Facebook blackhole could suck up mobile operators



I was in Miami when the last Women in Mobile Data (“WiMD”) events of the year was taking place, earlier this month. I’d received an invitation to pop along to the WiMD Christmas lunch and was highly disappointed not to have made it.

However I’m absolutely delighted that Clare Grant, WiMD committee member (and CMO of Volantis Systems) managed to take some notes and write up the following piece based on the event.

Eden Zoller (Principle Analyst, Telecoms Practice, Ovum) was the lunch speaker. She gave a talk on the future of Facebook in the context of the mobile marketplace. I’ve embedded the video below (another thoughtful inclusion from the WiMD organisers).

Here’s Clare’s piece…

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If, like me, you are planning to go the Mobile World Congress next year you’ll be forgiven for humming to the tune of James Brown’s ‘It’s a man world’ as you go through the halls of Fira de Barcelona conference centre. In amongst the sea of suited and polo shirted male exhibitors and attendees, the number of female exhibitors, whilst growing, still remains comparatively low.

But anyone (including some men) who attended our recent Women in Mobile Data Association (WiMD) Christmas luncheon on the 3 Dec at The Sloane Club, were left in no doubt that that the industry possesses knowledgeable, innovative female talent. View video here.

Founded five years ago, the Women in Mobile Data (WiMD) Association is aimed at women who work in mobile telecoms and across the telecoms, media and technology (TMT) value chain. The Association champions mobile content, data and services for underserved markets, and supports and engages women working in the mobile and related industries.

The Christmas luncheon event included senior executives from company’s including Telefónica 02, Accenture, Blackberry and Vodafone who were there to hear from Eden Zoller, principle analyst with Ovum’s Telecoms Consumer practice.

Zoller spoke to an enthused audience about the rise and impact of adjacent players, like Google and Facebook, on the mobile ecosystem. Zoller believes that while many in mobile, particularly operators, focus on Google, currently Facebook is a more interesting player to watch. That’s not to say that Google watchers should pack their bags and head off to Facebook HQ just yet. “Google’s aim is to get advertising in front of as many people as possible and it will invest in and spend whatever it takes to achieve that objective. Google is a constant  innovator a offering a drip feed of new products and services – and for free. It is very hard to compete with that, particularly for operators.”

Facebook has over 500 million users of which around 200 million already interact with the service via mobile. Zoller notes that Facebook is steadily ramping up on services that encroach on traditional operator territory, notably the Skype integration deal for voice and messaging with the recent, headline grabbing new email initiative. It is also turning increasing attention to location services and exploring opportunities for mobile advertising in the shape of Facebook Deals.  “Operators view Facebook as a benign presence and like to partner with it. Facebook drives traffic and operators like to think some of its cool factor will rub off on them. But operators should not underestimate Facebook. It’s a lot more than just a social network – Facebook is a platform with a fast growing developer community.”  Facebook has around 1 million developers and is one of the top apps across all the major smartphone operating systems.

Zoller says the key to Facebook’s upward trajectory is scale, stealth innovation and integration through tools such as Facebook Connect and more recently Facebook Credits, a virtual currency that Facebook wants to extend to other platforms.  “Facebook basically wants to integrate with everything – online and mobile. Facebook is like a black hole, pulling the Internet into itself”. Zoller reckons Facebook Credits could prove interesting in this context. ”Imagine if Facebook Credits starts to link out through Facebook Connect partners. You’re going to be looking at payment platform that with scale could eventually be a rival to PayPal and Google Checkout”

Whilst Zoller doesn’t’ believe that Facebook is in a hurry to launch its own hardware she does think that Facebook could be interested in working with partners on a customised device platform. ”This would be in keeping with its emphasis on integration and would make Facebook a sort of social operating system. All that is missing is search”.

Interesting food for thought and I look forward to continuing the discussion at Mobile World Congress in February 2011.

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Thank you very much Clare — fascinating stuff.

I hope to bump into you at MWC soon!

Here’s the video…

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By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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