Saturday 2 December 2017

MVNO Gold Rule #2 - Own The Customer, Sensibly and cost effectively

MVNO HLR Own the Customer

In the early days of the MVNO a prevailing thought was that an MVNO needed to own the Home Location Register (HLR) in order to won the customer, which in a sense is true, however there are much more important ways of owning the customer rather than just the HLR, some of which actually challenges the ownership of the HLR, however these all need taking in context.

Customer touch points

Owning the customer is much more than an HLR, or a database - its owning the experience of all customer touch points
The most important customer ownership points come from actually owning the customer relationship, that means charging, self-care, as well as the usual sales and marketing.

Owning the customer means owning the customer experience across the whole user journey:

  1. Marketing, customer acquisition and brand (everybody gets that, mostly)
  2. Self-care: is your brand empowering, low-cost or care centric? Is mobile your first or a complimentary brand, is mobile your core business or a loss leader, all these points will influence how you want to care for the customer.
  3. HLR, GGSN, DPI, PCRF, IVR, if you can own these, not for the sake of it, you can differentiate a product more, but they are not essential and do not differentiate a service by itself
  4. Customer care

Self-care owned by MVNO

Some of the early legacy platforms had rebrandable self-care platforms for the MVNO-in-a-box oxymoron that circulated: The very essence of an MVNO is to differentiate itself from the MNO, but also other MVNOs, so the very concept of an MVNO in a box is a misnomer and dead end for anything other than a small scale trial. To own the customer you need to at least own the first level touch points along the value chain after the initially obvious sales and marketing, and they begin in the self care. No matter what you skimp on as an MVNO, you need to own this experience.

So many early MVNOs tried this, in fact even MNOs did this in the early days when online sales were below 1% of sales, MNOs outsourced the whole online sales to third parties, but these times were different, they were pre phishing and the internet was full of pages with active gifs galore, in today's internet world, it is just not acceptable to be transported off to another site to look after a customer, in a very generic way. 

Also, while an MVNO may be able to launch with a "patchware" selfceare service, as the product evolves this approach will either become a change request hell or mean the product cannot evolve as it grows from early adopter, to follow sales to mass market.

In short, caring for the customer is part of owning the customer and that experience cannot be "out of the box" if you want any hope of doing it properly.

Payment gateways need to be owned by the MVNO

Another point some MVNOs try to skimp on or MVNEs try to over supply is with is payment gateways. an MNO or MVNE should never be taking payments on behalf of a brand. These days of multiple start-ups providing payment gateways the MVNO needs to integrate the legacy (old bank run gateways) the new (start-up payment processors) and the in betweens like Paypal (many people sell their old handsets on ebay), as well as be integrating with Apple and Android payments for realtime notifications and updates of bundles, top-ups, and other billing related events.

Handset and SIM Configuration

Some OTA APN services are so bad they take up as much as 50% of customer service times, this is not good. This means 50% of ARPU disappearing in a way that does not own, but rather disown the customer.

SIMs are also a key touch point. There is no point spending half your customer acquisition cost on a glossy SIM and SIM pack (the latter of which goes straight in the bin) if every time someone looks at their phone it says something other than who you are, and the SIM menu is some generic afterthought.

Customer care

Virgin Mobile UK was voted best UK Network Operator for 13 years in a row by Mobile Choice Magazine, while its mostly then identical host, One 2 One, then T-Mobile, etc. was mostly voted the worst! One 2 One's service was so bad that another UK brand refused to launch with them and the MNO moniker was one 2 no-one. Virgin knew that by owning customer service (and selfcare) they could change this, and they did, by also keeping its MVNO simple so when you called their well trained staff could answer your question in one call with one agent.

Owning customer care is also the only way to control rising costs to serve, which can kill MVNOs if left unchecked as they scale.

Apple, owning the customer vs owning the customer via the HLR

When doing workshops with MVNOs, the key is to make people think proactively about issues, as running an MVNO, or even an MVNE is hard; mobile is complex and issues will arise daily that on some occasions can seem like mountains to surpass that threaten the very existence of the MVNO in question. If an MVNE team does do not learn to help its MVNO, and more importantly the MVNO does not learn to see the wood for the trees, then it simply will not survive.

