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.

ctia-vegas.jpgHonoring The Very Best in CTIA Show Floor Swag!

At first glance it might seem odd to honor those little branded trinkets given out on the show floor – hardly worth one’s time to pick up – let alone to honor with an award. Yet, the creation of a truly quality show floor giveaway is a highly challenging task – a process laden with strict, yet unwritten rules that one must follow if one is to succeed in this oft derided genera.

First, there is the cold Swagonomic reality that these artists must face: Swag items are usually confined to the “less than $3 per item” category – not exactly the hottest area of the catalog. Second, conference swag must reinforce several (often competing) brand messages: there is the company’s brand itself, the industry the company is in, as well as the city where the conference is being held. Then there is the question of utility: Will the prospect find the item useful? Finally, there is the need to stand out and get noticed – in a conference otherwise awash in a sea of like-minded exhibitors.

Considering all this, as well as a final factor dubbed “industry timeliness” (i.e. how well does the Swag item capture “the moment” of the wireless industry), we’ve scoured the show floor at the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas to bring you the best of the best.

Therefore, without further delay, Mobilestance.com is proud to present the winners of “The Swaggies” – our homage to those seemingly unimportant conference freebies and a heretofore neglected form of commercial artistry that may very well portend the direction of our fledgling industry.

Note: Hi-res images of all winning Swag items can be found at bottom of the post.

  • Winner, Best Writing Implement: Call2Recycle. Very few areas of the show floor are as competitive as the “Writing Implement” category. Nearly every other company at the conference offered attendees endless varieties of branded pens, pencils, markers and crayons. That said, Call2Recycle, a non-profit ” promot[ing the] recycling of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries,” successfully captured the palpable “green vibe” of the conference by crafting a pair of cleverly designed writing utensils created entirely of recycled materials (click here to view). The pen sports a smartly crafted cardboard body complete with wooden “pocket-protector”-style clip, while the pencil was created entirely from recycled currency.
  • Winner, Best Mobile Accessory: Reagan Wireless. Until now this category has been a non-starter… plagued with inane creations such as the ubiquitous mobile “screen wiper” and equally ill advised “mobile caddy.” Padded cell covers and other trinkets are of equal value, with the litany of handset models in circulation it becomes next to impossible to create something of mass interest. Samsung (as they have done in previous shows) was offering free batteries and other valuable items to visitors owning their handsets – the catch was that you had to produce a Samsung handset as proof of ownership. In a move seemingly pulled from the corner of Mott and Canal, the upstarts at Reagan Wireless took this basic concept and turned it up a notch – offering free Blackberry and Motorola cases and chargers to anyone who dared reach into a pair of large, unmarked cardboard boxes – no questions asked (see image here).
  • Winner, Best Plush Toy: NSTL appRelay. The guys at National Software Testing Labs may hate bugs, but they’ve made this one famous… bringing him/her to show after show and no doubt in front of the children of many a conference-worn, wireless exec. It’s been rumored that the NSTL bug (and flyswatter companion) have their own Facebook page and have been spotted throughout the world, posing in front of scenic landmarks. No sightings yet of the alleged Facebook profile – but anyone who finds it please leave a comment and pass it along.
  • Winner, Best Travel Accessory: Acme Packet / Novara (tie). Branded travel items are a popular category, as companies vie to meet the needs of weary, far-from-home conference attendees. While both winners sported a nearly identical “Luggage Spotter” giveaway (all that differed was the logo and the color), the item is so useful that it could not be ignored. Not only does it make it easy to find your bag in the airport luggage carousel when wrapped around a bag’s handle or strap, but it doubles as an extra layer of padding and holds a business card to boot.
  • Winner, Best Multi Tool: Talley Communications. An offshoot of the “Travel Accessory” category, the rising popularity of branded, MacGyver-esque contraptions at CTIA warranted the creation of a dedicated award. Talley left little on the cutting room floor in selecting this rugged behemoth. The tool offers office workers the option of stapling, taping and labeling… all from the convenience of one compact (and branded device). Doubles as a weapon of last resort if [insert office cliche here]…
  • Winner, Best Koozie: Opera Software. While usually this conference mainstay stays stubbornly on the more blue collar side of the conference, the geeks at Opera took one back for the Tri-Lams as they captured the coveted “Best Koozie in Show” award with their (now classic) black, fou-leather rocker-style “Opera” koozie. See ya in paradise, Booger.
  • Winner, Best Incorporation of Local Flavor: Openwave. After rifling through countless branded poker chips engraved with such witty slogans as “You can bet on [company X],” we finally came across this little gem – a stylish, mock-silver money clip. If only I had something to put in it after leaving Sin City…
  • Winner, Totally Useless Objects, Lit: DRT. There’s a special place in our hearts for totally useless objects that light up and sparkle – and DRT made sure we didn’t leave empty handed. This lava lamp-looking doodad shines multi-colored light through a heated liquid, which moves about suspended metal particles that scatter the light every which way. All in it’s less than three inches high, and carry-on friendly with less than 3.4 oz of liquid. Such pretty, pretty colors…

