Mobile operators in emerging markets need to make urgent adjustments to content strategies if they are to adapt to rapid shifts in the market, according to Ovum analysts.

While mobile service providers currently are the dominant force in the emerging markets mobile content space, this is set to change due to strong competition from new platforms such as application stores.

“Unless telcos make rapid changes to their strategy and execution, their dominance is set to be challenged,” says Angel Dobardziev, Ovum analyst.

Some might argue that no matter what telcos do, that will happen anyway, given that the leading application stores are operated by device manufacturers such as Apple, independent providers such as GetJar or operating system providers such as Google.

“We have found that once a consumer has bought a data access plan, they begin to move away from telco services,” says Dobardziev. “This will ultimately reduce the role of mobile operators to little more than providers of bandwidth.”

Some might argue that Dobardziev already has answered the original question.

While the emerging markets mobile data space will grow significantly in the next five years, it is still highly immature, with less than a fifth of mobile users currently venturing beyond SMS, ringtones and logos, Ovum argues.

At some point, the role of smart phones and app stores likely will assert itself, though, and that’s where the danger lies, Ovum argues.

Maybe emerging markets are so different from developed markets that precedents are not useful. If so, developing market service providers might have more options than operators do in developed markets.

But here’s the analogy. A mobile device with mobile broadband access is analogous to a PC with broadband access: it is a simple gateway to the rest of the content and applications to be found on the Internet and web.

AOL once tried being a “walled garden” of content, and failed. To be sure, there are new elements of that strategy in the form of the application store and the associated device that is part of the app store’s ecosystem. Even Facebook and other sites that require membership function as a sort of “open” form of a closed community.

But it seems unreasonable on its face that a mobile access provider can act as a gatekeeper between their users and content to be found in app stores and on the web, doesn’t it?

The point is that it won’t do much good to “warn” telcos that they will lose their gatekeeper roles in the content ecosystem. Where, in fact, do telcos anywhere exercise much gatekeeper control anywhere broadband exists? Governments frequently do interpose themselves between end users and content providers.

Mobile service providers rarely do so, and one might argue it is self-defeating to try.

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