I love simple. It’s not that I am simple, although that may be questioned by some, it’s more a lifelong pursuit to keeping things simple. This, however, is much more difficult than it sounds. Simplicity is simply difficult to attain.

Those famous individuals that have managed to achieve the ‘art of simplicity’ have benefited greatly from it. Steve Jobs was quoted in BusinessWeek way back in 1998 as saying, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.” And move mountains he did!

In a recent book, “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success” simplicity is defined not just as a design principle but as ‘a religion and a weapon.’ Written by Ken Segall who, as creative director, played a key role in Apple’s resurrection, helping to create such critical campaigns as ‘Think Different’ and naming the iMac. Insanely Simple is his insider’s view of Jobs’ world. It reveals the ten elements of Simplicity that have driven Apple’s success. I won’t spoil it by listing them here but the power of simplicity also has a remarkable effect when applied to communication – verbal or written.

Why then, has the telecommunications industry gone out of its way to evolve complexity into an art form, starting with the humble phone number, up to ten digits long? I have difficulty remembering a four digit PIN these days and if it wasn’t for the contacts list and address books on my smartphone and home phone I would probably never call anyone! I like the way Skype let’s you use names but, thankfully, even those appear on your contact list when you start Skype.

The area of complexity we excel most at is the humble tariff or pricing plans for mobile subscriptions. Take a look at any mobile operator website and be overwhelmed at the offers, plans, subsidies, free minutes, cheap overseas calls, free weekend, capped, late night, early morning, driving to work, in the loo – there’s something for everyone but hardly anyone can work them out. That’s not to mention those bizarre press ads linking handsets to contracts, and data plans to handsets.

Anybody that knows anything about marketing will tell you that people shopping around are usually just looking for new handsets. If they see the one they want, on offer, they will check the monthly subscription next and probably just buy without going into a deep dive to determine total cost of ownership, locked status, data bundling, etc.

The blinding success of those early ‘all you can eat plans’ was more to do with the simple, set cost per month with no surprises, rather than the unlimited data they provided. Most people have no idea what volume of data they are consuming and most don’t abuse the unlimited offers, it’s all about the simplicity of the plan.

Take, for example, the amazing success of French MVNO, ‘Free’. It started life as a fixed-line broadband provider (Freebox) that bundled TV content at a very attractive price-point. After shaking up that sector, it moved into the mobile arena as an MVNO utilizing the Orange network. Firstly, there is nothing free, in cost terms, about ‘Free’, but the name definitely attracts attention. It’s plans, however, are free of all hassles. In market where complexity of mobile offerings has become an art form, Free gives you a simple choice of plans – one. For 19.99€ per month (or 15.99€ if you are an existing Freebox customer) you get unlimited calls to mobiles in France (+ USA, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii), unlimited calls to landlines in 40 destinations, SMS / MMS unlimited in France, unlimited access FreeWiFi and 3G Internet up to 3GB (reduced flow beyond). And there is contract!

Free managed to capture 2.6 million subscribers, that’s 4 per cent of the French mobile market, in its first three months and now has the three majors rushing out similar ‘simple’ plans to stem the flow of customers.

The big benefits of simple plans are the lower costs of billing, lower rates of bad debt, no bill shock headlines and less calls to customer care centers. The only disadvantages are that many hundreds of people supporting the current complexity may become redundant.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 23 July 2012.