Olympics 2012 – Are CSPs going for gold?

gold medalBy Teresa Cottam, Research and Publications Director at Telesperience

In less than eight months the Olympic flame will reach London, marking the start of the XXX Olympiad. However, it’s not just the athletes that need to reach a peak of performance in time for the Games. Communications service providers (CSPs) – both fixed, mobile and broadband – face enormous challenges on so many levels in order to cope with increases in traffic, as well as maximizing the opportunities presented.

This event is a milestone in communications evolution: the first m-Olympiad.  The first time that the majority of UK citizens, visitors and athletes will be equipped with “performance-enhancing” smart phones.

Why is this important? Well we know that smart phones change the way customers behave: Ofcom recently revealed research that showed smart phone customers leave their phone on longer, use it more and they say they are “more addicted” to their phone. In case you hadn’t noticed, manufacturers have also begun incorporating fantastic cameras from the likes of Zeiss and Olympus into these phones, which enable visitors to not only take pictures or video of themselves outside Buckingham Palace, of Tom Daly’s dives, or even of their hotel room, but to upload these to Facebook or send them to everyone they know. Some estimates say that watching and sharing video and pictures – both professional footage and user-generated – will make up around 80% of the traffic volume expected during the Games.

The problem is that UK CSPs have two seemingly conflicting challenges. The first is that they need to maintain network quality in the face of what could be unpredictable and unprecedented demand in order to protect their brand values. The second is that they need to optimise the revenue-generating and brand-enhancing opportunities presented. Currently, they are very much focused on the first of these challenges, and to a large extent their approach is defensive and network-centric. However, if they can think more strategically and use the right BSS approach then these challenges do not have to be contradictory or conflicting – in fact they can deliver against both.

To understand how this can work let’s consider roaming as an example. During July to early August 2012 over one million extra visitors (or as we like to call them “roamers”) will appear on UK networks – largely in the South East. CSPs can wait and see what happens and try to attract some of this business in the traditional manner by luring them with a strong signal at ports and airports. Or they could try something different.

There’s a great opportunity to target these roamers with special Olympic service plans before they reach the UK – of course that means working proactively with partner CSPs to do this. These service plans can be carefully designed to offer the certainty that roamers desire – including controls, advice to help prevent billshock, and suitable tariffs – along with a package of services that follow the Olympic theme and cater to the needs of international visitors. At the same time, these service plans can help to deliver more predictability to CSPs since they will know how many visitors have signed up to them and what their likely usage will be, and CSPs can use this insight to design and manage capacity, while also using the design of the plans to proactively shape traffic and flatten usage peaks.

Let me explain how this could work. The UK busy period is between 6pm and 9pm in the evening (local). However, the best time for roamers to call home or to upload video may be later than this – the US, for example, is +5 hours to +8 hours behind the UK. This means 6pm on the East Coast is 11pm UK local. Encouraging US roamers to call home after 11pm GMT by offering cheaper tariffs to the US between 11pm GMT and 8am GMT would help take the strain off the networks during the busiest hours in the UK, but also meets the needs of US roamers. Offering different tariffs for uploading movies and photos according to the time of day, or the load on the network, makes both operational and commercial sense. The ability to offer a choice of rates and premium services such as “bandwidth boosts” or higher levels of QoS will also appeal to some customers, while linking charges more closely to the capacity required to deliver them. It’s important to remember that in the UK, differentiated QoS is not so controversial as in the US, since it’s associated primarily with customer choice – something we’re pretty keen on over here.

Services can also be used to a similar effect. Bundling SMS or MMS into the service plan, or offering cheaper downloading or uploading between 11pm-8am can help manage traffic (as SMSCs can store SMS during heavy load periods) and proactively shift some of it to offpeak periods, while also delighting customers with cheaper tariffs.

In short, there is so much we can do. The technology is already available to do it, including of course policy and charging. The question is do we have the vision to move from being so defensive and, as we say here in the UK, on “the back foot”, to being proactive and “putting our best foot forward”. Only by tackling this opportunity in a positive manner will we both defend and optimize our brands and the opportunity presented. The Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes once said: “If you dream and you allow yourself to dream you can do anything.” That’s the real Olympic challenge for CSPs both inside and outside the UK: will they passively accept the opportunities provided by the Olympics or can they “dream” big enough thoughts to accelerate and optimize these opportunities? Is a bronze medal good enough for them, or will they take the chance to go for gold?

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