The cancellation of Mobile World Congress this year leaves a void for the global telecoms industry looking for new ideas to generate growth and create value. As a veteran participant in this decades-long debate, I want to spell out a strategy to give operators a practical way forward.
The key to a successful telecom transformation is to move beyond strategies centred mainly on network and spectrum-driven oligopolies, and conglomerates without strong vertical and cross-regional synergies, towards ones with a clear strategic purpose and vision. This must be well understood and supported by all stakeholders.
I see four distinct strategic options for telecom operators. It is important that each company chooses one option, clearly communicates it, and allows it to drive its entire strategy.
- Consumer-focused digital service provider.
- Industrial digital services enabler.
- Provider of open access communications infrastructure.
- TMT investment vehicle with flexibility to invest in infrastructures, tech and service businesses.
The last two options are mainly about investor-driven optimisation of the ways how telecom assets are owned and utilised. The second option is more long-term, depending on business models and technologies that may not yet be available.
That leaves the most imminent strategic opportunity, which telecoms can pursue instantly: The consumer-focused digital service enabler strategy.
- The telecom company becomes a consumer business, ideally led by management with a technologically focused consumer background. Future ownership and access to networks, other assets and resources will be driven by consumer business demands and not the other way around.
- The telecom company must fundamentally expand its consumer digital service offering, propelled solely by the consumer needs.
- The telecom company must aim to become a trusted party to the consumers, an advocate of their interests in the digital world, differentiating itself by acting as a trust-worthy protector of data privacy, security and personal data identity.
- The telecom company will side with the consumers and help them to mitigate risks of third parties potentially acting against their interests; for example by using surveillance, big data and artificial intelligence to harm their privacy, constrain their freedom or manipulate their mind.
- The telecom company will become an advocate of consumer and personal freedoms in a broader sense, stepping in to fill a gap that currently exists in the digital world and beyond.
- The telecom company will offer various tiers of consumer services ranging from value-for-money up to premium, giving the consumer a choice to balance low price vs. high protection in the area of privacy and beyond. By creating such transparency, telecoms can aim to lead improvement in transparency and efficiency of the big data market.
- The telecom company will aim to take advantage of the enhanced differentiation and improved consumer perception to ease competitive and regulatory pressures.
- The telecom company will re-enter the consumer digital platform market, aiming to act as a trusted aggregator of third-party digital services and hence a gateway for the consumer into the digital world.
- Assuming full transparency and consumer interests in mind, the telecom company will also offer big data to entrepreneurs, including small businesses from different industries, to help growing inclusive local economies, boosting value of human skills, and further improving efficiency of the big data market.
- The telecom company will particularly focus on providing sustainable digital services as superior alternatives to legacy products and services, with benefits particularly to health, environment, social cohesion etc.
I believe that by pursuing the above principles, the telecom industry can once again start playing a pivotal role in economic transformation towards broad-based digital prosperity. This should be rewarding for all the industry’s stakeholders.
Founder, DIGITECCS Associates