The mobile business industry panel tackles topical issues

industry panel
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS

Instant messaging has been a big hit on the internet, reportedly attracting 300m users worldwide. Will this be repeated on mobiles?  

McGinn, Anglia Telecom: Currently networks are charging around 10p per text message; that’s a serious revenue stream. And people tend not just to send one text – they often have an entire conversation, which can result in a whole stream flying backwards and forward.

But when using IM on mobiles the messages are virtually free – a major benefit for the end user but bound to have an impact on the industry.

3’s current marketing campaign is focussed around students in a classroom; this follows a pattern of how text messaging was successfully introduced. The major usage of IM is by young people, it simply means them transferring from one device to another, and now the great advantage is that’s it a truly mobile platform.

Heeran, Valista: While IM looks a natural successor for SMS, there are some major barriers to its mainstream use – the most obvious being the lack of a single IM standard.

While this is not a major barrier for PC users who can simply install multiple clients on their desktop, IM vendors such as Microsoft and AOL have not shown a willingness to allow interoperability across standards. This poses a problem for the mobile industry – which standard do they adopt? Do they develop their own and look to bridge into the existing desktop standards?

In addition, IM really needs to be available as a standard phone feature, built into the handsets rather than be a downloadable application. A secondary issue will be pricing. Data plans need to be improved to include the data usage that IM will demand to be affordable and acceptable to a mass market audience.

Price, Avenir Telecom:
Bringing mobile IM to the masses has baffled the industry for some time, but now the barriers are gradually being tackled. Operators have acknowledged that working together is crucial to ensure compatibility across the networks. And the cautiousness of creating alliances with strong IM brands such as MSN and Yahoo, for fear of their potential market penetration, has reduced.

However, there are still aspects that will need refining if IM is to take off with the same success as SMS. For example, finding a pricing structure that generates some of the long-awaited revenue from 3G while balancing it against SMS income and attracting usage could be challenging.

Handset and accessory manufacturers need to work with the operators and providers to help consumers use IM easily. So only by all those players genuinely working together will instant messaging fulfil its potential.

Seaton, Airwide Solutions: Today, mobile IM revenues are less than 1/50th of those generated by SMS. Analyst projections suggest that by 2010 mobile IM may reach 15% of SMS revenues. Even if mobile IM repeated the success of IM on the internet, replicating 300m users, that would only be a fraction of today’s nearly 3bn mobile devices enabled with SMS.

Add to this the formidable barriers that still exist to mobile IM adoption, including interoperability and user interface issues as users demand devices that enable easier, faster text entry and enhanced access-control. SMS use is growing faster than other promising messaging technologies such as IM, and the SMS infrastructure is a tested, proven platform for operators to rapidly deploy new revenue generating applications.

Mobile IM will likely have some success. But it is hard to foresee it reaching the same level of success as SMS, let alone replace it.

 

Is battery life a big issue for phone users?  

Heeran, Valista: Definitely. The evolution to 3G and extended handset features such as video calling, streaming media and music-playing capabilities have placed additional demands on power with which battery technology has not kept pace. While standard talk time has increased on most handsets, it fails to factor in these extended applications which are becoming ever more popular and making ‘talk time’ less relevant.

This is an issue for the phone manufacturers, who are looking to compete with other devices like the iPod. Demands on handset size and additional required functionality has resulted in less than favourable reviews and comparisons between handsets and dedicated media players.

The general feeling is that the current Lithium Ion battery technology has reached its limits, and that Fuel Cell technology is the answer to dramatically improving battery life. This technology is still some time off being ready for mainstream use in mobile handsets.

Seaton, Airwide Solutions: As mobile devices increase in sophistication, applications and services previously limited to PCs are now available on mobile devices. And as with PCs, having multiple applications open consumes much more power.

Battery manufacturers have done an excellent job improving battery life for mobile phone calling. But the problem for them is that the finish-line has moved; mobiles have quickly become much more than a device for making voice calls.

Nash, Elite Mobile: Battery technology has always been a hot topic for the industry. The whirlwind pace of software development, especially over recent years, has often appeared to leave battery development struggling in its wake.

If batteries and new life-consuming features are sometimes incompatible, then we can hardly blame incredulous and exasperated consumers for deriding our industry when we seemingly don’t always come up with the goods. Having forked out a fair amount of cash for the latest in mobile wizardry, consumers are inevitably going to be cynical to find that if it’s “used too much” the handset dies until the battery can get another (all-too-frequent) ‘four-hour fix’.

But is the problem always one of battery capacity? I would argue that batteries haven’t done badly overall, considering what has been asked of them. Perhaps we’re guilty of looking at only one side of the picture. To maximise battery life and make the most of battery technology, the answer surely is to look at developing software that will minimise battery consumption.

McGinn, Anglia Telecom:
Yes and no – it largely depends on your lifestyle and use.

No one wants a dud battery. But users can chose to make battery life less of a priority. Take my 8800: in order to get me through the business day, I have no choice but to have one charger at home, one at the office, and one in the car – and even then there are times when the battery runs out on me.
It’s often a question of how highly you value battery life compared to other handset features – and of course style, which is a major, major issue for many users. In contrast, many users see their mobile as purely functional, a simple lifeline in emergency situations. The only time battery life matters to them is when it’s turned on for such an emergency.

Exter, Mio Technology: There is a clear change in the attitude to the battery life, at least among some of the customers. Those who have bought into the idea of a complicated, fully-featured devices are now prepared to sacrifice battery life to reap the benefits of a faster processor, bigger screen, and additional features such as GPS.

One day’s battery life appears now to be acceptable – mostly due, in our opinion, to proliferation of smartphones which, regardless of the operating system, seem to be offering about the same results.

The Mobile Business Industry Panel aims to get views from leading figures on key topics. On the panel we have a selection of senior management from operators, distributors and retailers, plus a couple of industry observers and pundits. Each month we invite comment from some of them and we print the best/most interesting of their responses.

If there are any questions you think we should put to the panel just email them to us: panel@MBmagazine.co.uk

 

DAVE McGINN
Sales Director, Anglia Telecom

 

FRAN HEERAN
VP Product Management, Valista

 

TANNY PRICE
Managing Director, Avenir Telecom

 

BARRY NASH
Director, Sales & Marketing, Elite Mobile

 

JAY SEATON
CMO, Airwide Solutions

 

LEO EXTER
Marketing Manager, EMEA Mio Technology