In the face of shrinking revenues and declining operating margins from their core communications services, mobile operators are retooling their business models in pursuit of new sources of top and bottom line growth. Mobile carriers have access to unparalleled amounts of customer and network data, and yet they are only just beginning to unlock the value of this information. Historically, operators have assumed the roles of enablers for information flows, with surprisingly little visibility into the context and content of their captive data assets. Utilized intelligently and creatively, this data holds the key to an intimate understanding of customer needs and preferences, and in a broader sense, the successful evolution of the role of operators at the center of the mobile communications eco-system.
What is Big Data for the operators?
Mobile operators are the ‘natural’ Big Data companies, given they have a unique view into the behaviour and preferences of millions of customers by virtue of the network data that they process on a daily basis. Any activity which touches the wireless infrastructure – voice calls, data transmissions and app downloads – creates a digital footprint which can be analyzed and synthesized into valuable insights.
And with the average smartphone now being active on the network for twenty hours per day (as measured by global operator Teléfonica), it is clear that mobile devices are becoming deeply embedded into the lives of the majority of users.
The diagram below outlines the diverse nature of the available network data. The decreasing cost of data storage coupled with the availability of high performance computing applications now enables operators to create information-based offerings – not only for their own subscriber base, but also for third party organisations seeking a better understanding of their mobile users.
Structured data is the accumulation of bulk transaction and profile records amassed by operators on a daily basis:
- Itemized calling and messaging records – CDRs/xDRs
- Electronic data records – Web logs, searches
- Geo-positioning data records – Location coordinates, time, duration
- Billing profile records – Gender, age, address, spend
Unstructured data reflects the detailed interactions between subscribers within the network represented by the exchange of textual, numeric and graphical content:
- Social media posts
- Web browsing
- Media downloads and streams
- E-books and newsreader content
- App usage and interactions
Inferred data comprises the patterns of behaviour derived from observed social media activity and point-to-point movements within the network service area
- Social graph and influence graph – relationships, personal interests, attitudes, sentiments
- Location-based activity and context – retail footfall, travel dynamics, social preferences
With this wealth of data becoming accessible to operators, their attention is turning to the use of advanced data analytics in order to drive internal initiatives – such as customer loyalty programmes and service personalisation – as well as monetizing the latent value of this information with the development of new offerings for B2B markets.
Over time subscriber data with this degree of specificity and richness has the potential to become a new asset class – with a corresponding balance sheet valuation – for network operators.
How are the operators exploiting this opportunity?
The mobile operators with ‘smart’ capabilities such as dynamic network policy management, high performance computing and in-memory analytics are able to utilize these data assets in order to manage the customer experience in an increasingly intimate manner.
The “who, what, when and how” dimensions of marketing campaign design and management take on new levels of specificity and precision with the so-called ‘720-degree’ view of customers uniquely available to operators:
- An internal, 360-degree view of their customers i.e. what are their product and service needs? how and when and are they using the services? what stimulates greater engagement levels?
- An external, 360-degree view of how they utilize the available services in their daily lives i.e. where do they live, work and play? who are they interacting with? how and why are their services preferences shifting?
This adds a powerful dimension to the market segmentation process, as well as informing the customer experience and campaign design programs that flow from it. By knowing more about their subscriber base, operators can devise precise marketing messages that reach the right target customers, at the right time and most importantly in the right context.
The fusion of subscriber, network and social media data now will allow operators to perform their ‘business-as-usual’ processes more efficiently and effectively – defining new market segments, interacting dynamically with both customers and channel partners and proactively addressing their specific demands as individual stakeholders.
As an example, GSM operator AXIS has been successful in refining its customer segmentation model in Indonesia through the analysis of subscriber-generated information sourced from a custom built self-care portal which is branded ‘AXIS Net’.
In turn, the data analysis has enabled AXIS to stratify their base of circa twenty million subscribers into eighteen precisely-defined micro segments, each with discrete behavioral attributes and actionable characteristics. The company has used this information to generate a continuous stream of segment-specific direct marketing promotions in order to stimulate customer adoption and usage.
What are the new revenue sources from Big Data?
The competitive environment in which any incumbent mobile operator is participating today is radically different to the market place in which they first launched their services. Invariably they are confronting a new breed of competitors resulting from convergence, where traditional device and service lines blur and companies diversify outside of their original markets.
Intense competition and commoditisation of communications services are driving increased network traffic and usage, but currently it is the new wave OTT messaging providers that are winning the battle for consumer mindshare and hence taking increasing revenue share.
In order to assert their position in this newly-emerging eco-system, mobile operators are pursuing new lines of business that have the potential both to monetize the value of their big data assets and to entrench the operators as a pivotal player in these markets:
Customer insights – aggregated and anonymised mobile subscriber data has extreme value for a wide array of commercial and public services organisations: retailers (store location planning, campaign design), local government administrations (urban planning), advertising companies (outdoor media mapping), sports and entertainment venues (audience profiling).
Data hosting – by virtue of their service provider legacy, strict industry-wide regulatory framework and data protection obligations, the mobile operators have developed very strong trust relationships with consumers and businesses alike. This opens up the prospect of operators utilising their data assets in order to host security and authentication-based services on behalf of financial institutions, government agencies and e-commerce companies. Identity management, access control and user authentication are all part of the service portfolios being developed by the leading US and European operators.
Third party applications – rather than viewing companies which provide digital services over the network as competitors, increasingly operators are seeing them as business partners. In principle, any service that requires a set of enabling utilities such as customer billing, problem resolution, security and authentication services can be interfaced directly with the host systems and databases in the mobile operator environment. The demand for these hard-wired services will grow rapidly as e-commerce, mobile healthcare and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications become ubiquitous.
The incumbent network operators therefore have the opportunity to create a ‘two-sided’ business model, whereby they leverage the latent worth of their unique assets – namely their captive subscriber data and their accumulated reputation capital.
- Firstly, they create more intimate relationships with their existing ‘downstream’ mobile subscribers, through a relentless focus on customer experience management and service personalization
- Secondly, they form ‘upstream’ strategic partnerships with both private and public sector organizations, underpinned by a new product and service portfolio founded on the principles of privacy, trust and security
Executed well, this two-sided approach is virtually impossible for any communications service provider without a self-provisioned network to emulate successfully. The pathway for the network operators to assume the central position in the rapidly-evolving mobile services eco-system is wide open.