#Asia The new future of telcos and startups in Southeast Asia


Telcos are on the verge for major changes. How is the future going to look?


Greg Mittman, the Co-founder & Vice President of MyRepublic, in one comment, captured the future of telcos, and why they must adapt to, and embrace, the startup economy.

“It is way more than launching app. It is about network affecting,” he said.

Mittman went on to explain that the mega-trend of the next ten to twenty years will be the deconcentration of the telco industry that has long been one of the most concentrated industries in the world.

Which is why, according to Karianne Melleby, the Vice President and Head Of Digital Partnerships at Telenor, the next step is about forming partnerships, which requires education.

“I need your help. I need to better understand whatever network intelligence can enhance whatever startup you are trying to build,” she said.

But all three speakers agreed on essential facet moving forward. Abhishek Gupta the Co-founder and Director of Circles.Life explains:

“Our vision is built on the need of the telco to disappear, but in a way that provides services. When you digitalise everything, like, for example, ordering food online, it needs to be completely smooth”.

Gupta explained that it means leveraging new technologies, like Cloud computing and payment platforms, because entrepreneurs need somebody to meld them together — which is where the telcos can step in.

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But all three representatives agreed Southeast Asia is not a market with a major hole or is eons behind; rather the called it the best market in the world. Not only is regulatory support agreeable in the region, but the consumer is far ahead of its Western cousin.

Mobile penetration, while in pockets, is growing, active, and more integrated into the daily life of the average person than in the West. Gupta said this reality makes it an interesting market because it is more than reasonable for a telco to be a mobile-only company.

But in order to launch telco 4.0 you need three things — regulation, smartphone penetration, economics and demographics.

Which means the so-called telco 4.0 may not apply to everyone in Asia.

“From what we have seen, it is the type of things that would appeal to a certain demographic. It is not likely to appeal to someone who is 60 years old, does not buy things online, does not use a credit card,” said Gupta.

As for the roles of the entrepreneurs, Moderator Michelle Katics, the Co-founder and CEO of BankersLab, used the metaphor of a home-dinner. The telcos set the table, but it is the entrepreneurs who cook the meal. And as with any meal, a unique, creative meal is always better received than the re-creation of an old favorite.

Mittman explained:

“One of my pet peeves are clone business. It drives me insane when someone takes a business that works in America and then start it over here. My advice is not to be intellectually lazy,” he said.

“Again, this is the best market on the face of the region. The great irony is that we are going to have reverse transplanting, when people in America start copying trends that are happening here.”

Melleby agreed, highlighting the importance of focussing on need over something that may be ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’. Explaining the motivation as something like a lawn.

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“When I want to move, the last thing I want to have is the lawn. I don’t care about the lawn, I want care about how things are moved,” she said.

“The need is not the lawn, the need is the new home.”

To bring it all together, while the future of telcos may not necessarily apply to all of Southeast Asia, the market remains one of the top in the world and companies that in previous years would stand above the little guys are actively reaching down to learn from the startup culture.




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