Communications service providers once the center of the customer's world have awoken to the new reality - social and apps are the new hub. In fact, Facebook, Twitter and a wave of other social networks have fully overtaken the telephone number as the primary method of communicating among many - especially younger users. Then there are the the OTT VoIP and video vendors such as Skype. The telephone number has gone from being a protected client relationship to an afterthought. Even the bright spot related to phone numbers - massive texting revenue has recently been eroded by OTT apps like WhatsApp and even iOS messaging which seamlessly takes text messages off the operator network.
Enter IPgallery, a company playing in the IP communications carrier space for over a decade who wants to help service providers become the focal point of this brave new world of social and apps. Their suggestion is to provide customers with a social communications and hosted-PBX solution which integrates so seamlessly with popular web-based servies that users will rarely need to leave the comfort of the environment. An HTML5 interface allows a cloud-based service to tap into APIs of a slew of other companies to provide social, mapping and just about anything else a user can think of.
Just like a person might use HootSuite as a central hub to interface with numerous social networks, IPgallery helps carriers provide customized user interfaces which they believe are captivating enough to keep consumers living inside them.
Consumers for their part have shown a willingness to spend huge amounts off time interfacing with specific services such as Facebook. In fact, companies are tripping over themselves to have users interact with them on the world's most-popular social network. Carriers have a shot to get control back by providing customers with a user interface worth "living in."
In addition, they can add services such as shopping and entertainment and even combine location information to provide compelling applications which rival those of the OTT world. As carrier information is even richer than what is available to typical smart phone applications, they can actually provide better services than consumers can get elsewhere.
At Mobile World Congress in 2013 the Israeli company showed me an app they wrote which accesses Facebook and Maps and provides the photos of friends on their actual locations on a map. A user can select one or more friends and start a group communication, complete with file sharing and collaboration.
There is a great deal more - such as integrated e-learning, a hosted PBX with separate skins and functionality broken out by department such as accounting or sales. Finally, operators can add functionality by providing cloud-storage which could be used to hold content which is shared between users on the system.
IPgallery functions as part software/integration vendor and part systems-integrator, working with carriers the world-over to develop solutions which they need in their particular markets. This allows carriers to focus on their core competency while taking advantage of best-practices being developed by other service providers.
We often hear of discussion revolving around whether carriers are ok just being "dumb pipe" providers and regardless of the answer, there is definite value in owning the home page of the customer's world. Amazon has used this prime real estate to successfully push Kindle devices and Google uses it to push its Chrome OS, tablets and other devices.
Perhaps the better question is - what are the benefits from being the gateway to your customer's online activities including social, commerce and shopping? The answer of course is increased revenue and flexibility. And as service providers grapple with stagnant to lower ARPU and increasing network costs as they upgrade to 4G and beyond, exploring new revenue opportunities which could also reduce churn seems to make a lot of sense.