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Partner Potential

Are operators being ambitious enough in their approach to partnerships?

Operators and Over The Top (OTT) players are embracing partnerships with one another. Each week is bringing announcements of new strategic couplings, designed to match capabilities of both parties to create new products and services for subscribers.

With the communications landscape shifting so rapidly, now is the time for operators to innovate - and experimenting with partnership models is a big part of that. But what we have seen so far, in terms of the form these partnerships are taking, has been relatively conservative, with an emphasis on joint marketing over ‘mash up' style services and revenue share.

In developing markets, the joint marketing approach has worked extremely well as an effective means of promoting connectivity. For example, Tigo and Facebook work together to jointly promote the Facebook Messenger application in East Africa and Latin America. Tigo subscribers in these regions can access Messenger via the network without incurring any data charges.

Netflix has also used this joint marketing approach with operators in developed markets - for example, offering Vodafone subscribers in the UK 6 months' free access when they sign up to the operator's premium data bundle.

These couplings are recognition of the fact that neither party can function fully without the other. Content drives data consumption, and savvy operators understand that partnering with the services that their subscribers actually use and care about is key to playing the long game.

But these partnerships risk doing little to move operators away from being a passive bit-player. Operators need to find an active role in this new digital eco-system, not reinforce the "dumb pipe" perception.

There are a few examples of operators actually testing the water with genuine product convergence, particularly around billing. Here is an opportunity for operators to improve service provision for everyone in the exchange, making it simpler for customers to pay for products through their phone bill, thus increasing the likelihood of purchase and generating more revenue for everyone.

The idea with Digital Service Provider (DSP) and OTT partnerships is that the resulting services are worth more than the sum of their parts. Operators should have more confidence in their capabilities, and be ambitious in how they deploy new services with partners.

Agility is key to forming new partnerships and testing new converged service models, and this is, in part, what holds operators up. Legacy infrastructure does not always support and encourage the requisite level of flexibility.

This prevents operators forming relationships with multiple partners and testing what works, and what doesn't. There is still much scope for partner services that provide assured bandwidth, enhanced quality of service, location specific access, big data analytics and flexible charging - just some examples!

And it's the operators who grab the nettle, show commitment to the partnership model and develop genuinely innovative new products and services that will be well placed to thrive in the new digital ecosystem.

More Stories By Katie Matthews

B2B marketing professional working in the Cambridge technology sector, with specialist experience in telecommunications.

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