Mobile operators better watch their backs, says Ovum...
Facebook's rapid colonisation of mobile computing is posing a threat to mobile operators as the social networking service could be evolving into a "social operating system", says analyst house Ovum.
In a report entitled Mobile Social Networking: change driver & key players, the analyst said mobile operators haven't realised the threat posed by the social network behemoth, which has some 500 million users worldwide.
"Facebook is encroaching directly on mobile operator territory and should not be underestimated," said Eden Zoller, author of the report and Ovum principal analyst, in a statement. The analyst noted Facebook's hockey-stick trajectory in mobile computing since its 2006 launch of Facebook Mobile to the more than 200 million mobile users logging on to Facebook today - describing the social service as a "force to be reckoned with".
"It is much more than a social network and is better viewed as an increasingly rich platform for communications and content," said Zoller. "Facebook wants to integrate with everything and be the main way that people consume and share information, anywhere and on any device."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may not have been at last week's Mobile World Congress trade show in person but he popped up in a video message at HTC's press conference, as the mobile maker announced two smartphones with deep Facebook integration: the HTC ChaCha and Salsa. Zuckerberg said mobile users should expect "dozens" of such Facebook-focused devices to launch this year.
Ovum's report flags up multiple areas where the social networking giant is already treading on operators' toes, including Facebook's integration with VoIP service Skype, its email offering, its interest in location-based services with the Places platform, and its drive into mobile advertising via the Deals check-in service. The analyst also noted that Facebook's mobile app dominates downloads across most smartphone OSes.
"Operators view Facebook as a benign presence, one that they would like to partner with, particularly on the mobile front. Although there are some good reasons why operators should wish to partner with Facebook, operators should be more alert to the fact that it is shaping up to be a strong competitor," the report adds.
Discussing speculation that Facebook is planning to bring out its own smartphone - going beyond its current strategy of working with mobile makers such as HTC and INQ to integrate its services into their hardware - Zoller nonetheless poured cold water on the idea of an imminent Facebook phone.
"There is intense ongoing speculation that Facebook will come out with its own phone, which in some respects would be the final piece of the puzzle," said Zoller. "However, we don't think Facebook is in any rush to launch its own hardware just yet, although it could be interested in working with partners on a customised device platform.
"This would, in effect, make Facebook a social operating system."