MNOs make no money from the vast online ad market. Can telco-branded mobile browsers change this – and unlock huge ‘lost’ revenues? - Mobile World Live

MNOs make no money from the vast online ad market. Can telco-branded mobile browsers change this – and unlock huge ‘lost’ revenues?

31 AUG 2021

PARTNER FEATURE: Since the day that a phone first established a data connection, the mobile industry has wrestled with a dilemma.

Should mobile network operators accept that they are mere utilities? Or should they try to add value to the connectivity they provide – and make money from these extra services?

Yes, it’s the old ‘dumb pipe’ debate. It never goes away. 

Over the years, MNOs have tried many things. They opened their own music download services. They experimented with gaming and video.

Few of these efforts have endured. As things stand today, when it comes to online services, content and entertainment, most MNOs are indeed utilities. They provide the connectivity while specialist ‘over the top’ providers – Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook – haul in the revenue.

How much revenue? As much as $400 billion. According to App Annie, consumers spent $143 billion on apps in 2021, while total mobile ad spend hit $290 billion. 

So should MNOs accept their fate? Is it game over for monetising digital services?

The open web company eyeo doesn’t think so. It believes mobile operators have a unique opportunity in 2021 to claw back significant revenues. 

How? By launching their own ad-funded mobile web browsers.

Now’s the time

So, why now? eyeo’s argument is as follows: in previous years, MNOs could afford to be laissez-faire about the OTT threat because core revenues were in good health. In the 2000s, voice and text revenues boomed. But when they eventually peaked, roaming revenues soared. When roaming flatlined, along came data plans. 

Now, data revenue is in freefall. According to Strategy Analytics, the average price of a gigabyte was $8 in 2016. By Q4 2020, it had tumbled to $1.

In this context – with mobile subscriptions at full penetration and core revenues in decline – MNOs simply have to seek out new sources of income. 

Which raises the question: why browsers? Alec Gramont, eyeo’s Senior Director of Telecom Partnerships, argues that it comes down to two factors: user experience and trust. He believes many consumers are disillusioned with their web journeys. He is convinced that MNOs can provide something better.

“For a lot of consumers the internet is broken,” he says. “The problem is the ads, which interrupt, slow down connections and follow users around. People are looking for better solutions from trusted providers. And our own user surveys reveal that MNOs are trusted. Consumers tell us they feel loyal to their telcos.”

Re-making user journeys on the web

eyeo itself knows a lot about fixing the broken internet experience. It launched the landmark ad-filtering product AdBlock Plus in 2006, and thereafter evolved its service to “build products that put all stakeholders in control of a fair and prosperous internet, while providing user-friendly revenue options.”

A cornerstone of this mission is the idea of acceptable ad types. eyeo says consumers don’t reject ads per se – they will accept ads “if they’re displayed in a respectful, non-intrusive way”. eyeo also recognises that content creators need to monetise their services. Given that paywalls lock out vast sections of the addressable audience, delivering a nonintrusive ad experience seems the best solution for everyone.

Hence the Acceptable Ads Standard. It ensures ads meet set criteria for placement, distinction and size. An independent committee sets these standards and enforces compliance with the criteria.

As such, Acceptable Ads allows publishers and advertisers to take part in a sustainable online future, while  – preserving a quality browsing experience for the user. 

When a consumer installs Adblock Plus, these non-intrusive ads are displayed by default, ensuring that content creators can make a living and continue to provide high-quality content (though the user is always in control and can turn them off). However, the experience is even more seamless when viewed on a dedicated browser.

Originally AdBlock Plus existed as an extension for existing browsers. It still does – and it has achieved well over one billion downloads this way. But in 2015, eyeo made the logical step of developing its own mobile browser with a dedicated  product for Android phones. Now, the company wants to share its expertise with MNOs. 

The MNO-branded browser

The vision is to create turnkey white-label browsers customised to partner MNOs’ specifications. As such, the browser will be MNO-branded and configured for location and language (other customisations could also be possible upon request). 

It will present a series of tabs with localised content (based on the location of the subscriber): home, news, video, games, shopping and so on. Importantly, there will also be a ‘telco’ tab, through which consumers can conveniently browse promotions, plans, new devices and more. They can also sign in to access their account status and start customer care conversations.

Alec Gramont believes this aspect of the browser – as a communications channel – can be a game changer for MNOs. 

“Lots of users feel that communication with their telco is not good,” he says. “At present they have three main options. They can go to the web site, which is not typically a great experience. They can sign up for text alerts, which are generally one-way only. Or they can download a native app. Some telcos have launched dozens of apps, but they are often pretty basic and they rarely get used. I’ve looked at mine once in the last month. 

“So we feel the operator-branded browser is a great opportunity. Our research tells us that there is a significant section of customers who are waiting for a product that is light, fast and trustworthy. In the long term, such a product could also reduce churn. Any subscriber who gets used to a great browsing experience and a convenient customer care channel will be reluctant to move to a competitor that can’t offer this.”

How big is this ‘significant section’? Gramont accepts that there will be many subscribers who are perfectly happy with their existing browser, and others who have already downloaded products that emphasise privacy or speed. 

However, he contends that most MNOs can reasonably expect a base of around 20 percent to download a branded browser – especially when telcos make the most of their ability to promote or even pre-install it.

Ready to go

Gramont says another benefit for interested MNOs is the speed with which they can launch the product. The core eyeo browser is lightweight and based on the Chromium open source codebase. eyeo recommends that only 15 percent of it needs to be customised to the MNO’s specifications.

eyeo does the technical configuration, management and maintenance. It integrates the Acceptable Ads Standard to ensure all ad feeds are transparent and non-disruptive. Then it sends its MNO partner a regular report detailing performance and revenue.

“We know how to  launch products aimed at improving a user’s online experience ,” says Gramont. “We also know how to monetise and promote these products. It shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to launch with an MNO. Really, the only barrier is the telco’s own internal approval processes.”

eyeo has only just started to target MNOs with this concept. But, according to Gramont, the company is already in advanced conversations with several carriers in Europe and LATAM. 

“The response has been excellent,” he says. “Telcos are looking for something to help them claw back some revenue from the traffic flowing across their networks. The browser is an obvious option. Online advertising is such a vast opportunity and MNOs are not participating in it. We’re ready to go. We want to help them change that.”

For more details go to, Adblock Plus and Acceptable Ads.



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