The mobile broadband industry got off to a pretty bad start in the early part of the last decade, with mobile operators making two critical mistakes – the effects of which they have yet to fully recover from.
Firstly, it took mobile operators a while to work out that subscribers really were not interested in a ‘walled garden’ experience, they wanted access to the real Internet, not some operator designed alternative.
Secondly, once they had given subscribers genuine mobile Internet access many operators made the critical mistake of trying to stimulate growth by launching all-you-can-eat mobile data plans.
Whilst these plans brought tens of millions of mobile broadband subscribers to the market they also had the disastrous effect of lowering the perceived value of mobile broadband amongst users.
This was proven by the heavy subscriber backlash when operators – or most of them at least – realised that unlimited data plans were unsustainable and replaced them with tightly capped data plans, usually offering only around 2GB per month of data.
You don’t have to spend long on any tech-related Internet forum to see that many mobile users have never forgiven their mobile operators for rescinding their cut-price unlimited mobile data plans and are convinced that tightly capped data plans are one giant con job from the operators.
Whilst the operators only have themselves to blame for this there is little point in crying over spilt milk – their job now is to rebuild the value of their product in the eyes of subscribers.
The two key factors behind accomplishing this are the personalisation of services and operators using the intelligence of the network – if operators exploit these then they will be in a strong position.
A great example of this personalisation has been how some operators – even in less developed markets such as Indonesia – have bundled unlimited Facebook access with mobile broadband data plans, thereby providing real value to a subscriber and taking the emphasis off data usage.
Another way in which operators can better realise the true value of their network assets is to take advantage of the fact that some subscribers will be willing to pay a premium for higher network speeds.
Some operators are already capitalising on this by specifically marketing services on speeds not data volumes and making it clear to subs that they need to buy higher-speed plans if they want to access bandwidth intensive applications such as cloud storage.
Meanwhile, some operators – especially in the advanced LTE markets of the Asia Pacific – are partnering with OTT content and service providers.
Operators such as 3 in Hong Kong are bundling usage of the hugely popular What’s App into their mobile broadband packages, thereby giving subscribers access to the kinds of OTT services they want and creating a point of difference with rival operators.
Although mobile operators are much more limited in what kind of content they can offer to subscribers because of bandwidth constraints we are now seeing more and more operators bundling popular branded content into mobile broadband plans.
Orange in France has had huge success with music service Deezer and by offering this kind of exclusive content operators encourage both usage of their network and engender customer loyalty.
Unsurprisingly, many subscribers – still scarred from the introductions of data-caps and subsequent bill shocks – are still treading warily around mobile broadband – but even this itself an opportunity for operators.
Some operators are now placing strong emphasis on putting the subscriber themselves in control of their mobile data usage, they allow subscribers to very easily set limits on usage and even allow them to top-up their allowances if they require more data.
Provisioning this sort of customer centric technology is certainly not cheap but is potentially a game changer for operators because putting this kind of power in the hands of users can help to erase the memories of the bad bill shock days and really empower users to control their experience.
To recap, operators made a huge mistake with unlimited data plans and really angered subscribers when they replaced them with tightly capped data plans but they still have a huge opportunity ahead of them because of the ongoing huge popularity of mobile broadband – especially with LTE coming online fast.
The real challenge for operators is to make sure they don’t fluff their lines this time.
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