Openet exec gets red-pilled, joins Matrixx

Marc Price, CTO for the Americas at BSS vendor Openet, has decided to find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes by defecting to competitor Matrixx Software.

He will get to travel a bit more in his new role at Global CTO for Matrixx and he had been at Openet for 15 years, so it was probably time for a change. The move will also allow  Matrixx Founder Dave Labuda to step away from the techie side of things and focus his attention entirely on some serious chief execing.

“Marc is a tremendous addition to Matrixx’s executive leadership team,” said Labuda. “His experience will be invaluable as we continue to scale the company. Marc’s vision and vast experience in the telecommunications market is renowned. He has played a leading role across three key eras in the telco market: the rise of competitive carriers; the establishment of the real time charging model; and the current process of digital transformation and subsequent move to hybrid clouds and IoT.”

“Matrixx is poised to lead the digital commerce revolution being ushered in with the advancement of cloud technology and the advent of 5G,” said Price. “I’m excited to join the team at such an important time to help accelerate Matrixx’s global growth. I am looking forward to working with the Matrixx team to help scale the company, driving Matrixx’s innovation to further accelerate our customers’ digital transformations.”

Openet and Matrixx aren’t just competing BSS vendors, they’re both trying to disrupt the market by presenting a more flexible, cloud-based approach to customer engagement for operators. They’re both fond of buzzwords such as ‘digital transformation’ and like to paint larger BSS competitors as slow and anachronistic. So culturally this should be a straightforward move for Price and, at least until they find his replacement, may mean a fair bit more work for Openet Founder and CTO Joe Hogan.

BSS – change and adapt, or die

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tony Gillick, Tony is GVP Solutions Management at Openet, takes a look at the current state of the BSS business.

Recent news from Ericsson that it is spending SEK 6.1billion (approx. £530million) to restructure its BSS business comes as little surprise. Approaches to operator mobile service monetisation and underlying BSS has changed beyond recognition over the past few years. Traditional delivery mechanisms, when operators tied themselves to one major vendor for all its service monetisation needs are over – and the telecoms industry needs to accept it and move on.

The big bang approach to BSS transformation doesn’t work. For Ericsson to base their Revenue Manager solution on an end to end BSS stack that would replace existing legacy BSS was a brave move. The rewards could have been very high, but then again so were the risks.

Monetising new services is already going to be an uphill struggle for operators, adopting the right tools can make life all the more easy for them. These tools will see the overhaul of service delivery models and service architectures, and the brave adoption of new technologies and approaches. For the telecoms industry, such change is daunting and risky but more important than ever before.

A chance at survival

In today’s world, everywhere you turn there’s a vendor or an operator talking about change and the need to evolve. Yet, for many, it’s evident that the definition of digital transformation remains unclear. Operators and vendors must remove themselves from the echo-chamber in which they find themselves. They need to find a new source of truth, one that encourages and promotes innovation and new thinking, but also highlights their failings, and allows them to successfully explore the new trends driving industry change.

Doing this is tough, however. For the legacy operator, adapting to quickly evolving industry and consumer trends can prove daunting and complex, and very much out of their comfort zone. But today’s reality means that consumers are no longer prepared to wait for their operator to act and deliver the service they need. Consumers have little loyalty to their operator brand and will churn if they feel they aren’t getting value for money or the service they want, when they want it. At the same time, industry trends and the availability of cloud-native technologies is allowing new players, who previously had no skin in the telecoms game, to enter the market. In the face of these new entrants, who have a wealth of new applications and services to offer, legacy operators must take action if they are to have a chance of survival.

What does change look like?

Understanding what change really means is probably operators’ and vendors’ biggest challenge. Yet these answers can be easily found in the trends driving industry transformation.

Operators and vendors must change how they think about transformation. It’s not enough to simply adopt new technologies, operators and vendors must truly get behind the concepts such as open source technologies, and the sharing of new ideas and methods to drive innovation. According to a 2018 TM Forum industry survey, cultural obstacles are one of the biggest issues when it comes to encouraging transformation. Operators and vendors need to leave behind their legacy mindset and begin to embrace collaboration and partnerships. Allowing new relationships to flourish based on mutual understanding and benefit will help underpin digital transformation’s success. Operators just cannot afford to be shackled by their supplier, and similarly, vendors must have the trust of their operator customer to take risks and innovate through new technologies and approaches.

