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OTT players


The global messaging space is undergoing a sea-change. Going forward, chatbots and artificial intelligence are expected to take centre-stage, while pure-play infrastructure will cease to exist. Aditya Dhruva, Vice President and Head, Messaging and Data Solutions, Mahindra Comviva shares his views on the current trends and likely future roadmap of this space.

1.  What trends are likely to emerge in the messaging space over the next few years? Which of these are most pertinent to our business?

Texting is one of the most common activities that is performed on a smart phone. Messagingas a medium of communicationhas evolved rapidly from individuals sharing information with each other to organizations running their businesses over it. From customer engagement to fulfilment to support, a plethora of use-cases are now being significantly served using messaging. People can now chat and exchange messages via messaging  applications but also pay their bills online, transfer money, shop online and do many more tasks.

 When messaging is discussed, it is no longer limited to just legacy channels like SMS or USSD, but covers also the digital world. This includes over-the-top (OTT) chat applications, online-portal based chatting, push notifications into mobile applications, and many forms of social media. As Mahindra Comviva looks to continue its leadership in mobile messaging, the portfolio evolution has to cater to these rapidly changing trends in the industry today. Pure-play infrastructure in messaging will cease to exist. Vendors will need to look at ways in which they can add business value to the customers through on-top services or business management services.

 2.  What are the unresolved challenges still (and likely to) facing messaging over the coming years?

As person-to-person (P2P) chatting has significantly shifted to OTT applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc., the application to person (A2P) traffic has increased at a tremendous pace. Enterprises are finding an increasing number of use-cases that rely on sending messages to their customers either in terms of promotions, or order information, etc. Messaging has become a channel of choice to inform the customer, without unduly interrupting them. The problem that the industry faces is that it will become quite difficult to understand where a particular customer is in real-time and contact him on the most relevant channel. How do the businesses manage all of these from a single place? How do I know the best way to maximize the return on investment (ROI)? What are the customers’ preferences?

All these are questions are yet to be answered in a convincing way and will take a momentous effort over the next couple of years in creating a suitable solution.

 3.  Is the hype surrounding chatbots, AI, chat commerce and payments justified? Why or why not?

Chatbots are here to stay. Chatbots are a very convenient way to offload frequently asked questions, support requests, etc. It helps bring in high degree of efficiency, as well as is an always-on assistant for customers. Todaywith advances in artificial intelligence (AI), bots are becoming more intelligent and are able to assist customers better and help businesses with a higher return. Chat commerce advances have been pioneered in China with WeChat and SnapChat, and are now percolating to the rest of the world.

One of the key areas that will determine the rise and fall of chatbots is the user-experience. Humans still have an edge over bots in this context. After all, it’s not so easy to replicate the complexity and intelligence of a human brain into an application.

4.  In your opinion, what is the outlook for A2P messaging? Is enterprise messaging the way forward for the domain? Why or why not?

As indicated before, A2P is not just about SMS. An increasing number of businesses will rely on messaging to communicate with customers. This may be executed over SMS or IP or even social media. It is important that any solution in this space is able to evolve and adapt to these diverse channels and enable both the telecom companies and enterprises to seamlessly engage customers over new-age channels as well.

 5.   How can operators and aggregators tap into the A2P market now?

Telecom companies are in an advantageous position to offer omnichannel mobile engagement capabilities to enterprises. With their captive subscriber base, and data on their behavior and consumption trends, they can provide real-time intelligence to enterprises for better targeting and increasing the ROI. Enterprises should have the option for self-service as well. Aggregators should look to evolve from not just being bulk SMS providers, to providing their enterprise customers with a holistic set of capabilities around customer engagement.

 6.  What do you think of the threat of OTT being a channel for A2P messaging?

While OTT is a clear and present danger to legacy telecom channels as SMS, from an A2P messaging perspective, I would see OTT as a new-age engagement channel.

I see A2P as a means for mobile engagement over messaging, not just on SMS.

