Walking the line...

It’s not often you get tabloid scandal in the mobile industry but this week’s decision by the GSMA to terminate its contract with CBOSS certainly made the grade.

March 9, 2012

12 Min Read
Walking the line...

By The Informer

It’s not often you get tabloid scandal in the mobile industry but this week’s decision by the GSMA to terminate its contract with CBOSS certainly made the grade.

CBOSS, for those who missed the story, is a Russian OSS/BSS company that has exhibited at MWC for the last 12 years. Throughout that time the firm has used attractive young women, often scantily clad, as its sole marketing tool—with undeniable success. The CBOSS stand, featureless as the Siberian tundra when the girls aren’t on display, has usually got a solid crowd of suited execs standing around it, salivating.

This year, though, CBOSS went a stage further and offered delegates the chance to have a sit-down glass of champagne with one of the girls at its party, in exchange for the delegates’ views on the OSS market. The stunt was blunt and seedy in its promotion—and it inspired a muscular challenge to the old assertion that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The only place busier than the CBOSS stand was the Twittersphere’s moral high ground as @OutragedOfTelecoms jostled with @InThisDayAndAge and @Won’tSomebodyThinkOfTheChildren as they sought to publicly decry such exploitative antics.

In the wake of the furore, GSMA revealed that it had paid a little visit to the CBOSS stand at the end of this year’s show and torn up the firm’s 2013 contract. The company, and the girls, are not to return. This allowed The Outraged to puff out their chests and clap one another on the virtual back as if they’d personally driven a stake into the vampire heart of the global sex trafficking industry. The original objections may not have been attention seeking but the celebration was self-aggrandisement more naked than the CBOSS girls.

Worthy of special mention is UK broadsheet The Telegraph, which paid tribute to its reader stereotype by spewing insinuation and moral righteousness while completely disregarding some key facts. The paper’s site ran a story with a headline that utterly without justification implicated BT – presumably in a bid to summon a modicum of relevance to its readership, and despite a somewhat bemused quote from BT at the close of the story – and referred to GSMA as the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association!

It also ran a video of the dancing CBOSS girls with an ad in front of it, thereby actually making money from the very girls it purported to defend and the very activities at which it had taken such offence. The next day, revelling in the news that CBOSS had been booted out of MWC, it claimed to have “revealed” CBOSS’ scheme, which is hilarious given how much publicity the scheme generated.

But just how busy was the moral high ground in reality? This is the thing about Twitter; it’s pretty easy for retweets to simulate volume of opinion. But a retweet doesn’t necessarily represent advocacy of the opinion retweeted. Furthermore, some of the Outraged even admitted they hadn’t even seen the CBOSS stand and were experiencing their disgust at a remove; thanks to other people alerting them to something salacious that they needed to be disgusted about. Indeed a quick search shows that, on Twitter at least, not too many people were sufficiently repulsed to make it known. One agent provocateur even launched a Twitter campaign to get the Russian firm reinstated.

And for those who were moved to protest: where was all that heart-on-sleeve outrage last year? Or the year before that? CBOSS is guilty of what CBOSS has always been guilty of; shamelessly using attractive girls to try and drive brand awareness in a tacky, lowest-common-denominator kind of way. It’s not very nice and it never has been. But when crowds of suits with SLRs were leering and photographing the CBOSS girls in previous years it was, apparently, acceptable.

There may well be rumours of more going on behind the scenes of this and many other industries. But until anyone wants to substantiate them, it’s legally pretty brave of the Outraged to talk so publicly about ‘pimping’.

Nor has there been any censure of the many other companies that—this year and in years past—employed attractive young women from modelling agencies as stand decorations, or to stalk the halls in high heels and suggestive outfits designed to compensate for the drab utility of the products and solutions they were promoting.

The Informer isn’t defending CBOSS, before anyone in Camp Outrage spasms to that conclusion. It was a tasteless stunt. But there is a double standard at play here: If a stand is going to be taken – in both senses – then perhaps there should be a rule that only full-time, industry-relevant employees of each exhibitor can be allowed to populate booths. No hired-in glamour. It would get the Informer’s support if the GSMA wants to put it in place.

