Look over the horizon. An expanding and vastly complicated phenomenon is beginning to tower over the wireless industry. Fourth-generation wireless, or 4G, is on its way, ready or not. How it will work and, more importantly, what will be its greatest technological and business hurdles and opportunities are key questions that need to be addressed during the next few years.
Along the way, mobile handset companies need to focus more than ever on delivering new kinds of customer-centric bundled offerings. These include major changes in systems, business architectures and core processes – and working with a wider range and more numerous industry players than ever before. Key elements of these bundles include:
• mobile handsets, which create and deliver the improved consumer experience;
• content applications and services, which are accessed using these handsets;
• the cloud consisting of all the back-end infrastructure (like provisioning), user data and analytics of user behaviors as well as quality of service; and,
• user controls that manage multiple mobile handsets and related services.
4G, at the epicenter of this pressing need for new and more sophisticated kinds of bundling, will change the way people live and work. The technol­ogy aims to deliver more entertaining and enriching customer experiences, provide higher bandwidth and more rich data, accelerate data and video transmission speeds, extend battery life, drop fewer calls and ensure better connectivity. The promise of 4G will make the mobile handset more of a center of the consumer’s universe than any previous mobile handset technology ever has.
But to reach these heights, numerous challenges need to be addressed and conquered. For example, the smartphone segment of the handset – sure to be a hot 4G product segment – is growing and moving at full-throttle speeds compared with most other market segments. So much is happening here. On the one hand, there is heavy focus on providing services and bundling them to improve the consumers’ experiences. On the other hand, there is evolution in connectivity, software and hardware.
To further complicate the situation, add this laundry list of additional challenges:
• the cooperation between wireless network providers and device manufacturers is often lacking;
• few if any systemic methods exist to collect consumer behavioral data and analyze the patterns;
• the attraction to wireless content tends to be insufficient;
• few if any systemic methods exist to collect customer data;
• companies can sometimes have silo mentalities;
• cooperation may be lacking between corporate divisions in virtually every part of the value chain spanning from devices, to content services, to user controls and data banks; and,
• bringing totally new concepts to the market is difficult without disturbing content collaborators.
The net results of all this is sub-optimal pricing, overly complex brand battles for promotions, and new sales channels that trigger conflict and confusing customer experiences.
This whole situation needs to be remedied. And by this I mean a change in mindsets and strategies among all the key players of the wireless industry. The time is now for them to open their minds, design new approaches and focus more than ever on delivering customer-centric bundled offerings. This includes changes in systems, business architectures and core processes – and working with a wide range of industry players. As part of this new paradigm, wireless companies should put in place new structures, technology platforms, collaboration models and more. Customer-centric bundles form the core framework for transformation. Companies must think in terms of products yet also bundles designed to optimize the consumer experience.
They also should create infrastructure in the cloud computing arena and build associated software, such as creating mobile handset application stores, content stores, building user analytics and tying this with advertisements and other revenue channels. Also, handset manufacturers need to enhance software platforms so the devices can leverage these new capabilities. Furthermore, such companies must now manage more than just the creation of software running on a device; their domain now must integrate the devices, content, cloud computing and user controls.
Succeeding in this broader ecosystem requires new competencies. These include designing a product as a comprehensive service bundle, collecting and analyzing customer data to create more personalized services and connecting bundles to company processes. New business models are also required to attract and enable third-party developers. Wireless companies will need to expand their portfolio far beyond what they are currently capable of.
They should do all this while mindful of the fact that within the nascent 4G market lurks a paradox. It is this: As the development and technical environments become increasingly complex, companies must simplify their offerings and design service bundles that offer a compelling and easy-to-use consumer experience at reduced prices.
To date, there are a few examples where wireless companies have already started this new type of bundling. One is a portable music player that has been transformed into a multifunction product that integrates Internet services and the ability to install applications such as games and utilities. Another combines online gaming networks, shopping services and video delivery services, including movies, sports and other entertainment programming. The goal of bundling is to lower research and development costs and generate higher revenues for all participating partners involved.
The link between all elements of the consumer-centric bundling model should be product software. And open, collaborative software development requires clear understanding of the value that a company can contribute and the expected rewards in return. Associations and organizations that have defined this better are well positioned to drive software development trends and create new business levers for the wireless industry. In addition to software, a number of additional requirements are necessary to make these end-to-end bundles deliver the promise of 4G. They include:
• developing a feature-rich, optimized platform;
• creating and delivering “wow” user experiences;
• creating and distributing high definition content;
• designing “cooler” applications and services; and,
• eliminating complexity and the cost of software research and development.
Collaborative open models, as opposed to closed, proprietary wireless systems, are also paramount. Such open models enable:
• differentiation through user experience and innovative features;
• provision and promotion of application stores to sell content, applications and web 2.0 services;
• management and leveraging of complementary ecosystem; and,
• sharing of rewards with the community.
There are numerous steps wireless companies should embrace to construct this end-to-end bundling model. They include understanding the complete customer experience, defining a build-buy-partner strategy to create the ecosystem and considering adaptive software and services that learn and adapt to user preferences.
4G is the wireless industry’s next frontier. Mobile handset manufacturers need to move toward this bundled service approach. And they can only get there if they harness the right mix of networks, devices, services and handset control panels.
Abhijit Kabra is a senior executive leading Accenture’s embedded software business and technology initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected].
Filed Under: Infrastructure