Amazon

 icloudious 2 - iTunes iCloud June 2011.png The key value proposition of “iTunes in the Cloud” is that all songs historically purchased through iTunes are available for download to any Apple device at no extra cost wirelessly either through a WiFi or 3G connection as long as the consumer remains within their data tier. The user has control over which songs he wants to download to what devices thus avoiding a situation where all storage on an iPhone or iPad is consumed by a vast collection.

The level of consumer control is such that a consumer can even download a previously purchased album for a specific journey and then remove it after listening to save space. New purchases can immediately downloaded to all devices or selectively as with the case of historical purchases. This feature definitely improves the Apple platform, and especially compared to alternate music retailers such as Amazon.

Currently, Apple users can purchase songs or albums from Amazon and they will be automatically added to iTunes on the laptop, then on synchronization the songs transfer to the iPhone or iPad. Previously, buying songs through the Amazon store on the PC was as simple as buying through the Apple iTunes store, and Amazon has been slowly gaining market share in music downloads, because it competes on price and often offers songs cheaper than in the Apple iTunes store. Now, with “iTunes in the Cloud”, Amazon may still be able to beat Apple iTunes Store on price, but the user experience is now deficient.

We seriously doubt that Apple will allow 3rd party retailers access to their iTunes in the Cloud service, and argue that Apple is using their platform to improve the position of their retail arm compared to 3rd parties.

iCloudios 4 - iTunes Match June 2011.jpgThe other service offered, iTunes Match, also adds incredible value to the platform. Apple has negotiated a deal with the major record labels to offer the opportunity to consumers to add tracks from their collections not purchased via the Apple store to the iTunes in the Cloud service for a cost of $25/year. Reputedly, Apple is sharing this revenue 70:30 with the record labels and as a paid a huge advance of US$100m-US$150m for the USA rights alone. Apple has set the benchmark price for cloud music licensing and has set the bar so high that it is hard to see new entrants having sufficient funding to gain similar licenses. Even Amazon or Google will be questioning whether they can generate enough money from music to justify the price of the licenses.

At the launch event, Steve Jobs presented the use-case of customers who had ripped their physical CDs. The more discussed use-case in the media is those people who have obtained their songs from illegal means, either via P2P networks or friend sharing, who effectively now have a US$25/annum service which legitimizes not only their past behaviour, but potentially also their future behaviour. The third use-case is people who buy cheaper digital music from other digital retailers, e.g. Amazon, and now have an option to pay an ongoing fee to add the simplicity of the iTunes in the Cloud service. Effectively, the usability advantage of the Apple platform is priced at US$25/annum which means this use-case only makes sense to heavy ongoing purchasers of music.

Apple didn’t face the same licensing issue from the publishers and has added a very similar service for all Books bought from the iBookstore with the added feature of bookmarks are synchronized and shared across devices. Overall, Apple has built very compelling cloud services for music, books and magazines and erected larger barriers for its competitors. If iMessage show Apple leveraging interconnected with other networks when it suits them, iTunes and iBookstore show Apple adding features which not only make interconnect more difficult for other companies, but firmly closing previously open doors.

3. Notifications – Apple robs Windows Phone and Android advantage

 

iCloudios 5 - notifications June 2011.pngA notification is the mechanism that consumers are alerted to events – for instance, an incoming email or sms. It is the key mechanism that 3rd party developers communicate with their users – for instance, in a sports application a notification can alert the user that their football team has scored a goal. Apple has completely revamped their notifications user experience with the addition of a notifications centre.

Apple have pushed over 100 billion notifications to iPhone and iPad which presumably partly accounts for the high consumption of signaling capacity which many mobile operators have been complaining about.

It also shows that Apple is quick to address deficiencies in their platform compared to others. This is a key feature of platform economics; you have to invest sometimes to play catch-up. It also highlights the risks for developers of building solutions which address platform weaknesses – yesterday’s successful application is tomorrow inbuilt into the platform.

Interestingly, an alternate notification application was never approved by Apple in their AppStore and instead went into the wilds of only being available on jailbroken iPhones. Apple new notification centre bears a striking resemblance to the non-approved one. iCloudios 6 - notifications June 2011.png Another example of this approach is with the feature for reminders, where a plethora of applications were already being sold in the Application store. Apple added a feature called Reminders which is part of the initial application load, and which effectively destroys the market for 3rd party applications. This in some ways looks like a repeat of the Microsoft strategy with Windows and Internet Explorer which got them in such trouble with regulators across the globe.

To read the full Briefing, members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Service can download the full 32 page report in PDF format here. Non-Members, please see here for how to subscribe, here to buy a single user license for for £995, or for multi-user licenses and any other enquiries please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Organisations, company types, areas, people and industry models referenced: Apple, platform, Amazon, Cloud, Google, strategy, Vodafone, WhatsApp, O2, Orange, publishers, Steve Jobs, WWDC, ARPU, Blackberry, Carphone Warehouse, Everything Everywhere, MNO, Prepay, record labels, Telefonica, T-Mobile, Viber.

Technologies and products referenced: iPad, iPhone, PC, Windows, iCloud, iTunes, iMessage, Android, iOS, messaging, MMS, MobileMe, SMS, voice, WiFi, Windows Phone, 3G, Activation, AppStore, Data Centre, NewsStand, Notifications, Photo Stream, Video, BlackBerry Messenger, Facetime, Freebee, Gmail, GSM, HTML5, iBookstore, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Live, P2P, Photostream, RCS-e, Snow Leopard, UltraViolet, VoIP, Windows7.