Changing your industry is a big step, especially if you plan to move into roles that have a significant focus on the customer need or solution. Typically the roles with that kind of focus require you to have a good understanding of the overall business. Building that knowledge can take time, and if you are expecting to attend a job interview with a mobile operator in the next few days, your research might take some time. This post aims to help you accelerate your research so that you don’t spend too much time on the basics of the mobile communications business. If you work in job functions like product management, solution design, project management, sales, business development, product marketing or something similar, you may be very close to customer solutions. In that case, an overall understanding of the industry and how the business operates can help you prepare for the interview better.
To prepare for a job interview with a specific mobile operator, you can check their website to understand their business model, how they operate, what products and services they offer, what challenges they have, who their customers and competitors are, and what problems their customers face.
Scope of this post
If you do a simple Google search, you will likely come across many blog posts and articles that can tell you dozens of things you must do before a job interview, including getting dressed properly for the occasion. While those things are also important, this post focuses on the business and organisation side of things, so you get to understand mobile operators a bit better. If you are an experienced professional from any other industry, this post can provide a good foundation for your research. However, if you are relatively new, the best way to prepare for the interview is to search for general interview questions separately in addition to reading this post.
What do mobile operators do?
Mobile network operators own mobile networks to provide cellular coverage to their customers in any given country. There are two types of mobile operators: Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO). MNOs own an end-to-end mobile network, whereas MVNOs are operators that purchase network capacity from an MNO to serve their customers. Both MNO and MVNO own their customers and provide them with cellular services, including voice calls, text & multimedia messages (SMS & MMS) and mobile data. Mobile operators may sell their cellular services directly or indirectly to their customers. The key deliverable of a mobile network is airtime, also known as cellular coverage. A mobile subscription can be sold to a customer either with a device (e.g. smartphone) or without a device. Mobile operators have direct and indirect relationships with various manufacturers of phones and other devices to create service bundles and packages for their customers. Today, mobile operators also offer many other services and products alongside cellular services, including IT software, hardware, unified communications, landline telephone, fixed and mobile broadband, and many others.
Who is the customer of mobile operators?
Mobile operators sell their services to consumers and businesses through various sales channels, including retail and online shops, customer accounts, and partners. The consumer segment is usually the largest for most mobile operators as it serves a high volume of customers and generates a significant portion of the overall service revenues. The business segment comprises large enterprises, small office home office (SoHo), and small-medium enterprise customers (SMEs). The largest business segment is Enterprise, which represents large organisations with thousands or tens of thousands of employees. The smallest business segment is SoHo which represents very small businesses with 1 to 10 employees. In the UK, SoHo has a high volume of customers and includes self-employed people, sole traders, etc. The business segment in the middle is mid-market which is between SoHo and Enterprise.
What are the needs of a customer?
The primary need of the customers of mobile operators is a mobile phone subscription which essentially means airtime + phone. With over 8 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, mobile phones now represent the primary phone for many consumers and businesses. The usage of landline telephones is gradually declining in favour of mobile phones. With the emergence of over-the-top (OTT) apps like WhatsApp, a mobile phone offers more calling options to a customer than a traditional landline telephone. For consumers, the needs generally include mobile phone subscription, mobile broadband and in some cases also fixed broadband. Mobile operators have more targeted value propositions for businesses, including what consumers get and other business-centric office use products. The other key customer need for many businesses is financing devices to offer flexibility to customers.
What products does a mobile operator sell?
In order to target the primary need of their customers, the most obvious product of a mobile operator is the phone subscription sold either as just airtime (i.e. only SIM or SIM Only – SIMO) or a phone subscription that includes airtime and device. The mobile phone subscriptions are then divided into prepaid and postpaid. Prepaid is also called Pay As You Go (PAYG), and postpaid is also called Pay Monthly subscription. Mobile Broadband (MBB) is the other important service mobile operators sell. When customers buy a phone subscription from a mobile operator, the device price is included in the monthly subscription. Once the customer has fully paid the device price, they can either switch to a SIM Only deal or decide to upgrade to a newer phone and get into a new phone contract. Mobile Broadband is generally sold together with a mobile WiFi router or a USB dongle. In addition to these core services, many large mobile operators also sell fixed broadband through fibre or DSL/VDSL. They also have a layer of value-added services (VAS) that can include products in security, computing and other IT related areas. Mobile operators also focus on machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT) services where they offer connectivity solutions for IoT devices.
How is a mobile operator organised?
The organisation of a mobile operator depends on the size of their business. Like other big corporations, large mobile operators have a Group function generally in the country where they have their registered head office. In countries where they operate, i.e. have an operational mobile network, they have local companies called OpCo (operating company). As a customer, when you buy a mobile subscription, you always contact the local operating company (OpCo). When a mobile operator launches any new products or services, they can either develop them locally for their market or seek support from Group. The Group function is responsible for the overall company-wide strategy and collaborates with the local markets to build products and services that OpCos can use. Working within a local market is different from working in the Group function because the roles in Group require working in a more joined-up approach together with the local markets who own the customers.
What technology departments mobile operators have
The technology departments within a mobile operator depend on the technology areas and the organisations responsible for those areas. The key parts of a mobile network are radio and core networks, transport networks, OSS/BSS, billing and charging etc. These network or technology areas are looked after by individual departments, e.g. Radio Network Optimisation department. Since these functions are very close to the day-to-day operations of a mobile network, the responsibility for these areas is with local markets (OpCos). So, for example, if you are an RF engineer, you are likely to find relevant jobs within a local operating company of a mobile operator (OpCo). The Group function usually has departments that can support multiple local markets by adding capabilities centrally so that they can be shared between various OpCos. Therefore, the Group function can facilitate local markets to ensure alignment with company-level strategy whilst achieving economies of scale.
How mobile operators make money
Mobile operators’ primary revenue source is the subscription business, where they charge customers for airtime. Airtime means the cellular connection that allows a customer to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and use mobile data services through 3G, 4G and 5G networks. The other obvious source of revenue is the device price included in the tariff price, but since mobile operators do not build the phones themselves, a significant part of the device or hardware revenue goes to the device manufacturers. Airtime is the most profitable business for a mobile operator because that is the money that comes from operating the network. The other sources of revenue are the products and services mentioned above.
Challenges and opportunities for a mobile operator?
The biggest challenge for a mobile operator, arguably, is that their customers have a lot of choices for their cellular needs nowadays. That makes it harder for cellular services not to become a utility just like electricity or petrol. As the markets mature, differentiation between the products and services of mature mobile operators in a given country is likely to decline. This makes it harder for mobile operators to compete on price because their services may be very similar. However, that is the case for countries where there is more competition due to multiple mature mobile operators. The two key business performance metrics for any mobile operator are volumes and ARPU. Volume is the number of subscriptions, and ARPU is the average monthly revenue per user. ARPU stands for Average Revenue Per User, and it is a measure of the average subscription fee a mobile subscriber pays each month. Service revenues are a function of ARPU and volumes, so if the ARPU declines and the volumes have to go up in order to avoid a decrease in revenues. On the positive side, though, the Fifth Generation (5G) technology opens up new opportunities for mobile operators. 5G is a highly flexible technology that can offer everything 4G already offers, plus higher data speeds and machine type communication (MTC) service for IoT devices. You can learn more about the IoT side of mobile communications in our dedicated post.
If you are preparing for a job interview with a mobile operator, you need to understand the business model for a mobile operator. You need to know how the business operates, who the customers are, what challenges they face and what products and services mobile operators offer to address those needs. In addition, you also need to understand the challenges and opportunities for a mobile operator. You can create better and more targeted responses to any job interview questions with that information.