google-mobile-logo-copy.jpg Google’s Newfound Strategic Advantage in US 4G Market Goes Largely Overlooked.

While coverage of last week’s WiMax Mega-Deal largely focused on how the new venture would affect Sprint, Clearwire, and its largest investors (Comcast and Intel), there was strangely little attention payed to the tremendous up-side Google stands to reap from its relatively minor investment of “only” $500 million (as compared to Comcast’s $1.05 billion, Intel’s $1 billion and Time Warner’s $550 million investments).

With little fanfare, the WSJ reported that “Google will become the preferred software developer on the WiMax network, meaning its search service would be the default on new mobile devices.” Additionally, Sprint “agreed to put Google’s mobile operating system, Android, in some Sprint phones.” While the second point is not that surprising (Sprint, as well as Intel, are both members of the Android-focused Open Handset Alliance), the first point may have tremendous impact on the long term landscape of the US mobile search market.

Historically, the major US carriers have been reluctant to grant Google access to their customers, resulting in the search giant’s well-documented difficulties in penetrating the domestic on deck Mobile Search market. Now, as WiMax is likely years ahead of competing domestic 4G technologies such as LTE, Google sits atop a de facto mobile search monopoly in the US wireless broadband space (3G services, while a significant improvement from their predecessors, can hardly be deemed a true “broadband” product experience).

This is a tremendous strategic advantage that may extend beyond mobile search into other highly lucrative areas such as mapping, email, and perhaps event streaming video (YouTube), depending on what Google’s position as the venture’s “preferred software developer” ultimately means. True, consumers will likley be free to navigate to and/or download competitive services from the likes of Yahoo!, MSN and even IAC, but we all know that the majority of users will be content using the default services preloaded on the device.

Google’s advantageous position is further enhanced by the venture’s aggressive cable system partners (Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House), who view the platform as the ultimate response to the “quad-play” service bundles currently offered by Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-verse. The cable companies are locked in a no-holds-barred, block-by-block, all out war with the telcos, and no one should doubt the MSO‘s willingness to fiercely market their advantage in wireless broadband. Google, of course, will profoundly benefit from these marketing efforts.

All told, the real value of Google’s first mover advantage in the domestic 4G space will be their opportunity to define their mobile brand in the best of environments, while Yahoo! and company must more or less wait for AT&T and Verizon Wireless to roll out their LTE networks – content with their standard 3G-based services that will no doubt seem primitive in comparison to Google’s souped-up WiMax products.

twimm-sm-copy.jpgLast week was punctuated by a steady stream of mobile marketing-related announcements, studies, partnerships and launches – some interesting, some not so much… and none of which truly worthy of a dedicated post.

Nevertheless, taken in aggregate these moves represent an ever-advancing industry, charging forward on the backs of the innovators, the followers, and the “never say hype” over-enthusiastic forecasters.

We give you then, the first of mobilestance.com’s “This Week in Mobile Marketing”

TWIMM: We read the domestic Mobile Marketing trades, studies, announcements and insane market forecasts… so you don’t have to!

