For European mobile operators, the next phase of business development will be about mobile service as a platform for web and other applications, displacing a more-recent phase where success hinged on new data revenues, smart phones, reducing operating costs and raising average revenue per user. Clearly gone is the period where success could be built around text messaging, voice revenue and minutes of use.
Some executives rightly will be concerned, if only because the next phase of growth will depend on the ability to create a new revenue platform based on access and other elements of mobile service that can be sold to business partners, if not directly to end users.
Mobile service providers will have to create new services that business partners will want to buy, enhancing web and mobile application experiences, across a wide range of devices.
The challenge is that mobile operators will not be the only application providers seeking to create the sticky and valuable new applications. In fact, it is likely to be the case that most of the popular, revenue-generating apps will be created and owned by independent third parties.
If that raises questions about “dumb pipe,” it should. Aside from the access feature, mobile operators are going to have to find ways to insert themselves into new applications that use mobile attributes and features, but are largely offered by third parties.
For an industry that long has suffered from a “not invented here” syndrome, that will be an issue. Still, there is quite a bit of running room for broadband access services, as voice and text messaging revenues gradually decrease.
But even mobile broadband is going to run out of gas, at some point. Before that happens, mobile operators will have to have made significant progress towards becoming “application enablers” in serious ways.