Telefonica’s Tu Go shows that, finally, a telco has figured out the value of the app

Mobile carriers have been fighting against so-called over-the-top (OTT) communications apps for quite some time now. These are generally third-party apps we’re talking about here, that are called “OTT” because they run on top of the carriers’ data services.

The carriers hate OTT apps because – they claim – they don’t make any money off them. This is nonsense, of course: when they’re not being blocked or throttled by the operators, the use of these apps drives the sales of new devices, and of the data services themselves. The real reason carriers hate them is because they’re often better rivals to the carriers’ own legacy services, including voice (Skype, for example) and SMS (WhatsApp).

And so the carriers have been experimenting with services that act as direct rivals to the likes of Skype and WhatsApp: Orange(s fte) has Libon, T-Mobile(s dt) USA has Bobsled and Telefonica(s tef) has Tu Me. The problem is, these apps all just do what their third-party rivals do. For the carriers that are putting them out, they act as little more than brand ambassadors. They don’t actually create much value for the carriers’ existing customers, nor are their new platforms innovative enough to lure users from third-party rivals.

Until now. Someone has finally got the point. The carrier in question is Telefonica(s tef) again, and the app – now available for O2 UK contract customers only – is called Tu Go. The proposition is very simple. Using the Tu Go app on Android, iOS or the PC, subscribers can make and receive calls and texts over Wi-Fi using their normal mobile number. The calls and texts come out of their standard allowances.

But surely it’s better to use a new-generation platform, I hear you say. Not always. For example, I work from home and I call people using Skype an awful lot, largely because the mobile coverage in my apartment is dreadful. Skype’s cheaper than mobile in most cases, but it doesn’t show the recipient of my calls the phone number printed on my business cards. Also, it means having multiple billing accounts. With a service like Tu Go, problem solved.

This isn’t trying to create yet another platform. All it’s doing is using the power of the app to bring legacy functionality into the modern age; to make it more useful. Telefonica has realized that you don’t fight the upstart by creating a separate platform to your core product: you adapt and extend your core product instead.

Will it be enough to fend off the upstarts? For some users, it will; for those who gave up on their mobile operator a while back, it won’t. But it’s the first OTT app I’ve seen from a carrier that doesn’t feel like they’re flailing around in response to their IP-only rivals. Having covered this stuff for a while, I could weep with joy.