This evening, the TIE Wireless SIG hosted a meeting on Mobile Voice to Mobile Web, and this attracted so many people from the Valley. The room was at standing room capacity and the audience were actively asking questions even after the session ended. (photos of the session and the panel names are listed at www.bayareajournal.blogspot.com)
Rather than try to summarise the varied discussion, I will merely highlight those that intrigued me.
1) Statistics? All three speakers spoke about how their companies as vendors and service providers, were involved in the wireless space given the market potential. Some mentioned statistics such as number of handsets versus PC sold, growth of mobile subscribers, etc. Yet when probed by the San Jose Mercury news reporter for actual and projected statistics of the Mobile web space and high end phones, all 3 were reluctant to share numbers other than saying that it was hard to predict and they have not done the math.
2) Complexity of usage of data apps? I found it interesting that the speaker from Texas Instruments indicated that data usage of phones will remain low for now, one of the reasons being the complexity of usage (he alluded to an example of how he needed IT engineers to help him use his 3G phone). Whilst I agree with this statement if we speak of many 3G phones (not mine though), if we include SMS on GSM phones in this equation of simple as opposed to complex data services, Asia has shown that even illiterate men, women and children, of all professions even farmers, are using data services very comfortably, so I don’t quite buy this argument. In fact, youth are more apt to use and create on new appliances and services than adults, so do the math. Pricing of services and CPEs rather play a greater role, because I have seen how if there is a way to meet their needs, people will use it.
Meanwhile, as they say necessity is the mother of invention, so it is also not surprising to see the many innovative handsets and apps are really coming out of Asia, which is the largest mobile market space(even smartphones made in Asia e.g. Dopod or HTC- very user friendly with one click button interfaces and very robust “mine survived tumbling down a full flight of stairs without its protective cover on).
3) Tariff plans play a key role. The TI rep mentioned about his surprise that although most phones have GPRS capabilities, yet few used it—well I say that is because of tariffs and no straightforward plans. The Google rep was spot on when he said that this phase mobile data/web should be considered an investment phase. It will be the value added usefulness of services and tariffing models that can enable new applications to succeed. Tariffing plans will be key. Whether you pay $20 per photo you forward or 20cents will determine if you send photos over your phone. He forwarned service providers not to try to milk the cow too soon, before it has a chance to mature. Meanwhile, an audience member added that carriers in the US are stifling the market.
Could not agree more with both of them. Coming from Asia myself, I was very surprised to see how â€œclosedâ€ and backward the US mobile market wise and usage. Especially in terms of mobile carriers who â€œlockedâ€ SIM cards (I need unlocked phones and cards as I travel a lot and need prepaid SIM cards that I can put in my phone rather than pay for expensive roaming services). Here they also charge exorbitantly for services separately. To get data services here in the US, I would have to pay $40 over my basic voice minutes package, and then another $5 to $9 for SMS, another $5 to $9 for GPRS, etc etc. This makes it very painful, and so I stick to my basic voice plan and find other though inconvenient ways to get my data. E.g. I would get my data over free Wi-Fi at hotspots using my Wi-fi enabled phone (I was very horrified to hear someone mention how a handset with Wi-Fi was being sold by a carrier in the US with the Wi-fi disabled!- I would have expected that of a developing nation but not here in the US.). In Asia, at least a basic data plan for SMS is already included free with my voice minutes which is already cheap, and so I am off doing data without worrying about being charged an arm and a leg for it and I have every incentive to use it for convenience to get that continuum of use service.
Meanwhile, thank goodness for countries such as Singapore are also making wireless broadband free for the next 2 years so I can further take advantage of the Wi-fi feature on my phone at hot spots. So not surprisingly, there are many more innovative phones in Asia and interesting application service and content providers in Asia.
4) Competition stiffles Innovation? As a followup to point 3, there was a brief discussion about how the lack of standardization and interoperability is stifling the market. The TI rep pointed out that the US was too comfortable with the success of AMPS, and only later started introducing TDMA when the rest of the world was taking off with GSM, and then later fighting over TDMA versus CDMA and GSM. This has put the US a little further behind than the rest of the world. One of the panelist even went as far as to say that uniformity and simplicity of standards would have helped innovation in the US.
They discussed how somehow Korea and Japan who have a greater consumer culture and usage of mobile applications succeeded with dominant players who dictated standards, enabled for innovative role out of applications and handsets, etc. They also found that governments subsidizing and pushing rollouts (mention was made of Singapore which is forcing all telcos to offer Wi-fi enabled services nationwide), makes it easier and cheaper for consumers to use services and thus enable innovation to thrive. Application vendors then no longer need to figure out interoperability issues and can focus instead on meeting mass market needs as opposed to remaining niche market vendors. The Google rep not necessarily agreeing to the point on uniform standards, added the data point of how expensive it was to cater to a multiple standard environment. Even Google finds that each new mobile app they launch involves huge investments to crack the code to interoperate and then usually have only 100 to 300 users uptake the new app not immediately justifying returns on the investment, etc and so acknowledged how much more difficult it would be for smaller players. (Someone in the audience who apparently chaired the US debates on standards, was quick to comment that he disagreed and feels that competition in standards is better than innovation. He did not agree that “domination” or “Uniformity” is good for innovation.If not for this he felt, people would have been satisfied with GSM and innovated no further.)
Unfortunately time ran out, and the session had to close. Just to end, the Google rep mentioned a great point about how it is not so much about the next killer ap but about offering a continuum of experience to users whether they are used to the PC environment, phone etc and also ensuring value added services are localized to meet user needs (this will vary country to country)- this will be the key to success
(you may also be interested to see my notes on a similar www.getit.org/?p=18 a TIE SIG held in Sept. (click on link)