Operators are not jumping on Joyn, but what other options do they have?

Recent developments in the over-the-top (OTT) messaging arena indicate that operators are still trying to establish the best way of approaching this somewhat tricky area. That they have to find a way to deal with competing OTT players such as Apple, WhatsApp, Skype and others is now well established because of the impact on revenue, but clearly it's far from easy to chart a course in the OTT waters.

The supposed solution to operators' OTT woes has been Joyn, the Rich Communications Suite-enhanced (RCS-e) communications initiative of the GSMA. However, recent research is now suggesting that a sizeable 29 per cent of operators do not believe that Joyn will help them compete with messaging service providers, largely because it has been so slow to get off the ground.

A survey carried out among 40 operators and MVNOs by research company mobilesquared on behalf of Tyntec (which, it must be pointed out, has a vested interest here as it partners with operators to help them generate revenues from off-net access provided to OTT) also revealed that only 7 per cent of mobile operators now believe Joyn is the solution to combat the OTT threat, while 36 per cent are uncertain what impact Joyn will have on their ability to compete with OTT players.

In essence, operators think that Joyn will only work if it is a global offering, with all operators signed up to the scheme. Operators themselves do not seem to believe this will happen.

But what other options do operators have? Telefónica's recent decision to abandon its Tu Me OTT messaging app in order to focus on Tu Go, a unified communications service that is currently only available in the UK, sent out signals that operators are also finding it tough to develop their own approaches. Indeed, Tu Go--a free app that enables O2 customers in the UK to make and receive calls, texts and voicemail from their existing O2 number--does not have many of the attractive OTT capabilities of Tu Me, such as video calling or messaging features.

As pointed out by a report from Current Analysis, "carriers playing in the OTT space with their own messaging apps are not stemming the competition."

The Tyntec survey also revealed that WhatsApp is seen as posing the greatest threat by 36 per cent of operators; the messaging app now has 300 million active users. Google and Facebook each received 21 per cent of mobile operators' responses in terms of the greatest threat, followed by Apple with 14 per cent. Skype only attracted 7 per cent of mobile operator responses, however.

The ultimate solution for operators could simply be to partner with OTT players; indeed the Tyntec research notes that 36 per cent of mobile operators are now partnering with OTT providers, up from 32 per cent in 2012. Operators have also been offering unlimited voice calls and texts to consumers in an effort to dissuade them from using free messaging apps.

But while many operators may favour the partnership route, bowing to the might of the OTT players and throwing in their lot with WhatsApp et. al., some will be reluctant to give up their own strategies, and of course Joyn is still being rolled out and cannot be written off quite yet. Telefónica is still pursuing OTT unified communicationss for consumers with Tu Go, while Orange has developed Libon and clearly still has some big ambitions for this free OTT messaging app.

As the saying goes, watch this space.--Anne

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