Do you remember the last time you used a phone booth? I wouldn’t if it had not been last week. In search of a dry place to roll a cigarette in rainy London, I passed one of those signature red telephone booths. Upon stepping in it took me a moment to realize that I was not the first person to use this place for something other than making a call.
It smelled like a public toilet that was being used by about every drunk in London and was decorated with a zillion adult stickers. So, I decided to forgo the cigarette in favor of going to my hotel for a shower…
Thinking back, I realized that the decay of this once so proud British landmark makes sense in some way. Of course I do not mean its newfound use as loo or adult art gallery. But what could be more outdated nowadays than a single-service device that is bulky, stationary and unmovable? Today, the notion of going somewhere to make a call is as alien as it is now common to make a call on the go. Telcos made this change possible to a large extent. They developed the technology, they built the networks and they, of course, sold the service. And for a long time, traditional services like telephony were bestsellers. But once the technology became universally available, this business became less profitable. Traditional services alone won’t do it in near future. Telcos have to move on. It’s a twist of fate that it is the telco industry which is in danger of becoming today’s phone booth: bulky, stationary and not moving.
But in fact, telcos do have all the assets necessary to be a driving power of innovation. One could forget about that looking back on a decade that was ostensibly dominated by the internet. The telecommunication industry was the home team in the internet revolution, owning the infrastructure but ultimately had done little more than conceding the playing field that others have played on.
OTT-players were the innovators of the internet age who filled the gaps telcos had left open or did not see. Their success is for telcos a look in a mirror of missed opportunities. But we stand on the edge of the new mobile age that could give the momentum back to telcos.
Mobile services are getting more complex in both quality and in quantity. To manage a mobile service or to combine several, you need size and expertise. We have seen a number of OTT-players struggling recently. They lack fully developed business models, infrastructure and the capabilities to invest.
Guess where those qualities can be found? There are not many OTT-players who combine both elements as good as a telco. In order to offer a mobile services that provides customers with a whole new kind of mobile life you need telcos.
Take mobile payment. There are many stakeholders involved. But telco companies are in a unique market position (again), having all the assets to make (e.g.) the mobile wallet service a convenient and natural experience for consumers: Customer relationship, information, financial resources, considerable technological know-how and above all: trust. Would you entrust Facebook with your private banking information? Would you want to give Google that kind of knowledge? But you do have this trusting relationship to your telco. This gives them the possibility to be a broker of mobile services to their customers. These do not even need to be telco-made. In this way keen consumers would have access to many more services. And these in turn would become trustful due to the customer’s relationship to their telco. And at the same time, companies that offer good services but are not connected with consumers would get linked to those who opt in.
Telcos could elevate mobility to a whole new level by managing and harvesting different mobile services. In this way, telcos could become THE social aggregator of mobile services for customers and other businesses in the new mobile age. Not much of a phone booth, right?!