French provider Orange recently announced that is has partnered with Facebook to create a “call button” interface, to be launched this summer, whereby Facebook members will be able to call each other from within their Facebook pages without needing to know each other’s phone numbers.
While partnering with social media companies is potentially a good idea for mobile service providers, no one should be under any illusions that such a course of action is a panacea for some of the more pressing problems facing the mobile telecom industry. In the Facebook deal, we view Orange as the junior partner since, quite frankly, it needs Facebook far more than Facebook needs Orange. In fact, social media can dispense with providers entirely and use OTT technology to give their users the ability to make calls and send texts, as illustrated by a new service just launched by LinkedIn, the business-networking social media site. By partnering with the Swedish mobile VoIP app Plingm, LinkedIn now offers its members free calling to their LinkedIn contacts without the need to know the other person’s phone number. Essentially, no mobile operator is required to make the connection, even if it’s done using a smartphone.
Dispensing with phone numbers is a sign of the changing times, and on its own is enough to cause worry in the mobile telecom sector. These developments expose in vivid detail some of the issues facing operators, who are finding themselves having to compete with competitors that no one would have thought of as competitors until very recently. If operators don’t move quickly and aggressively to adapt to this new environment, as Facebook users might say, the writing is on the “wall.”