food3-copy.jpgWinner, Best in Show; Food & Beverage: Yahoo! Mobile. Congratulations to Yahoo! Mobile for capturing the fiercely competitive “Food and Beverage” category as well as our Best in Show award with their extravagant on-site Gelato parlor. The delicious treats, offered in twelve eye-popping varieties, were the hit of the show, and were just the thing to cool off with after a day spent sweating in the Las Vegas sun. The dessert successfully captured the oral fixation of this year’s show (read: the continuing evolution of voice recognition – get your minds out of the gutter!), and easily trumped the three varieties of smoothies offered at the AOL booth. Thanks to Ricky Montalvo at Yahoo! Studios for the photos.

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge photos:

food2-copy.jpg

food1-copy.jpgwriting-implement-copy.jpgplush-toys-copy.jpgmobile-copy.jpg

multi-tool-copy.jpg

koozie-copy.jpglocal-flavor-copy.jpgtravel-copy.jpguseless-copy.jpg

mobilestance world of WAPcraft warcraft GFXThis week was marked by an extraordinary series of high profile Mobile Web developments… which, when viewed in aggregate, were seen by many as evidence that the nascent channel has finally reached an inflection point.

All three major areas of the mobile web “ecosystem” (carriers, publishers and advertisers) announced significant site launches, partnerships and traffic milestones, including several blue-chip advertisers and content publishers such as American Airlines, YouTube, Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, A&E and the New York Times.

Despite these encouraging developments, several notable marketplace events served to point out the shortcomings of the emerging mobile web space, including a reminder of a glaring limitation of the mobile web from a metrics and reporting standpoint, as well as accounts of a public tirade involving nearly the entire mobile value chain – from one of the mobile industry’s more prominent (and animated) executives.

A busy week in the World of WAPcraft to be sure… here’s some of the major highlights:

  • Carriers. Last week’s most significant Mobile Web development came from AT&T Mobility, who announced a strategic alliance with Yahoo! whereby the internet giant will begin serving ads on the carrier’s “MEdia Net” mobile portal. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! and AT&T will divide up the on-deck advertising inventory for sale and/or for internal use. Additionally, AT&T ’s yellowpages.com will now power local search on both AT&T’s Mobile and Wireline Web properties. AT&T has not yet announced when these changes will take affect.

    AT&T Mobility’s move follows earlier moves by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Collectively, the three carriers represent approximately 78% of the US mobile market. T-Mobile, the last of the “big four” US carriers without an on-deck mobile advertising play, has tied up with Yahoo! to serve ads on its UK “Web’n'Walk”mobile portal. Clearly the announcement from AT&T Mobility would inhibit T-Mobile’s ability to expand their Yahoo! relationship here in the US.

  • Publishers. This week witnessed an abundance of mobile website launches and/or relaunches from many of the larger content providers. YouTube announced the launch of its new Mobile Web site (m.youtube.com), as well as a new J2ME application (supported on Nokia 6110, 6120, E65, N73, N95 and Sony Ericsson k800 and w880). NBC announced the launch of 40 new WAP sites (as well as 3 new mobile video channels), including dedicated mobile web sites for NBC programs such as 30 Rock, ER, Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, ABC News announced that its mobile site (m.abcnews.com) would be providing “real time” US presidential election results, although Mobile Marketer reports that ABC refreshes its mobile website content [only] on an hourly basis.

    On the cable side, A&E Television announced the launch of mobile the A&E Network portal (mobile.aetv.com), as well as dedicated sites for The History Channel (mobile.history.com) and The Biography Channel (mobile.biography.com). The A&E mobile sites feature fairly standard mobile web fare, including “What’s on Tonight”, “Program Descriptions and Photos”, “Fan Polls and Trivia Games” and “Downloadable Wallpapers and Ring Tones.”

    Finally, moconews.net reported that the New York Times mobile website is now generating an average of 10MM page impressions per month, a 600% year-over-year traffic increase.

  • Advertisers. American Airlines announced the launch an extravagant new mobile web site that is sure to raise the bar for mobile websites in the airline category. The site utilizes a common URL approach (www.aa.com), which automatically redirects mobile users to device-appropriate site versions (although mobile users have the option of reverting to the full HTML site, an option that hopefully will soon become a standard feature on most mobile websites). Currently the AA.com mobile site features include the ability for users to “check in for a flight, view their itinerary, check schedules, check the status of their flights, get information on destinations, weather or airports and contact American Airlines.”

