Archive for the ‘mobile’ Category

Watch out for the Android

Monday, November 9th, 2009

droidFrom Merriam-Webster’s:

an-droid: noun. a mobile robot usually with a human form

In the case of Google’s Android operating system, the “robot” is morphing into lots of forms. First and foremost, as a mobile phone with now nearly a dozen implementations. And those phones are starting to win acclaim (and not only for the Motorola Droid).

But that’s not all: Barnes & Noble based its Nook e-reader on Android and Creative is building an Android-based iPod Touch competitor.

Which is bad news for Apple, right? I’m not sure about that, but it’s certainly bad news for Blackberry, Palm and Symbian, not to mention Windows Mobile (did you forget Microsoft also supplies micro OSes for phones and the like?).

In fact, as the marketplace begins to settle out, it’s starting to resemble the PC market, circa 1995. Apple is providing a closed, end-to-end experience, while its competitor is supplying its platform to lots of hardware vendors for them to install and sell. One difference: Google (Android’s biggest backer) is not charging a license fee for the platform and offers it open source.

As has been observed with other open-source projects such as Linux, Firefox and MySQL, Android will continue to become more feature-rich, with more apps available, as Android handsets begin to take hold in the market. In comparison, Palm’s, Blackberry’s and even Microsoft’s ability to keep up with the state of the art will suffer. [Gizmodo makes a powerful case for Android's potential in this post.]

My prediction: Apple will rule the smartphone roost for some time. Android will be a strong #2. Who will be #3? Does it matter?

(Photo: Motorola Droid via phandroid.com)

Related post:
Can you make money with free software?

Wireless companies are no longer in the network business

Friday, August 7th, 2009

When I first went out on my own, my father-in-law, an attorney who had his own practice for many years, told me: “If you think you’re in the consulting business, you’re wrong. You’re in the sales business.” What that meant to me was, there are lots of consultants. If I can’t articulate and communicate the value I bring, clients will hire someone else–no matter how accomplished my consulting work is.

It’s 2009, and a similar fate has finally overtaken wireless companies. You see, they believe they are in the network business. You see it in their advertising (”More bars in more places,” “The Now Network,” “The nation’s most reliable network“). You hear it when they talk, and you see it when they present at conferences. The network rules.

Except this: there are lots of networks (five or more in many areas). Wireless companies are able to drop calls no matter how many bars they have in how many places. People don’t make decisions anymore based on network–they make it based on handset, or price plan, or maybe what ad they saw most recently.

So the mindset needs to change. Wireless companies are now in the customer service business. How can you provide an attractive product, with good reliability, at a reasonable price point… and make customers feel wanted, valued, and treated fairly?

In other words, AT&T needs to be more like Ritz-Carlton and less like… Southwestern Bell, one of its progenitors.

The changes needed to do this are immense. They are no less than devaluing where the company came from (networks, cell sites, etc.) and empowering fringe groups, such as customer service. It means re-evaluating the entire product portfolio and purging it of things that have become shackles to their customers–contracts, bucket plans, hidden profit centers.

It means radically simplifying your business, removing programs, processes and systems that don’t add value anymore.

It means getting real, and putting corporate commitment behind “our customers are our most important asset.” Because don’t say it if you really believe your most important asset is your IMS infrastructure.

Does any company have the courage to do this? One would wager that Sprint has little to lose. Mr. Dan Hesse, why don’t you have a go at it?

Sony to (eventually) marry cellphone, PSP handheld

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I almost fell out of my chair when I read this today:

Sony plans to set up a project team as early as July to develop a new product that combines functions of its portable game player and Sony Ericsson’s mobile phones, the Nikkei [Business Daily] said.

“As early as July”! If I have my calculations right, the iPhone has been on the market for two years. Sony & Ericsson should have built a prototype years ago. But now, finally, with tens of millions of iPhones sold, and a million Palm Pre’s, Sony is ready to put that project team together.

