Mobile Breakfast Series Recap – Operators/OTT – The Way Forward

Mobile Breakfast Series Recap – Operators/OTT – The Way Forward

June is the Mobile Breakfast Series Month with 3 programs planned in 3 cities across 2 continents. We kicked things off with the first one earlier today in Seattle. The topic of discussion was Operators and OTT – The Way Forward.

We also announced our fall program of Mobile Future Forward. More about that later.



There is an old Chinese saying, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls others build windmills” Our industry is going through tremendous change; it won’t be an exaggeration if I say that the tectonic plates are moving, in some places quite violently. The motion is being forced both by the economic conditions but also by the technology and business progress. I have been around the industry long enough but it still amazes me – the stuff that’s in the pipeline and how quickly consumers absorb it.

The topic of our discussion was Operators and OTT or Over the Top. These are services like Skype, Youtube, Amazon video, HBO, etc. things that go over the network. I wanted to broaden the discussion to another acronym – VAS or value added services – both for the consumer segment and the enterprise segment. These will be simple things like address backup or CRM applications to more sophisticated supply chain management, in-store location targeting, advertising etc. To discuss this we have an absolutely brilliant panel representing various parts of the value chain.

RealNetworks has been the Kevin Bacon of startups in Seattle. Thanks to the people Rob Glaser hired, RN has done a better job at spawning up new ideas that your bigger cousins in town. Rob is well known for his pioneering work in giving Internet its voice (in the words of Kara Swisher in the 1998 article for WSJ). But lately, Rob has been busy with Sidecar – a next generation communication app that does more things than messaging and voice. If you haven’t tried, please do so.

Mary Jesse is one of the most distinguished engineers in WA State going back from the McCaw days, VP of Eng at AT&T, CTO of RadioFrame and now CoFounder and CEO of an enterprise communications company called Ivytalk. Again, if you haven’t tried it out, please do so.

Michael Shim was with Yahoo before Groupon and Yahoo was one of the true pioneers in the mobile space and now at Groupon he is seeing the new opportunities on the VAS, payments, and commerce. It will be great to get his view of how Groupon thinks about the space.

Have you tried T-Mobile’s Bobsled? Well, Alex Samano is the man and energy behind this service and T-Mobile is one of the few operators globally who are taking this OTT opportunity head-on. At TMO, he has been involved some really interesting initiatives like @home and wifi calling.

Last but not the least, Abhi Ingle from AT&T who heads up the mobile enterprise business. The industry has been talking about enterprise mobility for ages but his team generates more revenue than majority of the industry players combined. Did you know that AT&T is one of the biggest app developer on the planet? I bet you didn’t know that.

Operator traditional revenue streams are under threat esp. voice and messaging. Access margins will continue to stay under pressure. OTT players are coming in fast and furious and it is not just the big ones like Google but also players like Whatsapp, Voxer, Viber and others. How do operators play in the new landscape – lessen the decline of their traditional revenues while investing in new areas that improve their overall margins and revenues. Do they play the role of an enabler, a utility player, or become the OTT player themselves? In a software-driven world, how do they stay nimble? On the flip side, what are some things that operators can provide to the OTT players that make them successful, take them to the market quickly and maintain a long-term healthy and mutually-beneficial partnership? Operators still generate 70% of the global mobile industry revenues, so they are an important part of the chain but how do they ensure they have an equally relevant share in the profits. The panel discussed how operators and OTT players think about the challenges and the opportunities, the competition and the coopetition.

Some highlights from the discussion:

  • You have heard it before, but Apple really changed the game. It allowed for the OTT players to be born and thrive. iPhone drove the networks to adopt faster and better technologies over a span of 4-5 years and the world changed as a result.
  • The capabilities that are available in an robust IP environment are leading to tremendous opportunities around the ecosystem.
  • Groupon drives 30% of its business from mobile. If the payments/commerce piece was more seamless, this could be much higher.
  • Groupon thinks that if the consumer data is productized by the operators, there are some big opportunities that players like Groupon can take advantage of.
  • There is significantly more cooperation with the operators in the developing world as the Groupon brand is not well known and the operator channel is great for distribution.
  • For AT&T, 65% of the postpaid base is using smartphones, 80% of the new devices sold to this group is now smartphones. Changing the landscape pretty dramatically.
  • Web 3.0 is Mobile Internet.
  • App providers and Operators have natural tension because they want to compete for the same set of communication features/functionality. However, for some apps like Sidecar cooperation is must because of the QoS issues. While it is hard to do things simultaneously with all the operators, things can be achieved working 1-2 carriers at a time.
  • To some extent the story is repeating itself, operators used to be in the hardware business but Apple and Samsung rule segment now. Things always change, who knows what the next cycle will bring.
  • We are just at the start of a phenomenal run that will dwarf the achievements of the past. Like I say, more changes in the next 10 years than in the last 100 years.
  • Collectively, operators need a better strategy for opening APIs to startups. Currently, they find it tedious and time consuming.
  • Bobsled user base is growing fast but the contrast to other OTT players is stark. The scale is different because they are driven by different performance metrics. At the end of the day, Operators have to show revenues while OTT players are going after the audience and then worry about revenues later. It is obvious, many of the communication OTT providers won’t succeed, a few will reach the next level but this forces the marketplace to shrink and more players to go after that pie.
  • RCS has been talked about since 2007 but it has taken 5 years for the functionality to come to market from limited number of operators on limited number of handsets. That’s the dilemma for the operators. While interoperability is important and desired, the rate of time-to-market is more important.
  • Operators have started to offer cross carrier services for messaging, location APIs and others which will help the ecosystem.
  • Operators and OTT players will have to settle into a more collaborative approach to reach new heights of service and application deployment.
  • There was an agreement that too much is made out of the Operators vs. OTT trash talk and there are more synergies than there are differences in overall objectives to make the consumer experience better.

Our next breakfast event is in Atlanta on Connected Devices on June 22nd. Then we revisit the Operator/OTT discussion again from the European point of view in London on June 29th. Tell your colleagues and friends about it. They will thank you for that.