MTN has called for collaboration between mobile network operators in South Africa, and Over the Top (OTT) players.
OTT content refers to delivery of audio, video, and other media over the Internet without a multiple-system operator being involved in the control or distribution of the content – which can include free services like WhatsApp or Skype.
According to MTN South Africa CEO, Ahmad Farroukh, operators cannot be in complete control of the internet ecosystem while a broadband pipe that lacks appealing content and applications means little to end users.
Addressing delegates at the 17th edition of AfricaCom, in Cape Town, he said mobile network operators and OTT players can either fight off each other, or work in partnership to define access and structure a fair deal for both parties.
“On one hand, we need to stress that there should be no free ride for OTT players, mobile network operators will protect their customer base and revenue streams. Rules of engagement will have to be defined between operators and OTT players,” said Farroukh.
He suggested strategies where operators, for example, charge for value added services and quality of service. “Those that want a premium service will be willing to pay a premium,” he said.
He said that operators need to avoid being forced into the role of providing a “dumb pipe”, investing and providing the infrastructure, but allowing OTT app providers to own the customer and make money in the future.
“Mobile network operators have made substantial capital investment in licensing and spectrum, acquiring and building their customer base and investing in building trusted brands. Operators have been catalysts and economies enablers and have contributed significantly to the fiscal budgets of many economies – all of this not to be shared for free,” said Farroukh.
He pointed out that instant messaging platforms for content, as well as current and enhanced future OTT voice, need mobile super broadband availability. If the current ecosystem does not change; operators will lag behind in providing capacity for this access and then the game plan will change completely.
OTT, sooner or later, will be charging for their services – their current revenues streams predict that, MTN noted.
Farroukh said that if mobile network operators do not get it right with OTT, they will become like the incumbent fixed networks that they themselves, the mobile operators, neutralized along the years.
He said that operators’ strategies are likely to contain a combination of their own OTT services and partnerships with third parties.
“Rules of engagement will have to be defined between operators and OTT players. Mobile network operators and OTT players should work together for their mutual benefit and for the benefit of their shared stakeholder – the end user,” Farroukh said.