The keynotes at Mobile World Congress are always a chance for heads of the world’s biggest operators to have a good old moan about something or other, and this year was no exception.

But amongst the usual grumblings about regulation and spectrum policy, one got the distinct feeling that operators are doing something proactive about that other pet hate of theirs, OTT players “freeloading” on their networks.

The charge was led by Cesar Alierta, CEO of Telefonica – hastened by the earlier launch of Mozilla’s Firefox OS of which his company has been a keen backer – who gave the impression that he was ready to take on the Apple and Google hegemony.

“New monopolies are impacting customer experience,” he railed without explicitly mentioning Silicon Valley’s finest.

“We’re in favour of a level playing field… and have a commitment to an open, private, secure and transparent internet.”

Specifically, he highlighted the ability to take apps from one platform to another, a “guarantee” of personal data privacy, plus a commitment to avoid “intrusive” advertising.

These are some of the key tenets of the Firefox approach, but it would be cynical to write off his comments as purely marketing puff on the day of a big announcement.

There is, arguably, real substance and common sense behind his thoughts.

The question, of course, is whether anyone seriously thinks any headway can be made.

Wisely, the Firefox backers are going after emerging markets as they attempt to make it a success.

Alierta reminded delegates that just 17 percent of mobile subscribers globally have smartphones while the 90 percent growth in internet users is coming from emerging markets.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao, added another figure into the mix – smartphone penetration in emerging markets is just six percent currently, he said.

However, the mobile operator chief was keener to highlight a strategy that if much less revolutionary than the Firefox OS is already bearing some very tangible fruit.

The Vodafone Red tariff is the product of good old-fashioned research into what customers really want; this is, Colao revealed, a great network and the freedom to communicate.

Certainly not anything that is going to get tongues wagging but, said the CEO, the results of Red, which offers unlimited voice calling and text with paid for data, “are like nothing else I have seen in 20 years of working in telecoms”.

He was referring to the fact that net promoter score in Italy has doubled in the past 12 months alone.

Impressive indeed, and something that is driving Vodafone to expand the Red strategy beyond the five markets it is currently available in.

Over the next 12 months, Colao said the operator’s goal is to get 20-30 percent of its entire retail customer base onto a Red tariff as it looks to monetise data and keep hold of its customers.

While that is a tough goal, Randall Stephenson, CEO of US-based AT&T had even grander designs as part of his keynote.

“We’re at the beginning of a new era defined by LTE and the cloud – one of most powerful technology combinations ever seen,” he said.

“What’s coming next will change not just our industry but every other industry as well.”

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