‘Sharetelco’ – applications of the shared economy to Telecommunications in Australia

Sharing is quickly gaining acceptance as an alternative way of thinking about property. Services like Airbnb, Uber, GoGet, Flyte and numerous local car and bike share schemes enable consumers to share their assets in return for some sort of benefit. The reasons for sharing can be monetary, altruistic or environmental – a Nielsen survey conducted in late 2013 found that in Asia-Pacific 78% of people are willing to share their assets with 81% willing to share from others. What is clear is that traditional B2C markets in many industries must now consider the disruption brought about by C2C facilitators – unless they themselves offer sharing alternatives or facilitate the sharing of assets.

Telecommunications companies tend to pitch their products at the individual consumers or businesses with personal devices and single person plans for mobile, broadband and content. There are some considerations in a telco environment about what is ‘owned’ (do you really own wifi and data?) and what can be shared, however if you take consumer ‘assets’ as the example there are a number possibilities. The market in Australia is already changing with the major players offering sharing of data between devices. This however, is only the tip of the iceberg in what could be a larger more holistic sharing of telecommunications services and assets. Below I explore sharing concepts as they apply to network, data and devices – three core consumer telecommunications products.

1) WiFi/Network sharing

In 2006 Martin Varsavsky founded Fon in Madrid. He was inspired by the idea that the whole world could be cloaked in WiFi, thus removing the need for mobile broadband networks. Fon is now the largest WiFi network in the world with 12 million hotspots in over 100 countries. The network allows a subscriber to use WiFi at home but also anywhere a FON hotspot exists all off the same plan – in Varsavsky’s words “share a little WiFi at home and you can roam the world for free”.

We are yet to see Fon materialise in Australia however the wheels are in motion. In May this year Telstra announced a deal with Fon to roll out 2 million new hotspots leveraging customers’ home routers. The company sees this as an opportunity to complement its LTE roll out by reducing load on its 4G mobile network.

2) Data sharing and Content

Wanting to offload a few gigs spare at the end of the month? The ability to share data (spare or otherwise) between friends, family or a business/community is a concept that has been dabbled in – for example Vodafone Australia’s ‘Shared Mobile Broadband‘ allowing businesses to share data between 5 employees to a total data plan and 2degreesmobile in New Zealand which outs sharing at the heart of its value proposition. What is missing which these plans is a more holistic sharing experience with the ability to ‘gift’ data to other users or see a social network of users to provide a top up to.

Data sharing has another application – content. How many people do you know who have downloaded Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones? Users tend to download very similar content from the net time and time again. If this were able to sit cached on a shared server and be accessed instead of downloaded then it would have many benefits. Benefits could include being able to access the content but not use your data or reducing strain precious bandwidth. There are of course issues with illegal downloads but not all content would fit in this category.

3) Device sharing

~50% of Australians now own a smartphone and almost as many own a tablet. With new models being released annually (or quicker) there are many consumers with more than one of these devices and a portion which could be shared or sold on secondary markets. Other industries have developed sharing solutions for tangible assets (e.g. property, cars, bikes) which have turned into sizeable markets.

A solution which allowed for simple access (shared or other) to the oversupply of devices may allow Telcos to access markets which are not able to access or interested in a 2 year contract and new device (e.g. theoretically at most 50% of the population). The ability to also ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) with the requisite support for access and connectivity is a success factor to this solution. If successfully implemented, a shared device telco may reduce device related servicing and supply chain costs for this segment whilst allowing Telcos to make money selling data, content and other services.

Globally there some emerging applications of the shared economy to telecommunications. However, its manifestations in network, data and devices or a combination are not yet prevalent in Australia. Strategically this represents an opportunity to serve customers (existing or new) in a different way, effectively creating or accessing new markets where previous barriers existed – after all that ‘new phone feeling‘ may actually be the ‘shared phone feeling’.

 

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