3G Killer Apps

Reuters writes:

Mobile operators around the globe are busy rolling out 3G services and upgrades, dreaming of a day when users casually make video calls and download movies, allowing companies to reap several times more revenue per phone.

But that rosy future remains elusive. Despite the billions of dollars spent on new networks and marketing, operators are still struggling to find the new features customers cannot live without that will finally make 3G pay.

Analysts say many operators have neglected the development of content and services that their customers want in their headlong pursuit of new technology. Meanwhile users are still mostly just using their phones to make voice calls and send text messages.

Wireless Broadband

Knowledge@Wharton has a progress report:

The pieces appear to be falling in place for wireless broadband: Sprint Nextel says its next-generation high-speed network will be launched in a few markets by the end of 2007. Intel plans on embedding so-called “WiMAX” enabled semiconductors in laptops by the end of 2008, and the Federal Communications Commission on May 1 approved a laptop device that will receive WiMAX signals from a company called Clearwire. Other companies, such as T-Mobile, are supporting hybrid wireless networks so devices can hop between technologies.

Although these developments could be the Next Big Thing in broadband wireless access, it’s too early to say where this will all end up. For years, the industry has had a crystal clear vision of how users will connect to the Internet in the future: High-speed wireless devices will allow consumers to watch videos, share pictures, socialize and do many activities that haven’t even been thought up yet. The big unknown is when technology — or a combination of technologies — will make that vision a reality.

Flash Lite and Mobiles

VisionMobile provides some facts and figures:

220M: total Flash-Lite-enabled devices shipped by end of 2006 (includes mobile handsets, PDAs and consumer electronics)
194%: year-on-year growth for Flash-Lite-enabled devices shipped in 2005 and 2006.
200+: mobile handset models with Flash Lite embedded
100+: other embedded device models with Flash Lite embedded
16: Number of handset OEMs who have launched handsets supporting Flash Lite (Fujitsu, Hitachi, Kyocera, LG, Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo, Sendo, Sharp, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba)
2010: year when Adobe projects that Flash-Lite-enabled cumulative devices shipped with have reached the 1 billion mark

Telepresence

John Battelle writes about HP’s Halo: “Telepresence for me was some kind of Jetsonian fantasy, a silly, far off concept that I understood intellectually, but discounted entirely because it struck me as unrealistic and impractical. But after experiencing it first hand, it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.”

Information Plantations

Nicholas Carr writes:

The internet seems to be following the same pattern that has always characterised popular media. A few huge outlets come to dominate readership and viewership and smaller, more specialised ones are consigned to the periphery. Most of the largest sites are now in the midst of acquisition sprees or expansion programs intended to extend their dominion. Just [recently], MySpace announced it would buy Photobucket, the largest photo-sharing site; Facebook said it would expand into the classified advertising business; and Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said that his company has been acquiring small companies at the rate of one a week to build out its portfolio.

It may be that internet users will revolt against the dominance of the mega-sites. But I wouldn’t bet on it. All the signs point to a continuing concentration of traffic within the fences of the new information plantations.

TECH TALK: Indias Digital Infrastructure: Mobile Data Services

Indian mobile operators need to think of themselves as running two businesses. One targeted at top and middle India, and the other at bottom of the pyramid India. While the latter has huge growth potential (an untapped market of 250-300 million Indians in the next 3 years), the former is stagnant, addressing a saturated market with flat ARPUs and little growth.

All of the mobile operators strengths are in building out the user base in India. They have done this very well in the past few years and continue to do so. They also have plenty of work left in this regard hundreds of millions of Indians left out of the telecom revolution are finally going to get connected. Creating the infrastructure to get these millions on the network is a huge challenge.

In doing so, they need to rethink their role for the existing user base. This user base has been mobile for a few years now and are hungry for new services. India has a world-class wireless data infrastructure but it is barely talked about. By closing their walled gardens, the mobile operators are making a big mistake. This user base can pay a lot more after all, there were many who paid Rs 8-16 per minute for phone calls (as against Rs 1-2 today). They have money to spend. But the services available to them are limited even though for many, the mobile is the primary or even the only interactive device in their lives.

Mobile operators need to do two things to make the mobile Internet a reality in India for the first user base. First, they need to open up their data networks so consumers can go to any website they desire. Second, they should encourage the creation of a cornucopia of services by creating a business model which has more favorable revenue share terms for the service providers. Mobile operators can still make a lot of money and I would argue, that this will be a magnitude higher than what they do today by billing consumers for data traffic on open access. In other words, instead of thinking of themselves as media and worrying that they will just become bitpipes, mobile operators need to think of themselves as services pipes. If they do this, consumers will see them as the genie that made the mobile into a magic lamp.

There is a lot at stake for India. The Internet is core and necessary digital infrastructure if we are to continue to develop. Home computers and mobiles are the two necessary devices which will become the windows to the world of services. Even though we are not there yet, forward-thinking organisations and entrepreneurs can take us there.

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