|Issue:||Europe I 2016|
|Topic:||Riding the smartphone surge for a superior cloud-enabled user experience|
|Title:||EVP & President, International|
|Organisation:||Synchronoss Technologies Inc.|
Chris Halbard serves as EVP and President, International at Synchronoss.
In his role, Chris will lead the direction and execution of the company’s international business development initiatives and operations. Specifically, he will be responsible for driving global growth and international sales initiatives.
Prior to joining Synchronoss, Chris was a Senior Advisor to The Boston Consulting Group serving clients within the technology, media and telecommunications industries. Previously, he was the COO and CFO of the Global Services division of British Telecom plc (BT). Prior to British Telecom, Chris held a number of senior positions at Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Arthur Andersen & Co.
Based in London, Chris is a qualified Chartered Accountant and received his BA HONS in Economics and Business Studies from The University of Sheffield.
In Europe, smartphones are more popular than ever. So too is mobile data. How can communication service providers deliver more value to their subscribers in today’s smartphone-focused, data-first world? The answer is in the evolution of personal cloud services.
The smartphone surge
The smartphone juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down in Europe. In the second quarter of 2015, Apple iOS returned to growth across Europe’s five largest countries, recording its first year-on-year gain in France since February 2015. According to media reports, Apple has asked suppliers to manufacture between 85 and 90 million units of two new forthcoming iPhone models by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, in its latest smartphone report (August 2015), research firm IDC reports over 341.5 million smartphone shipments worldwide in the second quarter of 2015, up nearly 13% from 2Q14. According to CCS Insight, sales in Western Europe are close to saturation and are poised to peak in 2017; however research firm Gartner highlights Eastern Europe as one of the fastest-growing regions in Q2 2015. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are proving a popular choice in mature Western European markets for consumers replacing older devices. The increasingly affordable iPhone 5c is also bringing in new customers, with the rumoured release of the 6c likely to generate similar interest.
More mobile data
As more people worldwide upgrade to smartphones, the volume of mobile data they use is increasing: according to Gartner, this year global mobile data traffic will reach 52 million terabytes (TB) – a rise of 59 percent from 2014. This rapid growth is set to continue through 2018, when Gartner estimates mobile data will reach 173 million TB.
The many functions and features that handset makers cram into our devices – hi-res cameras, video playback, bigger HD screens, WiFi connectivity – make them ideal for, firstly, creating our own user-generated content, and also for consuming a vast range of additional content from third parties.
More users are taking more photos, sending more messages, shooting more video and consuming more media on their phones. And when the time comes to replace their trusty handset, they don’t want to lose all this data: they want it safe and secure on their new phone, accessible there and then.
Personal Cloud services were originally created by operators as a means of helping their customers store and secure content, and enable them to sync it from device to device to ensure content is continually accessible. These capabilities have subsequently led to operators offering a certain amount of cloud storage capacity for free with every new connected device activated. The reality today is that most major tier one operators in developed markets offer these personal cloud services to their customers and the amount of free storage capacity offered will gradually increase.
The OTT threat
But while the growth of user content has proved to be an effective way for operators to 'seed the cloud’ and retain subscribers, the ability for operators to offer one dimensional storage services to customers is quickly becoming a commodity. In fact, some see greater smartphone uptake as the latest development to push operators further down the telecoms value chain and further away from their customers.
In particular, consumer tech brands and OTT service providers like Apple, Whatsapp, Google and Dropbox have been attempting to seize mindshare and brand awareness, with the aim of eroding operators’ relationships with subscribers – and their bottom lines. There is an assumption now that users immediately think of Google Drive, iCloud or Dropbox as the preferred location when considering where to back up and store the content on their phone.
But let’s remember that mobile operators have built their businesses over the last 25 years by providing trusted and highly secure transport networks – firstly for voice, but latterly for data. The above assumption overlooks two crucial technical advantages that mobile operators have over their rivals – the ability to firstly, connect to and support multiple device types, screens, and Operating Systems securely and at scale: and secondly, the means to connect users to their content and data wherever they are, wirelessly, on whatever device they’re using.
