Experience VS Speed: What will make mobile content a success?

We are about to see another technology leap from the networks, with speeds increasing by a factor of 10 – just what the industry needs to kick-start a boom in mobile content.More mobile usage means more business for everyone. But David King wonders if all the operator focus on HSDPA might not be a distraction when we should be focussing on the essentials.

The mobile industry is busy gearing itself for another technology upgrade that could soon make quite a difference to the way consumers experience and download mobile content. High-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) is a new technology that can vastly improve the customer experience on a mobile phone.

That’s because it improves the speed at which users download content such as pictures, images, video and other applications by as much as a factor of 10. Impressively, HSDPA will deliver initial throughput rates of between 400Kbps and 600Kbps, with a peak rate of 14.4Mbps. In essence, HSDPA has the potential to download a picture in several seconds as opposed to the 10 to 12 seconds it can currently take with 3G.

This could be a reason why the downloading of digital pictures or any other content on to mobiles phones could really take off.

A quick trawl through the news already tells us that many operators worldwide are planning commercial rollouts or trials of this technology. Companies such as T-Mobile in Germany and the Netherlands, Vodafone Group in Japan and New Zealand, or Cingular in the US, have all announced HSDPA rollouts.
Many of these operators will launch HSDPA services this year, prompting analyst and research company IDC to forecast that by the end of 2009 there will already be approximately 40m HSDPA subscribers in Western Europe alone.

Now, I’m a CTO and personally I love the technology strides the mobile world is making. But all this flurry of activity on HSPDA does make me think … Is this the whole story? Why are mobile operators making their respective upgrades to HSDPA so soon after the launch of commercial 3G networks? I mean, will it genuinely offer users a better user experience and therefore drive subscriber data usage?
Well, I believe the answer is not that simple. On its own speed will not make mobile content a success.

Basics
Simplicity really is the key for mobile subscribers, and history has taught us that this is why technologies such as SMS, have in the past, grown exponentially. Basics such as having a simple and easy to use graphical interface on the handset, and making the experience intuitive for the user go a long, long way in enhancing the user experience.

Perhaps the mobile industry can learn a valuable lesson from the fixed-line world of the Internet and the use of broadband.

While broadband has enhanced the experience of using content from the Internet via a PC, it is only half the story. We must remember it was clear, well-promoted and easy-to-navigate web pages that fuelled the growth of the Internet, with intuitive browsers becoming catalysts for this growth.

It is my view that this will be even more important in the mobile world, where the screen size is smaller and when users are constantly on the move. Every part of the chain needs to work for the consumer experience to be right, and that includes good handset performance, battery life, and roaming coverage so that calls are not dropped, as well as the presentation of the content itself.

Time lag
Reducing the time lag between downloads and increasing download speeds for mobile content will play a big role in ensuring subscribers rapidly adopt mobile content.

In fact our own consumer research that LogicaCMG conducted in June last year showed that speed was cited as one of the most important factors in boosting subscribers’ use of mobile content. It is for this very reason why at LogicaCMG we are already developing high-speed proxys that speed up content delivery.

However, at the end of the day HSPDA is just an enabling technology, the same as WAP is. The true way to enhance customer experience for downloading mobile content is not just through speed but through the entire delivery chain of mobile content. This is not just limited to how quickly you receive it, but more importantly to how you find it and view it on your handset, access it through simple one key access, and even how you pay for it.

It is about the customer experience, which has many facets to it – speed just being one of them.
The mobile industry has taken some great steps to see mobile content slowly but surely take off. The next wave of growth could be exponential, and technologies like HSDPA will play their part in ensuring that as a result of a rewarding customer experience, mobile content download rates grow steadily.

However, for operators to truly capture the subscriber loyalty that will repeatedly increase their data revenues though greater mobile downloads, the customer experience must be really rewarding – and unfortunately that is not just down to HSDPA (or any other technology, for that matter).