Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wireless Internet - a way of life, not a technology!

I moderated a great roundtable yesterday put on by our Consumer Tech practice on ""WiFi rejuvination in 2009", run on behalf of Devicescape and in partnership with The Cloud and Trustive.

One of the main conclusions to come out the debate between the panelists and the journalists, bloggers and analysts that attended was that when it comes to 'Wireless Internet', definitions come down not to technology, but to user expectation, demographic, usage scenarios and applications. It's not, as the adage (kind of) goes, how fast it is, but what you do with it that matters.

Devicescape had commissioned some research of its global user base to try and find out some end user perceptions of WiFi and 3G. What was apparent from it is that the Smartphone - and in particular the iPhone - has been a complete game changer in how WiFi is seen and used. As The Cloud observed, free WiFi in retail locations such as McDonalds is not only driving footfall for the retailer, but also indicative of the way consumers are using Wireless Internet. Social networking, Internet browsing and instant messaging are the applications that the 18-24 demographic is using ... and they're not opening up their laptops in McDonalds so they can type away with their ketchup-covered fingers, but rather using their Nokia or iPhone/iPod Touch to update their Facebook status.

When it came to the age-old WiFi v 3G debate, Trustive made an interesting argument that 3G is a back-up for WiFi coverage, not vice versa. Indeed, when you consider the still extortionate 3G data roaming costs, you can see the user case. It's also clear that transparency in charging is critical to the user. Where paid-for WiFi hotspots have gone wrong is that it's a fixed charge for a use-it-or-lose-it period of time ... £5 for an hour's usage, for example. However, in no way will a user pay that if all they want to do is a quick bit of browsing or just download their emails (unless they can expense it back, of course!). Trustive's take on it is charge by the second, and apply your pool of credit to their international coverage. So that's 30 seconds in McD's to update my Facebook; 8 minutes at the train station checking directions to my next destination; and 32 minutes at the hotel looking up detox diets online to recover from the burger! And the user still has credit left. By charging by the second, it is all that much more transparent ... I'm sorry, call me stupid but I don't really know how big a MB of data is, so don't charge me by the MB. I can tell the time, but I can't look at an online app and know that the poorly designed UI will eat up 1MB of data.

So, what did we learn? Well, the debate finished where it started ... the Wireless Internet is about the user experience. And while WiFi goes along way towards addressing it and providing a real alternative to 3G (both in terms of speed and cost), the user really doesn't care - and nor should they - what technology they are using. They just want it to work. To this end, Devicescape seems to be on to a winner by providing the automatic WiFi connection that means that the Wireless Internet just happens.

The roundtable was held at The Hospital near Covent Garden, and one couldn't help but think that with a title ' WiFi rejuvination' the choice of location wasn't all that auspicious. But in fact, coming out of the event, there was a sense of optimism coupled with an acute awareness that there is still alot of work to be done. With the GSMA confusing matters with their 'mobile broadband' branding campaign, explaining to the consumer what the wireless Internet experience should be will remain a constant challenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is mobile the way out of the recession?

Well, no, of course it's not. But, the latest research out of India has found that increased mobile penetration boosts economic growth. According to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). When investigating the socio-economic impact of mobile technology, the researchers found that Indian states with 10 per cent higher mobile phone penetration enjoy an annual average growth rate 1.2 per cent higher than those with a lower teledensity, according to an interesting article on

But this shouldn't be a surprise. As my post on January 4th commented, you can see a real link between mobile penetration and the state of socio-economic development. For all the noise around how mobile phones can increase economic, as well as just physical, mobility in 'developing' markets, it's always interesting when the boffins actually manage to quantify it!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

RIP Nortel?

So Nortel has finally filed for Chapter 11. It's being called the first major tech casualty of the global recession, but the reality is Nortel has been on a life support machine for years. In fact, from a PR perspective, it's been dead for what seems like an eternity. They suffered the biggest problem of all for a company ... they became boring.

There's no excuse for that really. When you look at their heritage, the companies they've acquired over the years, the technology they have, the global reach they can deliver, they should be at the top of the pile, or as damn well near it. But the reality couldn't be further away. They've lacked a compelling story. No-one knew what they stood for, what their vision was, where they were lookign to take themselves and their customers in the future.

On the plus side, at least we now do know where they're heading.

So what does the future hold for Nortel? Well, rumours about the possible hiving off of technology have long circulated, with the Metro Ethernet business looking to be the first to go.

Nortel could re-emerge from the ashes and become, as I once described another company we were pitching, a "corpse with a vision"*, but someone I'm doubting it. Not only is there consensus among analysts is that the parts are more valuable than the sum, but you have to question what equity there is left in the Nortel brand.

Oh, and the "corpse with a vision"? We actually won the client, so the analogy can't be that bad!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mobility - social, economic and physical

When you read about mobile adoption and penetration, it's just numbers. It doesn't necessary mean anything real. But here's an observation as my Christmas and New Year break in India draws to a close... when I I last came out to India three years ago, the inlaws all had mobiles, but that was about it. We swapped mobile numbers, showed the aunts how to send an SMS and thought all was good.

However, now not only do all the inlaws have mobiles (and some of them have a Blackberry as well), but so do the servants and drivers! Now if you want a cup of tea, you don't shout out (or worse still actually get up off the chair you're lounging in!), you just phone one of the servants on their prepaid mobiles. When you're in the city and arranging with the driver when to pick you up (parking is a nightmare), no longer are you saying "see you back here in two hours" ... now you just take their number, give them a missed call to makesure you entered it right, and head off on the basis that you can just summon them when needed.

As if that's not enough, the roaming charges are also seeing people using multiple SIMs. Once you are 'out of station' (for example, you live in Bangalore but are in Calcutta for a couple of weeks for a family wedding as was the case for us), you just pop a local prepaid SIM into your phone so the innumerable wedding planning calls flying about are all at the local rate. In-country roaming is, therefore, also inflating subscriber numbers. Similarly the variation in coverage meaning that a phone that works well in the jungle of Tamil Nadu (typically CDMA WLL) isn't the best phone for use in the metropolis of Bangalore where GSM dominates, and vice versa.

The challenge, one suspects, will be in the success of operators in moving subscribers from prepaid to contract and in building a genuinely national mobile phone network where one phone and one SIM really will be all that people need. So while subscription numbers in total will continue to rise, a key metric to track will be the number of contracts a subscriber has, and the proportion of prepaid therein.