Archive for the orange Category

linux penguin bluetooth headset mobile stanceConsumer Dissatisfaction and the Macroeconomics of Mobility Provide Linux with the Opportunity to Achieve in Mobile What it Failed to Reach on the Desktop: Relevancy.

Last week Verizon Wireless was just the latest big player to jump aboard the Linux train. In joining the LiMo Foundation, “an industry consortium dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices,” Verizon joins existing LiMo members Motorola, Samsung, Panasonic, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Orange and Vodafone.

The Google / Verizon Open Access Wars Continue. Verizon’s move is consistent with it’s grudging embrace of “openness,” a relatively recent development and likely result of Google’s aggressive initiatives with their own Linux-based mobile initiative, the Open Handset Alliance (whose members read like a who’s who of the mobile ecosystem), as well as the search giant’s success in influencing the latest US spectrum auction to partially adopt “open access” rules. These rules prohibit the new “owner” of the highly sought-after “C-Block” of wireless spectrum to restrict network access – based on either device or software requirements. This was a landmark ruling by the FCC that upset established business practices by the US operators (especially Verizon Wireless).

Ironically (or by Google’s design, if you buy into the hype) Verizon Wireless, who vigorously pursued legal action against the Google-backed “open access” initiative, is by default its biggest backer, as the carrier ended up spending $9.4 billion to win the auction for the “open” C-Block wireless spectrum. Maybe “ironic” doesn’t quite cut it. “Asleep at the switch?”, “Poetic Justice? or just good old “Machiavellian Legal Mastery?” So much to think about I just can’t get my head even half way around this one… hopefully a “tell-all” book will hit the market and shed some light on what really happened here between Google, Verizon and the FCC.

Regardless, Verizon asserts that among its reasoning for joining the LiMo is that, unlike the Google-led OHA, LiMo software is truly open source (whereas Google maintains a relatively tight grip over its Linux-derived Android Mobile OS). That said, both operating systems are “open enough” in that developers are free to create and distribute highly robust mobile applications unencumbered by (the current) intellectual property and financial barriers maintained by the wireless carriers and (to some extent) the handset manufacturers.

All roads lead to Linux? In addition to all of this, macroeconomic forces also seem to be contributing to an environment favoring Linux as a mobile OS. With the majority of the world’s mobile users living under severely limited economic conditions (i.e. the so-called “developing” world), an open source product such as a Linux-based handset and / or application would enjoy tremendous price advantages versus competing proprietary models – and is therefore far better positioned to compete for the majority of the world’s mobile user base.

While the US mobile industry has yet to feel any real impact resulting from all of these developments, rest assured that big changes are coming – and soon. One only needs to peruse the recently announced finalists in the Android developers challenge to get a sense the coming spike in mobile innovation. The development of rich, life-enhancing applications like Android Scan, a promising app that integrates a traditional barcode reader with existing online databases to facilitate real time product comparisons and m-commerce, would simply not be possible under without an open mobile operating system and business environment unencumbered by powerful gatekeepers.

Now, it might be tempting to dismiss Linux-based mobile initiatives due to the failure of Linux to achieve success on the desktop. The various desktop Linux operating systems also enjoyed the considerable advantages of pricing and of an open development environment, and yet none of them realized anything more than marginal successes. Why should mobile Linux be any different?

The key lies in the differences between the development and limitations of the two channels. When Linux arrived on the market most desktop users were relatively satisfied with the PC computing experience. Sure, Microsoft (and Apple) products had their problems, but most users were content with the functionality and prices associated with the leading PC operating systems and applications. The same cannot be said for the mobile data space, where most users face an entirely opposite scenario: a high (perceived) priced product delivering a wholly unsatisfying experience.

Ultimately, perhaps the walled garden model that worked “well enough” in the desktop space just isn’t up to challenge in the more demanding environment of the mobile data space – a space far more restricted in terms of device size, bandwidth, processor power, memory and display resolution – and is inherently laden with costs far greater than that of traditional wireline data networks. Perhaps it is precisely this challenge that Linux is uniquely suited to overcome, and perhaps this is why Linux – and perhaps only Linux – will be the portal that will finally fulfill the promise of the mobile channel.

mobilestance-dot-com-anarchy-in-the-uk.jpg UK Operators Try a Radical Approach to Tackling Thorny Issues Like Commerce and Advertising: Cooperation.

It’s obvious that the mobile marketing industry must resolve several key issues if mobile is ever to emerge as a legitimate marketing channel. These overreaching issues, mostly relating to a lack of standardization and of market access, are simply far to broad to be solved by any single entity within the space, regardless of their size, technological prowess, or market share. These big issues must be addressed by the industry as a whole, and unfortunately too few global markets possess the maturity to put aside their competitive instincts and collaborate on market solutions that benefit all members of the mobile value chain.

Thankfully, operators in the UK seem determined to buck this trend.

Looking back, clearly one of the first truly significant examples of (mobile marketing-related) industry-wide cooperation was the achievement of “intercarrier SMS” functionality, or the ability for consumers to send text messages to anyone, without regard as to whether the sender or the recipient are on the same wireless network or not. Obviously this challenge could have only been met on an industry-wide basis, with all the carriers in a particular territory coming to agreement on the base technologies and economics of the system. The results speak for themselves: Text message volume increased 350 percent in the first seven months after interoperability was introduced in the UK in April of 1999, and a similar effect was seen after interoperability was introduced in the US in 2001. In hindsight, most in the industry agree that text messaging would have remained a niche service with fairly limited appeal had this key milestone not been reached.

