5 Comments

Summary:

Tu Go extends essential functionality to Wi-Fi-connected devices, making the service you’re already paying for more relevant and easier to use. It may be the first time a telco has created a genuinely sensible OTT app.

Tu Go

Mobile carriers have been fighting against so-called over-the-top (OTT) communications apps for quite some time now. These are generally third-party apps we’re talking about here, that are called “OTT” because they run on top of the carriers’ data services.

The carriers hate OTT apps because – they claim – they don’t make any money off them. This is nonsense, of course: when they’re not being blocked or throttled by the operators, the use of these apps drives the sales of new devices, and of the data services themselves. The real reason carriers hate them is because they’re often better rivals to the carriers’ own legacy services, including voice (Skype, for example) and SMS (WhatsApp).

And so the carriers have been experimenting with services that act as direct rivals to the likes of Skype and WhatsApp: Orange has Libon, T-Mobile USA has Bobsled and Telefonica has Tu Me. The problem is, these apps all just do what their third-party rivals do. For the carriers that are putting them out, they act as little more than brand ambassadors. They don’t actually create much value for the carriers’ existing customers, nor are their new platforms innovative enough to lure users from third-party rivals.

Until now. Someone has finally got the point. The carrier in question is Telefonica again, and the app – now available for O2 UK contract customers only – is called Tu Go. The proposition is very simple. Using the Tu Go app on Android, iOS or the PC, subscribers can make and receive calls and texts over Wi-Fi using their normal mobile number. The calls and texts come out of their standard allowances.

But surely it’s better to use a new-generation platform, I hear you say. Not always. For example, I work from home and I call people using Skype an awful lot, largely because the mobile coverage in my apartment is dreadful. Skype’s cheaper than mobile in most cases, but it doesn’t show the recipient of my calls the phone number printed on my business cards. Also, it means having multiple billing accounts. With a service like Tu Go, problem solved.

This isn’t trying to create yet another platform. All it’s doing is using the power of the app to bring legacy functionality into the modern age; to make it more useful. Telefonica has realized that you don’t fight the upstart by creating a separate platform to your core product: you adapt and extend your core product instead.

Will it be enough to fend off the upstarts? For some users, it will; for those who gave up on their mobile operator a while back, it won’t. But it’s the first OTT app I’ve seen from a carrier that doesn’t feel like they’re flailing around in response to their IP-only rivals. Having covered this stuff for a while, I could weep with joy.

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  1. John Taylor Friday, March 1, 2013

    So as a customer I’m paying O2 to send texts and make calls over their network but actually my traffic is going over my internet connection that I’m paying someone else for. O2 give people a more reliable service at no cost to themselves and actually reduce the traffic on their network. Excellent.

  2. Dave Wright Friday, March 1, 2013

    Nice article. I agree that this is breaking some new ground in the TelcoOTT space. What’s most intriguing to me is the ability to make/receive calls from/to your mobile # with a Wi-Fi only device (eg iPad or iPod Touch), and the implications for making/receiving calls while traveling internationally without exorbitant roaming charges.

    To be fair, T-Mobile has offered their Wi-Fi Calling service (based on a UMA solution from Kineto Wireless) for a few years now. It’s not available as an app, but there were even a few feature phones that supported it. My mother has poor cellular coverage at her house, but has great T-Mobile voice service with Wi-Fi Calling.

  3. Jose Miguel Cansado Friday, March 1, 2013

    Sometimes indoor 3G coverage is so bad that this app from Telefonica Digital could actually be a hit. For a telco it is far cheaper than deploying Femto cells.

    1. I am such a customer – and I work from home. Bring it on, I say.

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