Ovum: Operators should fear the threat from Facebook

Here’s Ovum‘s take on the elephant in the ultra small mobile operator room — Facebook.

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Facebook is shaping up to be a strong competitor to mobile operators that are in danger of underestimating the threat it poses, according to Ovum.

In a new report* the independent telecoms analyst states that Facebook is much more than a social network – this is just a starting point and its domain spreads much wider. However operators are being slow to wake up to the extent of Facebook’s ambitions and tend to view it as benign, non-competitive presence that they are keen to form partnerships.

Eden Zoller, author of the report and Ovum principal analyst, said: “Facebook is encroaching directly on mobile operator territory and should not be underestimated.

“It has come a very long way since it first launched Facebook Mobile in 2006. It is now a force to be reckoned with in mobile with over 200 million users interacting with the service via mobile phone. It is much more than a social network and is better viewed as an increasingly rich platform for communications and content. Facebook wants to integrate with everything and be the main way that people consume and share information, anywhere and on any device.”

Facebook has made several moves that have placed it in competition with mobile operators. It has an integration deal with Skype for voice communications and in November 2010 unveiled an email offering. Meanwhile, it is turning increasing attention to location-based services with its Places platform and is pushing into mobile advertising in the shape of the Facebook Deals ‘check-in’ service. Facebook apps dominate app stores across most smartphone operating systems.

Zoller continued: “There is also intense ongoing speculation that Facebook will come out with its own phone, which in some respects would be the final piece of the puzzle. However, we don’t think that Facebook is any rush to launch its own hardware just yet, although it could be interested in working with partners on a customised device platform. This would in effect make Facebook a social operating system.”

Despite this competition from Facebook, mobile operators are keen to partner with it, for example by offering easy access to its services and address book integration.

Zoller added: “While there are good reasons why operators should wish to partner with Facebook, they should be more alert to the fact that it is shaping up to be a strong competitor. It is only by understanding Facebook fully that operators can engage with it effectively, be that on a collaborative or competitive basis.”

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I do wonder as to whether an official Facebook phone is necessary, given all the effort it would require — and given that the market is doing a pretty good job of this (witness, for example, the new INQ Android devices or the HTC ‘Facebook Button’ phones).

A much more exciting point would be Facebook deciding that the mobile operators are getting in the way and lease or buy it’s own mobile operator capacity to deliver next generation services to its users that operators are either unwilling or incapable of doing themselves.

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.

4 replies on “Ovum: Operators should fear the threat from Facebook”

Not sure what they really have to fear!

Realistically how much do operators make out of their “communication” (as opposed to access) services now?

The differentiating aspect of plans is quickly heading toward the “amount of data inclusion” – in such a world voice services etc. really have no value – so in fact why not get rid of all of the expensive infrastructure used to support these services? Let FB deliver the communication services.

Facebook buying its own capacity – hmm! what’s in this for the customer – as much as FB dominates the top spot in stats the good old “long tail” still massively exists! If FB were our only online destination Google would be finished. In a multi-service world the customer still has to buy a data plan.

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