Playing the Mobile Data Game

Next Generation Communications Blog

Playing the Mobile Data Game

If the 'price is right,' operators could win in mobile data.

By Cassidy Shield, Head of Global Solutions Marketing for Content, Cloud, and Communications, Alcatel-Lucent

I am bullish on the mobile broadband opportunity and pro mobile data share plans as an innovative approach to data pricing.  With that said, the irony of mobile data sharing plans is that you're not really sharing anything. Sure, multiple devices can pull from the same data pool, but there's no exchange of data, no bartering, and essentially no value associated with each byte.

That's how the market is today, in these early days of data sharing, but "gameification" has the potential to transform how consumers interact with their data plans.  Imagine a family of four, in fact I often imagine my family of four all on the same data plan. My wife could negotiate with our daughter, saying, "I will trade you 10 megabytes of data for doing your chores." Maybe my daughter who is quite clever doesn't want to do her chores, so he makes a similar deal with her brother. Each family could set their own rules for chore bartering, but what is interesting is that when data is treated as a currency with real value associated with it, the possibilities open up.

It's not just chore-evading children who would find this model interesting, but also advertisers and third parties. Brands are exploring every possible means to build their mobile presence, but the key lies in figuring out how to connect with mobile users by giving them what they want -- connectivity.

One interesting example is what Coca-Cola is doing in Brazil starting with a pilot with Oi dubbed “the Happiness Refill” and part of Coca-Cola’s larger Happiness campaign.  Rather than dole out a soda, Oi customers that visit a pop-up Coke station and use an NFC-enabled app are rewarded with a 20 megabyte data "refill," along with a Coke browser download.  The idea being to build engagement with Brazil’s young middle-class who are always with their mobile devices but lack the financial means for expensive data packages in a country with limited free Wi-Fi.


Wireless operators, most recently including Cesar Alierta, chief executive of Telefonica speaking at MWC, have been vocal on the fact that over-the-top apps ride on their investment for free. But, the fact of the matter is, many of these app makers aren't going to suddenly agree to start paying for access. Rather, creative solutions and two-sided business models like Coke has forged with Oi have a great potential to become more common, driven more by advertising than “pay for use”.  After all, what would you rather have from a brand – data credits or another annoying in-app ad or mobile banner that pops up on our phone or tablet today.

If the operators can facilitate a world where mobile data is seen as tradable, they can create an interactive market out of it, as well as bring in third parties to participate. As another example, an operator can sign on big brick-and-mortar brands like Wal-Mart or Target, in which the stores buy mobile data rewards points from the operator. Consumers who shop at these stores could be rewarded with data "points," or megabytes, each time they enter the store. It's fun for the consumer and good business for the brand and the operator.

Today's generation of mobile users above all else value their ability to connect. The magic Holy Grail for these users is to connect without paying anything for their mobile data plan. It may seem far-fetched, but it's achievable in a way that benefits consumers, mobile operators, and the brands responsible for subsidizing their service.

It's time to start thinking differently about mobile data and how operators engage their customers. It doesn't have to be a contentious, or even hands-off, relationship. In fact, it can be fun and interactive. When mobile data is treated like a game, everyone plays to win.

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