Mobile World Congress is no longer an event entirely led by the mobile industry. Reflecting the situation on the ground, this year’s MWC was a funny mix of digital Internet, IT and entertainment. And as Ovum analyst Mark Newman put it: “The extent to which the telecoms industry is part of the broader technology and entertainment landscape is a moot point.”
The ground is certainly shifting, and the most obvious difference at this year’s MWC is that operators finally seem willing participants of change, instead of just watching from the sidelines.
This was reflected at this year’s exhibition where operators were far less visible than they have traditionally been. As my colleague Mohammed Sha said: “One expects the leaders of the industry, the operators to be the stars of the show. Instead, we saw vendors stealing the show.”
I actually see the operators seemingly taking a bit of a backseat as a positive development. As Ovum highlighted in its recent webinar, operators may have taken a less prominent role in the consumer services market, but all the signs are that they are instead evolving a more mature approach to fitting into the eco-system.
For example, there was a fairly quiet response to Google’s MVNO announcement made at MWC, which reflected just how operators have moved on from this idea of “us and them”, in terms of their targeting of end consumers. Rather, there was much more talk of operators becoming platform services providers, and focusing their attention on the B2B/ B2B2C market. And, although the question still remains of what APIs/ services they actually want to offer, it was encouraging to see that operators recognized that they need to just get on with it, if they want to seize the opportunity.
Another development, flagged by Ovum, was the enthusiasm on the part of the digital players for operator relationships. Rather than waiting for operators to make the first move, they are now themselves reaching out to those operators and trying to persuade them to strike deals around zero-rated content and bundling. This is the preferred model for OTT players, where no money changes hands and where both sides see benefits (most common in emerging markets), although Ovum says it has seen examples of operators now demanding payment for partnership – and actually receiving it! This is a significant power shift.
Operators may have been less visible at this year’s MWC, but if that simply reflects a recognition of the fact that the status quo is changing and, with it, operators’ role in the eco-system, then I think this is a positive take-away from MWC15. Maybe next year we’ll start to see what this actually means, with some solid propositions from operators to the B2B and B2B2C market.