Viber asserts that telcos and OTT players can work together

One might have expected Viber CEO Talmon Marco to be treated as a “sheep among the wolves” at MWC 2013’s “the future of communications” keynote when he appeared alongside the CEOs of Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, and Korea Telecom. This was especially the case given that Viber was the only over-the-top (OTT) player to accept the GSMA’s invitation to take part.

However, Marco more than held his own. He demonstrated that cost (or the lack of it) is not the only reason that people like using Viber, pointing out that over 90% of Monaco’s wealthy population use the application daily.

Instead, it is ongoing innovation and the additional features that Viber rolls out on a regular basis that are the keys to its success. Marco contrasted Viber’s situation with the telcos’ slow and painful progress with Rich Communication Suite initiatives such as Joyn, asserting that OTT players can innovate faster because they don’t need to worry about standards and interoperability.

Ovum found the discussion to be fascinating, particularly as the panel ended up agreeing that telcos and OTT players could innovate faster if they cooperate. There is evidence of this occurring already, not least with Viber’s announcement of a partnership with Axis in Indonesia.

However, Viber still has no revenue stream to speak of and it remains to be seen how it will monetize its user base. In contrast, telcos’ core communications revenues are being severely impacted by the activities of OTT players such as Viber, Skype, and WhatsApp. In the words of one of the CEOs present, OTT players assume the attitude of “you (telcos) invest (in broadband networks), we take the profit”.

There is so much at stake in the way that this telco/OTT player relationship could play out. However, it remains to be seen whether this “co-innovation” will be a relationship that lasts, or if it happens at all.