Worrying about how to drive new revenue, create value and fight off threats from OTT players remain some of the preeminent questions facing telcos.
Keynote speakers from industry forum Cambridge Wireless, Everything Everywhere and Google updated delegates on their latest thoughts on these matters at the 2012 Future of Wireless event on Tuesday.
However, they served only to highlight the huge gulf between operators and the rest.
Cambridge Wireless chairman Dr David Cleevely set the scene by pronouncing that although the wireless industry has created “the most successful and ubiquitous platform in human history”, operators are “rarely the source of innovation or the main beneficiaries”.
Consequently they “must innovate" or risk "losing”.
So, over to Olaf Swantee, Everything Everywhere CEO, to attempt some sort of response.
Perhaps this was slightly unfair – EE is just a couple of years old and mainly a network play having been formed as a networking sharing JV between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom in 2010.
Like Swantee, who only arrived in post last September, it is still finding its feet.
The company is focused on one clear goal at present: getting a 4G network up and running in the UK.
As he did when European Communications saw him speak last week, Swantee spent a lot of time talking about digital infrastructure.
Here, he warned that there would be “a significant deterioration” in customer experience if the country fails to move to 4G.
This seems a moot point given it’s a question of when not if.
More interestingly, he revealed he had discussed what “acceptable policies” could be put in place regarding the management of bandwidth with his UK rivals Vodafone, O2 and Three.
“The industry needs to move to a business model in which value comes from data,” said Swantee.
Some JP Morgan figures, which claim data prices needed to rise by 40 percent to account for the deterioration in voice and messaging revenues that operators will see fall by 12 and 50 percent between now and 2015, were cited.
But this is where it starts to get tricky.
“We need a credible, simplistic pricing model that is transparent for customers,” said Swantee.
Two potentially game-changing announcements made earlier this month were discussed.
First, US-based Verizon is to overhaul its pricing strategy to favour heavy data users and those who share this data over multiple devices.
Second, Swisscom unveiled a new set of plans based on speed requirements rather than the traditional call duration and data volume requirements.
“These are just two examples of what can be done and we’re working through all this,” said Swantee.
While we can therefore expect some innovative pricing to form part of EE’s 4G strategy, the CEO also alluded to another.
Swantee said the company has established a small department focussed on partnering with OTT providers and promised to be making announcements “soon”.
When we followed this up with EE, a spokesperson rowed back from this slightly: “Partnerships with OTT players need to exist to make 4G work and we are in process of establishing them but we have nothing to announce at present,” she said.
The company is also focusing on M2M and has announced a number of partnerships, including one with upmarket oven manufacturer AGA.
However, Swantee seemed less sure about its potential: “I don’t know if it will be hugely successful,” he admitted.
With EE demonstrating the problems they face in turning round their business models, it was left to Google to show some bona fide innovation.
Everyone got excited when engineering manager Paul Taylor stood up and prefaced his presentation by requesting that what he was going to talk about should remain confidential ahead of Google’s I/O event on Wednesday.
Taylor spoke about developments in speech technology and voice search – “one of the biggest breakthroughs” – in particular.
He demonstrated some of the latest developments on both desktop and mobile platforms, including speech recognition and realtime translation on YouTube.
Google’s latest OS, Jelly Bean, includes faster voice typing for which you don’t need a data connection and “more natural” voice search.
The two presentations simply served to highlight the two very different places EE and Google occupy in the ecosystem.
While they are reliant on each other to a certain degree for the moment, there is no guarantee this will last.
Consequently, it is imperative that operators do not come to rely solely on the Googles of this world for innovation.
As Mark Watts-Jones, Myriad Group’s director for social mobile, said in a later session: “Operators must just, erm, do something.”