So yes, a simple way to own the customer is to own the HLR, and if the service is not sufficiently differentiated, then owning the HLR does effectively own the customer, however the out of the box challenge goes like this: At first, Apple's iPhone was only sold by one mobile network in each country. In the US it was AT&T, in the UK it was O2 Telefonica, etc. Before the other networks in each country started also selling iPhones, these operators had millions and millions of customers. You therefore have to ask yourself - if AT&T or O2 had lost the iPhone exclusive, how many of those customers would have stayed and kept their SIM with another phone on that network??? The answer is none, literally. Apple does not own an HLR, or even a basic reseller model, what it owns is the touch points like selfceare...

DPI, IVR, etc

While these services can help you differentiate, if you just use them to give away free WhatsApp or use an off the shelf IVR menu tree that has loads of options customers really do not need nor wish to waste their time listening to, then what is the point. These really should be owned by the right customer, and most probably in house and not part of the MVNE as they need to be so focussed at your user journey they really do not "MVNO in a box" at all well, as bad an idea that is for other services as it is.
cost to serve

If you need any more convincing, why does Apple not let resellers play with the software? Why does Samsung insist on playing with Android and adding its own look and feel?

Friday 17 March 2017

MVNO Gold rule #1 - Keep it Simple

MVNO Gold Rule #1 - Keep it Simple

This is the most ignored rule of all and one of the biggest culprit of failed MVNOs, and by that I mean not the launched MVNOs that fail, but moreover the huge amount that never make it to launch due to over complication, which in turn creates delays and cost which moreover lead to uncertainty and uncontrolled risk in the eyes of many - the killer of all things new and venturous!

But that is not possible, you see, when someone is tasked with creating a mobile pricing model, they revert into what I have become to call the Jekyll-Hyde Frankenstein... a freakish monster of all things mobile rolled into one, with every good idea they have ever seen in mobile across the world, ever, in enterprise, consumer, travel, low-end, high-end; you name it; there is a tariff for it and a model behind it!
The first bicycle - as designed by the average MVNO and MVNO consultant as their first launch product *sigh*. Source

The concept is simple - create a first simple MVNO tariff that will

  1. Make your MVNO competitors think you are going nowhere as an MVNO
  2. An MVNO tariff that will only be attractive to your core Niche and not be at all attractive to the masses of freeloaders, fraudsters, etc. If you cannot charge a premium for at least 1,000 or a few thousand early adopter users you do not have a Niche product that will sell and need to go back to the drawing board.
  3. Be attractive to your core MVNO audience and your limited amount of first MVNO SIMs and bandwidth to respond to real customer feedback
  4. Listen to customers and follow your MVNO brand with private, below the line offers that your competitors do not see but your real early adopter customers can promote to your next "me too" customers
  5. Keep MVNO prices within a sensible range to create trust and avoid anything that needs a footnote like Free this*, unlimited other ¹, etc.
  6. Don't be lazy and just do "free social networks MVNO" or "free VoIP app MVNO" which was OK in 2010 to 2015, or if it is part of a wider campaign but now is weak and infinitely copiable.
  7. Leave your MVNO super tariffs for when you are mass market MVNO
This is difficult to do, the MVNO MVP is elusive, but the easiest way to do it is to start early and get whatever you have working first with a USP that is not easy to copy out to market.

MVNO Survey Report Knect365 (Informa)

MVNO Survey Report now out

I do hope you filled out the MVNO survey, as of course I did, and now the results are out and make for quite an interesting read. 
One of the various Infographics from the report, largely reflecting customer feedback
Largely reflecting what the movers and shakers among both my Next Generation MVNE and MVNO Consultancy customers are doing and reporting from around the world, namely:
  • While the largest investment for 2017 is technology (50%) followed by customer services (25%), this effort is being focussed on M2M/IoT and enablers such as VoIP and WiFi (and deducing from this 4G also) with only 12% seeing for example eSIM having and impact on their business in 2017. Whilst we do have eSIM opportunities with customers that go back 10 to 15 years as an emerging technology, by far the biggest growth is in the lead up to 5G MVNO and IoT and M2M across the MVNE and MVNO consultancy business.
  • The biggest growth for 2017 will come from Asia, Africa and Europe and to some extent the US, with Latam, the golden promise of 2016 and 2016 that never delivered, still not delivering significant growth in 2017 either at only 5%