It is only through this cultural change and collaborative approach that operators and vendors will truly be able to leverage the capabilities of new technologies and approaches such as AI, microservices and DevOps. These approaches will be key to developing the platform-based tools and services that operators will need to deploy new offers rapidly, and monetize new services such as 5G and IoT.

The road to digital transformation success is a long and winding one, with many uncertainties along the way. Digital transformation cannot be seen as a destination or an end-goal, it’s an ever-evolving ‘thing’ that will continue to be so long as the industry exists. Operators and vendors have their work cut out to make change a reality, but it’s by learning from the failures of others, and embracing new thinking and new tools that the industry will truly change. In doing so, operators will start to reap the rewards of launching new services by seeing subscriber churn decrease and customer engagement increase. Ultimately, it’ll be the difference between them thriving and merely surviving.

 

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 82“Tony Gillick is the GVP Solutions Management for Openet. Previous to this Tony has headed up product management, solutions engineering and systems architecture for Openet. He’s been with Openet for more than 15 years and has managed BSS implementations for some of the leading service providers in the world.”

Success of 5G depends upon operators’ monetization and pricing strategies

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Shay Assaraf, CMO of Optiva takes a look at how operators can make the most of the 5G opportunity.

As headlines and advertisements increasingly tout the promise of 5G, it’s important that operators not fall for their own hype. While 5G certainly holds promise for creating new business models and service segments, realizing that promise depends, in large part, on the development and implementation of sound monetization and pricing strategies.

5G completely alters the way in which communication happens by improving throughput and reliability, lowering latency and increasing network robustness. Likewise, 5G alters what is communicated, enabling machine and device communications that underpin connected autonomous cars, smart cities and other next-gen applications. Furthermore, the dynamic and elastic nature of 5G requires operators to fully embrace and utilize the public cloud to support demand for those applications and decrease time to market for launching new, related services. As such, operators cannot and should not apply 4G thinking and 4G IT infrastructure to monetize 5G.

Instead, operators should visualize the types of 5G environments they want to support and then build a business case around it. Operators need to determine the applications they want to support and design ways in which they can deeply immerse customers into experiences and content. They should consider how customers will interact with each other, as well as with machines and devices, over the 5G network.

Throughout this process, consideration should be given to opportunities for monetization. Likewise, pricing strategies should be developed to address the unique nature of 5G offerings. Following are three key areas that operators should consider when developing such plans.

1. Monetize the network

5G enables operators to fully leverage their network and infrastructure capabilities to create new monetization opportunities, including:

  • Developing and selling premium service offerings that are charged and upsold based on quality of service (QoS).
  • Monetizing the mobile network to sell fixed wireless services.
  • Enabling developers to monetize applications that connect to devices, generating revenue from developers, as well as device end users.
  • Creating ecosystems with a variety of partnership opportunities and revenue-sharing models by leveraging infrastructure.

2. Monetize the slice

According to research from Gartner, the greatest revenue potential for 5G will be developed through network slicing, which supports multiple use cases, business models and services. Network slicing enables operators to create multiple virtual networks using a shared physical infrastructure. They can then tailor slices of the network to highly specific use cases and unique business requirements based on capacity, latency, quality of service (QoS), security and other variables.

Network slicing enables operators to deploy only those functions needed to support each customer and/or market segment, allowing them to differentiate through service customization. Slicing also enables “network as a service” offerings that enable operators to manage the slices independently and apply rules as needed. As such, operators can develop offerings for third-party tenants, wherein they maintain control over service deployment and operation and adjusting access according to each agreement.

For operators to truly monetize, the slice will require significant changes in business and operation support systems (B/OSS). Orchestration and Intelligent network functionality - managed in real time - will be key in the OSS layer to enable automated network operations. Meanwhile, the BSS layer requires more flexibility to rate and then charge in real time for a new wave of services for any account, customer, subscriber or user.

3. Monetize the enterprise market

While 5G enables operators to expand service offerings to consumers, the bigger opportunity is what 5G enables for enterprises, including applications for B2B, B2B2X and IoT market segments. For the B2B market, 5G enables mobility solutions and cloud services to SMEs and large corporations. In B2B2X markets, the concept of “customer” expands even more. For instance, an operator might provide high definition video services to a stadium operator that then sells the service to its premium customers, who are able to capture lost moments and referee decisions using virtual and augmented reality.

