The mobile business industry panel tackles topical issues

Question and answers

What is the best way to promote safer mobile phone use by children? Is the current round of self-regulation proposals the answer, or do we need regulation from the European Commission?
 

Burke, AdaptiveMobile: With an increasingly wider demographic of young children possessing mobile phones, the boundaries of “appropriate content” become ever more specific to the individual. Children now use their phones for dating, social networking and shopping, which presents a range of important issues such as privacy and control over spend, coupled with protection against spamming, phishing and inappropriate use.

In order to tackle these issues effectively we need to remember that the burden of responsibility should not lie solely on the shoulders of the mobile operators.

Studies into on-line habits have shown that the most effective form of protection is parent-child consultation and education in appropriate behaviour. Therefore, rather than deciding what is appropriate for a complex market; operators and regulators should provide parents with the insight to understand their children’s usage, then the ability to personalise, in order that parents can share in this valued responsibility.

Seaton, Airwide: Government regulation is often the first reaction, but rarely the answer. A better solution is subscriber-controlled regulation through user-defined antispam filters and other personalisation features.

Services such as “Inbox Guardian” let subscribers determine which messages reach their mobile phone by blocking certain sources or only allowing messages from specific numbers to get through. Parents can use it to provide a protected messaging environment for their children.

“Outbox Guardian” services allow controls to be set on which numbers the mobile phone is allowed to send messages to, enabling parents to configure mobile phones to ensure their children only communicate with known friends and family. These services can also be used by corporations to control misuse of company-issued mobile phones.

Other alternatives include handsets with limited dialing capability. Services that provide the ability to mark accounts as “junior” to block inappropriate content types also help to promote safer mobile phone use to children.

The arrival of Brightstar UK suggests the UK distribution market is either sufficiently lucrative to cope with more and larger players, or sufficiently vulnerable to squeeze out the smaller players. What’s your view?

Williams, Hugh Symons: There will always be room in the market for distributors who get the proposition right from a product and service perspective.

However, I can see the market consolidating in the future; and those distributors who don’t offer a unique identifier will struggle to survive.

It remains to be seen what impact Brightstar will have but, the fact that they’ve drafted in headcount from the UK suggests that their current set-up/knowledgebase needed adapting to suit the UK market.

At Hugh Symons we are constantly developing our portfolio of products and services to ensure we build a future for independent dealers. I suspect that those distributors who do not have the security of being part of a large parent company or strong operator alliance will struggle to offer competitive advantages and as a result will find it a challenge to survive in coming years.

Price, Avenir Telecom: We are already witnessing a consolidation in the market, following the actions of the networks at the end of last year. This will lead to a shakeout, which could affect both established businesses and smaller players.

Ultimately, the UK is a lucrative market, – but only for those companies that focus on quality and have the ability and relationships to work with all the networks and their new schemes.

When considering Brightstar, we should temper comment until they actually have a physical presence in the UK; we should also remember that entry into any new market has its difficulties, as Brightstar has experienced in the Far East.

Is the 18-month contract good for the mobile business?

Seaton, Airwide: No. There is a constant flow of updates and endless supply of enhanced feature sets, new options and applications available to mobile phone users today. As a result, subscribers are updating their phones much more frequently than in the past. Anything that limits the subscriber’s ability and options for doing so will increasingly be viewed negatively. In addition, price pressures are going to force providers to offer subscribers the best price regardless of contract length.

The 18-month contract really goes against the free market economy while the mobile business really thrives on the freedom of people to select what they want.

Williams, Hugh Symons: It’s great for the operators who are seeing the customer pay back their initial acquisition investment; however they are also seeing the adverse effect of that with reduced foot fall in-store due to people not upgrading as quickly. Consumers seem to be adapting to the longer contract length and appreciate the cost savings it brings with lower line rentals and increased value, but on the flip side they will have to wait longer for a new handset. I’m sure the handset manufacturers aren’t too pleased about the long term prospects of extended contracts as less frequent upgrades equals fewer handset sales.

To keep the industry buoyant a happy medium must be found between the operators and manufacturers to enable cost effective handset upgrades during the contract period.

Price, Avenir Telecom: Any move that enables longer contract terms is good for the mobile business; it creates more stability, enables better relationships to be built and provides the potential for greater commissions. The challenge to their success is cultural. The industry has been geared up for 12-month contracts, so education, particularly amongst sales teams is critical.

Just as important, extended contracts will give dealers the time and chance to think strategically about their businesses, better understanding their customers’ needs and how they can improve their service offering.

TANNY PRICE
MD, Avenir Telecom

Lorcan Burke
CEO, AdaptiveMobile

THERESA WILLIAMS
Marketing Manager, Hugh Symons Communications

JAY SEATON
CMO, Airwide Solutions

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