How SMART is your Pipe? Are you building Smart Services yet?

No I am not talking about the latest fad in smoking accessories , i.e the e-cigarettes or e-pipes. I am talking about data/telecom pipes. I am talking about Jazz, Telenor, Zong and Ufone. I guess to differentiate every player has to have its own strategy on consumer engagement and retention. Frankly I see much of the same every where.

You can choose to be in the dumb pipe business or you can be in the smart pipe business, but what I am seeing is mere confusion in this space. Carriers are loosing their ground it on what their public facing strategy is or should be. Pipe or no pipe, the years of un-federated growth with out really trying are seemingly coming to an end and every body is re inventing their story. Or coming up with illusions of really glitzy digital ones.

In no particular order, Jazz is bringing Veon. A content + We chat style play, a cursory look on Veons site has the standard market data numbers to make a case for why they are the latest and greatest and how growth numbers support their vision :

The evolution of new platforms, like mobile financial services in Pakistan, is both generating additional sources of revenue whilst accelerating financial growth. The expansion of mono-brand shops in Algeria and the introduction of branded smartphones will accelerate data adoption. The rapid take-up of social network usage in Bangladesh shows the potential for self-serve, e-commerce and new content partnerships.”

The only news worthy item in this whole statement is the part around content partnerships. Which could be promising. But my fear in this space is that, most if not all Telco’s cant even get their basic consumer facing items right in this country yet. So a content play and getting that strategy right is a big question mark when their current app launch pitches are calling 20 agencies and requests are going as off center as “digital amplification plans for the new year”.

Its one thing to control and grow what you have vs. what you don’t. They haven’t done any advancements yet on the part of the value chain they own, to go down the path of importing “made as Dutch**” technology and implanting it in Pakistan. Which really has a limited use case besides some new injection of capital inter company and hiring of new folks in this space. The amount of time and energy needed to just build partnerships is cringe worthy.

**If you are old enough to remember the accessories of the Suzuki Motor company that were locally made via self professed OEMs in the 80s, used to say Made as Japan an ode to the quality of its Japanese counterpart.

This Veon thing is what Mobilink did with mobicash-to Jazzcash transition to now it seems a full blown marketing effort to potentially even re brand the whole carrier as Veon. It seems the writing is on the wall for an other execution strategy to rival the blunders of yesteryears. But its not because of Jazz its because of Veons global ambitions(formerly Vimpelcom) on building a unified brand.

It is but absurd why some one would co-opt content to any Telco, unless they also make money on the traffic or the data it self? To enable a Telco to eat away from the pie of digital content already being produced and consumed is not a long term strategy that makes the size of the pie bigger its at best a land grab for eye balls by borrowing some one else’s content, till you can produce native content or buy the content companies (if that happens it could be interesting). It is strange what is happening in this space vs. what should logically be happening. There is a lot of talk and little to no action. The avg linear content producers and their sales drones get excited when the Telcos approach them because they don’t understand the value of their own data/content. In its infancy it is a parasitic relation ship at best.

Whilst we are on Jazz and I continue to call them Mobilink in my mind, the following statement all but made me laugh. Jazz could be buying out startups, completely or maybe partially, during days to come, said the CEO of Jazz in an exclusive interview” . I don’t know how exclusive the interview was, but if this is what the CEO of a major Telco is angling it, this has to be by far the saddest news for the tech ecosystem at large.

I mean which CEO is this un sure and if you did want to release some market making news, don’t say “partially or completely” till you have a way forward and a strategy. It almost sounded like hmm I may buy a 6inch Sub, no wait, lets make it a foot long, I’m not sure how hungry I am.

Its all about appetite and the wiring to make these decisions, buying companies is not just like acqu-hiring ppl and giving them new badges and having them show up to work at your offices. Mergers & acquisitions, how ever small need planning, post acquisition integration and teams to lead the charge in making sure the acquisition executes as desired. From the looks of this comment alone, it seemed like a really half baked response which shows the over all attitude of this industry unfortunately. Too big to fail is what comes to mind and a mandatory watch for all these strategy doling pundits at Telcos.

Most of them must thank their lucky stars they got where they are by persistence, perseverance and political agility, but most of all by being at the right place at the right time(as not enough expats had the desire to operate in these markets) and they should not mistake their years spent to be directly proportional to their future relevance and contribution.

It takes one Real MVNO to come to this market that is aptly funded to take these guys to task.

Like banking, car manufacturing and other oligopolistic competition in this country and an extremely wishy-washy regulatory structure these guys have protection that in a free un regulated market would lead to an end to their lack of innovation and “khalifa” mind set. I say most if not all of this as a current of past consumer across all the brands.

Then we have Telenor, I think they should get past the easy paisa story(we all get it, thank you) please innovate so we can get past a one trick pony and all. From what industry insiders’ claim, that these guys are building their own ad-exchange. It gives me goose bumps when I hear stories like this and I hope they aren’t true. But if they are, we need to get in on some consulting action here. Clearly people are making some bucket loads of money with an idea that’s circa 2005.

With the astronomical potential of smartening up their pipes and doing attribution studies and segmentation analysis and focus on the core of leveraging that info, all these forays in to B2C type tech where already the likes of Google/FB others play is not a good use of time, unless your CPM rates are like 4x the current monetization available.

