Viewpoint: Stacking up the social net business case

By Maarten Mes of one2many

The inexorable rise of social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter has put mobile phone operators between something of a rock and a hard place. Mobile social networking is not that profitable for operators and can have serious impacts on the performance of the overall network, but to ignore it is no longer an option.
So great is the desire to be able to log on to social networks while on the go, that the availability of such services on an operator’s network has become something of a deal-maker or breaker for subscribers.

Under strain

The delivery of such services has recently been put into question by the increased use of data capping by operators. The networks in use today are straining to cope with the huge capacity demands being made of them by users keen to consume a greater array of services. The situation has caused many operators to end ‘all you can eat’ data tariffs in an attempt to reduce the amount of data being carried over their networks.

Such moves, however, risk upsetting existing customers and can lead to customer churn. The ideal solution is to relieve the burden on the network while still providing access to a full range of services.

There are ways in which operators can continue to offer access to social network sites without overburdening the data channel and without needing to invest in additional technology. The first step is to replace SMS as the primary tool for status updates and inbound communications from a user’s network.

No business case

The issue for operators is that, delivered over SMS, the business case for mobile social networking does not stack up. If a user posts a Twitter message, for example, individual SMS messages need to be sent to all of that person’s ‘followers’, an inelegant and costly method. Operators, failing to see any revenue increase from offering these services are now considering how they can be restructured to ensure real return.

Cell broadcast can help them to do this. Cell broadcast technology, already built in to operator networks, offers a non-intrusive, real time service of distributing text messages and binary content to mobile handsets, specific to their current location. Cell broadcast is capable of broadcasting one single message to reach all mobile handsets in an area as small as one radio cell and as big as an entire country. Sending a message to millions of handsets takes a matter of seconds.

It thereby enables user-generated content to be broadcast with location relevance without the need to install costly GPS or LBS capabilities into the network. User content can moreover be sent to operators via a premium rate number, generating further revenue for the operator with each use. One received by the operator the content can be broadcast to all users in a given location signed up to a particular channel. This enables value-add applications such as dating, community and classified services.

Minimal impact

Importantly, cell broadcast has a minimal impact on the network. In addition to the fact that it can send a single message to millions of handsets with no additional capacity being used on the network, it also uses a separate and dedicated channel on the network. This means that using cell broadcast to carry social media interactions actually has a reductive effect on the amount of data being sent over the data channel of operators’ networks. This is due to the fact that all social media messaging would be removed from the data channel, freeing this up for other activities such as internet use and music downloads.

Cell broadcast is an ideal fit for microblogging and social network messaging. It enables all the location-aware services users require while at the same time reducing the cost of delivering these services for the operators. Most importantly it provides another means operators can use to reduce network congestion and ensure they can offer a high end user experience on all their data services.

Maarten Mes is managing director of one2many


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