In further gestures of industry cooperation, the British operators appear keen on tackling sticky issues like mobile commerce and accountability in mobile advertising with a similar unified approach. Both areas, commerce and advertising, face key hurdles that can only be addressed by the industry at large… and leave it to the British to continue to set an example to the globe on how cooperation and civility has the potential to “elevate all peoples” –or in this case, all peoples looking to monetize mobility.

  • Easy Billing on the Mobile Web. Starting back in May 2006, the five largest UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, 3, O2 and T-Mobile) created the Payforit organization – with the goal of standardizing and launching the necessary systems to enable “seamless and secure” (off-deck) WAP commerce of digital content. From an organizational perspective, Payforit builds upon the successful “Aggregator” premium SMS model in that the m-commerce standard establishes a group of “Accredited Payment Intermediaries” who utilize a common set of API’s to connect directly to all five carriers… in this case for the purposes of authentication, and (ultimately) carrier managed billing. The system officially launched in September of 2007, and early results indicate the standard represents a marked improvement over existing premium SMS billing systems. In the two months following the launch, Bango reported that “92 percent [of Payforit transactions] were completed successfully with an error rate of less than 1 percent… with refund levels at below 0.01 percent,” representing a “significant reduction in the need for costly customer care” Furthermore, Bango found that the average transaction speed “across all five networks [was] five seconds” – another significant improvement over premium SMS. Additionally, mobile game developer I-Play reported a near “15 percent conversion rate” on its mobile web site following their implementation of Payforit

It should be pointed out that although these results are highly encouraging, Payforit is not (as of yet) the “m-commerce” silver bullet we all desire. Unfortunately Payforit is limited to small transactions of less than 10£, and only for soft (digital) products. The organization has made no public statements indicating that the carriers intend on expanding the program to include larger transactions and/or to accommodate non-digital (physical) products, unsubstantiated rumors and overzealous public comments notwithstanding. The reasons behind these limitations was likely driven by carrier unwillingness to accept the risks associated with essentially “vouching” for larger-sized, physical purchases. Additionally, a complex regulatory system in the UK’s financial sector presents significant hurdles for carriers wishing to (directly) facilitate large transactions. Currently the carriers do not fall under the UK’s (banking) regulatory system due to the low Payforit purchase price ceiling of 10£, but any increase would likely land the operators into this undesirable (read: the reddest of tape) direction.

Still, Payforit represents a tremendous leap forward in the evolution of mobile commerce. With this platform the critical obstacle of authentication via the mobile web has been overcome, and with it the comes the very real potential for secure, unrestricted mobile web-based transactions of any type of good – at any price point. In order to reach this ultimate goal we would need to see a supreme display of cross-industry cooperation, where the carriers agree to share their authentication data with the banks and credit card companies (either directly or via an intermediary). One can only imagine the tedious negotiations that this type of complex (and lucrative) arrangement would entail.

  • Eying Real Accountability in Mobile Advertising. As with commerce, the UK wireless operators are displaying a similar willingness to band together to take on the most significant challenge impeding the long term success of the mobile advertising market: accountability. In a joint release issued at this year’s 3GSM in Barcelona the very same five leading UK carriers announced that they had “formed a working group to define common metrics and measurement processes for mobile advertising.” The working group will be focused on drafting a feasibility study examining “the deliver[ry] of cross-operator metrics to the media and advertising communities” in the UK. No timetables were revealed other than that the group planned on releasing “recommendations” before the end of 2008.

It is no secret that there is a profound need for drastically improved mobile advertising metrics (cross-carrier or otherwise). Many industry leaders and publications have become increasingly vocal on the lack of real accountability in the mobile ad space and how this will ultimately hold back the industry if it is not seriously addressed. As cookies and page scripting aren’t viable options on the mobile web, our only real hope for true accountability in the immediate future lies with the carriers.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see what approach the working group recommends. If history is any guide they will probably suggest a scenario similar to the aforementioned SMS and Payforit model, whereby a select few companies will be “given” (the right to purchase) preferential access to (in this case) key mobile web tracking data. This data is necessary to calculate crucial (and rudimentary) campaign stats such as unduplicated audience/reach and frequency, over multiple and overlapping wireless networks. These companies will then either act as data brokers and/or serve directly as providers of campaign and publisher-side metrics. This scenario begs some follow-up speculation, should the working group indeed decides to go down this well-worn path…

  1. Which companies will get the nod? Traditional fixed-line internet ad serving companies and networks (Atlas, Doubleclick, etc) and their mobile cousins (Amobee, AdMob, et al) will likely be competing with the site metrics specialists (Overture) and data brokers (Telephia, M:Metrics), as well as some of the more ambitious SMS aggregators and Payforit Accredited Payment Intermediaries looking to make a more aggressive push into advertising services. Serious spoils to the victors no doubt.
  2. What Data Points will be Passed by the Carriers? It would fair to say that at a minimum the carriers would need to pass an anonymous Unique Identifier to the ad server or other 3rd party. Other highly coveted data points of interest include subscriber IDs (mobile phone numbers), location and subscriber data. The former stands a good chance of inclusion in specialized cases should a real need be identified (such as a m-commerce extension), while the latter two seem too controversial for immediate consideration.

The Opacity of Hope? Undoubtedly the mobile marketing industry faces tremendous challenges if it is to realize its great potential as a promotional channel. While it’s commonly known that these challenges will only be met if the companies making up the mobile industry can put aside their differences and agree on common goals and approaches, it is encouraging that markets like the UK are taking a leadership position in this area. We can only hope that other markets will soon follow suit.