GSMA hasn’t actually offered a public condemnation of CBOSS’ promotional activities, saying only that there were “a number of things” that led to the contract termination. What those things were is between “our two companies”.

It should be noted, though, that Thursday this week was International Women’s Day, and that GSMA has a high profile mWomen initiative that deals with some very serious issues. So perhaps CBOSS fell foul of its own bad timing – and the openness with which it employed a sleazy kind of hospitality strategy of which it is surely not the only proponent.

But International Women’s Day is only once a year, while Make as Much Money as You Can Day happens every 24 hours, so the Informer wouldn’t be surprised to see a meeker, less glamour-based CBOSS stand next year, with less exhibitionism and more contrition.

Back to the mWomen initiative, though, and GSMA found that women in emerging markets have an especially raw deal, as outlined its report, ‘mWomen Portraits’. The report shows that, in developing nations, women have not been able to take advantage of mobile communications, largely due to cultural reasons. In many cases, simply because their husbands won’t allow them to have a mobile phone. According to the GSMA’s research, 74 per cent of married women in developing nations who did not want a mobile phone said it was because their husbands would not allow it. Furthermore, 64 per cent of married mobile owners were concerned that their mobiles “make their husband suspicious.”

The report also included case studies of women who had been fortunate enough to be “allowed” to have a mobile phone, and those participants spoke of how it allowed them to keep in touch with friends and family, saving the time and effort to travel for face-to-face interaction, in countries where there is little road infrastructure and public transport. Those women also spoke of the peace of mind a mobile phone offers them, knowing that they can contact loved ones, and be contacted by them, in the case of an emergency.

In developed markets, among the most interesting findings to do with IWD came from the GMI Ratings’ Women on Boards Report, which undertook research looking at the differences between men and women in the world’s boardrooms, using data from more than 4,300 companies in 45 countries. It revealed that, in the telecommunications industry, just 12.27 per cent of representatives in companies’ boardrooms are women; something adequately reflected by the population at events like MWC.

This week the industry has been catching up on the sleep it lost at that event, nursing their aches and pains and using the week to recover—but the news has not stopped.

NSN has found itself in the headlines quite frequently of late, due to its ongoing restructuring programme, which sees the firm cutting 17,000 roles and aiming to reduce operating expenses and production overheads by €1bn by the end of 2013. At MWC, CEO Rajeev Suri explained how the vendor infrastructure market has been consistently underdelivering on expectations, and outlined plans for change, and now, the firm has announced that it has sold its fixed-wireless broadband business.

The vendor announced this week that privately held Spanish firm, CN Tetragen, has bought the business, although no financial terms were disclosed. It also revealed plans to outsource a portion of its own activities to Finnish managed services player Tieto.

NSN said that 240 employees from its OSS and Subscriber Data Management divisions based in Tampere and Espoo will transfer to Tieto, which it described as a long-term partner. Pekka Soini, head of NSN’s Finnish operations, said that the move was in line with the firm’s aim to refocus on a smaller number of core operational areas. The transfer is expected to be completed in April this year.

Meanwhile the conclusion of one of the vendor’s own outsourcing deals, with Brazilian mobile operator Oi, has allowed it to cut another 3,500 workers from its roster.

Spain-based carrier Telefónica has launched a European talent incubator – Wayra –  in a move clearly designed to try and align the brand with young people and the start-up community.

José María Álvarez-Pallete, chairman and CEO of Telefónica Europe, was on hand at Wednesday’s launch event to talk about Europe’s “lost decade,” where over the past ten or so years the regional GDP has been moving backwards. He spoke of a “lost generation,” of rising unemployment and lost innovation in the face of stellar growth from the US and China, creating a ‘brain drain’ of migrating talent, while Europe struggled with an entrepreneurial deficit and an environment where people are reluctant to start new businesses.

In the vision put forward under the Wayra initiative, which is already incubating its first batch of start-ups in Latin America, Telefónica will open academies around Europe, starting in the UK in May, then moving into Dublin, Germany and the Czech Republic, catering to education and apprenticeship options for teens and upwards.

