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Ten things to hate about Internet services

This is a jointly edited guest post by the Telco 2.0 team and Keith McMahon, who writes incisive insights over at Telebusillis. Keith strongly feels that network operators are not putting up nearly as good a fight as they could or should be doing in competing with Internet services.

Last month, securities analyst James Enck gave a hammering list of reasons why investors are shy of putting their money into telecom operator stocks. Whilst telcos need to play to their strengths, it is where those strengths are opposed to weaknesses in the Internet players that the biggest opportunities can be seen.

So here are Ten Things to Hate About Internet Services. Some of these problems are derived from issues with the Internet’s architecture, many are about the businesses built on top of the network.

Hard to pay for access and get provisioned. You visit some friends, a client’s office, a coffee shop, an airport lounge. Every time it’s a new challenge to get online. Telco opportunity: take the pain out of payment and provisioning. When you sell a service, make it work every place and device the user needs it, regardless of which network they’re on. Consider the complete user experience, not just the online service delivery.

Beta releases as an excuse for low quality. Why are products rushed out to us guinea pigs? Why are products unstable years after release? How much commitment is there to maintaining and developing each product? Telco opportunity: it’s OK to make rapid incremental innovation, but make your brand stand for services which are complete, solid and integrated.

Proprietary solutions masquerading as open ones - The major applications are “open” only to the extent they provide a trap-door into their closed worlds. MSN IM, Skype, Flash, Google search. Interoperability just does not feature in these companies’ dictionary. Telco opportunity: be more open than the Internet players, and create bigger network effects and more attractive platforms.

Lack of clear ownership of user-generated content - Who owns this entire user created content? Why can you not move it from platform to another? Why can you not back it up? Telco opportunity: be more user-centric than the ‘roach motel’ Internet portals and services. It’s not just “don’t be evil” — be positively angelic. Make portability of data and identity a virtue, not an imposition.

Small feudal kingdoms, capriciously run. Ever built a business on eBay and been thrown off? Where do you complain? Ever been a non-US citizen and wanted to resort to law to protect your rights? Telco opportunity: Don’t just create services, but also the social institutions to support them and regulate their (ab)use. Build true public spaces, not private Disneyesque facsimiles.

Poor multi-language and localisation. Why is multi-language support a second or third or fourth thought? Why does living in California make you feel you understand every global culture and how to service it’s online needs? Telco opportunity: go “glocal” better than the Net — globally available services, tailored to local needs.

Spam, viruses, phishing, 409 scammers. The attitude seems to be a big shrug. Do we see any of the big companies who are making huge profits take a little social responsibility and clean up the Net? Telco opportunity: sell your products based on security, not features.

A new site, another identity. Why do we have to enter usernames, passwords, address, date of birth, and credit card details everywhere we go? Won’t anyone step up to the challenge of providing a real identity solution? Telco opportunity: spread the ability to authenticate using SIM cards, phone numbers, or account credentials to more applications, and be a market-maker for exchange of identity data. What Verisign does for assuring the ownership and identity of servers, telcos can do for users. What Paypal does for hiding your bank and credit card details, telcos can do for the whole of user identity.

Lack of support. If a support line exists, expect the details to be well hidden. Why is deemed completely acceptable never to answer emails, or to promise a response “within 20 working days”? The culture of “free” means you too often get what you pay for. Telco opportunity: focus on the things people truly rely on and care about, and make the quality of the support a differentiator. Make service delivery promises and keep them, don’t hide behind weasel terms that no service guarantees exist.

Advertising everywhere Why are my eyeballs continually polluted? Why is there not a clean option? Telco opportunity: position yourself as the premium alternative. Help users understand the real cost of ‘free’. Let them TiVo the web, skip the ads.

We’re on a roll, so here’s a bonus ball:

The real cost is hidden You have to supply your own equipment, draw on the technical support of friends, spend time researching what applications are compatible with which devices and peripherals and OS. Telco opportunity: take responsibility for making the pieces work together, and market the simplicity of the end result.

There are other analyses of the Internet’s woes, and other prescriptions on how to fix them. In any case, the message to the telco world is straightforward — the Internet world is far from perfect. Instead of thinking of embracing it or surrendering to it, use your own strengths to develop services which improve on the flaws of the current Internet world and solve real user needs.

We will be exploring these issues in more depth in the next Telco 2.0 Quarterly Report, for more details see www.telco2.net.

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I would prefer identify solutions that preserve anomynity, and any telco "single-signon" solution will almost certainly result in a database that tracks me all across the Internet.

That's an impressive list of complaints, and you imagine telcos are going to solve them?

Ah, no, either they're going to be a big enough monopoly to let you suffer, or they're going to be competing and subject to the same constraints as the others who can't solve them.

I'm afraid the bits in italics appear to need to be read while waving some magic IMS wand.

Essentially you're complaining about diversity and offering the solution, if it be one, of Telco homogeneity, safe and warm in the walled garden. Thanks, been there, done that, don't see much improvement recently either.

I'm afraid that for the realm of Lothlorien, the power of the rings of monopoly are fading...

Better service is a great idea but why doesn't anyone do it? It's expensive that's why.

And consumers associate technology with declining prices and increased performance. So they don't want to pay up. They see someone offering the next higher speed for 50% less per month and there they go!

Maybe eventually consumers will appreciate the hidden costs and/or get frustrated with the current system but it's hard to sell better RAS to get a higher price.

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