    Future AA.com mobile enhancements targeted for a Spring ‘08 launch include the ability for users to “book flights, change their reservations, view fare specials, request upgrades and enroll in” American’s AAdvantage loyalty program. Additionally, the carrier states that “many pages also will be viewable in Spanish.”

  • Criticism. UK SEO provider AccuraCast cast a spotlight on Google’s inability to effectively track conversions generated from AdWords Mobile. The challenge faced by Google is that its ability to track conversions relies on either Java script (embedded on a publisher’s page) or tracking cookies – technologies not supported by most (if not all, in the case of Java) mobile web browsers. To its credit, Google acknowledges its system’s shortcomings, noting that “conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, cost-per-transaction and value/click are adjusted to reflect only those sites from which we can track conversions.”

    In lighter news, this week at the AlwaysOn Media event in New York City Cyriac Roeding, SVP of CBS mobile, unleashed a public rant against the complexity and inherent dysfunction of the mobile ecosystem. Apparently no one was spared from Teutonic executive’s assault on the mobile industry; From the carriers (there’s too many of them! lack of technology standards! too many pricing options! too many service packages! poor marketing!) to the publishers and handset manufacturers (poor usability! content poorly organized!) and even the advertisers themselves! (they don’t understand mobile or the value it brings!). While attendees reported that Mr. Reoding’s “marketplace observations” were greeted with wild applause, mobilestance finds it ironic that the current Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association Board of Directors would choose to publicly rebuke, ridicule and embarrass nearly all of the organization’s members.

Analysis: While development of the mobile web ecosystem seems to be accelerating, it remains to be seen if a critical mass has been achieved – both in terms of users – as well as content. Still, all the major players in the space (carriers, content publishers, and advertisers) are taking the necessary steps to advance the channel towards reaching the seemingly inevitable goal of mainstream use. That said, it is clear that several prominent hurdles (most notably usability issues such as UI and network speeds, as well as the inability to cookie most mobile devices) still stand in the way of large scale consumer adoption and commercial exploitation of the mobile web.

31849319-2-300-overview-11.gif Today at CES Yahoo! is planning on announcing that they are opening up their “Yahoo! Go” mobile application to third party developers, this according to the New York Times. The Times is reporting that MTV, eBay and MySpace have already created Yahoo! Go widgets that consumers can download either online or directly via the mobile application. Yahoo! Go has been ported to roughly 250 mobile devices, and comes preloaded on some phones made by Motorola, LG, Samsung and Nokia outside the US (domestic carriers force users to manually download and install the application prior to use, although this might change once device manufacturers start selling handsets directly to consumers).

Analysis: Yahoo!’s work on developing Go to a more mature platform is commendable. While the move does serve to further fragment the development environment for mobile (What, another new platform to write for? Better hire another developer!), the platform’s large (for mobile) install base of 250MM users worldwide will be attractive to major publishers and content brands (although some estimates confirm less than half of this base are actively using the application).

A no-brainer for Yahoo!, the move costs them little in oversight, while serving as a short-term defensive move against Google’s open Android platform. Ultimately the long term success of the play will hinge on the ease of developing third party widgets for Yahoo! Go, as well as any advantages that the development environment might afford (access to the address book? GPS data feed?). More on this as it develops.

Bloomberg.com published a piece today about how the carriers are keeping the cost of mobile advertising artificially high due to carrier revenue share. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are apparently upset that they must pay the carriers a percentage of ad revenues generated by carrier referral traffic (i.e. traffic coming from the carrier portal, or “deck”).

I’m a bit neutral on the topic myself. The carriers have every right to charge for what is a pretty big value add in mobile – generating traffic. If the portals feel they don’t need the traffic, let them try to survive on a 100% off deck model (as opposed to the hybrid strategy currently employed by most major mobile publisher brands). Obviously the portals value the traffic generated from their presence on the carrier deck, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place. What I do take issue to is the artificially high CPM “price floors” set by the carriers, but that’s a topic for another day.

I must (partially) disagree with Chad Stoller of Organic, who is quoted in the piece as saying that “the carriers are too busy trying to protect the money they are making now to look at the next way to make money.”  In my view the carriers are simply grabbing the money now while they can. Most agree that their walled gardens are on borrowed time, and with the open handset alliance and other initiatives, it’s only a matter of when – not if – the carriers iron grip on the mobile spigot will come loose. Until then, it’s hard to begrudge a company for leveraging their position for immediate gain, just so long as the long term prospects are not jeopardized.

Long term, the carriers face a bleak scenario anyway – one of the dreaded “dumb pipe” syndrome (ad integrated location data notwithstanding). But let’s face it, that’s really what they are… they’ve just been damn good at pretending they’re providing value in other business value chains (media, entertainment, commerce) for the purposes of immediate revenue streams.

And for those that are willing to do some digging…  quality off-deck inventory is available for way less than the $50 CPM often quoted in the industry press.