SingSung: SingTel's partnership gambit
FROM India to the Philippines, people will have smartphones in their hands and cat videos on their minds if SingTel has its way with its regional telco associates.
The telco group is using a tie-up with Samsung to nudge its emerging-market users onto the smartphone-mobile data bandwagon, by exposing around 500 million of them to apps and smartphones in the handset-maker's ecosystem.
In a rare show of combined regional firepower, this partnership was announced as top executives from Thailand's AIS, Indonesia's Telkomsel and the Philippines' Globe Telecom stood shoulder-to-shoulder with SingTel Group's head honchos at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5 on Friday.
The partnership features moves designed to make buying smartphones and apps easier for markets unaccustomed to doing either of those things.
The opportunities for growth will be substantial, given that only 15 per cent of the group's subscribers in the region use smartphones, according to Mr Mark Chong, chief executive of International Group Consumer at SingTel.
"We forecast that, by the end of this financial year (ending March 31, 2015), 24 per cent will be smartphone users," he said.
Mr Chong also noted that smartphone penetration in Singapore and SingTel's Optus in Australia stands at about 70-80 per cent.
"So, (growing from) 15 per cent to possibly 70-80 per cent in the future - we think that's easily attainable. That growth will come," he said.
The prize, however, lies not in the smartphone, but the data that a user consumes through it. Now, about 28 per cent of the associates' users subscribe to data services. Mr Chong expects this to grow to 35 per cent by the end of SingTel's financial year.
The SingTel-Samsung partnership has been forged at a time when SingTel's associates are rolling out their respective 3G networks across the region, while smartphones have never before been so cheap - hardly a coincidence.
Samsung, in particular, is notable for its phones that span almost the entire spectrum of affordability and pocket size requirements.
On Friday, Mr Paul O'Sullivan, CEO of Group Consumer at SingTel, called this culmination of factors a "pivotal moment".
"For many of these people, that will be their first access to the Internet," he said.
"When you give somebody a new piece of technology, you have an opportunity to persuade them to change an old habit and swop it for a new one... We want to give people a reason to start using data."
In Singapore and Australia, where mobile usage has matured, the markets' sophistication has brought a different set of issues. In these two markets, the largest source of growth on the network for SingTel comes from video usage, said Mr O'Sullivan.
For SingTel, this means using analytics to run "smarter networks" to keep up its end of the bargain where customer experience is concerned, he said.
At the same time, the sheer number of things that users now expect to be possible with a smartphone means that SingTel will have to reinvent a lot of its dealings with customers.
Some of this - termed a "digitisation" of its business - is already under way through apps that allow users to control their data-roaming usage overseas, for example.
"You are going to see more of that over the next few years... Our goal would be to allow you to do many of the functions off the screen that you have to call a call centre for today," Mr O'Sullivan said.
Although rarely seen together in public, the CEOs of SingTel's regional associates collaborate frequently. In the coming years, they will look at customer analytics, creating digital content and global partnerships, among other things.
This week, they will hold one of their many meetings in Beijing to discuss cooperation - doubtless a process too important to be "digitised".