September 13, 2017 0 comment
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The mobile industry has been going through a period of continuous transition for the last 30 years or so. In the process, operators are continuously upgrading their networks or establishing the latest ones. To achieve this, these players are pumping in significant sums of money. However, a number of challenges still remain-the most significant one being competition from Over-The-Top (OTT) players.

The Changing Face of Technology Over the Years

The industry has witnessed the launch of a upgraded mobility standard every eight to 10 years. It all started in the early 1980s, wherein the 1G standard based analog cellular system made its first appearance, purely for voice calls and almost negligible intent to support the data services.

Then in the early 1990s and mid 1990s, 2G/2.5 G standards came into existence and that lead to deployment of GSM/GPRS and CDMA networks. It was a huge success in terms of massive deployments of cellular networks across the globe. From the technology viewpoint, it was using circuit switched technology. 2G/2.5Gbased networks still exist in different parts of the world and this is the standard that gave the real mobility experience to the people and soon became the technology of choice across the globe for operators. Going forward, 2.5G provided users with their first ever data experience on mobile handsets. It supported theoretical data rates of up to 144Kbps.

Standard bodies soon realized the importance of higher data rates and thus in early 2000s came 3G standards capable of supporting up to 2 Mbps (stationary data access) and up to 384 Kbps (used while moving).

4G standard based deployments started to become a reality in the start of 2010. They were capable of providing peak download speed of 100 Mbps during high mobility and maximum speed of up to 1Gbps.

Enhanced user data experience

People were able to use data on the move with good 3G and excellent 4G speeds. Mobile became a preferred mode of any-time any-where data access. It was additionally supported by the smartphones coming into the picture in the late 2000s. At this time, many application developers started to develop their own set of applications that users can download from internet and start using on their mobile.

Any negative impact on the operator revenue!!

Yes… At this time that operators started realizing that they are gradually becoming data pipes. So many OTT applications started being supported on smartphones. People started using these OTT apps for different purposes. Some of these applications directly started eating into operator revenue. These applications include but not limited to chat and VOIP calling applications.

Operators invested huge amounts of money in upgrading their networks from 3G to 4G or deploying 4G networks from scratch but advent of these some really innovative OTT applications have resulted in operators started seeing decline in their conventional SMS, Call and Value Added services revenue.

…and on subscribers

These OTT applications are bringing a set of challenges for subscribersalso in addition to impact on operator revenue. Though most of these applications are available for free or at nominal cost to users, users are concerned about their data security and QOS that are made available. Users need to go through the process of download and install different applications for different purpose. Users first need to ensure that does other person also use the same APP and if yes, then only they could use that APP for communication. It is a big challenge in terms of communicating in a frictionless and seamless manner.

Step in the right direction

GSMA has also realized the threatbeing faced by operators and challenges being faced by the subscribers. For some time they were working on creating specification that could be used to provided consistent messaging experienceacross the operators, across the territories keeping interoperability in mind.

The initiative is supported by many of the leading operators, OEM vendors and OS providers across the globe. The Universal profile thus created is expected to enhance operator messaging and calling services. It is expected to help the operators and partners to come up with different innovative services. The idea behind is that user need not be aware if other person he communicating to has particular application or not. The service is expected to be part of all the handsets coming into the market and people can interact seamlessly.

So the future is here for the operators to build enriched applications, monetizing the investments made in 4G network deployments and upgrade the existing networks by providing services that their subscribers can use and keeping relevance as the preferred communication provider to the subscribers and effectively compete with the OTT players.

January 3, 2017 0 comment
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Today’s telecom operators face a bit of a paradox. On one hand, technology is evolving at a break-neck speed. On the other, competition has never been more cut-throat nor average revenue per user and profit margins so thin. To add to the chaos, Over-The-Top (OTT) players have stolen the show from under the operators’ very noses. In a nutshell, operators are cornered from all sides. To substantiate this argument, let’s take a quick look at the challenges an operator has to contend with today.

