I’m not that ancient (pre-middle aged I’d like to think) but like many in this industry my teenage years were very different to those of my kids. Their choices are Apple vs. Google or PS4 vs. Xbox One. Mine/ours were… well, they weren’t like that. And for communication service providers (CSPs), the implications are significant – the expectations and demands of teenagers today (more on that later) is going to push hard at the bounds of commercial reality/viability.
Before we go further, I should point out that this blog is not attempting to provide a deep analysis of the CSP business model against that of the OTT players. Neither will it suggest a technology-based solution – tech won’t resolve ‘market conditions’. It’s just a reality check.
The chasm between teenage expectations – the ‘teenage kicks’ of the title – and the world of telecoms/OSS/BSS that we work in is significant. While we in the industry talk about monetising services, next generation billing, and policy controls, a generation of teenagers are out there in the ‘real world’ consuming unlimited data plans, logging onto open Wi-Fi hotspots, downloading free apps, and streaming free music.
In most households – probably regardless of income – I believe there exists the notion of a ‘reasonable spend limit’ (almost certainly the same principle applies in business). This is the idea that when a consumer, family or group calculates its monthly spend for communications services, including landline, broadband, TV and mobile, there is a nominal sum beyond which is deemed unacceptable –a self-imposed spending cap. Some years back when I worked for a mobile provider, I estimated this sum as being in the £50-60 per month range for a high-end prosumer or business user. Perhaps today, with all of the above services considered, for an Internet Family (my capitals) it is more likely to be £100-120 per month.
With that in mind, consider my own recent experience – the call I’d been putting off to our mobile service provider, to upgrade the contracts for my wife and daughter. I won’t name the provider and I won’t go into the nitty gritty, other than to say that the customer experience was poor and the two years’ of dutiful contract servitude appeared to have no appreciable value. The upshot of this being that, after many hours of weighing up phones and price plans on their website, we were off looking for an alternative provider. Groan.
While my wife’s communications needs are straightforward – voice and text messaging – my teenage daughter comes from a very different generation. And here we are at the crux of the matter. In the long discussions with my daughter about her price plan and device requirements, the following ‘wish list’ was generated…
Here’s the surprising bit. My initial reaction was that such a package (especially with an iPhone) would be commercially unattractive for any CSP to offer. Count me as surprised when I learned that they are out there, quite a few in fact. Yes, many come with an upfront payment for the device and some include high overage charges on voice to increase monthly spend but they are out there. As such it would seem that the Internet model – where ‘stuff’ is available on-demand and available for free, freemium or flat rate subscription (i.e. paid for or subsidised through advertising revenues) – is becoming ever more entrenched in the real world.
When rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy (yes, before my time), it was generally thought that those interested in rock music at a young age would somehow grow out of it, presumably gaining an overnight interest in classical music. The truth, as we know today, is that once a fan of the Rolling Stones, The Undertones or [insert name of dusty old favourite band/artist], pretty much always a fan. So the on-demand, all-you-can-eat Internet Generation (my capitals) growing up today will be the same people paying/budgeting for their families’ IT, telecoms and media service is in the future.
It would seem that commoditisation of mobile (along with other IT/telecoms) services is well established and the genie once out of the bottle is hard to pop back in.