An Idea for Cell Phone Providers

Backstory

I have been continuing to work on my “No Data Journey”, basically having a cell phone that I can use for emergencies but is not connected to the internets.  On this journey, I have been working with my local mobile phone provider to help them help me.  

I’ll go into a bit of backstory here, so you don’t have to follow the links if you don’t want to.  They have a system internally that allows them to work around the way MMS has changed over the years.  It has basically changed so that no special hardware is needed on the telco side to route messages, it’s all done over data.  The system allows you to shut off data in their system so you can still send MMS on your phone and not worry about any data overages.  It’s a great innovation and if you are close to your data limit a great way to avoid overages and still send pictures over text.

I also use a visual voicemail service on my iPhone provided by Apple.  It basically allows you to download an audio file from your telco (via Apple’s services I think) to your phone.  I use this because I take messages that are from my son and save them on my Google drive so I can listen to them later, proud pappa when my boy phones (side note and feature request filed with Apple: have these automatically backed up to iCloud).  

Unfortunately, this service also requires a data connection to initiate the 1st request to apple and initiate the transfer.  After that, the data is excluded from your limits. I had a suggestion for them that they could provide the service without data by using a similar exception in their network that they are using for MMS.  They liked the idea and I think they are going to move forward with it which is great, one step closer to not having to switch data on/ off!

The Idea

So this is almost getting me there but currently, I still need to use their app or website to switch data on or off.  This got me thinking that they actually control the data flow into their network and could probably add an additional exclusion so that their customers can access any of their own internal applications without incurring any data charges.  The upshot: they’d have an ability to deliver useful services to any user with a smartphone regardless of whether they have a data plan or not.  This is useful as it could offload support costs incurred from external systems and provide a value-add for customers.

Short-Term Plan: Microservices and Self-Serve Apps

The customer service app currently provided is a pretty good idea however I started wondering if it could be broken apart and reorganized a bit to incubate some changes in the organization.  The short term plan would be to take the data off/ on they provide in the larger customer service:

My Data Left

And extra the component into a smaller app that would have services revolving around data control.  The backend infrastructure could be slowly transformed (if it isn’t already) into a microservices type architecture, to visualize this I was thinking a simple application with a UI similar to this (I borrowed this from my privateinternetaccess, I use them for VPN):

Data On and Data Off

Although this is not a lot of information hopefully your mind is already looking at how this sort of simplification might open the door for an internal incubation type environment.  Apps could be delivered internally over the cell phone network and the side effect would be the growth of an internal IT department to build out these applications. The dotted line shows a server that has moved past the internal “beta” stage to allow public access from the internet.

Nice things

Longer-Term: Growth of an IT Department

The other thing it got me thinking though is that they could probably use this as sort of an incubation project to change the internal of the company towards a micro-services model and give them a template/ pattern to grow out this area of their business.  They could provide services like this and potentially even license them to their resellers as a value add for using their network.  

I think this would give them a real competitive advantage on a few levels:

  • Customer retention- it would allow them to provide niche apps to make customers sticky
  • Reseller retention – more sticky customers
  • Internal Growth – the business model fosters innovation internally and gives them an incubator template and since apps can be delivered on their own network it provides them with a tight feedback loop if done properly

I sent them an email with a bit more information but that’s the basics of it and I am curious if they decide to pick up the idea and move with it.  If your cell phone provider is already doing this I’d love to hear about it!

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