  • Mobile Search. Nielsen Mobile (formerly Telephia) announced that “46 Million [US] Mobile Data Users Used Mobile Search Functions in Q3 2007.” But before you get all excited, keep in mind that “The most popular form of mobile search among data users in Q3 2007 was 411 (18.1 million users), followed closely by SMS (text-message) -based searching, which was used by 14.1 million data users during the same period.” Yep… the “big news” is that folks are mostly using mobile search to look up local phone numbers – not exactly a headline generating statistic. Still, “while local listings were the leading search objective in terms of users, (27.1 million data users searched for local listings in Q3 2007), 14.8 million said they searched for information such as sports scores, news or weather, while nearly a quarter (11.3 million) said they searched for mobile content.” Good news for SMS Ad Networks such as 4INFO . Notably absent from the announcement was any mention of WAP-based search offerings such as those by Google, Yahoo, Jumptap and the like – other than a brief mention that “61% of 411 search users are female, while 60% of WAP (or mobile web) search users are male.”
  • Meanwhile in related news, Nokia’s head of search Jussi Pekka Partanen simultaneously hyped local search while taking shots at Google, as reported moconews.net. At the the Visiongain mobile search conference in London last week the handset giant contended that mobile search will be more context-focused than the existing page rank-driven engines currently dominating the desktop search market. Nokia’s current “Nokia Search” product seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, combining web search with local (meaning: on the device) content search.
  • The Mobile Web. 40% of web publishers have launched mobile sites, with another 25% planing to do so in the next year, this according to Jupiter Research in a report entitled “Mobile web sites: Designing for mobility.” The number is somewhat misleading, insomuch as “this number… likely reflects mobile versions that consist of frames and offer a kludgy user interface,” or so says Mediapost. The report states that only 3% of the above mobile sites are “mobile advertising enabled” – in that they have the ability to optimize ad delivery based on whether the user is viewing the page via a mobile device (versus a PC). Mediapost also notes that up to 1/3 of these pages enable mobile commerce of some sort, such as “instant transactions and the ability to drive shoppers into nearby stores” – a fairly vague definition of mobile commerce to be sure.
  • Notable Mobile Website launches included a dedicated mobile version of FIM’s Photobucket (m.photobucket.com), Discovery Mobile’s new mobile portal (discoverymobile.com, which houses the all of Discovery Communications’ mobile sites, such as Discovery Channel Mobile, Animal Planet Mobile, and TLC Mobile), and USA.gov Mobile (http://mobile.usa.gov – which seems to be a fairly straightforward RSS fed Gov’t info formatted for mobile).
  • Mobile Content. The NBA announced that they are partnering with Turner to handle all of its mobile-related content offerings, this according to Fierce Mobile Content. Fierce reported that “the cable network will assume operational control of the league’s digital efforts, including its mobile and broadband businesses. The partnership, effective for the 2008-09 NBA season and continuing through the 2015-16 campaign, also calls for TBS to take over programming, marketing and technical operations of NBA TV, the league’s 24-hour digital television network, and host and operate the NBA.com Network, which includes the NBA.com, WNBA.com and NBADLeague.com websites. In addition, TBS will operate NBA League Pass, the league’s out-of-market game package. TBS, Inc. and the NBA will jointly sell advertising for all of the league’s digital assets.”
  • QR Codes. In a rare break from our “US Bias,” mobilestance.com continues to cover The Sun’s “Babe-Infused” QR Code efforts (UK). This week the Sun announced the results of its experiment with the promising mobile marketing technology. According to the Sun, the “new mobile content service has achieved early success with around 11,000 users registered so far.” Buoyed by these numbers, the tabloid plans on publishing “another pull-out (supplement in The Sun) to further inform people on how to use QR codes.”
  • Research-Driven Market Hype. The results of two “hypefull” Mobile Marketing studies were announced last week. The first was on Monday from ABI Research, who announced that “mobile marketing is expected to grow to over $24 billion worldwide in 2013, jumping from just $1.8 billion in 2007,” this according to the research firm’s study/product entitled “Mobile Marketing and Advertising” (retail price: $4500). The second came from Advertiser Perceptions, who reported on Wednesday that “26% [of advertisers] said they were currently using mobile, 20% said they planned to use it in the next six months, and 54% said they are not currently using mobile,” as reported by Ad Age. These numbers were based on surveys of “2,000 brand marketers and agencies” as part of their “Wave Eight” study that seems to cover both “hot” hand held media channels, such mobile video and search -as well as “not so hot” channels such as podcasting.
  • Miscellaneous News. The FCC launched a probe to “determine whether mobile phone text messages and short codes are covered by non-discrimination provisions of the telecom act,” this according to RCR Wireless News. The FCC move comes in wake of Verizon’s recent high-profile decision to block text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America – a decision it quickly reversed under pressure from from a successful grass-roots campaign the organization launched against the carrier. Finally, Steve Jobs announced an underwhelming firmware update to the iPhone at last week’s Macworld 2008. Among the updates included features that now allowing users to send group SMS messages (something I can do on my two year old RAZR) and the non-GPS-based “Blue Location BEacon” feature in Google Maps (something I’ve been able to do on my Blackberry since Google launched the service late last year). Baby steps, to be sure. Forget a 3G version… I’m still waiting for such standard “features” as Cut and Paste!

millennial media upsnap logoUpSNAP, a provider of SMS / VoIP-based mobile search and streaming mobile audio products, has announced a deal with mobile advertising firm Millennial Media. Under the terms of the deal Millennial Media (along with nine other partners) will have access to UpSNAP’s mobile search and streaming audio inventory for resale to advertisers and/or their media buying agencies.

The back half of 2007 was a busy one for UpSNAP, merging with animated greeting card provider Mobile Greetings in September and announcing a partnership with mobile search pioneer Go2 in November. With all this activity it’s difficult to get a sense of where UpSNAP is headed, but it appears the firm is rapidly moving towards an ad-supported content aggregation play (with the advertising sales function outsourced to third parties). By providing Go2 with time-sensitive mobile audio content (think audio news clips, like what you’d get from a syndicated news radio program), UpSNAP is essentially acting as a content provider to Go2’s local-focused, mobile search engine. Similarly, providing tying up with Ad Networks such as Millennial reinforces this position, as UpSNAP attempts to outsource the ad sales function of their search and streaming audio products so that they can focus more clearly on content aggregation (in this case, the content is mobile search queries and audio streams). The Mobile Greetings merger only further reinforces this position, as the deal wraps up UpSnap with a high-quality, ad/sponsorship-based mobile content provider.

Analysis: It remains to be seen what (if anything) will ultimately become of such agreements. As stated in reactions to similar announcements, the real challenge in the mobile advertising value chain isn’t in the aggregation of mobile inventory, it’s the actual sales of said inventory… and it would appear if UpSNAP’s inventory were truly valuable they would be able to achieve sell out with their existing nine mobile advertising partners (and therefore wouldn’t be looking to additional mobile ad firms – such as Millennial – to partner up with). That said, in all fairness to UpSNAP… their need for (yet another) mobile ad sales partner likely speaks more to the nascent state of the mobile advertising market than does to the quality of UpSNAP’s inventory.