2014 is definitely an exciting time for mobile data – the usage of data continued increasing, 4G LTE-Advanced rollouts became commonplace, data packages started offering more than just megabytes and came bundled with music and top of the range devices and the connected car become another ‘device’ on shared plans. But the newest source of excitement on the scene is perhaps the ‘sponsored data’ which after a brief face-off with concerns of net neutrality is starting to take off in a big way in some regions, specifically the US with the likes of AT&T building their ecosystem of partners to enable the rollout of sponsored data services.
The sponsored data idea often comes across as free access to selected content and sites on mobile data connection. Subscribers are already quite used to this idea with a large number of operators bundling their data packages with time-limited or bandwidth-limited access to the popular social media applications such as Twitter or Facebook. A more evolved implementation of sponsored data saw partnerships between content providers, operators and service enablers. In emerging countries such as Myanmar and India for example, service enablers such as Opera Software are working with local operators to allow free browsing minutes on the Opera Browser app and via the Opera Web Pass for sites such as Wikipedia and Facebook Zero as means of introducing the Internet, specifically the mobile internet to new users and expanding the operators’ mobile data subscriber base.
The sponsored data concept however, is not just about free internet. It is today becoming a frontier concept in mobile advertising, and is seeing the emergence of new innovative solutions that offer service providers the potential of new revenue streams, especially from mobile advertising. Tara Neal of PCC Mobile Broadband spoke to Susie Kim Riley, the CEO of Aquto, a provider of sponsored data monetization services, on how the company’s solution is pushing the boundaries for sponsored data by bringing together publishers, app developers, major ad networks, direct advertisers and off course, mobile operators onto a sponsored data platform that enables these parties to leverage on the demand for data to drive brand awareness and for content providers, increase their subscriber and visitor numbers.
According to Susie, who founded Aquto after a series of successful entrepreneurial ventures, including Camiant which was subsequently sold for USD130 million to Tekelec, the company that was later bought over by Oracle Communications, app publishers and developers as well as brand advertisers are seeing the sponsored data platform as a powerful mechanism to reach out to their target audience, given the penetration of mobile internet among today’s consumer groups and the improvement in the delivery of rich content on mobile devices, especially rich applications and video services which make video and other rich media advertising more engaging than ever.
Aquto’s solution, said Susie, enables advertisers to engage their potential customers in real-time, by giving away free data as a reward for a set of actions by the user which can include watching an ad clip, performing on online purchase or signing up for a newsletter. Aquto’s solution enables mobile internet users to earn data rewards, just like how shoppers earn reward points on their merchant cards and how these rewards are converted to more purchases. Aquto’s platform transforms data into ‘currency’, enabling consumers on one end and advertisers on the other to exchange value and meet the goals of having more data and enhancing a brand’s image or spurring the consumption of a particular content, respectively. Aquto's solution is presently deployed by major operators such as AT&T, Verizon and Vodafone and the company has to date signed up major brands such as Hershey's, Unilever, Hotels.com and Zeptolabs, the creator of the 'Cut the Rope' app as sponsors.
Susie added that free data is critical for real-time engagement given today’s mobile habits. Concerns about data charges often result in users failing to engage in an action online, for example, many are reluctant to download a favourite game at the point of promotion or view a video ad when it pops up for the fear of these actions eating up into their monthly data plans. At the same time, chances of the same user performing the action later (in a free connection such as Wi-Fi) becomes quite remote as very rarely do users trace back the links and content they have visited earlier and are always inundated with other newer content. The advertiser loses out on conversions and potential sales, in this case, from in-app purchases and paid downloads, from not being able to engage the user in that moment.
According to Susie, Aquto is expanding its solution and is already developing use cases for newer applications that will involve more players and a wider ecosystem. One of the major areas that present huge opportunities for sponsored data is the enterprise segment, said Susie, where sponsored data platforms will enable enterprises to sponsor the data usage costs associated with the use of their applications or content, allowing them to better engage their customers and at the same time, support their internal management processes including the management of a mobile workforce. Susie said that at the same time, the phenomenal growth within the Internet-of-Things(IoT) space which has resulted in a surge in the number of data connections and hence the amount of data used across all the ‘connected things’ will necessitate a solution that can effectively manage the data charges that will be incurred by end users as they subscribe to an increasing number of IoT/M2M services rolled out in the marketplace. Toward this end, sponsored data could be something that operators, manufacturers and IoT/M2M service providers can explore and deploy as means of enhancing their value proposition and driving their revenues in the long run.