What ails today’s telecom operator

The rise and rise of OTT players: The evolution of OTT players has created tremendous potential to manage businesses differently. Keeping this in mind, the operator community will do well to treat this as an opportunity and expand their business to include the new streams opened up by OTT players. OTT players can attribute their sudden rise to the explosion of smartphones and OS application ecosystems in developed markets. Now, these players didn’t make their presence felt overnight. It was a slow and gradual process but one that has “tipped”, that is, reached seriously competitive levels in various markets. So much so that an operator’s SMS volumes and revenues have come under fire. A quick side-note-Ovum estimates that by 2018, operators are likely to face revenue losses to the tune of $7 billion owing to the availability of OTT-based alternatives!

So, what’s an operator to do? Well, one approach is to launch similar products to counter the challenge. There is a catch though-operators typically have a limited sized team for such services. This, naturally, limits the creativity and innovation required to make the product successful.

The changing face of value added services (VAS): Over time, VAS has undergone a sea change. Traditional voice-based services are giving way to new age digital services. Now, the dynamics have changed once again. Though data still rules the roost, the emphasis is no longer on pure entertainment or music-based VAS.

To stay relevant, operators will have to focus on non-traditional services like Machine-To-Machine (M2M), media/entertainment, health and cloud computing. This will have to be carried out in collaboration with digital servicescompanies and strategic alliances with diverse industries. The idea will be to capitalize on the existing customer base by offering them a variety of services. These may include (but not be limited to) mobile banking solutions, emergency management and response systems, medication reminder services, cloud-based campus solutions, digital classrooms, contextual commerce, geo-fencing, predictive offerings, etc. the list is endless.

The shift from “wisdom of the crowd” to personalized offerings:

Permit me to state this upfront-a “one size fits all” approach no longer works in the telecom space. Here’s why-today’s customer knows what they want and are looking to engage with brands that offer a personalized experience across multiple channels. The trick today for any operator is to be omnipresent and deliver more accurate and relevant information, both on-and-offline.

Moving from a single-to-a-multiple screen world:

The age of digitization is upon us. The challenge before telecom operators today, therefore, is keeping their pipes smart through content aggregation partnerships. That is, while harnessing OTT and multiple-screens to give their business a shot in the arm.

In a nutshell, customers are demanding on-demand and personalized content anytime, anywhere and on any screen. Operators, please note, the crux of your strategy ought to be shifting from “mass” media to “my media”!

Operating in a complex ecosystem

Today’s telecom industry is, to put it mildly, very complex. These players need to contend with several variable factors, which may or may not impact their KPIs and IPs. This is just the tip of the iceberg-let’s not forget that keeping pace with the fast changing global trends is a priority for all players-and by no means a mean task! In addition, the current content industry is very scattered and disorganized. Operators have to deal with multiple content providers for powering content on their VAS products. In doing so, operators have found themselves exposed to legal hassles around content copyrights, and operational challenges associated with having to deal with multiple partners.

How VAS Business Aggregation can help boost bottomlines

Here’s where VAS Business Aggregation (VBA) steps in. At the outset, permit me to state that I am by no means claiming this to be a panacea for the aforementioned challenges. The idea is to suggest and present it as a viable means to mitigate the same.

Now, let’s address a fundamental question-why should operators consider VBA at all? To answer that question, consider the following:

  • VBA players bring to the table a clear understanding of the global market. This can only help strengthen an operator’s business case by keeping abreast of and tackling any challenge that may arise!
  • VBA players help operators improve and enhance overall revenues.
  • These players help operators streamline their business and reach their customers anytime and anywhere. This, after all, is what can make or break an operator’s business!
  • Operators will be able to understand their customers better through actionable insights. This will mean that operators can create a particular profile for their customers and subsequently, fine-tune their products to cater to the same.
  • VBA players are able to simplify the overall telecom ecosystem. This is achieved through the creation of an end-to-end service ecosystem, which includes services procurement, programming and discovery, usage reports and analysis and of course, overall services operations management.
  • VBA players help operators manage the complex ecosystem of OTT players and multiple content partners. This is while ensuring IPR protection and increasing an operator’s business pie.
  • In addition, VBA players offer the ability to collaborate with partners, not only from the traditional content industry but also from other industries like tourism, education, healthcare, etc. These are very critical in future success and therefore, it is important to enable different industries to harness the full potential of the mobile to eventuallyoffer consumer-oriented solutions.

