Going Over The Top: are mobile telcos poised to get Appy in the quest for user engagement?

November 7, 2011 - Openet

Mobile Operators have spent years hand-wringing over the fact that their subscribers merrily download apps which put them in direct, unmediated touch with the big over-the-top players like Facebook or Google and they get forgotten. So why don't they re-engage by using apps themselves? By Ian Scales.

It’s not that operators have become invisible -  after all, they send a bill out every month. But there’s no doubt that their brands are not as front and centre as they would like as both OTT service providers and device vendors hog the mobile broadband limelight.  As things stand operators just feel they're just not getting their share of credit for all the wonders of the smartphone -  as portrayed, for example, by the Nokia Lumia 800 television ads.

Part of the solution must surely be for operators to actually use on-board apps in the same way that the likes of Facebook, for instance, uses them  -  to deepen users’ level of engagement in the services on offer using an app to make the process easier and more intuitive?

“It’s one of those things that really seems so obvious,” says Chris Hoover, VP Product Management at Openet, “it’s a great mystery as to why it hasn’t already been widely done.”

Openet claims it’s done it.  It’s developed a system that will enable operators to generate downloadable apps (or pre-install them) which can then interrogate the telco BSS/OSS systems to get status updates and so on. 

Openet claims its Subscriber Engagement Engine is an industry-first, allowing telcos to give subscribers real-time visibility into their usage and enabling them to directly control, manage and personalise their services, balances and spend.

That could enable users to change account settings (to download more data) to intercept special offers from the telco, to set roaming and roaming security and so on. 

 “We have an abstraction layer that lets operators interface to their existing systems - even an IN system or a policy system that did not come from Openet,” claims Hoover. 

Hoover says iPhone is ready today and Android is following close on its heels, with Blackberry after that.  Because in the emerging markets featurephones are expected to remain important, WAP might also be a supported platform.

If operators want to replace flat rate pricing with sophisticated, personalized service offerings then they’ll need (in fact they might be forced in some jurisdictions)  to offer subscribers a way select the services they want, monitor their usage of the service in real-time, and so avoid the ‘bill shock’ associated with running up large unexpected bills when roaming or using data services.

Currently users tend to use independent apps to do the data and voice minute counting, but because they’re aren’t linked through to the operator back-end, these can be significantly unreliable.  They also aren’t capable of factoring in all the subtleties that operators are likely to build into their tariffs  - specific time-of-day or even geographical location offers or penalties to name but two. 

So systems like Openet’s would seem, on the face of it, to represent an important way forward: solving the ‘how much data have i used?’ problem as well as opening up a potentially valuable new channel between operator and user across which users can buy new services or tweak old ones. 

“If  you’re going to give your users lots of options then you need a way to show them what options are available,” says Hoover. “You need a way for them to purchase those options and a way for them to see what they’ve bought and how much usage they made  -  that never existed before.”  

Says Hoover:  “We originally build this as a demo for our policy and charging system  -  what we quickly realised was that operators liked our policy and charging system,  but they also said ”We want that!”. 

And Hoover claims the app can also be used to intercept other things in future.  For instance, it could have seamless WiFi hand-off folded into it as the next gen standards and compliant hotspots become available by mid-decade.

"There are all sorts of things on the client side that could make the experience much more interesting and much more powerful," claims Hoover. "The client could measure the quality of the radio network -  once you can have that you could make all sorts of decisions around zero rating and so on.

"Operators can also get better, richer data on things like location and on how the service is being used but that's the next step," says Hoover. "It's not something the engagement engine does today."


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