OTT Services – Friends or Foes?
Over The Top (OTT) services allow us to send messages, make calls, or stream video over data networks (Skype, Viber, or Whatsapp are relevant examples of such services). Their popularity is a call to action for mobile operators who are suffering from revenue losses.
OTT services have become extremely widespread thanks to lower costs, overall positive user experience (even though sometimes a VoIP connection is far from perfect) and platform independence. According to Statistia, Viber had 711 million users in December of 2015. Whatsapp had reached 1 billion users by February of 2016, and 300 million people used Skype in 2015. No wonder major MNOs are trying to introduce regulations and keep up with the competition.
Even though many studies have shown that restrictions on OTT services are bad for business, back in 2012 AT&T had offered FaceTime only as an added benefit of their data plans in the US. If the customer did not have the data bundle, they could use FaceTime solely over Wi-Fi.
South Africa is another country which is now considering imposing restrictions that would slow down innovation in this field. The two largest South African MNOs have called for regulations for OTT providers such as Skype and Whatsapp. Cell C, the third largest MNO from that country, has chosen to collaborate with OTT operators instead, and is now offering free access to social network services and a range of other websites.
Not so long ago European operators such as Orange and Deutsche Telecom have called for a fair regulatory environment for all services. They pointed that the increased competition from services similar to Viber is a reason for easing up the regulatory burden on operators. The decision regarding the reform will be taken by the European Commission later this year.
According to research conducted by Technotree, mobile operators predict an increase of data usage among subscribers. In order to benefit from this, MNOs need to make sure that data remains in their network, therefore they need to introduce new services. Thus, far-sighted MNOs are either establishing partnerships with OTT providers or are launching their own OTT services.
Over in The UAE, Etisalat launched its own eLife on app, allowing customers to watch more than 200 TV channels, movies and series on the go. The Spanish Telefonica launched a Tu Go app in the O2 UK network. The application allows customers to make calls from one’s desktop and be charged by O2 on the same bill as the cell subscription. This elegantly solves the problem of having too many invoices for using communication services.
Nevertheless, the approach of creating OTT services in-house has some disadvantages. Here are some of them:
- Usually the apps are available only for existing subscribers, thus it creates no opportunities for acquiring new customers. In other words, to increase the amount of users operators have to work on increasing their subscriber base.
- Considering the bureaucracy within MNOs,it takes longer to develop, design, launch and market the product
- It is virtually impossible to convince a Viber user to switch to a new application with the same functionality.
The second option is to start partnerships with OTT providers which is a far-reaching strategy. MNOs can benefit from collaboration by using OTT brands to sell more data bundles, charging for subscriptions or advertising their services and initiatives.
OTT providers don’t own any infrastructure. Operators have invested heavily in building the infrastructure and they own one of the most valuable assets – customers’ mobile phone numbers, which are needed for seamless communication between the telecom network and the internet. In other words, OTT providers and telecoms both have a lot to gain from a productive collaboration.
Operators must be responsive and adaptable to market changes in order to keep creating value. Partnering with a small and agile tech startup could be the perfect boost for any MNO or MVNO that is looking for a fresh take on offering their clients a valuable OTT service.