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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Belgian MNO tries app-specific zero rating - bad idea in my view

Mobistar in Belgium has started offering a plan which gives users zero-rated Facebook, Twitter and Netlog (a local social network), as well as free access to its own mobistar.be domain. (These sites are actually fair-use capped at 1GB data per month).

[Hat-tip for this to Samira Zafar who mentioned it on one of LinkedIn's discussion forums on Net Neutrality]

Details are at http://www.mobistar.be/fr/offre/mobile/cartes-rechargeables/tempotribe

I think that this will backfire spectacularly on the company. Their terms & conditions (run through Google Translate) says:

Unlimited surfing on Facebook, Twitter and Netlog is only valid in Belgium and corresponds to a volume of 1 GB maximum.

Surfing is for free surfing on mobile sites official Facebook, Netlog and Twitter for:

• Mobistar's mobile portal (m.mobistar.be)
• The official URL such as http://m.facebook.com , http://m.netlog.be , http://mobile.twitter.com
• applications of these official sites

The unofficial applications are not included in this option.

Links, pictures and content to external URLs has Facebook, Twitter and Netlog will be charged at the normal rate of a session Mobile Mail & Surf.

So in other words, if you use the Facebook app, and a friend links to a web-page or video which renders *inside the app* (ie with the blue banner still across the top), then you get charged extra. For me and I expect many other user's, that's part of the experience of using Facebook. Not only that, but in Facebook (certainly on the iPhone app) you don't always know if someone is sharing something on-site (eg a group page or note or picture) or off-site.

Furthermore, Facebook is now allowing its own-hosted videos to play inside the app - so where does that fit? And what happens when Facebook updates the app with new features (let's say, proxying bits of the web through itself)? Especially if it's only on some OS's, or some updated versions? Or if FB decides to route bits of its own content (pictures, lets say) through a new CDN with a different set of URLs? There are so many potential "gotchas" here it's amazing.

Then there's this official / unofficial app business. I seem to recall that Twitter has acquired half the "unofficial" apps like Tweetdeck, so presumably they are now official? Or not? Who knows? Then there's the chance that twitter.com gets fired up in the browser rather than an app (perhaps because there's a link in an email) and it defaults to the PC version rather than m.twitter .

I also have my doubts that the Belgian representatives of Facebook and Twitter (if they're actively being involved) are privy to new and upcoming features, or changes in the way the apps work - let's say, adding HTTPS encryption, for example. The list of hiccups and chances for both false-positives and false-negatives is huge.

Never mind Net Neutrality (which is a separate & legitimate concern here as well), this is an absolute minefield for confusion, poor customer service & complaints.

Could be an interesting case-study though - let's watch the outcome. 

[Speaking of case-studies, this post is another one. I'm not linking it to Twitter, but only driving it via LinkedIn and native / email-subscribers of this blog. The main objective is to divert the flow of people away from Twitter followers to more direct engagement with me via email or LinkedIn. Ultimately, I want to delete my Twitter account, and this is part of the migration process].


Anonymous said...

I don't think this is a major issue. Facebook users that value the zero-rating so much that this offer sounds compelling to them can probably understand when they are inside the offical facebook app and when they are outside of it.

The app shows you the URL when you browse outside of FB, just like Safari.

Regarding Twitter, it seems pretty obvious that this applies to the offical Twitter app, which is just called "Twitter". While it is true that Twitter bought Tweetdeck the average Twitter user sees this as a separate app. Most users probably doesn't even know that Tweetdeck is owned by Twitter.

That being said there will still be instances where the users ends up in one of the corner cases you describe. But the net effect can still be positive. And this is the key argument: It will still be cheaper to user Twitter and Facebook on Belgacom than other operators.

Teen 1: OMG I used Facebook for like 6h today and my prepaid card is just down a few euros!!!!!
Teen 2: WTF LOL! That's sooo cheap!!

Ian Scales said...

Isn't it more likely that once the competition kicks in the chat would go something like:

OMG. I CANT BELIEVE that crappy service makes you pay extra to use Facebook, and if you don't pay you end up getting gouged oa your bill cos they got such a low cap. I've got a service that's just a few euros more per month for the base service so you can access what you like. If it looks like I'm going to go over I just make sure I'm using wifi a bit more often than i usually would.

Shakir Razak said...


I just had to comment on the tidbit of mentioning you were planning on leaving Twitter, OMFG - A person who works in mobile technology industry with the brains and maturity to be able to leave the CB radio of the modern technorati - well done if you do!
(- sorry i just saw an edition of C4 news desperately still hyping it and begging for more followers.)

Nothing to add on the main thrust of the post - I essentially agree, I'd add it doesn't make much sense for the operator if they're playing it straight, as the thing with soc.nets is that they're the main drivers of general data use; However, if they're planning on a bait-and-switch, then unfortunately, I think it might actually be at least successful at the start, unless FB inevitably starts hosting more proprietary content or provides a service such as onavo/proxies.

What it presages though, more worryingly, is the concept of net-neutrality being first attacked on mobile networks with nebulous excuses (yes, I know other MNO's have previosuly done it, but in the current context, and prob. without some sort of partnership/affinity deal with the effected web-services).

Yours kindly,

Shakir Razak