Optus protects against usurping apps

As smartphone apps such as iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger usurp the traditional role of SMS, Optus has said that by developing its own apps, the company would seek to protect itself from further encroaching on its territory.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

As smartphone apps such as iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger usurp the traditional role of SMS, Optus has said that by developing its own apps, the company would seek to protect itself from further encroaching on its territory.

Messenger apps such as BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple's new iMessage look to take on the role for instant messaging that was once a revenue stream for mobile telcos through SMS. Speaking to journalists following the announcement of Optus' Q2 financial results, Optus consumer managing director Michael Smith said that the company had been "curiously protected" from any impact on its revenue by such apps through having mostly unlimited SMS plans. However, he said that the company was aware that any service it offers could be usurped by an app, including voice services.

"Ultimately, anything that's currently a service of ours could become an app-based service and would move to data," he said, adding that caps and access fees would protect the company somewhat from any changes but that the company's own app developments such as Smart Safe, Go Places and TV Now would help.

"In each of those apps, we're seeking to bring our own apps across the top of our own services. We're very active in our strategy that will seek [to] protect our position moving forward," he said.

While Optus was protecting itself from moves from device manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung, Smith said that Optus had contacted both companies on news yesterday that Apple would be required to hand over its commercial agreements with the telco as part of Samsung's lawsuit against the company over alleged patent infringements in the iPhone 4S.

"Inside of our agreements with all of our partners we have certain clauses around confidentiality. On hearing of the announcement of the decision of the judge we've certainly spoken with both parties about what we believe is confidential information," he said.

Smith said that the sooner the patent disputes between the two tech giants were over, the happier Optus would be.

"To the extent that we can get more handsets or others we'd be very happy. So the sooner this matter is resolved and we can get on with doing our job, the happier we will be."

Rethink on premium-priced LTE?

Optus CEO Paul O'Sullivan also backed away from previous comments that the company's Long Term Evolution (LTE) roll-out would offer the telco the chance to charge a premium for higher speed services. The chief executive said that in light of the plans out in the market — such as Telstra's — which are charged on par with existing mobile broadband services, it was less likely that a premium would be charged for LTE.

"Obviously, if you look at the market's price today, it looks like there is not a premium being taken in the marketplace for that, so obviously we'll need to keep evaluating that and watch how it develops."

O'Sullivan also raised concerns about the impact the private members Bill, which is looking to restrict mobile phone tower construction — brought before Federal Parliament by Greens Leader Bob Brown — would have on the company's LTE roll-out.

"The advantage we've got for LTE is that we're adding antennae to existing sites. So from that point of view we should be really well placed, but there is always the risk that if we have got to do an upgrade ... we're going to get captured by any changes to legislation," he said. "We would be urging people to be cautious here."

O'Sullivan said that Optus often receives lobbying from communities that want better coverage through more mobile towers along with those who want sites moved away from where they live. He said it is impossible in tower construction to get every single person happy, and the best approach would be for operators to live up to a code of conduct and to consult with the local community before erecting any new tower.

"We believe that there needs to be a lot of consideration to any changes to the current rules because at the moment responsible carriers like Optus go through extensive community consultation," he said. "It's often very typical for us to take over 12 months from the moment we start our application to do our community consultation."

The parliament is accepting submissions on the proposed Bill until tomorrow, and O'Sullivan said Optus would be seeking to make a submission.

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