What will it take to make us love mobile operators?

Telco operators play a fundamental role in society, creating and maintaining the infrastructure that modern business, communication, and entertainment run on. They are the oxygen of our digitally mediated society – without them, nothing works. But is infrastructure creation enough? In many ways, mobile operators hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to creating a truly connected society. Yet, today, they face more competition than ever, largely due to “over the top” (OTT) companies such as Skype, Facebook, or WhatsApp.

Telcos sit on veritable data goldmines. Yet, thanks to the mobile data revolution, operators have the opportunity to become more relevant and take on the OTTs. Carriers have access to vast quantities of user data and insights that can help them move beyond merely offering infrastructure towards becoming beloved service-oriented brands that give customers more of what they want: amazing mobile experiences. For example, Indian operator Bharti Airtel captures 6bn customer interaction data points on its network daily.

By putting this real-time data to use, operators can improve customer experiences, increase efficiencies and reduce churn. If operator-controlled data is combined with external data – local events info, demographical data, retail patterns, social media data – operators can create a wealthy data set to invent and deliver a wide range of innovative mobile services.

Compared with the constant service evolution of a typical internet business, telecoms move at a glacial pace. However, slow-moving investment cultures and rampant internal complexities pose a challenge to action. Operators are accustomed to carefully constructed business models and lengthy development processes, and operators lag behind agile and innovative OTT.

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Shifting gears to become consumer-focused and innovation-driven is no easy feat for operators. Still, a transformation that results in happy customers in the long term is a worthy uphill battle Top Theto. That said, if they are to compete with OTT services viably, operators must ensure they offer something new and useful, rather than simply emulating the competition. Instead of looking with envy at the next startup or OTT service that’s capturing headlines, operators should leverage their own strengths and assets for their customers’ benefit.

Swedish and Danish operator Hutchison 3’s My 3 service brings transparency to its phone bill by offering customers a visual app that shows – in real time – their individual mobile usage and spending habits, compared to their plan. In doing this, Hutchinson 3 has increased both customer engagement and loyalty.

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Spanish mobile operator, Telefónica, has worked with Mozilla to develop Firefox OS, an open web standard that makes it faster and easier for web developers to reach mobile users through the platform. The aim is to spur new mobile innovation and further speed up the merger of the internet and mobile.

UK mobile operator O2 has taken on OTTs by developing its own Tu Go service, which allows O2 subscribers to make and receive calls and texts over Wi-Fi allowances. It simplifies communication, eliminates the need for a separate billing account (e.g., Skype), and brings legacy telco functionality into the modern age, making it convenient and useful.

These few examples prove that operators can bring to market solutions that add value for their customers – when they’re thinking about user value and building from their own areas of strength. Operators are well-placed to increase their relevance and utility by offering useful services with much-added value. With a bit of clever work and determination, operators can move from “dumb pipe” to value-adding smart pipe, upgrading their role in consumers’ lives from “necessary evil” to “indispensable companion.”