Operators need to take action and stop whingeing about OTT

The recent Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, included both the familiar and the unfamiliar. The former was operators yet again lambasting telecoms regulators over the harsh regime they have imposed--and the vitriol was largely aimed at European officials that operators believe are significantly limiting their ability to invest.

This tune has been played many times at MWC in the past, with the howls of annoyance increasing as the regulators have tightened the screws on the mobile operator industry.

The unfamiliar aspect--apart from MWC moving to a new location in Barcelona devoid of adequate public transport to cope with the 70,000 attendees--was the sight of operators jumping through hoops in an attempt to find new business models.

The common theme at the show was moving from today's 'platform provider' to being a 'services provider' – a concept that is typically illustrated using overly-complex slideware, but is significantly less easy to implement.

A point emphasised by a senior AT&T executive at a private session where he recounted the changes his company is undergoing in an attempt to move away from being a telecoms pipe.

Conference sessions saw other operators proclaiming ambitious plans to start this transformation to a provider of services. This intent came from all types of operators, from the mighty NTT DoCoMo down to relative minnows in emerging markets.

But at the centre of this debate is how operators will partner with OTT providers. Once again, views ranged from operators taking minority holdings in app developers and content providers, to some of the larger operators claiming they would build their own array of services--a strategy that has been attempted in the past, and spectacularly failed.

I guess the encouraging aspect of this scramble to reshape their business models is that there seems some real, if somewhat haphazard, intent to move forward with some urgency.

But MWC is becoming a difficult event to fully quantify. The array of exhibitors spanned from giant car manufacturers and software companies to global infrastructure and handset vendors to hundreds of smaller firms.

Can the industry continue to grow? The venue certainly has the space to accommodate growth, but the surrounding transport infrastructure needs a dramatic overhaul first .- Paul