I’d like to conclude by saying that things aren’t going to get any easier in the global telecom space. Operators should remember this and figure out (or revamp) their strategies. VBA players may just do the trick. In a nutshell, operators have started seeing it as an important shift in running their business and have started working with partners to overcome anticipated challenges.

August 8, 2016 0 comment
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The telecom industry is, by and large, fiercely divided on whether Over-the-Top (OTT) players have sounded the death knell for SMS or not. One faction of experts has already written off SMS as a “has-been” technology. In all fairness (allow me to play the Devil’s advocate here), reports released by several noted research firms substantiate their stand.


Sample this-according to a survey conducted by mobilesquared between July-September 2014, four of five (81 per cent) mobile network operators cited decreasing revenues on traditional telecom offerings such as Person-to-Person (P2P) SMS as their most pressing concern. The survey of more than 50 international MNOs showed that one in three (32 per cent) respondents witnessed a reduction in P2P traffic over the last 12 months. The reason for this decline is simple enough-mobile operators are losing their locus standi as customers are switching to OTT messaging platforms. In a purely numbers-centric game, why wouldn’t a customer opt for a free service, as opposed to a complicated bundled offering with (more often than not) several hidden charges?

Bundling services and beyond

Of course, operators haven’t let the grass grow under their feet in this scenario. Instead, they have taken to aggressively bundling their messaging services into cheaper deals for customers. The catch, though, is that the average revenue per user from messaging has been severely and adversely impacted and, subsequently, so has total revenues.

Analysts do think differently!

Before we begin writing an obituary for SMS, though, (yes, I’ve switched sides), let’s flip the argument and take a closer look. Batting for this space are Deloitte and Ovum, who have stated that the SMS industry will remain healthy in most markets, at least for the next few years. In fact, Deloitte recently predicted that globally, revenue from SMS will continue on the upswing until at least 2017, generating far more money than instant messaging applications. Ovum echoes that prediction by claiming that text messaging revenues will grow at 4 per cent through 2016 before beginning to decline.

The last part of that sentence sounded tricky and let me explain why. In a nutshell, there is little doubt that OTT players and their plethora of social messaging applications have dealt a blow to the world of P2P SMS. Here’s the catch, though, these research firms didn’t have P2P SMS in mind while predicting that all is well with SMS. Enter Application-to-Person (A2P) messaging. Simply put, these are messages sent between users and applications.

Without making it sound like A2P messaging is a panacea for the SMS industry, let’s look at a few facts and figures. To quote Ovum, the next few years “will mark a golden age for A2P SMS,” with the number of global A2P messages increasing from 1.4 trillion in 2013 to 2.19 trillion by 2018. Likewise, Juniper Research’s crystal ball estimates that A2P revenues will grow from $55 billion in 2013 to $60 million by 2018, while instant messaging traffic will generate only $3 billion by 2018 despite increased usage. No small numbers, these!

A2P messaging has already hogged the limelight

Think about it-flight booking confirmations from the travel portal you made reservations on, real-time route updates from the taxi you just booked, promotional offers from your favourite offline store and a discount code from your favourite online one. Password resets and service activations from your bank and feedback and quality ratings for your car’s last service check. All examples of A2P messaging! In short, major enterprise verticals such as banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), entertainment, tourism, retail, marketing, healthcare and media are pulling out all the stops to squeeze A2P SMS to the last drop.

Let’s break it down further. According to a report published by Transparency Market Research, customer relationship management (CRM) services are the largest revenue contributing application segment of the A2P SMS market. What will further boost this space is the fact that the trinity of application developers, marketers, and brands are together utilizing A2P SMS to strengthen their customer base. This entails all the routine tasks of updating their users with breaking news, campaign perks, location-based opportunities, and other important information.