Likewise, operators glean great potential from monetizing enterprise applications for IoT. In fact, Gartner predicts that the enterprise market, as opposed to the consumer market, will account for more than 90 percent of the overall IoT services spend.

Determining the pricing model

As operators determine how they want to monetize 5G, consideration also should be given to pricing models for new products and services. Pricing models should include options for one-time charges, subscriptions, usage-based charges, “pay as you go” applications, freemium models and charges for application programming interfaces (APIs).

For operators to maximize ROI on their 5G investments, they need to clearly understand the costs and what they stand to gain from 5G transactions. It’s key to implement end-to-end real-time billing and charging to glean the most revenue for every interaction on the 5G network.

Without question, 5G networks enable vibrant use cases that are creating excitement and expectation for operator networks. However, a well-developed monetization and pricing strategy will enable operators to exceed the expectations of 5G, differentiate their service offerings and ensure future revenue.

 

Shay AssarafShay Assaraf is CMO of Optiva. He has a wealth of B2B and B2C experience in marketing and strategy with more than 15 years in the telecom industry. At Amdocs and before that with Pontis (acquired by Amdocs), Assaraf held various positions, and in his last role, he led the marketing consulting and analytics teams addressing customers’ challenges using analytical data, machine learning and artificial intelligence tools and expertise.

Samsung looks to capitalise on Huawei’s woes

Samsung is reported to be investing heavily in infrastructure business to fill the market gap left by Huawei’s ban from 5G business in the developed markets.

Sources inside Samsung and other industry executives have told the Reuters that Samsung is pouring resources into its telecom infrastructure business unit, aiming to seize the opportunity created by the ban on Huawei in a number of important western markets. Samsung’s infrastructure business had been insignificant until recently, trailing Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco, and ZTE, according to figures from the research firm Dell’Oro Group. But it saw a chance when first ZTE then Huawei found themselves being shut out of the lucrative 5G markets in one country after another in the developed world.

To join the ranks of Ericsson and Nokia, Samsung is said to be moving strong management resources as well as software engineers from the smartphone unit to the infrastructure business and to have started charming Huawei’s current customers. One of the global heavyweights that has been impressed by what Samsung has got to offer is Orange. After visiting Japan, where Samsung was conducting a 5G trial, Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, Orange’s CTO, was happy to include Samsung in its shortlist of alternative suppliers, after the telco decided to ban Huawei, its long-term top supplier, from its 5G business in France. An Orange 5G trial with Samsung will be conducted this year.

One difficulty Samsung needs to overcome is the shortage of talents. To start with it needs good engineers. To this end, Samsung’s heir apparent and de facto head Lee Jae-yong, or Jay Y. Lee as he is known in the western world, has sought the support from the Prime Minister when the latter visited Samsung in January. “We need more software engineers and want to work with the government to find that talent,” Lee was quoted by government officials. Samsung’s infrastructure unit has a workforce of about 5,000 people, both Nokia and Ericsson employ more than 100,000 people, and Huawei is said to have employed 200,000 people.

Another type of people Samsung needs to get onboard is those that can build operator relations. This needs a different skill sets from what Samsung has excelled in dealing with distribution channels for its smartphones, and it needs them to be in all the right places in the mature markets, and, better still, to have already worked with the potential operator customers. Due to the nature of business, trusty relationship with telcos often need to be cultivated for years or even decades.

However, Samsung may have just chosen a perfect timing for expansion. Both Ericsson and Nokia are laying off people, either wholesale shutting down of full business units, or selectively downsizing certain teams. Many of these functions have actually had customer interface experience. Huawei’s founder meanwhile has warned that the company may also need to adopt some cost control measures. Though they could not bolster Samsung’s strengths to the same level of its competitors, these could all be good recruitment targets for Samsung to pounce.

UK and US consumers want 5G and they’re prepared to pay – survey

US digital BSS vendor Matrixx spoke to a bunch of mobile users on both sides of the pond to find out how much value they place on 5G.

