MVNOs: Driving innovation or more hype?
It’s a healthy sign for the US MVNO market when a conference vendor like IQPC hosts a Summit conference regarding Mobile Virtual Network Operators
. The cottage industry that started off with Virgin Mobile back in 1999, now boasts over 250 others. With a little over 200 Mobile Carriers in the world, in less than 10 years, the industry has grown over 100%! In the USA for example, in my service area, I used to have 5 service providers (AT&T, NexTel, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) to chose from, now, I have over a dozen! But have we reached maturity yet? I don’t believe so. While there have been some large defaults, such as ESPN Mobile, others like Helio, Amp’d and Virgin Mobile have been going strong. Profitability and subscriber growth has been steady, but with so many brands entering the market, being crowded is an understatement.An important shift to note though is that MVNOs promote that this utility, unlike water, gas, electric, and even broadband Internet, mobile phone service is a very personal external
part of people. It’s similar to what kind of car you drive or the clothes you wear, the device and service you have has begun to define part of you. If you chose Red Pocket Mobile
, your interests are in long distance calling to Asia from the US. If you chose Helio
, you are perhaps in the teenage demographic that is interested in MySpace
, games, music and heavy messaging. Even Disney Mobile
offers the Family Locator service where adults can track their children’s mobile phone, and essentially where their kids are using GPS technology.
So driving choice come in who provides you service. Shouldn’t handsets be the same way? In Europe and Asia subscribers often pick the device first, then a service plan. With all this new choice of service providers, shouldn’t device selection come first? The complicated answer is no. This is because service providers subsidize devices and lock you into a one year contract. If you are willing to pay the full price, then you can get a phone, not under contract. But even if we got past that, in the United States, there are effectively two standards, CDMA and GSM. If we were all on a GSM network, similar to most of Europe and Asia, then selecting a phone would be more expensive, but handset manufacturers would be heavily promoting in a ripe market. In turn, plans in Asia for example are less expensive per minute and per message than the USA plans. Perhaps the MVNOs can begin to drive prices lower as well as they innovate and experiment with technology such as wireless/mobile VoIP, WiFi/WiMax phone and more.
Great to see that even in the Mobile Operator domain, the small guys are pushing the envelope causing people to take notice and think. And for the big mobile carriers, that might be enough to evolve their offerings and services.
Telephony as easy is Skype and IP
I can remember over 15 years ago, I tried out a product, CuSeeMe which touted the ability to make use of the microphone and speakers of my PC. The quality of this first generation product was spotty, but it was a sliver of what was to come. All this innovation to extend the PC beyond word processing and video games was amazing. But converting people from dial up to broadband was going to take a while. Meanwhile, mobile networks were being built out and the quality was getting better, fast! P2P communication using things like text and instant messaging were exploding and the feeling of the world getting smaller has had a profound effect on people and business. The last time I thought about paying long distance fees to call New York from San Francisco was well over 15 years ago, when I had to remember my phone card and corresponding access number. Now using my mobile phone or Skype makes it convenient and cheap.
Funny to see that as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
has reached a certain level of maturity, products such as a cordless Skype phone comes to fruition. I was at the Sharper Image the other day to see what nifty consumer gadgets are out and noticed an offering for what appears to be an adaption of a mobile phone, but this connects to your PC and Skype account via USB. The phone essentially looks like an old Nokia handset selling for about $30 USD and takes advantage of Skype by trying to give the user the feel of using a more phone-like interface for voice, rather than talking to your monitor or using a headset. Logitech has gone one step further and offered a cordless version of a Skype phone. Now you don’t even need to be tethered to your PC and can wander around.
A prediction of VoIP replacing POTS
(plain old telephone service) is not a matter of if, but more about when. One such indictation is the fact that more and more people are living in places, where their mobile phone is their primary voice line. And with such choices as a Skype client on a mobile phone or getting a Skype In number, VoIP will get the hockey stick adoption is has been desparately needing. The flip side is that while it allows calls on the cheap, most people who have used it also complain about quality and dropped calls. Even with mobile phones, service degradation still occurs with ire and angst from users to follow.So with all this convenience, and the leap of faith, we now need to revisit the networks that we are relying on more and more and question QoS (quality of service) as well as understanding SLAs (service level agreements). Customers demand 99.999% and service providers must deliver. In the supply chain, technology vendors must also do their part of provide solutions that don’t necessarily through features at us and compromise availability, reliability, and scaleability.
Mobile Phone Dongles
As the phone becomes the center of billions of people’s universe, the need to worship and adorn it has no shortage. Two things of note from the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, are a solar powered phone charger and a backup unit attachment. This is not a new idea of course, as we use it to heat everything from our swimming pools and heat our homes. Complimenting car chargers, AC adapters, and extra batteries have a rather quick recharge time in comparison some of the drawbacks with solar.
But if I take a more practical approach, I wonder if I would lug around this portable unit? Just like the Energizer battery unit
that I wrote about earlier, the drawback is to carry around portable power. While the utility is much lower than a bluetooth headset, it’s certainly more awkward, since you are waiting around to charge your prized possession, but need to make calls, just looks a little funny.