The cost of changing how business is done and to not have a demand pipe in a new ad-x will be a killer blow to the content providers who become early adopters and a net new revenue gain for the established players(FB/Google) when this happens. It takes open source code and 3 developers 20 days to build an ad exchange, so there is no pat on the back required for those teams any where. You can fork the code(CEO Alert, Search “Open Source Ad Exchanges to understand what your teams have failed two deliver in the last year or so with this pipe dream of building an exchange) it’s the demand side pipes and the balance of supply side economics that is not a laughing matter.

In a similar vein to Veon, Telenor has Wowbox again I fail to see the purpose. An other play at content when the larger data play is not yet explored. I will come back to it in a second as to what this whole hue and cry is on the smart pipe. Because we must understand what a dumb pipe is first by demonstrating where every one is in their journey.

Lets look at Ufone, I don’t even know whats going on there. They are rarely in the news besides with the Etisalat /pk deal side of things. Some times I see job adverts for digital roles at Ufone, let me share a glimpse.

  • Develop strategy and roadmap for increasing traffic on Ufone corporate website. Ensure the roadmap is implemented in a timely manner.

(My take is, if as a Telco this is your priority and you want traffic to your Corp site and cant do it still, wow, it sucks to be you)

  • Develop strategy and roadmap for increasing downloads and usage of Ufone mobile app. Move customers from standard(USSD, SMS & other featured transactions) to smart transactions on the Ufone mobile application.

(This is promising, but can one manager in-act this social change? What is the corporate strategy and the market data that supports this move to data centric items, you are the Telco. Know who your smart phone users are already, what you need is a Corp strategy and not a digital manager to blame)

  • Increase traffic on Ufone’s Social Media Platforms. Identify new areas of acquisition on the social media front, ensure Ufone’s presence and acquisition of followers on Social Media. Monitor consumer sentiment on social media and take necessary actions based on the dynamic nature of the “overall” sentiment.

(This has to be the shittiest reason in the year 2017 to hire some one, social media likes, plus the statement in itself is not coherent, even the hiring manager has no clue)

  • Increase Sales and usability of the overall digital footprint for Ufone while driving high quality traffic on digital media.

(This is mind blowing, if you are a Telco, you cant drive high quality traffic on to digital media, you need fire whom ever is responsible for your strategy- period. Plus have a serious sit down with your CEO(I mean your board should, if this is the kind of published recruitment ads that our there)

 At least they tried with their new TVC marketing Internet packages to a female entrepreneur audience. If I were the CEO Id ask the head of marketing and sales what the conversion for that is. Also wouldn’t the target segment of that be better served with Google or FB ads? Given the market sizing data, that segment shouldn’t warrant a TVC but that goes to show that its gimmicks and not innovation that drives the fabric of growth at all of these players. Some times just trying some thing new where every one in a circle sits around and claps for you, is good enough. Almost like pre-school circle time.

At least Telenor and Jazz have larger aspirations even though they are going about it in a fairly dis organized way. At least they are keeping up with the buzz words and the social norms of pretending to being “cool digital stuff” like may or may not be buying companies and talking about block chain etc publicly.

Oh and who can forget the new craze of accelerators etc. I mean Telenor and Jazz both should take some cash and fund the incubators to form accelerators, folks who have experience in doing this sort of stuff. All these are major detractors from the real good work that can be done.

So you ask, what is this smart pipe dream?

Let me share some basic examples missing from our telecom ecosystem when it comes to smart pipes/services.

  • Wifi + Data integration to offload calls.
  • Using your back haul to build out the nations most affordable security and home and business monitoring business.
  • Horizontal M2M Platforms, Voice, Messaging and Data APIs for 3rd
  • Telco enabled Identity and Authorization, Advertising and Marketing, Payments. APIs to non-core services and assets.
  • Service provisioning APIs for cross network payments and 3rd party add on services for uses cases the Teclos cant even think of today
  • For all this useless talk on IoT, focus on solving local problems around agricultural yields, enabling farmers, not building market places just yet, micro loans based on credit scoring models around payment histories, providing micro insurance to segments which do not qualify traditional requirements.
  • Setting up an industry forum to anonymize data for the betterment of the Pakistan data/market story. Pool your data and build an organization that is impartial and reports growth and user stats + service stats as an industry number. Use your pipes for greater good and build shared services between your pipes and truly enable entrepreneurship.
  • Make it easy to cross connect/co locate and get shared identity /authentication services across providers (build industry collaborative standards for such info exchanges)

These are some basic ideas I am sure there are many more that much smarter people can come up with. Also please stay away from block chain and bit coin and other stuff you profess at conferences, its not one size fits all model. You are a Telco, focus on your core.

Zong , don’t think I forgot you. You are focusing on Reach and QoS from within the shadows an interesting play. Given you are good at the game of Chinese whispers, it seems to be working in your favor while your peers are so distracted in strategies that may make it a safe tenure for their CEOs as they do not want to do any thing out of their comfort zone. These are nice cushy job and only push hard enough that your career aspirations don’t get messed by any sudden un safe moves.

To Zong, none of this shit matters, its long term strategy comes in an import friendly package, when it arrives in Pakistan it goes to the right offices, its unpacked, defrosted and then re-heated to achieve the same results that the home office has either achieved some where, or wants to accomplish here; in line with their greater strategy for the region. Cant blame them they are truly focused on what ever their puppet masters are deciding from the mother ship.

But both Telnor and Zong aflush with FB cash/time/resources to work on open cellular and open BTS initiatives still give me some hope of the future to come. I just see a mishmash of strategies and no real on ground advancement in the last so many years. I hope for once these resources are put to good use and we get some real innovation coming our way.

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