It turns out we’re surprisingly optimistic about what it promises and will pay good money to find out. 33% of respondents reckon it will solve their connectivity issues, with 88% of those willing to pay more for a 5G mobile service and 87% of them saying they will upgrade to it. What that remaining 1% will be paying for remains a mystery. On the flip side 70% of respondents aren’t happy with their 4G, citing coverage and speed as pain points (see charts below).

“The feedback from consumers paints a very clear picture for operators: ‘deliver a 5G experience worth the attention, and we’ll gladly pay for the privilege of using it,’” said Dave Labuda, founder, CEO, and CTO of Matrixx. “In an industry fighting to keep customers amidst consolidation and competition from digital MVNOs and OTT players, 5G presents a real opportunity to deliver a powerful value-add to the consumer.”

We spoke to Matrixx co-founder Jennifer Kyriakakis and she was most surprised by the finding that a third of punters are so upbeat about 5G. She concurred that the underlying commercial message is that there is demand for 5G services if operators git it right. We agreed that the industry needs to fight its urges to over-promise on 5G and Kyriakakis stressed that in the short term operators should simply focus on pleasing their customers. They surveyed over 4,000 mobile phone users in the UK and US.

Matrixx chart 5G

Matrixx chart 4G

Ericsson calls BS on its full-stack BSS

Kit vendor Ericsson has started the year by writing down almost $700 million to account for the fact that its latest BSS efforts have turned out to be a non-starter.

Its Q4 numbers will feature costs of around SEK 6.1 billion related to the ‘reshaping’ of its BSS (Business Support System) business, half of which will be customer compensations and write-downs, and half of which will be restructuring charges. It looks like Ericsson has concluded this is the only way to get its struggling Digital Services division back on track.

“The company’s past BSS strategy included pursuing large transformation projects based on pre-integrated solutions, including development of a next generation BSS platform, the full-stack Revenue Manager,” said the announcement. “The strategy has not been successful and to date the full-stack Revenue Manager has not generated any revenues.

“The anticipated customer demand for a full-stack pre-integrated BSS solution has not materialized. Delays in product and feature development has also made the full-stack Revenue Manager less competitive. R&D resources in BSS have been focused on full-stack Revenue Manager, causing further delays in product releases of the established platform. In addition, certain complex transformation projects experienced delays and cost overruns.”

No revenues at all? Damn! You have to question the due diligence that ‘anticipated customer demand for a full-stack pre-integrated BSS solution,’ when none whatsoever materialised. Furthermore another SEK 1.5 billion will need to be accounted for over the course of this year, taking the total bill to around $860 billion. Ericsson does still see value in its established platform, Ericsson Digital BSS, which apparently has a decent installed base, so it’s not pulling out of BSS entirely.

A big part of Börje Ekholm’s strategy since he took over has been to dial back some of the over-reach that characterised the Vestberg era. “Ericsson is applying a selective approach to large transformation projects focusing on projects based on available products,” said the latest announcement, and it’s clear that Revenue Manager was just such a project. Ekholm deserves some credit for continuing to look facts in the face and take decisive action.

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

CMA backs super complaint against loyalty penalties

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has backed a ‘super complaint’ raised by Citizens Advice which suggests UK consumers are being ripped off by loyalty penalties on services such as broadband.

The super complaint was raised by in September by Citizens Advice, asking the CMA to investigate whether customers were effectively being punished by service providers, so called stealth price rises for example. The areas being called into question were cash savings, mortgages, household insurance, mobile phone contracts and broadband.

The CMA agrees with the points raised by Citizens Advice, suggesting the segments in question gain £4 billion a year through ripping off loyal customers.

“Our work has uncovered a range of problems which leave people feeling ripped off, let down and frustrated,” said Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA. “They shouldn’t have to be constantly ‘on guard’, spending hours searching for or negotiating a good deal, to avoid being trapped into bad value contracts or falling victim to stealth price rises.”

Looking specifically at the telcos, this is a frustrating point for many consumers. UK telcos show very little desire to reward customers, setting in processes and systems which make it impossible to leave. Many will give up on trying to navigate the red-tape maze as the poor experience proves to be favourable to the frustrations of trying to leave. By making this process as difficult as possible, the telcos don’t have to worry that much about retention and can instead focus on luring new customers.

The CMA has pointed this out during its own investigation, ensuring that one of the recommendations made to government and regulators will be to simplify the exiting process. This will intend to tackle the process, systems and the fees which customers face when attempting to secure a better deal.