However the competition posed by OTTs means it is time for operators to take their personal cloud capabilities to the next level. Particularly if you consider how much personal cloud services can teach an operator about its customers’ behaviour and preferences, a failure to evolve further could look very short sighted. It is this continual secure access to content, irrespective of device type, that is the key in the evolutions of operator cloud services.
Multiple devices, multiple connections
In its last Mobility Report (June 2015), Ericsson predicts that in developed, mature markets like Western Europe in particular, growth between now and 2020 will come from individual users owning an increasing number of devices. Not just a smartphone, but also a tablet, home PC – perhaps even a connected car.
What if a user, having downloaded a video on their Android tablet or Smart TV at home, then wants to watch it on their iPhone during their morning commute? Will they need to configure their various devices themselves in order to access their content? Or is it more straightforward to let their operator deal with these complex cross-device, cross-connectivity issues instead? After all, operators are already trusted by their subscribers to provide a reliable and secure service.
Viewed in these terms, the global smartphone surge plus subscribers’ data appetite actually represents a significant opportunity for operators to take back some of the ground lost to rival providers and reassert themselves in the telecoms value chain. In particular, it is an opportunity for operators to show their deep customer understanding, and begin to offer subscribers even more relevant ways of accessing their content, and provide context to that content and their interaction with it.
Cloud as catalyst
By using personal cloud services to firstly, simplify and speed up the handset upgrade process for their customers, operators can again add value in a new way and play that meaningful role in their customers’ mobile lives. For operators, this meaningful role isn’t just about data, files and storage. It’s not even just about smartphones and other connected devices. It’s about screens and sharing: that is, giving users the means to access their data and content across multiple screens – their phone, their tablet, their PC, their smart TV at home, their connected car.
Operators are beginning to realise that in order to drive consumer engagement for personal cloud services they need to increase levels of convenience and accessibility in relation to their customers’ content. In the first instance, this has led operators to provide access to centrally held content across any device, anytime, anywhere. This has been a critical component in helping consumers benefit from a truly connected life by syncing content across smartphones, tablets, wearable technology, connected cars and the connected home.
Be the enabler
The ultimate goal for operators is the ability to take all the information that an operator knows about its customer to create an individual “digital profile”.
Operators can go further in reclaiming the user experience from their OTT rivals by assuming the pivotal “enabling” role for providing all cloud content to their users. The operator can use the cloud as a secure hub to gather, store and analyse subscriber data – user contacts, content, calendar, location, transaction history. This hub will establish and securely curate a unique digital profile for each of their subscribers that gathers together their personal information to act as their identity in the cloud, and which then follows them from device to device and from screen to screen. This operator-enabled digital profile allows the consumer to securely access the content that is most relevant in a way that is most convenient to them at that particular moment, and also allows the operator to provide context via analytics to that content.
With this digital profile in place, the operator can then add extra context and relevance to whatever cloud-based service or content that their subscriber wishes to access - according to what device they’re using, their account settings and preferences, their location and so on. This digital profile provides an opportunity for operators to revolutionise the customer experience by giving subscribers even more choice, while also leveraging personal cloud services to generate extra revenue. Here are two anecdotal examples:
• You’re driving in your car and it’s nearly lunchtime. The operator uses your location to identify restaurants either immediately nearby, or close to your final destination: it references your credit card payment history to see what your preferences are (e.g.: Mexican, Thai, modern European) and chooses a shortlist of suitable restaurants for you to choose from. It then provides directions on how to reach each one from your current location.
• You’re out of the house when you receive a notification on your smartphone that your children at home want to purchase and watch a film on the connected TV. The notification gives you information on the film in question, plus the choice to disable the parental lock. It then automatically charges the cost of the film to your service account or credit card.
In this way, the cloud becomes the foundation for operators to not only deliver an enhanced user experience and a deeper customer understanding, but to expand their own ecosystem of features and services, through revenue-share partnerships with content and media companies, other service providers and merchants. This can be constantly updated and leveraged to create contextually relevant and valued offers and services to each individual.
The emergence of this operator-led personal cloud technology places operators at the heart of a potentially lucrative value chain and draw upon their key assets: strong existing customer trust, the ability to deliver services at scale, business longevity and security best practice. This will all be critical in preventing the ceding of further competitive advantage to OTT providers.