Sizo Nkosi

By Sizo Nkosi, Partnerships Manager for MNOs at Infobip

Digital transformation has profoundly altered the global communications landscape, creating both opportunities and challenges for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).Yet few have successfully harnessed technology and innovation to cater for the enterprise market.

While MNOs typically have a significant number of enterprise clients, they often lack the key ingredients to provide them with business communication or business messaging solutions. This means that telcos need to leverage partnerships to gain a competitive advantage to implement these technologies.

Following the launch of 3G data services in 2001 and the subsequent proliferation of smartphones, a new, app- and device-driven ecosystem began to develop and rapidly grow. Mobile operators found themselves ill-equipped to deal with a dramatic paradigm shift in the way mobile services were perceived and consumed.

However, we have seen a significant turnaround in recent times, as telcos are beginning to reimagine themselves and reposition as business messaging solution providers. This shift has largely been the result of the rise of instant messaging services, which prompted MNOs to look at innovative ways to enable business communications.

Partnering with OTT providers

It is no longer unusual to see telcos partnering with over-the-top (OTT) providers such as WhatsApp or Netflix and offer plans with zero-rated data for their content. In the enterprise space, they are also developing messaging services and are now on a good trajectory toward leaving behind an era when they were typically not flexible or quick enough to capitalise on this.

With the shift in the digital landscape, telcos are now able to deliver on enterprise customers’ requirements for more innovative solutions that enable them to manage their normal business communications. To an extent, this was also driven by the change in consumer behaviour, with the modern consumer demanding to engage with brands across multiple touchpoints. As businesses increasingly have to meet this requirement, many are turning to MNOs to deliver these solutions.

A good example of an MNO-driven messaging solution is Rich Communication Services (RCS), the communication protocol between network operators that is meant to replace SMS. Despite some aborted starts, the service launched in late 2019 and has been growing in importance in certain key markets. While it might not have been an instant success, it is expected to achieve full adoption and become relevant mainly due to being a network-agnostic channel.

The value of partnerships

To take full advantage of the demand for business messaging solutions, MNOs cannot do it alone. Communication solution providers are increasingly partnering with established network operators to build specific solutions and provide Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

or dedicated web tools that enable platform capabilities for enterprise customers and integrate with various products and services.

Partnering with a service provider takes away the complexity of MNOs having to develop a new business model, or build new tools, services or platforms that they do not necessarily have as yet. For example, deploying APIs requires development time and resources and also requires testing and integration.

That is where a service provider can step in and provide a ready product that is supported by a significant technical team that will assist with the development and integration, allowing the operator to focus on its core business. Partnerships remove complexity and expand business opportunities for all parties involved.

The right partner and solution

Network operators need to look for the right service provider that can deliver a suitable converged partner managed solution. The fundamentals of the right solution begin with channels. MNOs need to partner with a solution provider that can provide and support not only the traditional telco channels, such as SMS, voice and data but also OTT channels and chat apps. Then, it is also important to ensure that these channels are easily accessible and can be readily integrated into the network operator’s existing channel mix.

The right partner will also bring a degree of consultancy to the table, beyond just selling and deploying a solution. The partner should guide the MNO on how best to use the assets it has and also be transparent about how much needs to be spent on the solution at every step of the implementation.

MNOs are becoming increasingly aware of the need to move beyond legacy business models and practices and be more agile and flexible when considering innovative solutions and technology. They need to innovate and expand through partnerships with established vendors, which removes the complexity of doing this alone.

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