OTTs and the A2P question

The point is that A2P isn’t a new phenomenon. All eyes are on it because every enterprise worth its salt has realized that it enables them to easily reach large, targeted audiences of every age, demography and type of handset in an economical manner. In fact, SMS itself is so easy and convenient to access that this simple fact betters the chances of an A2P SMS being read more often that many other forms of communication. To illustrate, mBlox states that 95 per cent of SMS-based messages are opened, in comparison with just 11 per cent of emails. The bigger picture is this-A2P SMS has tremendous potential to boost the SMS industry as a whole.

But, wait, what makes A2P SMS invulnerable to OTT players? Now, this is an interesting bit. Drum roll, please, the common opinion is that betting the farm on OTT, on the basis of its impact on A2P is a step too far. Why, because OTT messaging services are severely restricted in terms of interoperability. For example, an OTT service can only deliver a message to another device that has the same application. So, you can’t deliver a WhatsApp message to another phone unless your friend has WhatsApp enabled, too. Similarly, you can only use Apple’s IM if you are using an iPhone. Another minus is that OTT messaging can’t be used to solicit or spam commercial services. If you are a business wanting to market to consumers using OTT, there’s a bright red flag right there! And, perhaps the most ironic- OTT players themselves are using A2P messaging extensively for services like two-factor authentication for account verification or security!

Existing grey areas

Now, while I’ve painted quite a rosy picture of the virtues of A2P SMS, there are a few grey areas as well. The reasons why operators haven’t been able to leverage the potential of this medium to the fullest deserve a bit of attention. To begin with, the technology itself has been plagued by spam for quite a while now and some operators have, as a result, discouraged or blocked traffic in an effort to reduce call-center costs and other outlays. However, the realization of how useful A2P SMS really is is slowly dawning on operators. The net result is that they are beginning to attempt to forge partnerships with players that specialize in identifying questionable traffic and block spammers as quickly as possible. So, to take advantage of the benefits of A2P SMS, operators are following a three-step plan: consolidating A2P services; handling progressively more wholesale relationships and handling the increasing amount of business traffic that previously bypassed them or was handled by the international aggregators.

Wait, there’s more. Telecom operators, there is no escaping it. To manage the high volume of cross-platform messages bought on by enterprises extensively utilizing A2P SMS, you must dip deeper into your pockets to invest in infrastructure that supports this tidal wave of messaging.

Net, net, the bottom-line is clear-analysts are firm on the fact that A2P won’t save revenues from SMS in the long term because the uptake of smartphones will only increase, implying that IP-based messaging systems usage will rise in tandem. For the next few years, though, A2P SMS traffic will surge. Watch this space for more.

June 19, 2015 0 comment
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Recently, I heard about a requirement to launch a music service for an operator group. I checked internally on why we cannot help it launch first and then improvise as we go, instead of the normal tried and tested methods. There were justifiable resistances on why that would not work and knowing my place in the environment, I did not pursue this issue further.

However, what triggered me to step into this deliberation was a specific requirement pertaining to Compliance to J2ME client for streaming. This made me begin thinking about the unspoken debate about over-the-top (OTT) players versus operators or how operators can counter OTT threat. Quite frankly, a significant portion of operators across the world do not worry about the threat and continue laughing all the way to the bank, as OTT or the lack thereof, they are making their money. Whatever is being lost (apparently) in messaging is being well compensated in increase data usage.

Moving to a different viewpoint-i.e. execution-a bigger threat to operators or their vendors, but one that is rarely bought up. Take for instance, an operator launching a service, compared to that executed by an OTT player. While my work requires me to represent operators, I think we can benefit from taking a leaf or two out of the OTT players’ books. I would like to share some practices that we could imbibe from OTT players pertaining to taking the idea to the market or in more contemporary terms, realize the idea of delivering value to the consumer’ faster, better and continuously.

