Telia is the largest incumbent telco in the Nordic region, with over 1 million subscribers to its premium fixed broadband service in Sweden alone. But as internet access becomes a commodity, the company needs to look at how to deliver more value to its customers and protect its premium positioning. The answer? Telia Zone - a solution embedded into the wifi router that aims to “simplify everyday life making time at home more enjoyable, together.”
As Rickard Damm, founder and head of Telia Zone, told DataIQ in an interview with DataIQ during the recent GraphConnect Europe conference, “fibre is becoming a commodity. People rely on us as a trusted brand but, over time, every service becomes a commodity and we need to add value to drive customer satisfaction and keep our premium position.”
(Rickard Damm, head of Telia Zone (centre) and Lars Ericsson, design technologist)
Joining from Ericsson, where he had been head of business development for cloud products, he took a look at where a new opportunity might be found - he identified those broadband subscribers as an under-served category in terms of service innovation. About 60% also subscribe to TV services, but there had been no significant innovation around the router itself.
In February 2016, he had the idea for the Premium Zone Platform (the technology behind Telia Zone) - a hub around which wifi-based services could develop and deliver an enhanced experience for customers. “Our value proposition was to simplify the consumer’s life and to help them entertain themselves, based on context data,” said Damm. Having pitched the idea to the CEO and gained buy-in, he started to create a small team which, significantly, was operating outside of Telia’s core technology stack, but with cyber security and data governance built in.
The heart of the idea is providing wifi cloud APIs to service providers, which Damm described as having “amazing value” for those organisations and which they are unable to capture for themselves. An API provides data on when a client is in the wifi zone, events for those clients as they enter or leave, the device being used (which is in effect the client) and authentication of that client.
Graph analytics is at the heart of how Telia Zone is understanding this data, using the graph database Neo4J, with the wifi router as the node, apps as connections and other locations or devices where a subscriber connects to Telia Zone giving a wider context. Predictive analytics can look at when two known devices are in the same zone or when a subscriber is likely to arrive home.
“We need to be attractive to app developers so they will use our API,” said Damm. “We have a very simple approval process for developers - once they have passed that, they get an ID and tools to start developing in a sandbox enviroment. We then have another approval process to check if they have come up with a good product. Then they sign an agreement and become a partner.” The developer process was put in place before the new service was promoted to customers in order to have a small eco-system in place before full launch in June this year.
Already launched are the song list builder CoPlay (which Telia has co-built with Spotify following an investment it made into the streaming service in 2015), list and notification service If This Then That, Glue smart locks and Manetos heat control. As Telia Zone has been downloaded into existing routers as part of an update, the company’s subscribers can in theory start using it, discovering services which send a message to them when their children arrive home (without having to have a separate app running) or making the lights come on as they return.
“We didn’t know who would engage. Manetos is a Swedish company - our equivalent of Nest, but different because we have geo-thermal, water-based heating systems. If somebody is connected to a Telia Zone, but are not at home, they can use it to change their setting to vacation mode. Glue can send users a reminder if they have not locked the door,” said Damm.
The business is in discussions with other services that currently operate behind a paywall, such as music streaming and news, to provide them to Telia broadband customers as part of the new service in a freemium model. “We add value, they add users,” explained Damm. To protect existing subscriptions among those partners, users would pay when they are not connected to Telia Zone wifi.
Having more household names will be something of a tipping point for Telia Zone and will also help bring other service providers onboard - the current goal is to be offering ten connected services. But Damm noted that it takes a long time for those businesses to decide to become a content provider in this way.
“Our vision is not to be the be-all and end-all of connected homes, but to be part of the big eco-systems alongside Apple, Google, Amazon. We are discussing with all of them how to integrate. We are another platform to improve the value of their technologies,” he said.
Damm added that externalising the intelligence from the data as a B2B services is being considered, such as when people will arrive or leave home. “A use case for that might be a food delivery app, using Telia Zone at a granular level to propose a very specific delivery slot when we predict that person will be at home,” he said. That has salience for all types of home delivery or other services that need to visit homes when individuals are present.
Although the Nordic developer community was at the heart of the project in the early days, Damm points out that development is now a global industry and, as a result, APIs users have doubled to 150. “That is why we made it an open API because we can’t invent everything ourselves, but we can use the wisdom of the crowd.” Other Nordic brands, such as Volvo, are also being courted as part of the vision that connected cars, homes and wifi will steadily mesh together. As Damm said: “We want Telia Zone to be the place where things happen.”