Telecom operators and OTT (over-the-top) players have to reach a middle ground to settle the buzz around net neutrality and to ensure that they coexist in the digital space. Analytics will play a big role in settling the issue for once and for all, says Vinod Vasudevan, Group CEO, Flytxt, a big data analytics player specialising in telecom. When spectrum is auctioned, it is a public asset being put on the block. The other extreme of net neutrality is where an operator says he will exercise a control of certain services. That’s not fair either. Flytxt is working with the Netherlands-based TNO, an independent organisation for applied scientific research, on finding a model acceptable to all. Excerpts from an interview:

Do we have a middle ground here?

I’ll take an analogy with the banking system. We all use credit cards. There’s somebody paying for the credit card. Visa/Mastercard gets paid, the merchant bank gets paid. Some credit cards charge the merchant, some charge the consumer. But at the end of the day, there’s a charge for it. Visa/Mastercard uses the bank as a distribution platform for acquiring customers. And they ensure that the bank gets compensated one way or the other.

Even the courier company is an example. If you want it to carry your package from one place to another, the recipient has to pay for it if sender hasn’t already. But it cannot take the position it would not carry somebody’s packet or that he’ll not deliver to a particular recipient. Nor can the sender take the position that his packets go free. These are not sustainable.

Is there any hope of reaching a consensus?

Now that at least (net neutrality) is being talked about, the first step to the solution may have been taken. Nobody talked about this five years ago. In the public domain, in the political discourse, net neutrality has not been discussed before.

Telecom services and OTT services have become popular now. Only when it becomes a mass phenomenon will politicians/administration get sufficiently interested. May be in another two to three years, a mechanism will evolve. I’m convinced of it.

What type of a solution are we talking about?

I don’t know about the solution but am convinced it will evolve to allow a telecom and an OTT to co-exist. We have an R&D effort being initiated with a research entity called TNO in the Netherlands. They do research with enterprises and one of the main topics we’re working on the telecom and OTT coexistence models. It all boils down to a debate over value being brought forward by each player.

I don’t know who will solve that problem; or who will bring that model. But there are many people working on it. Discussions are there in the US, Europe, and also in India.

What role does analytics have to play here?

Analytics will play a big role in the model because without it, we can’t establish the value that a telecom player/OTT is bringing to the table. Every person who uses Whatsapp means some value for Whatsapp. It cannot be that everybody else in the world means the same value for Whatsapp. So people coming through different operators may have different value. That needs to be established.

If you take the credit card analogy, you have the silver, gold and platinum variants. Here, you’re analysing customers and making customised products.

To what extent have Flytxt and TNO progressed in the matter?

I guess various alternative models are being looked at now. We don’t have a solution yet, but the last time we reviewed it, it was progressing well. Telecom operators are now talking about becoming digital service providers. This is going beyond being just data, voice or video… They’re not just a communication service provider anymore.

So we are looking at how consumer analytics will play in that space over the next few years… The other part is that how the OTT will coexist. Both items are progressing well, and the latter is of personal interest also. I’m very happy with the progress. We don’t have a solution yet. But our efforts should get us somewhere.

How will you deal with the regulatory aspects?

The solution will have a regulatory aspect, which the government will have to finalise. It will have a commercial aspect, which the individual entities have to finalise. There are also cross-border issues because OTT players are all over the world.

A company like Flytxt comes into picture when an underlying structure – that enables a commercial model to operate – emerges. We can’t say this has to be the regulatory solution or the commercial solution. But we can say this is the value of the commercial ecosystem. Or the value that different people in the ecosystem contribute.

How that will translate into a solution is for individual entities to decide. We see a problem…We believe that needs to be solved, and in our small way, we’re trying out to figure out a solution.