For mobile network operators (MNOs), a pair of converging trends is presenting unprecedented challenges and opportunities to grow their businesses. First, broader deployment of LTE and 4G-enabled devices enable MNOs to accelerate the return on their mobile broadband network investment and deliver new, innovative mobile unified communications (UC) applications alongside voice to enterprise end-users. Second, an increasingly mobile workforce now demands a consumer-grade communications experience that matches what they have come to expect on their tablet, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices.
The ability to deliver videoconferencing, web collaboration, instant messaging and presence management, and other in-demand UC services to an enterprise end-user's preferred mobile device is proving critical for MNOs and service providers seeking to combat the growing threat posed by over-the-top (OTT) players such as Apple and Google that are chomping at the bit to seize mobile subscribers and revenues. Many hold the perception that it is a matter of when, not if, enterprises and consumers will turn to OTT providers – first for mobile unified communications and eventually, even for MNOs bread-and-butter – voice.
The BroadSoft 2011 Mobile Enterprise of the Future Survey, conducted by Cohen Research Group, gathered input from 200 IT leaders in the United States and 200 IT leaders in the United Kingdom on trends in enterprise adoption of mobile and unified communications services. Released in November 2011, this survey of IT decision makers (CXOs, VPs, directors) at enterprises of all sizes indicates that it is premature to suggest mobile operators are poorly positioned to be the provider of choice to the mobile enterprise.
Notably, the survey finds that 25 percent of enterprise IT decision makers believe desk phones will be replaced by mobile phones within two years, and 62 percent of IT leaders are expanding their enterprise's UC capabilities. But most encouraging and relevant to mobile operators is that, according to the survey, many enterprises believe their MNO is better positioned than Microsoft, Google or IBM to deliver key UC services such as single voicemail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, unified messaging, voicemail and email integration and extension dialing.
The survey results bring two facts into focus. First, in the eyes of enterprise decision makers, a fully mobile workforce isn't five years away, but is something IT executives expect to evolve over the next 12-24 months. Second, mobile network operators have a compelling, but closing window of opportunity to be the provider of choice when it comes to delivering unified communications services that keep mobile employees connected – indicating MNOs need to act now, before OTT competitors erode their customer base.
To seize this opportunity, MNOs should consider several actions:
• Leverage network ownership – Currently, MNOs hold an advantage with complete control over the network, so forward-thinking MNOs can deliver a superior voice experience compared to OTT voice services; much as 3G voice is better than other options today. But this advantage is not infinite. Many business decision makers are actively exploring non-traditional competitors such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, and there is strong evidence that the companies that enter these markets first will be the ones to capture these profitable ancillary businesses, leaving laggards scraping for leftovers.
• Innovate or perish – The shift from a scarcity of bandwidth to an abundance of bandwidth to handle advanced mobile communications services will open the playing field for a host of new competitors. Consequently, we believe MNOs must condense the innovation cycle for product development from years to months and leverage a cloud delivery model to rapidly roll out new services and applications.
• Do not surrender – MNOs might be tempted to focus on a subset of communications services accessible on an enterprise end-user's mobile device. With a strong history delivering voice communications to enterprises, MNOs are "top of mind" to extend into voice-related services and should not surrender any mobile service that can improve the end-user communications experience or expand revenue and subscriber opportunities.
• As devices multiply, keep experience consistent – Gartner recently stated that: "Enterprises will have to come up with two mobile strategies – one to address the business to employee (B2E) scenario and one to address the business to consumer (B2C) scenario." As the mobile workforce communicates and collaborates with more devices, end-users will expect a consistent experience across all of their communication devices – much as is the case today with email. We believe MNOs must meet end-user expectations and extend this type of experience to other services such as instant messaging, web collaboration and videoconferencing.
Consumer-grade expectations of the mobile workforce are being fueled by a handful of market factors, including the rapid rollout of mobile broadband technologies, growing adoption of cloud services, the explosion of smart devices and the need for a seamless user experience across these devices, as well as an enterprise shift from voice-only to unified communications. It is important that MNOs recognize a strong opportunity exists to meet and exceed these expectations, and use their market position to establish a market leadership position relative to the growing list of formidable competitors.
Scott Hoffpauir is chief technology officer at BroadSoft.