The second product is the portable phone backup unit. The more obvious use is to back up contacts, text messages and more. But what about when you upgrade your phone? Phone manufacturers don’t exactly make it easy transfer your phonebook. GSM-based phones do have the benefit of copying contacts from the phone to the SIM and back to your new phone, but limited to 250 contacts. Fumbling with PC software and IR, Bluetooth, or data cable connection can eventually get the job done, but those are reserved to a small group of handsets. The irony in some of this is that Motorola and Nokia want you to upgrade your phone often, so why not make it easy?In all this technology, we can’t forget about the end user! Make it easy to adopt new services and phone functions. Until then, perhaps most of us will only use about 25% of our tech gadgets.
Brick and Mortar Mobile Reach
The airport just like the web can be a great place to see innovations on the mobile front. While walking through the International Terminal in SFO, I noticed a Motorola vending machine for RAZRs. This rather massive display had the popular handset in several colors and reminded me of Apple iPods.Silver, Black Pink and Blue to fit your fancy, gone are the days of flipping a few coins in, this one only takes credit cards. Add in a bluetooth headset, some adapter plugs for recharging, a flash memory card, and you’re ready to take on the world. Text me, Call me, download ringtones, music, games, where ever you are.I guess the mobile industry understand the cycle of the international traveller well, since on the other side, after you pick up your bags and leave the customs, one of the first things you see besides “Currency Exchange” is “Phone Rental” or “SIM cards for purchase.” But like most things at the airport, I often find it cheaper to find the nearest store next to my hotel to get a prepaid SIM, since you can benefit from promotions and typically better customer service.
Earlier this year, I snapped a picture of the first SonyEricsson store in Lund, Sweden. This concept store aims to bring the consumer experience and showroom of hot mobiles to the consumer, rather than just drooling in front of your computer.
Nokia has also launched a Flagship Store in Chicago back in June, 2006 as well, but for a major handset manufacturer to take on retail merchandising on their own without a carrier, distributor or electronics chain, one wonders if this is a strategy is long term. Gateway and even Dell have tried similar retail showrooms and eventually had to abandon them for lack of sustainable customer interest or high overhead. Amazingly, Apple Stores a rather different concept. I think this is because Apple unlike others, attempts to control the supply chain of their goods. Thus, the high demand and lower supply with a rather diverse catalog of goods and services allows them to sustain their retail business. In comparison, even at the Nokia store, they display the latest phones and accessories as well as their ultra luxury Vertu brand, but the perpetual traffic that the Apple stores generate come from a healthy mix of upgrades, service and support to compliment their new units sales. Once I purchase a phone, it’s not very often that I would go back — support issues are typically with my carrier and flash memory cards can be purchased much cheaper online. Even accessories like headsets, chargers, cases, I would purchase on destinations like eBay, Amazon or Frys.com.
All of this shows that handset OEMs like Motorola, Nokia, and SonyEricsson, are trying to innovate with customer reach. With a third of world’s population with a phone number, fueling demand and growth will be needed as mobiles reach ubiquity.
phew! iPhone Rumors are Over
While the rumors are over about whether Apple will launch the iPhone, will it be everything it has been hyped? Somewhere between a better looking Sony PSP, the OS and UI of Apple, and the price of a smart phone is the Apple iPhone. Yes, it touts some unique features that some handsets like an accelerometer for the touch screen, no stylus and a large, vivid LCD screen. But what are some of the side issues that need to be thought through? Microsoft has a clear agenda of surrounding users on every platform, PC, auto, mobile, TV, and more. Clearly, the inroads made for smartphones was sorely lacking by Microsoft — basically down, but not out. But the launch of Windows Mobile 5, it has certainly hit its stride. I’m certain that Apple has the long range strategic view over a mobile play, but the bar has been raised and nothing less than excellence from Apple is par for the course. But what is the iPhone? A fashion statement? Think different? I honestly think that the iPhone is a palmtop computer with network connectivity. Larger than a phone, smaller than a laptop, it’s fully functional as a lightest portable notebook and built-in cellular and bluetooth access, but simple and easy to slip in a small bag. One might argue that Apple is following Palm with the iPhone being their third version that is connected. Remember the days of the Newton? The famous PDA that was heavy as a brick, was rather limited in functionality and was not popular in comparison to the PalmPilot.
The second rev is perhaps all the version of the iPod and the Motorola RAZR, ROKR, SLVR, all with iTunes. OK, so you might argue that the iPod nor the Motorola devices are what Apple would launch for a smartphone-type device, but all the tweaking in form factor, storage size, and the iTunes store have all provided valuable stats to based their next version, the iPhone. One of the worries that is now users and developers have to content with another operating system. The form factor is a bit quirky with no stylus and no keyboard, but all new gadgets have their learning curves. Will developers adopt the platform to build and port games, applications and services? While the iPhone extends Apple OS X, a lot of application development is done on the Windows platform. Does this give another outlet for Apple developers to show off their talent on a mobile platform? On the flip side, because there is a large developer community, we should see the trickle of applications and services. Curious if the iTunes store will be the portal to download the applications or mobile operator portals will be the destination of choice. There is also the option of side-loading and downloading off deck via the Apple Store.Now that we know it’s coming in June on the Cingular network, it’s time to innovate and create applications, services. After all, Apple users have been craving for a new computing device to show off their loyalty, hip and cool edge to the world.
WordPress Migration and new RSS Feed
Well, the Blogger to WordPress conversion tools did not work so well as originally planned. Finally, I had to manually copy each post over. Also, I have setup a new RSS feed. Happy 2007 — it’s gonna be a great year for Mobile.