Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp has transformed the social networking behemoth from mobile operator ally into number one rival over night. What’s more, mobile operators have a mixed view of Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of connecting the next 3 billion internet users.
A quick piece of mobile operator research by mobilesquared over the last few days featuring 11 mobile operators from around the world, has revealed that the majority now believe that Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp has increased the threat it poses as an OTT provider to their business. In fact two-thirds of mobile operators now believe that, with a further 27.3% of mobile operators believed the threat has always been there and 18.2% still do not view Facebook as a threat.
This highlights a dramatic u-turn in mobile operator opinion from 2013 when mobilesquared research revealed that mobile operators believed WhatsApp and Skype were the two greatest threats to their revenues, with Facebook not viewed as a threat.
The research over the last week reveals how mobile operator sentiment has changed towards Facebook over the last 2 weeks. Before the WhatsApp acquisition, only 9.1% of mobile operators claimed to have viewed Facebook as a threat to their business. Almost 73% believed Facebook was not a threat though remained mindful of this presence, leaving 18.2% not seeing Facebook as a threat at all.
In fact, the majority of mobile operator responses were positive when it came to the impact Facebook is having on their business. Almost 55% said that their customers demand Facebook so it “has to be seen as good for business”, while over one-third said that Facebook helps to upsell more dataplans. Less than 10% said Facebook has had a negative impact on their business.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is to ensure the world can access Facebook, and as part of this initiative, he has formed Internet.org with major mobile companies such as Qualcomm and Nokia, to deliver a very cheap or free internet model. With Facebook now used by 1.2 billion people, it is widely believed that there are now 3 billion people around the world will sufficient disposable income to afford very cheap dataplans in order to access the internet.
This was one of the main topics of discussion during his keynote at Mobile World Congress 2014 and the majority of mobile operators (63.6%) believe that cheap or free dataplans will only work for mobile operators in developing countries. Just over one-quarter of respondents believe that Zuckerberg’s vision is applicable to every mobile operator.
Clearly, the concept of very cheap or free dataplans remains something of a contentious issue. Our research shows that 90% of the mobile operators surveyed do not have a dataplan strategy that aligns with that of Internet.org. While there is evidence to support Zuckerberg’s vision from the Philippines where Globe Telecom have adopted the very cheap dataplan model in recent months with very positive results, only 9% of mobile operators intend to deliver very cheap or free dataplans.
Almost 73% of mobile operators intend to introduce innovative dataplans – and these are unlikely to reflect Internet.org’s ambitions of very cheap dataplans. Twenty percent of mobile operators actually expect to increase the cost of dataplans to offset the decline in voice and messaging revenues.
There can be no questioning of the philosophy or indeed the ambition of the vision for Internet.org, but this does appear to be another head-on collision between the worlds of the internet and mobile operators. After all, it is the mobile operators that are primarily investing in the networks that will ultimately connect the next 3 billion people Internet.org is targeting. And it is the OTT players like Facebook and WhatsApp that will inevitably capitalise on it.
But it does raise the question of if both Facebook and WhatsApp are that committed to connecting the next 3 billion people, why not invest the $16-19 billion that Facebook will eventually end up paying WhatsApp into Internet.org initiative, instead of lining already wealthy pockets?
It's not too late to take part in the research. If you work for a mobile operator, please click here. Results will be updated in 2 weeks time.