What will happen in 2015? Growth will, of course, continue. There is still huge pent-up demand for telecoms services in the burgeoning middle classes and aspirational consumers in the emerging markets.
But, over the last 12 months, the nature of this demand has changed: in the place of fixed-line services, the adoption of smartphones by consumers has created significant demand for Internet connectivity and digital services in all its forms. In 2015, this trend will accelerate.
The biggest growth area will be instant messaging and 'in-app' calling through applications like Skype, WhatsApp and Nimbuzz. A recent GlobalWebIndex survey found that instant messaging applications grew by a massive 113% over the last 2 years, driven by their low cost, the rising number of people who carry smartphones as well as the lack of the infrastructure to carry landline calls to remote regions.
This is something that will appeal to ambitious telecoms companies because, over the last few years, profitability from selling fixed-line connectivity has come under pressure. There has been a fierce price battle among telcos for voice services, driving down prices to almost unprofitable levels. At some point, they will have to adjust their price points upwards, but this will drive more people to the very instant messaging and VoIP services that are, perhaps, already cannibalising their sales.
In anticipation of this shift, telcos have already started to tailor their product offering, concentrating, instead, on selling unlimited data packages and competing on speed, price and coverage. But, this is only a short-term solution to the wider problem. As more companies enter this territory, prices and profits may also decline, leaving margins razor thin again.
Smart telcos will, instead, move to acquire the social messaging platforms themselves. Telcos will compete for app marketshare, making additional revenue by selling valued added services. They may, for example, turn their apps into ecommerce platforms, allowing companies and users to collect and receive micro-money transfers. Demand for mobile money transfer services is high in the emerging markets because of the lack of existing infrastructure. This shift may also pave the way for the Internet giants, like Google and Facebook, to transition into fully-fledged telecommunications companies themselves.
This trend is one reason why New Call recently acquired Nimbuzz, a fast-growing Indian mobile technology brand with more than 210m users across the globe. It’s one of the most popular messaging apps in India and MENA. It is a central plank in our strategy to build an ecosystem of mutually-supportive apps that can be commercialised through elective add-on services. We have already launched, Holaa! our new breed call management platform, and will continue to launch more innovative apps in the New Year.
I believe that in 2015 we’ll see the first signs of a huge telecoms revolution, one which will be powered and driven by the developing world. Their customers are demanding new applications and functionality; new affordable solutions and new platforms that power their digital lives. And if we want to be part of it, we’d better listen to them!