Also as a preamble, the word service here refers to a service consumed by the end consumer like photo sharing, music streaming, phone backup or equivalent services that can be launched by even small sized organizations. It does not refer to the core network or access infrastructure elements

I’d like to illustrate the process adopted by an operator or a vendor servicing an operator while launching a service. You could argue that I am exaggerating, but I shall leave that to you.

Meanwhile, take a look at how an OTT player launches a service. Again, you could argue that I am understating facts, but I shall leave that to you.

I am not questioning the merit of both the processes, but it is very clear on which process helps hit the rubber on the road faster and that precisely is the only challenge that operator or vendors like us has to address  to remain relevant and significant.

I list certain factors that contribute to the success story of OTT players

  • Focus on the one thing
  • Start small, scale on demand
  • Leverage existing assets
  • Design for resilience
  • Collect feedback and continuous improvement
  • Continuous consumer engagement
  • Value first , money later
  • Closed to open

Focus on The one thing

I think being everything to everybody will end up being nothing to nobody. Some of the requirements I see are humanely impossible to achieve and some are downright atrocious. I fail to comprehend why someone launching a music service will need to have a J2ME client as a mandatory requirement. The point is here to focus on ‘The one thing’ that the consumer will get enticed to and do that very well. I feel if you do that one thing well for even one category of consumers, the rest will wait. They are not going to walk away or take up arms against you. They know that you shall serve them. If the service is good, the network spreads the word about the service and you would have created a sense of hunger around the service. In other words the assumptions you made about the success factors of the service shall be validated with the adoption of the service. Create the experience that creates the hunger

Start small, scale on demand

I feel that anybody sizing for a new service at 100 million subscribers for 1 million simultaneous sessions on day zero is either extremely optimistic or extremely indifferent. In this era, when I see particularly more services ending up as software inventory after few uses, it is impossible to predict the success of a service. What you can possibly do is design to scale rapidly based on reasonable extrapolations on observed traffic. Committing to infrastructure without empirical evidence is adding boxes to the data centre which never gets powered up.

Leverage Existing Assets

Do not reinvent the wheel. Amazingly wonderful systems are running on built on popular and extremely available open source stacks. The services are buzzword compliant from day one. They are built using IAAS, PAAS, SAAS or any combinations of these and are able to deliver value faster. Their focus moves purely to their application rather than the surrounding periphery. Also they take care to integrate Social, Mobile and Analytics into their service from start.

Design for resilience

Systems are designed in such a way where the philosophy is ‘I will fail. How fast I can recover’ and not around ‘I should not fail’. This philosophy could have an element of service bias to it, but for most services, consumers are tolerant to some amount of random failures.

Collect feedback, Continuous Engagement and Improvement

Services are built to collect feedback about usage and non-usage from day one. Also there is a sense of community created around the usage of service in popular social networks. This is a double edged sword since both good and bad news spread fast. I do notice that there are hooks into this networks and rapid action taken to recover from bad news. Also based on my usage with the service, continuous engagements through various channels are established by the service. There are non-intrusive notifications, information about my usage, information about how other people are using the service and many other things that are done to continue my engagement with the service.

Value first, money later

The services are built for delayed gratification for the people who are building it. The typical cycle seems to be, get the consumer in, make him experience the service, built a community around the service, gently nudge them about the benefits of a paid service. Truly successful services are built for the long haul. The monetization philosophy differs based on the service and it need not be free for eternity, but the models is deliver value and realize the monies.

Closed to Open

Any service that is built has a way to collaborate with other services already running. It is not built as a closed loop monolithic service. There are hooks for other services to interact with this service and build other interesting federated services.

Well if all the above sounds preposterous, naive and downright stupid, my only take is let us do one service launch the OTT way and see the evolution of it over a year, since anyway that is the time it will take to get the traditional service in.

I rest my case here. I do want to add that the traditional model has been robust and successful but I do end with a plea on there is merit in exploring ‘what works’  and be seen as agile to consumers in the areas of customer discovery , service adoption and continuous improvement. As someone recently published ‘Execution is Strategy’.

March 4, 2015 0 comment
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