As the mobile broadband market becomes increasingly competitive, differentiation has become the name of the game. To stand out from the crowd, operators will need to offer a widespread, high-quality user experience and a range of differentiated services.
The new broadband-enabled and internet-hosted world, extensive coverage and speed and quality of the user connection are as important differentiators as the desirability of a device, the coolness of the apps and the cost of subscription. Users have come to expect similar levels of performance from mobile and fixed broadband.
This presents operators with a challenge and an opportunity: those that can deliver the best service choice, availability, speed and quality will inevitably gain brand loyalty. But there are some challenges: they must stand out and provide the best quality, delivered from an excellent network with extensive broadband coverage. In addition, operators must sell broadband services at a price and performance level that suits all users.
To succeed in the broader market, it is now time to introduce differentiated services with pricing models to suit today's user. Mobile broadband differentiation is about giving people exactly what they need and are willing to pay for, from guaranteed "no-limit" premium subscriptions to "no-frills" subscriptions with no guarantees.
Now that the technology is there, three major trends are driving the need for service excellence and making it more important to deliver a high-quality experience. The first is the dramatic growth in mobile broadband subscriptions as the internet goes mobile. The second is the trend towards additional services and apps and their accessibility on mobile devices. The third is the shift to apps in data centres in the cloud, instead of locally.
These three trends are driving several simultaneous changes that are reshaping the way broadband services are priced, delivered and used. Devices are shifting from being shared to personal, and the number of devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets per user and family is increasing.
The number of devices connected through mobile networks is growing and people are using different devices to access the same service at different times, creating demand for affordable connectivity. Another change is that network resources are moving away from being dedicated, such as cable, to being shared, such as mobile cellular and public Wi-Fi.
Apps that were once defined and tested in a controlled environment are now published at a rate of hundreds per day by many thousands of third-party developers. Power consumption, which was not an issue for fixed equipment plugged into a wall socket, is now a key factor for devices that are carried around for many hours at a time. Business processes are also changing as a greater number of users, devices and market segments increasingly rely on mobile connectivity.
In this changing environment, mobile operators must compete and stand out with exceptional networks that deliver the best quality. The mobile broadband market can be characterised as three waves of development, starting with the first wave of simple data subscription plans that enabled people to connect their devices to the internet at the highest available speeds.
Essentially, there was one offering to fit all, as simplicity was key to get the market moving. The second wave moves the one-size-fits-all approach along to meet the needs of different subscribers and devices with different services and traffic management, driving revenue growth through smart targeting.
With differentiated connectivity services, operators can provide offerings that suit all users. The third wave will be characterised by everything being connected. The proliferation of connected consumer electronics and industry-specific machine-to-machine devices will drive the need for industry-specific cloud apps and non-traffic-based charging models.
According to Anlysys Mason, the industry analysts, differentiated mobile broadband will provide an estimated overall revenue boost of 17 per cent by 2015, driven by a 29 per cent increase in average revenue per user compared with a "commoditised" case.
Operators have a range of mobile broadband differentiation tools at their disposal that enable them to transition their network into flexible, intelligent resources.
Delivering the required granularity of control that operators need to create differentiated offerings demands more than just excellent devices and network equipment. It also requires a range of tools and services in everything from the network policy controller, through the operational and business support systems, to network planning and design, integration and optimisation.
With these tools, operators can extend their business beyond standard flat-rate service packages. These tools offer operators' mobile broadband marketing and product development teams a way to create innovative services focused on opening revenue opportunities, enhancing customer relationships, building brand loyalty and ultimately, boosting profitability.
* Anders Lindblad is the head of the Middle East and north-east Africa region for Ericsson