Thursday 16 March 2017

eSIM opportunity for MVNOs, MVNEs and manufacturers as per Dallas MVNO conference

The eSIM is a hotly debated trend and was the subject of the two panels I spoke on in the Dallas 2016 Wholesale Connectivity Convention where in addition to the usual blurb I was keen to get actual dates from panellists on when they thought the technology would become mainstream. I warned I would write these dates down and blog about them, but have stopped short of saying who said which date in order to protect the innocent!
eSIMs were an integral part of 
There were two panels,  The Panel on Global connectivity with eSIM as a sub topic (morning) with Gigsky, my old client Tim previously of Microsoft, now with Transatel and the omnipresent Dave from Aspider.
Speaking with Gigsky, Transatel and Aspider on eSIM as part of how global connectivity can drive growth
In the afternoon session we had another old client of mine, Federico Homberg from Deutsche Telecom, Steffen Frenck from the SIMalliance, David Buhan from Gemalto and Tony Wyant from Gigsky again. The key outcome for me is that I asked all the panel and some of the audience to give me a date when they believed that eSIM would make mass market (and yes I did emphasise that I was taking notes), when it would appear as a viable option in Niches (alongside normal SIMs) and two in between options emerged: mainstream in niches, such as smart watches; and "in every new car".
Mainstream eSIMs are still a way away, however for certain specialist players / trusted parties there are niche opportunities
The writing on the wall is that that mass market eSIM is a good few years away / not coming anytime soon and the reasons for this discussed and offered were:

Supporting eSIM is complex and requires trust from vendors

Many MVNEs and MVNOs saying they are going into eSIM, that they can support eSIM, etc, etc. However they generally stumble on the following.


eSIM means distribution is "easy" (although its not necessarily the case, see "managing eSIM is complex" below), however the reality is that the business is very unpredictable;
  1.  essentially people can take an eSIM for a month, a week, a day or even just a few hours in an airport, and then not return for a few months if ever, yet someone is stuck with paying costs for that user on an HLR, CRM, billing system, etc. most of which are billed somewhere along the line on the fact that they will be used for a good few months, not a day here or there.
  2. forecasting is impossible
  3. USP / customer ownership - there is very little to leverage other than cost
  4. loyalty - there is none in many cases!

Managing eSIM is complex

The biggest issue I have come across to date is the concept that many have whereby they say "we can support eSIM", when in fact is what they mean is "we have tested eSIM".  This gap between what you can do for 1, 10, 100 or even low 1,000s of SIMs vs. what you can scale is the bane of the mobile industry and one of the key limiting factors of MVNOs and MVNEs growing, and often sadly also the demise of MVNOs and MVNEs as it prohibits them hitting critical mass. The bad news is that it only gets worse when you add the scale and complexity of eSIM.

This is a bit like saying, "I can send an email, sending emails works from our systems" which just about anybody can say, however this is very, very different from being able to manage a busy inbox efficiently, and even further away from having an email sending system and email management system installed, integrated and working for a specific application! does not mean I have an email campaign management system!

The most recent case was a couple of years ago and eSIM was at the core of the service proposition; At the 11th hour the need for a third party eSIM platform and integration was required. In hindsight it all became clear to me, as said MVNE did not even have simple OTA ability in house, so managing sSIM was a whole level of pain higher. 

eSIM requires trust and relationship management

the eSIM relationship is one that often requires deep sharing of what many MNOs, MVNOs and OEMs consider highly confidential data that very few people in the business, let alone outside of the business are allowed access to. Mismanagement of this type of data to the wrong party or a party who cannot manage security credibly is asking for that OEMs customers to have their private pictures shared or their phones calls disclosed, and so again, there is a litmus test here. Having spent last two years integrating a whole suite of MVNE services to make the most complete MVNE service we were amazed how many services are not even using basic security, like SSL for portal and API access for example, how is an OEM going to trust a service like this with deep access to their OS, for example? 

