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MVNOs can use AI too

You heard the news, right? I’m talking about how South Korea’s SK Telecom plans to triple its investment in artificial intelligence (AI) over the next five years, projecting it will rake in $18.5 billion in AI revenue by 2028. Holy cow. No wonder it’s pouring boatloads of cash into AI startup Anthropic.

But not every mobile network operator (MNO), much less every mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), has hundreds of millions lying around to build its own telco-specific large language model (LLM). Plus, MVNOs have an additional hurdle to overcome: a dependency on their network provider’s legacy tech stack. Even though MNOs are starting to experiment with AI inside their own organizations, my guess is that it may be a while before they roll out this goodness to the MVNOs on their network. 

So, what’s a MVNO to do? Luckily, there are still plenty of opportunities to use various types of AI to get real business results and improve the bottom line. AI is a way to embrace new technology across almost every business function for better customer service, more targeted marketing, insightful finance, efficient legal support, and more.

To help, I pulled together five examples of operators and MVNOs big and small (and virtual!) that are putting AI to use.

1. Plan creation: MobileX

AI application: Design and recommend plans based on subscriber usage data

MobileX is a cloud-native MVNO that launched last year and made splashy news recently with its deal with Walmart in the US. MobileX’s differentiation is that it uses AI to estimate each customer’s future monthly usage rates based on their history. Founder Peter Adderton was a guest on my podcast in January of this year, and described how the company dynamically designs subscription plans and presents them to customers. The system then “learns” what people accept and reject, and incorporates that knowledge into future plan creation. By applying this same AI-based approach throughout the subscriber lifecycle, MobileX is working toward creating dynamic and highly personalized experiences. (This linked article also mentions how much MobileX has embraced software as a service, or SaaS, which I highly recommend for MVNOs!)

2. Customer retention: Lyca Mobile

AI application: Use predictive insights to personalize marketing campaigns

Lyca Mobile, one of the world’s largest MVNOs, deployed the AI-powered Customer Value Management (CVM) Accelerator from Flytxt in seven of its largest markets in Europe and the US. Flytxt specializes in marketing automation and AI technology, specifically for customer lifetime value management. Flytxt’s CVM Accelerator will share customer and product insights with Salesforce, which Lyca Mobile uses to unify customer data and interactions.

A pilot project in one of Lyca Mobile’s European markets used insights from the Accelerator to inform marketing campaigns sent through the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, resulting in a 1.3% increase in average revenue per user (ARPU). While small, I expect with continuous improvement and iterations it should be able to get this number north of 10%.

3. Customer Service: Vodafone

AI application: Handle millions of customer inquiries with a customer service chatbot

Vodafone used Microsoft Azure Bot Service to create TOBi, a conversational digital assistant that aims to help customers. It’s currently in 16 markets and speaks 15 languages. Customers can interact with TOBi through chat on Vodafone’s website, messaging apps, and the My Vodafone app. TOBi handles an impressive 60 percent (!) of customer interactions. That’s 25 to 30 million customer conversations each month. Vodafone thinks this will eventually be 500 million per month. And since launching the bot, the operator says it has reduced the frequency of customer contacts to call centers by 12% year over year.

For MVNOs, which use the call center to really differentiate the customer experience, pushing more and more requests to chatbots with high quality interaction and resolution should be the goal. Nothing drives satisfaction more than quick resolution (not even response times, contrary to popular opinion). Measure this area and watch NPS soar.

4. Identity verification: Telefónica 

AI application: Authenticate callers with AI plus a biometric security solution

Telefónica partnered with biometric security company Nuance to help identify senior citizens calling in for support. The operator had a policy of moving this at-risk group to the front of the service queue for priority support. Initially, customer service reps were limited to asking people if they were 65 and older, and had no way to know if callers told the truth when they said yes, or if they just wanted to skip ahead in line. By implementing Nuance Gatekeeper, Telefónica was able to identify seniors via voice biometrics. Using a type of AI called a deep neural network, Nuance can analyze each customer’s voice and create a “voiceprint” that maps to each individual’s unique acoustics. The solution has processed more than 25 million calls, reduced incidents of under-65’s getting priority service by 60%, and accurately identified seniors 95% of the time.

For MVNOs that are differentiating their offering based on a specific demographic, this technology can be applied in the same way. Say, live translation of a language not spoken by the call center agent, or sentiment analysis to identify an angry but high-ARPU customer. Just think of all those opportunities to connect with customers and turn frustrating interactions into locked-in loyalty.

5. Marketing content: Mint Mobile

AI application: Get free advertising copywriting from ChatGPT

Canadian actor and part-owner of Mint Mobile Ryan Reynolds asked ChatGPT to write a commercial for the MVNO in his voice. The generative AI (GenAI) tool did such a good job that Reynolds described the result as “mildly terrifying.” Watch the commercial here and decide for yourself!

Okay, so this example isn’t 100% serious, and this transparent use of GenAI won’t work for every brand. But, I can speak personally to the timesaving benefits of using GenAI to come up with ideas for all kinds of marketing content, source examples to beef up a blog or presentation, and get to a first draft quickly (and then iterate from there). My team and I have been playing around with ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing, and Codey from Google, and loving how much they speed things up. It’s not that they do the job for us; it’s that they get a response to us in 10 seconds and then we can spend our time making it better. It’s been a huge time saver. I even recently launched a TelcoDR chatbot to interact with visitors looking for a quick TelcoDR answer trained on my vast collection of articles, blogs, and podcasts. While it still needs improvement, it’s a start! Look for it in the bottom right corner of this website. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Last but not least: TOTOGI!

AI application: Personalize subscriber experiences with real-time insights

Every company in the list above implemented its AI-based tools individually. That’s all well and good, but at Totogi, where I’m acting CEO, we don’t think that every single MVNO should have to figure this out on its own. What’s different about the Totogi SaaS monetization platform is that we’re building ONE machine learning model that all of our customers use—for the price of a subscription. (We can do this because we are a true SaaS company.) We improve the models continuously, and as they get better, ALL of our customers get the benefit immediately.

Our products are an especially good fit for MVNOs. These small, nimble disruptors may not have data scientists or AI experts on staff. They don’t have the deep pockets required to build expensive, new systems from scratch. And that’s nothing to worry about, because Totogi has a platform that everyone can use. Our goal is to build telco’s best churn predictor and best revenue up-lifter. Not just the best for the little guys, and not just the best for one large MNO, but the best in the whole industry, bar none.

Keen on what MobileX is doing with plan creation or want to use GenAI to generate marketing materials for your latest plan? Check out Totogi’s Plan Design. Jealous of Lyca Mobile’s customer retention initiative? Then sign up for a demo of our Plan AI product. I’ll be sharing more details at MVNO Nation Live, running October 23 – 25 in Valencia, Spain. I open the event with my keynote on how MVNOs can break free from their network provider’s legacy tech stack and use AI to win subscribers. Totogi is also hosting a working group session to help MVNOs conquer churn on Monday, October 23, with only 20 seats available. It will fill up fast, so if you want to learn how to apply cutting-edge technology to increase ARPU, sign up now to reserve your spot. See you there!

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