I have long been of the view that the greatest challenge to operators' hold on mobile value-added services will not necessarily come from Google, Skype and other Internet players. It will come from each other.
The unspoken threat has been that other MNOs could represent the scariest so-called "over the top" risk. That they would decouple access from service, and start providing branded services over *each others* networks and handsets.
In particular, I suggested in June this year that Vodafone's acquisition of Zyb might turn into its attempt to break out beyond the narrow confines of its own access-customer base. This follows on from an early warning last year when it launched a cross-operator Facebook SMS app.
I wrote: "My view is that it's an extremely healthy development - if you're Vodafone, or for that matter NTT DoCoMo or a small mobile operator from Africa, why *shouldn't* you have inhouse-developed cool mobile apps, which you want to make available to everyone, not just people on your own network? Sure, maybe you *optimise* for people who have both access+app from you, but why not distribute your software as widely as possible?"
In a nutshell, I was right. Vodafone 360 is available to everyone, not just Voda access subscribers. It's on PCs, there's a client downloadable to other operators' (or vanilla) Symbian or Java devices, plus there's support for other OSs in the pipeline. Yes, the in-house optimised phones from Samsung and others give a *better* 360 experience, but Vodafone has recognised it has to be available as widely as possible to gain traction.
In a way, this is completely intuitive. Businesses like Facebook can succeed because they are addressable by *all* Internet users, not just those confined to a specific broadband provider. This is the way to gain network effects, scale, loyalty and ubiquity. Why would anyone prefer an operator-specific, walled-garden service? The same is true for music (I'm watching Spotify present right now), video (YouTube) or many other services.
One last comment: Vodafone 360 is not based on IMS or RCS, it's. If at some point that changes, I might revise my views on RCS.
Update: just listened to Voda's Director of Internet Services Marketing on a panel talking about 360. RCS was "going in the right direction, but taking too long".... so they used standard web technologies instead.
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