MNOs have no need or requirement to support eSIM in short to medium term

The biggest issue however will be MNO resistance, as they really have no need for eSIM in the mainstream in the timescales that are above:
  • Handsets are getting bigger
  • The device ownership timescales are getting longer
  • MNOs have invested in significant retail and distribution presence

The upside to eSIM opportunity in the immediate term

The upside for MVNOs and MVNEs that can pass the tests above, is that the emerging opportunities are often too niche or too International/complex for the MNOs (e.g. multi IMSI). 

Friday 10 February 2017

MVNO Event Series Interview Growth Areas, Challenges for MVNO in 2017

Q: Tell us about yourself and your position at Conecto?

I am Christian Borrman, CEO of Conecto, Conecto is an MVNE in the UK and US, originally also in Mexico. Conecto provide flexible and scalable solutions for MVNOs notice of all sizes.

Q: what is the current state of the MVNO Market?

The MVNO market has hit a bit of a plateau in there are lots of people trying to do things however the lot of people who have found the present solutions are either not scalable or that they're too limiting, or if they started in one sense (i.e MVNE vs. MVNA)  then they may have to throw that all away and start again (if they grow) or they have to risk and start very big and probably never gets that size they expected.

Conecto provide a solution that lets them start very small and grow as big as they want or need , and if at some point the MVNO wants to buy out of that solution the MVNO can (and still stay with the same APIs, CRM, and other systems). We have seen that a lot of players are actually looking at our Conecto model is a way to go forward with  and MVNO model they have been investigating for a while as well as existing MVNOs they have just not been able to scale, and  move forward where the MVNO was not moving forward before.  

Another big issue has been a lot of consultation with the network operators which has effectively just made it a lot more difficult to get a wholesale agreement that people (MVNOs) necessarily want. This consolidation is a period that has lasted now for about 2 years and I think we're coming out of that finally,  and so this should make things a lot easier (with no MVNO competition a competitive wholesale deal is very difficult) and so we should be seeing a lot of next generation MVNEs and MVNOs taking advantage of cloud MVNE flexibility, and taking advantage of the renewed appetite of wholesale operators for MVNOs (post consolidation or no consolidation) and as such we should see a renewed growth in MVNOs in the coming months and years.

Q: Where do you see new opportunities in the MVNO market?

Well I am probably not the best person to ask because we spent a lot of time in Mexico where in 2015/2016 that was where there was supposed to be the next big growth area (and we acted upon) which it wasn't for various reasons that we won't go into... What we have seen on a practical note that there is a lot of untapped opportunity in the US and in the UK and some extent in Europe and that is then moving in the next year or so, as I see it, to Africa and the Middle East being the next big growth areas that we certainly have on our radar and (is evident in terms of opportunities) on our CRM system, and for me are upcoming opportunities.

Q: In what region do you see the biggest growth for MVNO?

I still think there is a lot nascent growth in Europe and the US, there is just a lot of people who do not have solutions to their problems or the solutions they want to their problems from the existing players (...and many of these players have left the market) and we have seen situations such as Audi buying an (going to the extent of buying an) MVNE (a company just does not buy a provider / solution they are happy with in normal market conditions). We are see a lot of big players

Airlines and and car manufacturers either creating their own Solutions, buying their own Solutions or coming to companies like Conecto with Next Generation Solutions and there's a lot of untapped growth there which may or may not come to fruition in the next year or so.  In a slightly more mid to longer term I think Africa and the Middle East are growth areas, and the LATAM area can grow again but there are serious issues in terms of competition and regulation that need to be overcome.

Q: Why should MVNOs attend our events?

As I have said a few times I think it's the key area where people can come together, twice a year for the International Events and at least once a year for the Regional events. It's very difficult to meet people from all around the world, and sometimes it's difficult to even arrange meetings (with key partners, let alone) see everybody in one place. For such a niche market you need to have an excuse and a place to go, and this is the place where I get to meet everybody in the industry in one place and have back to back meetings without distractions of needing to solve this problem all that problem which of the end of the day, mobile as a complex business and there's always things delaying and putting meetings off so, if you have an excuse to congregate somewhere X times a year, then that is the (one time) when you can get a lot achieved.

Come and meet Conecto at the Acropolis Nice, 24-27 April 2017