Will trade data for data: why the tech giants are dabbling with internet connectivity—and why the telcos should be worried

“The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.”

I like this quote. It gives hope to those of us who are not very smart, that we may be able to predict the future merely by looking in the right place. So where should we be looking to see the future? Surprisingly enough, Latin America, Africa, the Philippines and our very own Tekapo. 

In 2013 Google spent some time here in Nu Zilund testing phase one of Project Loon, its attempt at creating a network of high altitude balloons providing internet access to people all over the world. It is a pretty clever system that utilises high-altitude wind currents to move the balloons around to where they need to be. Raise or lower the balloons into a different layer of stratified wind and they get blown in different directions This means the clever clogs at Google can keep the balloons arranged in one big communication network. Cool stuff.

Over in the Philippines, Paraguay, and central Africa, another global tech giant began looking at setting up its own communications network. Facebook’s Connectivity Lab wants to bring the whole world online, and in the countries mentioned have partnered with local cell companies to offer free internet access for certain apps. They have also been testing drones, satellites and lasers as a means to provide internet access in areas where the usual cell tower infrastructure is uneconomic (it’s set to start beaming in to central Africa by 2016). A Facebook powered laser drone … you have been warned. 

Why would these companies be acting so altruistically as to want to provide free internet? And what do their movements into telecommunications mean for us lowly marketers?

To use another quote “if you get free food and a free barn you are not the farmer, you are the pig” Companies such as Google and Facebook are in the business of selling data – your data. You give them some of your data and they give you back different data, with a bit of advertising thrown in to pay the bills. It is a fair trade that billions of us are happy to partake in. The more users they have, the more data they get, and the more valuable their product is to advertisers. Providing free internet access is a logical step for them to get more users. And a step that should have traditional telcos very scared, particularly in countries where mobile data costs are ridiculously high and the telcos treat their customers like shit. [Cough]

Many of us are already happy to give a certain amount of our data over to companies such as Facebook and Google, so it is therefore reasonable to expect that most of us would happily continue to do so in exchange for free mobile internet. And once we have free and unlimited mobile access on our phones, we will be able to throw away the routers we have in our homes and use our mobiles as personal hotspots. And this is where it becomes interesting for marketers …

If your internet access was provided by Facebook or Google, you would be in a permanently logged in state. When you turn your TV on to stream the latest Come Block My Kitchen With “Stars” episode via your phone, the network would be able to serve you ads based on your demographics, interests, friends, recent searches or any other information you have traded in exchange for your sweet, sweet free internet.

These ads will be far more targeted, and therefore cost-effective, than traditional broadcast ads, and would be done via the self-service model that these companies are already using. Advertisers will be able to log-in and upload their new 30 second ad (or 19 second ad, for that matter, as traditional timeslots would be dead), set the desired reach and frequency, the demographics, interests, life-stage etc, and then bid for the eyeballs. Advertisers would be safe in the knowledge that they will hit exactly who they want to hit. The actual content will be irrelevant so long as they get the right eyes, and the eyes will be guaranteed.

I have mentioned Google and Facebook as two examples of companies already going down this path, but you can bet there are others, such as Amazon, who will be looking with interest to see how this goes. It is going to be a pretty interesting, and highly disruptive journey for everyone involved, and one that has started from Tekapo.

  • Anthony Gardiner is the founder of 25 Most Played and previously worked at OMD and Affinity ID. 

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