How advanced messaging provides operators in emerging markets a competitive edge
With a subscriber base skyrocketing past 400 million and mobile penetration rates on the rise, Africa represents one of the world's most dynamic, fast-growing mobile markets.
Competition between operators in this region is stiff, with a few countries hosting to up to eight different providers. Furthermore, 90% of subscriptions in Africa are prepaid, which makes it easy for users to swap their SIM - and their cash - to a competing provider at any time, for any reason.
Retaining customers and gaining new ones is, first and foremost, dependent on an operator's ability to deliver the legacy mobile solutions their subscribers demand both at home and while roaming on other networks. But if African operators want to stand out in the crowd, they must keep an eye on industry trends. They must be able to quickly add new offerings and evolve current ones to keep up with ever-changing and ever-demanding subscriber needs, all without sacrificing service quality.
Messaging can meet this requirement. The key is finding a differentiator.
The fact that SMS is one of the most popular communication methods in Africa is well known. What is news is that mobile messaging is quickly moving beyond the traditional 160-character text message into new advanced messaging technologies that represent some of the greatest opportunities for operators to establish customer loyalty.
At the forefront of this advanced messaging evolution is instant messaging (IM), which is wildly popular among fixed-PC users and is making its mark beyond the wired world. In fact, mobile IM is expected to reach 867 million users and become a $9.9 billion business worldwide by 2013.
In addition to mobile IM, advanced messaging incorporates a number of other elements, including presence. This creates heightened real-time user interactivity by enabling subscribers to post status updates that indicate what they are doing and the best method to contact them. Additionally, presence opens the door for new mobile services and applications, such as social networking, content sharing and targeted mobile marketing, to name a few.
While African operators stand to benefit from providing subscribers with these new messaging capabilities along with legacy SMS and MMS, the true value of advanced messaging can only be realised when the individual message types can interoperate.
Achieving transparent message delivery is no easy task as it presents a myriad of business and technical complexities.
Breaking the barriers
One way operators can overcome these challenges is by utilising an advanced messaging hub. Similar to voice and data connectivity hubs, the core concept of an advanced messaging hub is simplicity, enabling interworking across formats, devices, platforms and more to facilitate intelligent handling of all types of messages. For example, if a subscriber sends an IM from his or her mobile device to a user with an older model that doesn't have IM capabilities, the hub will automatically convert that message into an SMS format to which the recipient can read and respond. The hub handles the conversion process, which is transparent to end users and does not require the operator to install new software on its servers or subscribers to purchase new devices.
Implementation via an advanced messaging hub is quite simple, requiring an operator to establish only a single connection to the hub to achieve full functionality and interoperability. Instead of spending valuable time and money developing and managing technology and business relationships, operators are able to focus on improving service quality and the myriad of other tasks that are required for their operations.
Advanced messaging will have a profound impact on the African mobile market in the near rather than the far future. What's essential to remember is that no matter what approach they take, African operators that are able to simplify the messaging landscape for their subscribers are the ones who will be most successful at winning customers away from competitors. We believe the time is now for these players to prepare themselves to capitalise on the significant opportunities unveiled by the next generation of messaging.
Eugene Bergen-Henegouwen is the EMEA region's executive vice president of Syniverse Technologies, a company that specializes in mobile messaging.