It appears the telcos are much better at scaring customers away from exiting than enticing them to stay with positive customer service. Your correspondent can confirm this is the case after trying to end a Vodafone contract last year. It took a ridiculous amount of time, engagement with several staff who had no idea what they were doing (or was this trained in to make the process as painful as possible?) but the mission was stubbornly completed.

“We know that the better deals are often found by switching provider,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “But many companies make this more difficult by not being transparent enough about the options available or how to take your custom elsewhere. We are pleased to see the CMA identify this as an area for improvement, to ensure the power to get better deals is placed firmly in the hands of consumers.”

One specific complaints which has been firmly aimed at the telcos concerns subsidized handsets. The CMA highlights telcos should not be allowed to charge the same amount per month once the handset has been fully paid for. This will be a frustration from the consumer, but like the ridiculous nature of roaming fees, because the industry has stuck together little progress has been made.

Above all else, the CMA opinion adds to the already well-known position that telcos are not at all customer-centric organizations and have a lot to do if they want to be considered relevant for the digital economy.

The pre-paid market needs to learn how to say yes

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Steve Polsky, CEO and Founder of Juvo, examines some of the things pre-paid operators can do to reduce churn.

Since the dawn of pre-paid time, churn has been problematic. Customers switch from carrier to carrier chasing the best deal, which the industry has not done the best job of slowing by using one simple word: yes, instead of no.

Trusting their customers, and in turn, establishing a relationship with them based on mutual respect. Instead it has paid, over and over again, to attract and retain the same customer offering ever increasing discounts and incentives. Talk about a race to the bottom.

Now more than ever, in every market around the world, mobile network operators are struggling to keep up with declining average revenues per user (ARPUs), increasing costs, and saturating markets.

As PwC points out, no region is immune. Customer churn is a major contributing factor. Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, approximately two billion prepaid customers rely on cash rather than credit to make purchases. Consumers pursue this means of transacting due to lack of access to banking systems and credit, fraud and corruption. Because they don’t have access to credit, 78% of the mobile users have only one option – prepaid mobile service, purchasing SIMs and top-off minutes on an as needed basis.

Here’s the problem. When a user is out of minutes, he or she faces choices. Is there time to head out of his or her way to top-up? If they do, is there any reason to remain on the carrier they are on at the moment? Do they feel any loyalty at the very moment that that carrier has just turned off his or her phone?

The answer to all of these questions is generally a resounding no. If a carrier has just said a big fat no to a customer, the chances that the customer says yes to them is almost non-existent.

Mobile minutes, a basic service that has become wildly commoditized, have telecommunications companies fighting over subscribers in markets that are becoming more saturated. It’s not enough for companies to compete on price, PwC explains:

“This process can be tracked by looking at two key metrics: changes in the spread between the wireless operators with the largest and smallest shares of each market’s subscribers, and changes in the spread between the one with the highest average revenue per user and the one with the lowest.”

To counteract churn, telcos need to invest in new technologies and think outside of the box. Which is why Juvo has decided to build an entire economy around the concept of saying yes, and earning loyalty in a new and exciting way that goes well beyond just airtime lending.

Changing market dynamics

For decades, telco leaders have recognized the importance of the emerging markets as a viable revenue stream. Just ten years ago, phones were brand new to the developing world. Prepaid SIMs were the most economical and efficient path for user acquisition in cash-based societies. Since then, this push has resulted in high mobile adoption but low carrier retention outside of the western world.

Today, prepaid subscribers represent a lost opportunity to MNOs, with up to 60% of new users turning over within the first 30 days, every 30 days. In hyper-competitive markets, where access to mobile phones is growing, some MNOs lose up to 80% of their prepaid customers within 90 days, and telcos are paying to acquire the same customers, over and over. The economics haven’t made sense for MNOs to build loyalty programs. With churn as a given, the path to building a successful loyalty program wasn’t clear.

But what if churn wasn’t a given, and loyalty was proven to drive revenue? What’s getting in the way?

Those operators who have tried to introduce customer loyalty programs have been ineffective because market incentives have pushed operators to compete with each other. On the ground, agents selling mobile services encourage users to switch SIMs to take advantage of a better deal. These same agents may be ill-equipped to explain the benefits of one carrier over another. When a person needs to top-up his or her minutes, he or she is going to rely on an agent to them find the best deal.

