By Todd Carothers, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Products at CounterPath

As Whatsapp finally gets around to launching its much-anticipated voice service, and more and more operators prepare to become best of frenemies with rival internet app providers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the telco battle against OTT services had been lost. You’d be wrong.

There’s a growing sentiment among the carriers and operators that I speak with that getting into a committed relationship with the Whatsapps and Facebooks of this world is a definite opportunity for the future, rather than now.

Despite having wiped out vast swathes of telco revenues, the idea of suddenly partnering with an OTT beast is an understandable reaction.

The truth is that these remain uneasy and experimental alliances, and truly symbiotic relationships remain far off.

On a practical level, there are sticky contractual problems, unproven revenue models and arduous BSS/OSS technology challenges that stand in the way of productive collaboration that’s mutually beneficial for both OTT provider and telco (the latter being especially anxious to avoid being turned into the dreaded “dumb pipe” as a consequence).

There is a lot to be done, and, while it is, telcos face the more expedient problem of shoring up traditional voice and data revenues with a compelling set of service offerings that are flexible yet robust enough to assure survival.

Both the immediate and long-term success of carrier revenue models in this new digital world therefore can’t rest solely with the aspirational outcome of sleeping with the enemy.

Inaction is not an option, so instead many are considering a combination of strategies: innovation, disruption and collaborating with an OTT player/s.

Whilst some operators iron out the creases of new engagement models with OTT players, consuming their resources on playing out various forms of collaboration strategies in the next year, the way is clear for others to innovate and disrupt.

In doing so you’d be following in the footsteps of many that are reaping the benefits that their own voice and video over Wi-Fi, rich presence and messaging apps are delivering to customers and their bottom line.

TuGo from Telefonica, Orange’s Libon, Rogers One Number in Canada… There are plenty of examples that prove there is life in the operator-owned app model yet.

We all know consumers are seeking out innovative, low cost comms apps with great experiences; the very attributes telcos lacked in the face of the initial OTT blitzkrieg.

Cost, time to market, speed of innovation and complexities in integration remain the perceived enemy of telco-owned OTT strategies, even though technologies and mindsets are unrecognisable from three years ago and speed is increasingly on the operator’s side.

Traditional infrastructure and service deployment challenges are now mitigated by advances in rapidly and successfully developing own-branded apps that reduce churn to OTT players, enhance loyalty and boost retention.

Those operators proving that they can go OTT themselves, deliver a user experience that does more than rival OTT providers; they offer superior service agility, speed and genuine feature enrichment.

So, whilst collaboration with the OTT cabal looms on tomorrow’s horizon, it’s still so important to commit to a strategy of innovation and disruption for today.

It may well be worth remembering the old adage ‘don’t hand over your last weapon until you are certain you’ve lost the war’.

Many operators don’t just have plenty to still fight for – many are still winning.

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