Context is key to the future success of telcos, speakers at the DigiWorld Future event have said.

Both former BT CEO Ben Verwaayen and VEON’s Chief Digital Officer Chris Schlaeffer (pictured above) called for a change to how the industry operates at the conference, which took place at Google’s London HQ.

France-based think-tank Digiworld highlighted the fact that the global telecoms services market grew 1.5 percent year-on-year to reach €1.2 billion in 2016.

In contrast, the TV and video services market grew 2.9 percent to €468.5 million, while internet services jumped 17.8 percent to €390 million.

Verwaayen, now a partner at investment house Keen Venture Partners, told delegates that companies in all sectors could no longer hide behind their size.

On the telecoms sector in particular, Verwaayen noted that operators were wrongly measuring data; instead, they should be measuring context, he said.

It was a theme that Schlaeffer elaborated to a much greater degree.

The CDO discussed VEON’s new platform – also called VEON – which the operator officially unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February.

It features a free messaging service that VEON has built itself.

Schlaeffer said “a strong point of differentiation” was that it does not consume data and “even works when you are out of credit”.

Added to the messaging capability is “curated content” that apes Snapchat Discover ans is again zero-rated.

[Watch: VEON CTO Yogesh Malik discusses the new platform]

The operator has bigger plans than taking on the OTT players, however.

Schlaeffer said the world was yet to grasp the “fundamental tectonic change” that is leading to “the age of contextual internet”.

In short, this means providing consumers with the services they need in a better and more personalised fashion.

Schlaeffer said the VEON platform, which launched in Italy in January via Wind Tre, the joint venture between VEON and CK Hutchison, was built around this premise.

Over 1.5 million customers – from a total subscriber base of 31 million – downloaded the service in the first three months of the year.

Schlaeffer said the operator was working with partners in the taxi industry to embed their app experience into the platform “so users don’t need to open a separate app if they want to order a taxi to go somewhere”.

“It’s a phenomenally strong tool,” Schlaeffer said.

Although he admitted it required “a lot of tech” to work, he added: “Context changes everything, we have not even scratched the surface.”

VEON plans to monetise the platform in part by revenue sharing with companies that sign up for the contextual capabilities on offer.

Schlaeffer gave the example of a football match, where taxi firms could target the operator’s customers with an offer by sending them a message five minutes before the match ended.

However, he said the identity of customers would not be revealed to the taxi firm thanks to “anonymous token technology” VEON has developed.

Privacy is another key tenet of the VEON platform, according to the exec.

“We reject advertising as a business model,” Schlaeffer said.

“If you go for advertising as a revenue stream you compromise privacy [because] you have to sell consumer data to somebody.”

Schlaeffer said the platform would launch in VEON’s other markets – Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Russia, as well as seven countries across Eurasia – in due course.

The company is also open to offering its platform to other operators, he said.

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