What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that this market dynamic is changing because the way people engage with technology is changing. Take Ghana, where mobile money adoption is on the rise. There, mobile money transactions have doubled to $35B. Throughout the region, the number of banks has been failing, and people are relying on their mobile phones for transactions that power their everyday lives more and more.

The mobile phone is taking on a new role in developing nations beyond Ghana, where the way banking gets done, is changing, and that is making the role of how customers choose to top-up move well beyond the agent relationship. This is an opportunity to re-write the rules of the relationship of the pre-paid customer and the carrier.

Responding to this market opportunity

It’s time for telcos to start tackling the core reason for churn, which is the lack of loyalty. But customers in developing markets have new incentives to stay on with mobile carriers—to access financial services.

Customer satisfaction is an under-represented metric that telcos in developing nations need to optimize. A shift in emphasis is needed in order to eliminate prepaid churn. This focus will result in higher ARPUs and more efficient cost-models for user acquisition. Telcos should also be looking at the relationship between net promoter score (NPS) and customer lifetime value. There’s revenue in that number, and it’s a lot more efficient than spending to earn the same customer over and over. Saying yes to customers that can be trusted, based on their good behaviour, provable by data science, is a win-win for both parties. Loyalty goes up, churn goes down.

If operators want to remove the influence of the agent, they must meet their customers at their exact moment of need, before they head down to visit the agent. Operators should leverage today’s cloud technology to understand the value of every single, individual subscriber relationship and enable consumers to graduate up to higher value, more loyal post-paid like relationships.

To continue to consumer regardless of their in the moment core balance – to break down the hard line between prepaid and postpaid behaviour to enable deeper more trusting, higher value relationships. And this is usually starts as soon as, or when they are close to, reaching zero balance. Keeping subscribers connected, recognizing the value of their relationship and giving each and every subscriber the chance to graduate to higher value plans helps them remain engaged. Operators need to reach subscribers with deals and offers before they have a chance to set foot near an agent if they are to truly mitigate the risk of churn.
A framework and pathway
The way to do this is understand the subscriber’s behaviour – much like an operator would understand the behaviour of a postpaid user. MNOs operate on the assumption that prepaid users are completely anonymous to them. The truth is, MNOs do have data about their prepaid subscribers that could prevent them from churning. But, there is a lack of infrastructure in place to manipulate this data into something meaningful that can be used to drive engagement and loyalty. But data science can provide a solution.

In fact, many telecommunications companies in emerging markets including the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America have seen notable metrics so far. In one implementation, we’ve seen new prepaid user churn drop from 62% to 11% between SIM registration and first top up and from 85% to 34% in the first 90 days.

By implementing the top-up process directly with the consumer through their mobile device, operators meet the consumer at their time of need. And the moment of truth is brought forward. Operators are able to engage with a customer early and take the power away from the agent and place it firmly back in their hands.

This type of early interaction and focus on customer engagement, rather than a preoccupation with “churn”, can assist in stopping the bucket from leaking.

The result of this framework is the ability to pre-empt churn within the first 30 days of a customer receiving a SIM card. Through an identity scoring model, it’s possible to unlock significant value in prepaid markets, through a model that emphasizes customer satisfaction while working more constructively with agents.

Rather than saying no, sorry you’re out of airtime, what if at their very moment of need, carriers had a way to say yes? What if instead of saying no and turning away a consumer, operators said yes, we value you as a customer – in fact, we value you so much that we’d like to offer you the opportunity, a pathway to gain access to higher value services? It all starts with a simple yes. Need a smart phone? Yes, we’ll finance that. Need a scooter to get to work? Yes, we can help with that. Small business loan? Here you go, you’ve proven you’re good for it.

The more we start treating people as if they deserve more yesses based on a credit profile built on their actual behaviour, the faster we get to a world of financial opportunity. Who’s going to say no to that?

 

Steve Polsky Hi ResSteve Polsky is the CEO and Founder of Juvo. Steve founded Juvo with an overarching mission: to establish financial identities for the billions of people worldwide who are creditworthy, yet financially excluded. With over 20 years’ experience, Steve’s career has centred on founding, launching and managing early stage technology ventures across the mobile and consumer internet sectors where, prior to Juvo, he was most recently President and COO at Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes.