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Matsumoto-san from Softbank Mobile is a smart, experienced and passionate man. And funny! “You’re all too rich” was aimed at the operators in the room as an encouragement to put themselves in their customers’ shoes.

It was an honor to sit on the panel with Ted Matsumoto, moderated by Chetan Sharma, at the mConnnect conference hosted by Tata Communications at the beautiful Sentosa Resort in Singapore. The topic was the future of mobile growth. Personally I’m a strong believer in Chetan Sharma’s 4th wave predictions, and they set the tone for the day in his opening keynote presentation.

As we reached the afternoon panel discussion, I concluded that it’s important that you understand who you are and who you want to become. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s impossible to slap a generic ROI model on top of an operator’s business and expect it to apply. There are always different conditions. Some may have greenfield opportunities, while others can save cost by optimizing customer care or postponing network upgrades. And some must find new revenue streams to compensate for commoditization of their core offerings.

But the key is to do the assessment. The biggest responsibility of every company management is to prioritize. And re-prioritize. Rarely are we faced with too few options – especially in a fast-evolving industry like ours. But in order to do the right prioritization you must define your playground and overall ambition.

Our most successful customers declared years ago that they should become the leaders in mobile data. This vision statement makes every priority decision easier. Today data is the business for mobile operators. Making these decisions requires intuition, but also that you support your decisions with qualified customer intelligence. What they do, where, when, and on what device. I mean business decisions. Way too often discussions are focused on technical challenges, but in my experience we can manage pretty much any technical requirement.

It was also debated how operators can adapt their organization to accommodate a new reality that requires flexibility and rapid change. Operators, often with large organizations, must become entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurial like Facebook, Google and other companies who might be 4th wave competitors. Companies who run full speed ahead, who collaborate in cross-functional teams, and who know that you must try several times to get it right - even allowing for failure, to eventually guide you to success.

Thanks Tata for inviting me to present in Singapore. I realize I don’t spend enough time in this dynamic region. It’s always enlightening to talk with operators who have an average reveue per user (ARPU) that’s one-tenth of what we see in the US, that have the smartphone era ahead of them, that already see mHealth as a core business, or that have the most mature data users in the world. I agree with Matsumoto-san that you really have to understand your customer. Not just what it’s like having less money to spend, but also how youngsters take other things for granted, have other priorities, use their smartphone differently, and have less of the legacy experiences we have. And I agree with Chetan Sharma that you better get going now, because it takes 4-6 years before a shift like the 4th wave gets a momentum, but that’s when the first-movers reap their rewards.

Topics: What We're Up To, Google, Quality of Experience, Bandwidth Control, Mobile, Mobile Operators, Smartphone, Subscriber, Facebook, Mobile Growth, Tata