Many in the industry are discussing how best to monetise over-the-top services to the satisfaction of the providers and mobile operators. While both sides recognise the importance of each other, a mutually beneficial business model still seems far out of reach.
One of the more notable OTT messaging providers, WhatsApp, has decided to revamp its approach. The company is asking its Android-based users who have exceeded their 12 months of free service to sign a licence for one, three, or five years, with increasing levels of discount for a longer commitment.
This shift, which seems to leave iPhone users of WhatsApp only paying a one-time fee of $0.99, is said to have caused disquiet among the many millions of Android WhatsApp users.
To make matters worse, the company is asking users to pay for their subscriptions by entering their credit card details, which caused further worries, resulting in WhatsApp doing an about-face and enabling payments via PayPal or Google Wallet.
Altogether, this was a somewhat clumsy approach to customer relationships and, if rumours are to be believed, one that has seen interest in Line--a rival to WhatsApp--become the most downloaded free app from Google Play.
Whether WhatsApp's attempt to move to a subscription model will be mimicked by other OTT providers is unclear, apart from the fact they cannot survive without adopting this approach, carrying advertising, or partnering with operators.
Meantime, and albeit years late, the GSMA's Joyn platform is starting to gain traction. While Joyn provides more than simple messaging, the overwhelming strength of its proposition is open interoperability, the principle cause for the success behind GSM.
Germany might become the bellwether for the technology, given that Deutsche Telekom has now joined Vodafone by offering the service, with Telefónica's O2 also planning to launch Joyn in the market later this year.
At this point the service will then be available to over 80 per cent of all mobile customers in Germany, where interoperability starts to become a major driver to success, and a counterbalance against many of the currently popular OTT messaging services.
Of note, Joyn offers much higher security compared to rivals like WhatsApp, which has recently been investigated by several telecom regulators for violating international privacy laws, and Deutsche Telekom is confident that smartphone vendors such as Samsung Electronics, HTC and Nokia are set to embed Joyn in future models.
DT has also said that Joyn services will enable its subscribers to chat and use file transfer functions at no additional charge to customers on tariffs that include a data or SMS flat rate bundle.
If the operators make the effort to promote and develop Joyn in a professional manner, and generate consumer enthusiasm, the OTT battleground could turn in their favour, although this will only be the very beginnings of a long war.--Paul