With rapidly changing ICT delivery paradigms, we are entering the era of everything-as-a-service, where the consumers would pay as they use. Interestingly, the mobile services market in India has already taken the pay-per-use route since its early days, due to the sheer fact that bulk of the subscribers are prepaid in nature. The micro recharge offerings have made pay-per-use an even more persistent model.

Though well positioned, telecom service providers are yet to really leverage their existing engagements with consumers for the delivery of a diverse set of services beyond mere connectivity. This is not to discount some directed progress that they have made nevertheless.

For example, it’s been for quite some time that telecom service providers have been delivering telephony and Internet broadband access over the same pipe, such as a DSL link. Now, with the same pipe being used to deliver IPTV services as well, the promise of triple-play is coming true. (While IPTV had been launched a few years ago, it is only now that the quality of experience is coming to an acceptable level.)

Likewise, the promise of a wider wireless pipe in 3G means that richer media services like video calling, wireless broadband and mobile TV could be satisfactorily picked up by cross sections of consumers.

And yet, there is a lot more to be done. Ironically, Internet companies know much more about telcos’ customers’ preferences and behaviors than telcos themselves do. So while a Google is able to display ads that are relevant to an Internet user at a particular instance, a large chunk of the SMSs received by mobile subscribers is effectively spam.

Telcos will need to know their subscribers better to be able to reach out to them with a bouquet of newer ICT and content-related services. That understanding would come through extensive use of tools such as business intelligence and analytics built into their IT systems.

ICT is today at a stage where the emerging ‘Cloud’ paradigm presents an opportunity, both for the consumers and the service providers. Already, consumers have been using app stores like those of Apple, Android and Nokia for their content and application needs…

By partnering with application developers and other stakeholders in the cloud ecosystem, telcos would need to position themselves as first touch points for all ICT consumer requirements. These requirements could range from new service activation to billing and complaint resolution, most of which could be addressed through a highly automated self-service portal.

Cloud is an effective delivery model for catering to the needs of a long tail, as has been amply exemplified by the success of Internet companies. The telecom subscribers in India also form a long tail of consumers, given that most of them come from the middle and bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid.

True, bandwidth and spectrum will continue to play a fundamental role in enabling access for the long tail and so a ramp-up on that front cannot be overlooked. But the higher value for the consumer lies in the services that are enabled by the underlying bandwidth and not the bandwidth itself.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle on April 14, 2011; header changed.)

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