Of Universal & Singtel’s AMPed, and the bleak future for Mobile Operators

Local heavyweight telecom operator Singtel announced yesterday that it launched AMPed, an interactive music experience for post-paid mobile customers.  According to Singtel’s press release:

Besides unlimited music downloads, mobile customers can join an inclusive music community, enjoy exclusive showcases and breakthrough music services

First-of-its-kind service in Asia, available across widest range of multi-brand 3G handsets

You can read more about the launch from Lester’s blog post, or check out Lady Gaga’s performance at Universal and Singtel’s AMPed launch party.

Singtel AMPedLady Gaga’s amazing stage presence aside, this partnership between Singtel and Universal is probably indicative of a much larger shift in the music industry – a shift alluded to by Joi in his presentation, through examples of Techno Brega and its supporting ecosystem of fans, producers, financiers, etc as well as Nine Inch Nails’ successful distribution of their tracks online at his talk earlier today.  There is a growing recognition amongst the traditional record industry that going after piracy isn’t a sustainable long-term solution.  Free doesn’t have to be all bad, but instead can bring about closer user identification and engagement with their favourite artists, and extracting maximum willingness-to-pay in the process.

When I asked my friend J about what I viewed as a big step for Universal, he commented that “this was just a different way of charging users for it.”  Yet, at S$9.90 for 15 tracks per month and unlimited bandwidth for music browsing and downloads, and a free 200mb data for internet access, the consumer is getting a lot more than just a good deal in this month of the Great Singapore Sale.  Heck, this is a lot cheaper than walking into a CD shop and picking up that hot new CD release (which often weighs in at S$20+ per disc) once a month!  The immense value users can get out of Singtel’s latest Broadband on Mobile AMPed plan alone will be enough to make users from M1 and Starhub churn over.

While 200MB isn’t a lot to trump about for me as I often average 500 – 700mb on my iPhone, it more than suffices for most users.  I’m so excited by this that I’m not even thinking about the wooohoos emanating from behind the closed doors of mobile commerce start-ups in Singapore as they hone their plan for world domination.  If the data points from Universal’s gig with Singtel checks out, I won’t be surprised if we start to see more of this being rolled out across the entire Singtel group and beyond.

One final point I’d mention – despite the apparent hype and branding garnered by Singtel through AMPed, the real value that mobiel operators bring to the table have been and will continue to be both their strength and Achilles’ heel – that of the role as the last mile to mobile users, and as what some might say as ‘dumb pipes‘.  As content owners (ala Universal) and device manufacturers (think Apple, iPhone and App Store; Google and Android; Nokia and Symbian) continue to innovate on their product offerings, mobile operators are feeling the squeeze.  Unless folks from the SS7 world can get creative and churn out a service to bring interest and control back to good ol’ voice, the mobile web Death Star will continue on its inevitable path towards the Alderaans that are telecom operators.

Unlike Princess Leia and her people, when that day finally arrives, I will open a bottle of champagne and rejoice.  Till then, it’s back to paying my mobile bills on time.

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.