AD BLOCKING was one of the hottest topics at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and doesn’t seem to be disappearing from the headlines anytime soon.

Three days before MWC started, UK carrier, Three Mobile, surprised the industry by announcing its plans to offer millions of customers across Europe the ability to “switch off” ads on their phone.

But the bigger surprise was when the CEO of rival telco O2 — which has been acquired by Three — who was previously one of the biggest proponents of the idea — changed his stance completely and said network-level ad blocking “wasn’t the answer”.

This ‘back and forth’ was controversial because ad blocking has the potential to impact hundreds of millions of people and seriously disrupt the advertising and publishing industries.

In recent years, mobile carriers have been considering the idea of blocking ads displayed on their customers’ phones because, as a general rule, they are not getting a fair share of the revenue from those ads — which is instead going to digital media publishers.

The topic has become one of the biggest debates in the telco industry in the past 12 months thanks in part to a company called Shine which has been vigorously promoting the benefits of its ad blocking technology to major carriers like Three Mobile.

There has been plenty of big talk and threats to roll out Shine’s technology, but no major telco has actually pushed the button…yet.

This is because ad blocking is considered a “nuclear approach” to the problem and is almost certain to create all new kinds of headaches in its wake.

For a start, ad blocking is seen by people in many circles as illegal and a clear breach of Europe’s net neutrality laws.

Second, it likely to earn a strong rebuke from digital publishers such as Google and Facebook.

And third, if ad blocking technology was successful in reducing the amount of revenue returned to publishers, it could actually make itself redundant by destroying so many publishers that there were fewer reasons for people to browse content on their phones.

Many publishers are already struggling with declining revenues caused by the enormous switch from print to digital consumption around the world. If ad blocking becomes the norm, they will have one less way to fund and support the production of content and pay for journalists, writers, artists and so on.

None of these seem to me to be a sensible outcome for telcos, the publishing industry or users.

At Unlockd, we have come up with a way to address the same problem in a way that benefits all three parties, with a model that displays ads and content, delivers revenue back to telcos and lets consumers earn tangible monetary benefits for their time and consumption.

Our technology has already launched in Australia with Lebara Mobile, in the US with a division of Sprint Telecom and is about to launch in the UK with a major brand as well. In addition with 15+ Telco’s globally in advanced discussion this shows that there is a massive demand from the telco industry for a win-win solution.

But what about demand from customers? For any solution to have longevity, it will need to win over the user as well.

This is where the real challenge lies — to turn mobile advertisements from a distraction into a bonus by showing people the value they receive from them. So far Unlockd and its partners have done this by giving customers extra data and discounted monthly bills in exchange for viewing ads.

The success of whatever solution the telco industry decides to implement will likely hinge on whether or not customers embrace it.

If people feel that the ads they see aren’t providing value, it’s understandable why they might want to turn them off. The answer is to flip the traditional model and clearly show why they are providing value both from a content discovery experience and the monetary value they provide.

Doing so will finally let consumers derive a return from viewing ads, publishers and advertisers continue to reach their target audience, and telcos get a slice of the almost $100 billion mobile ad market that they’ve helped to create.

Matt Berriman, CEO & CO-Founder at Unlockd