Even conservative estimates of mobile broadband growth paint a startling picture of the sheer volume of traffic mobile network operators can expect in the future. Data consumption rates are expected to grow at 40-50 times the current levels, driven by our increased reliance on tablets and smart mobile devices. There is a wave of data headed our way and a risk that without some robust thinking, many mobile operators will simply drown under demand.
Whereas voice used to be the driving force for mobile, statistics now indicate that tablet and smartphone users are more likely to be using social networking, chat services and Internet before voice services, while the GSMA says that mobile data will completely outstrip voice traffic by 2018. That changes the dynamic between operator and end user dramatically. Thanks to the vast increase in data consumption, the economics of mobile data have changed with the days of unlimited data plans coming to an end.
Where we might have simply bought a standard data plan before, we'll be looking to customise our mobile data service in the future. The obvious analogy is the car industry - you can buy the basic model, but the chances are you'll be tempted to invest further in the add-ons that will make a difference to you, whether that's tinted windows or leather seats.
As end-users change the ways they engage with mobile services, so too operators need to adapt to new business models - models that will enable them to value bill for the services that really matter. For example, business class users might be prepared to pay a premium for guaranteed levels of roaming services or access; while a casual consumer might be willing to accept best effort without incurring additional costs. Similarly a sports fan might be willing to pay an additional sum to ensure he (or she) has ensured access or priority access data (video re-plays etc) during busy matches - despite the density of demand. This level of complexity needs careful management.
Being able to manage that kind of segmentation in the service offer will be critical in allowing operators to capitalise on the potential of mobile broadband. It depends on having the ability to deliver some interactions over IP and also on having the right policies and management in place to create a model that not only delivers intrinsic flexibility but also allows MNOs to focus on better response times on their network. Hosted, cloud-based policy engines make this approach affordable and scalable and we'll see further developments in this space in the future.
The other benefit to the policy-based approach is that it will allow operators to work with some of the OTT players to create innovative and attractive offers that mirror the fixed environment at some level. There is potential for partnerships between mobile operators and OTT players that prioritise use of OTT services for mutual benefit.
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