It has been quite a long time away from the UAE, I went back to Spain for what was, supposedly, to be a short project and I spent almost 4 months there. It was a long time, with plenty of hard work and little sleep at night, but on the positive aspect it seems it may open a new line of business. We will see.
One of the first things I did on my return was to visit MECOM (Middle East Communications exhibition and conference), when I was one of the speakers. MECOM is trying to position itself as one of the reference meeting points in the GCC region. I have to say that the exhibition was a little bit weak this year, with the most relevant being the launch of multimedia offering by a JV between the Abu Dhabi Media Company (see a snippet about its launch here ) and Bertelsmann.
But the real fun was to be had, as usual in the conferences, I was the last speaker on the communities stream. Normally I would have expected an almost empty room with a few sleepy attendees. After all, we are talking 4:30pm with maybe 40 degrees outside... but I was to get a pleasant surprise. Either because of luck or wisdom the last sessions were arranged in such a way that interest was increasing, I have to say that while my presentation was a little bit dry (I was talking about making money out of the communities, nothing fancy and creative here) the audience was really keen.
I was greatly helped by the previous speaker Ahmed Nassed from Maktoob. His presentation was so rich in examples and opened so many possibilities that then the next question of course was how to make money out of this!
We had a great session and we managed to make quite a number of contacts, both with operators either exploring or launching some communities initiatives and with content providers looking for a way to monetize their assets in the mobile space.
Some operators are trying to build a community proposition that is self-managed, hoping to be able to protect customers and recruit their help to migrate people to their networks. For this to work I think you need to have two things. Firstly your customer base must include as much of the targeted members of the communities as possible, second (and much less important) you should be able to offer a converged fixed mobile solution.
If you are an operator, you know where you stand on this matrix... This could be a killer preemptive weapon for a dominant operator that is facing the first stages of competition. Hit know, lock your more valuable customers on a self-imposed web of links and connections and fight only for the floating pre-paid customers.
Communities are here to stay, how mobile operators will be able to cash in on a "walled garden" proposition is, as Mony, one of the members of the audience, has keenly pointed, the million dirhams question