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Et Tu, Telefónica?

Ray Le Maistre

The concept that a new service can be offered to consumers and then further developed and finessed on the fly depending on user feedback -- you know, how Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and other online applications giants do it -- is alien to traditional telecom service providers.

Which is why the team at Telefónica Digital is so excited to be doing it and clearly energized by the impact of its first major effort, Tu Me, a unified communications app for smartphones that was still in beta when it was launched and took just 100 days to develop.

And here's the other thing that's unusual for a new telco offering -- the application is free and can be used by anyone, whether they're a Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) customer or not, as it's an over-the-top application.

In the online world that's standard practice: In the telco world, people will have to go and lie down in a dark room to wrestle with the idea.

Tu be or not tu be
Tu Me was launched on May 8 this year, initially for iPhone users and in English. (See Telefónica Digital Gets Smart.)

The team soon had feedback from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets, and now the app is available in those languages too.

On June 18, an Android version was released, and "that's when the momentum really kicked in," noted Stephen Shurrock, Telefónica Digital's chief commercial officer, during a recent media day in London.

By the end of June, Tu Me had 250,000 active users and by the end of July it had risen to 600,000 active users, with Spain, Brazil, France, the U.K. and the U.S. being the most active markets.

The whole way along, the Tu Me team, lead by Director of Communications Products Jamie Finn, has been monitoring and reacting to user feedback online. "We're aiming for customer care differentiation and social customer care. We have a big focus on listening to customers and reacting. We've already done a lot of revisions to Tu Me," he stated at the July briefing. Users even created their own user interfaces for the applications and shared them online.

(Listening to customers? Reacting to customers? That'll send more folk to darkened rooms....)

Tu die for
Tu Me was developed on what the operator calls its Tu Core ecosystem, which was developed from the Jajah IP applications platform Telefónica acquired in 2009. APIs to Tu Core are being made available to developers through Telefónica Digital's BlueVia operation. (See BlueVia Tackles the App Gap, TEF's VoIP Revolution and Telefónica Buys VoIP Player Jajah.)

Next up, again based on Tu Core, is Tu Go. (Are you getting this naming convention? Will we ever get to download Tu Kill a Mockingbird?)

Tu Go, set to be launched in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2012 and then rolled out internationally, is a different proposition from Tu Me in that it'll be for Telefónica customers only. And whereas Tu Me is an app-to-app service, Tu Go will act as an extension of the customer's existing service but branching it across multiple devices and access networks. The user has a single number that is used to sign on to the service via any connection (fixed, mobile, Wi-Fi) using any device. All of the usage history, contacts and other information is stored online, so that can be updated and accessed in real time from any device.

The Telefónica Digital team describe it as the best of the telco with the best of the Web (even referring to it as 'Over the Telco'). Finn believes this is the way all communications service providers (CSPs) will offer their voice and other applications in the future. "I expect that in five years, every telco will be offering their voice service across every device," he noted.

Except anyone launching that in five years will be a long way behind Telefónica Digital.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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