Google has stepped up its efforts to cater to users in a multi-screen environment with a cloud-based entertainment portal, Google Play, that pushes music, movies, books and apps on the web and Android phones and tablets. The marketplace will form an umbrella over existing services including Android Market, Google Music and the Google eBookstore.

“Google Play is entirely cloud-based so all your music, movies, books and apps are stored online, always available to you, and you never have to worry about losing them or moving them again,” said Jamie Rosenberg, director of digital content at Google.

Over in Asia, the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released fresh guidelines ahead of the country’s 2G (re)auction, after the Supreme Court of India cancelled the 122 licences that were awarded in 2008, due to corruption in the spectrum sale process.

The consultation paper followsdraft guidelines that were issued last month, and aims to simplify licensing rules, encourage mergers and acquisition and provide greater transparency in the spectrum allocation process.

Across the border, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has announced that it is delaying its 3G spectrum auction, which was due to be held on March 29, 2012, due to “great interest shown by operators through their representatives in World Mobile Congress”. The PTA said that it will announce the new dates for the auction in due course.

The Informer remembers a time long ago, when as a lad, he used to play football in the school playground. Sometimes there would be a stroppy child, grown frustrated from being on the losing team.These children would have done well to learn their limitations, like Orange which announced this week its intention to pull out of the emerging markets it operates in unless it can become a market leader in those countries.

Marc Rennard, Orange’s executive VP for Africa, Middle East and Asia, said at a roundtable briefing at MWC last week that Orange is looking to increase revenues from its emerging markets to €7bn by 2015, compared with €3.4bn today. However, if the firm cannot become the number one or two operator in those markets, then Rennard said it will pack up and head for the airport.

Financial services provider Visa Europe said on Wednesday that it intends to take a 15 per cent stake in the Mobile Money Network (MMN) – a joint venture between Monitise, Best Buy Europe and Carphone Warehouse, and telecoms entrepreneur Charles Dunstone (as a private investor).

During MWC last week, The Informer spent some time with Bill Gajda, Visa’s head of global mobile, and Alastair Lukies, CEO of mobile money enabler Monitise, where he heard that Visa Europe and MMN will implement a number of m-commerce initiatives in the UK in 2012. The main thrust here is to bring a platform for bank-grade mobile shopping to the mass market.

The Informer saw that, at MWC, mobile commerce was an area that got a huge amount of focus at the show, and is looking forward to reading the April issue of MCI, which will concentrate on the topic and promises to provide an in-depth look at what the future holds for m-commerce.

Sticking with this area, A survey carried out at MWC by mobile commerce and messaging specialist Sybase 365 has found that 81 per cent of mobile industry executives believe that NFC will not emerge as a driver for mass adoption of mobile payment services for another two to five years. Less than ten per cent of delegates polled said they believed that NFC payments would become mainstream in the next year.

The firm said that 38 per cent of respondents believed that consumer concern over the security of personal financial information exchanged during mobile transactions will represent the most significant barrier to widespread adoption of mobile payments.

The same number expressed concerns around the development of standards and the need for collaboration between the different stakeholders in the mobile payment ecosystem.

“Material advances for mobile payments will only come about when banks, operators and retailers can converge on a business model, and with it true industry interoperability, leading to a widely embraced mobile payments system,” said John Sims, president of Sybase 365.

Telecoms.com and Mobile Communications International will be running a special focus on Mobile Financial Services in April. To get involved tweet the team at @TelecomsHibberd, @TelecomsJames and @TelecomsSahota or email them at [email protected]

We started this week with MWC present and we’ll end with one of the all-time high points of the show’s past. The Informer wonders who else has fond memories of Douglas Adams’ keynote speech back in 2001. Adams would have been 60 this year if he was still around and you can bet he would have had a great deal of interest to say. You can read a transcript of his 2001 speech here but if you haven’t got time, here’s an interesting quote from it:

“I don’t want a diary and an address book in my cellphone and another one in my PDA and
another one in my computer. I just want one and I don’t care where it is. I just want
everything I use to be able to get at it.” Sound familiar?

Take care

The Informer

Read more about:


You May Also Like