Is it any wonder that Sony is in trouble?

Best Buy sees an opportunity in mobile distribution

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Brian Dunn, the new CEO of Best Buy, announced yesterday, in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal, that the US’ largest electronics retailer is seeking a 15% share of mobile activations, up from its current 3%, and will be opening 40 Best Buy Mobile stores in the US. Dunn said this is part of Best Buy’s strategic focus on connected devices.

This is a smart goal for a number of reasons. Wireless distribution is highly fragmented, service is uneven (even at the company-owned stories), and many independent distributors are exclusive to a single carrier. As devices proliferate, the carrier connection will be less important, and guidance & support, a Best Buy hallmark, will become more crucial.

Additionally, building a standalone mobile brand opens the door for Best Buy to take its private label strategy to the mobile marketplace, creating unique bundles of devices, services and applications that they can brand and sell–something difficult for Wal-mart, the electronics retail “elephant in the room” to compete with.

It’s a winning strategy for Best Buy, and a boon to customers.

Related post:
Sprint reveals more on its wholesale strategy

Photo by asmythie via Flickr creative commons

Prepaid ain’t nothing but a payment method

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

In the US wireless marketplace, carriers covet postpaid customers above all, as do their investors. Carriers have focused their businesses on a subscription model comprising subsidized handsets, locked phones and multi-year contracts. They use this approach to limit churn, keep ARPU high, and… well, because they’ve always done it.

Prepaid started in the US as a way to serve credit-challenged customers. A postpaid subscriber needs to have good credit, so the carrier has some assurance that he will pay through the contract term. Many prospects didn’t qualify, so the carriers turned to prepaid as a way to provide service without the risk of default.

And so it is today, fifteen years after the first prepaid customers were brought on line in the US. Carriers consider prepaid a marginal service with an unappealing financial profile targeted at an unimportant niche of customers.

In Europe it’s not this way. And several US MVNOs–Tracfone, Virgin and Boost in particular, have developed prepaid businesses that are more broadly targeted. There’s much more that can be done to mainstream prepaid in the US–if we look at prepaid differently.

Prepaid doesn’t mean you aren’t connected to your customers.
It does mean that you are not connected to customers by default, in the way a postpaid provider is by providing a monthly bill (and, of course, the chains of that 2-year contract). Prepaid customers don’t have to share anything with you–they can buy their phones and recharge cards at the retailer and remain anonymous–but with the right kind of programs and incentives, you can have as robust a customer relationship. Perhaps a better one, since it’s based on the quality of the product and the customer’s choice rather than contracts and penalties.

Prepaid is a more transparent product.
There is little or no subsidy with a prepaid phone, so the costs are more transparent to the subscriber. While prepaid providers, perhaps in imitation of their postpaid competitors, have gotten too creative and confusing with rate plans (per minute, daily fee plus per minute, minutes that expire, etc.), the base service concept–pay for what you use–is highly transparent and in tune with the way people consume lots of products these days.

Prepaid lacks many of the unpleasant aspects of postpaid. The simpler structure of prepaid, especially its lack of contracts and penalties, is a virtue today more than ever. (The Kindle pricing model is a prepaid subscription. Another widespread product, Skype, works on a prepaid model as well.)

Challenging the assumption that postpaid is better is important now because we are on the cusp of a revolution in wireless, always-on connected gadgets. Portable modems, GPS devices, and the aforementioned Kindle are but a sample of what we’ll see in the next few years. I, for one, hope the customer models for these devices show some of the innovation the devices themselves offer.

(Photo: one of those cool new mobile devices, the Novatel MiFi personal hot spot)

Related post:
Examining Kindle pricing

Sprint reveals more on its wholesale strategy

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Way back in the early oughts when we all thought MVNOs would change the wireless world here in the US, one question we faced was the sheer number of mobile phones people had. “Hey, 75% of people already have cellphones; how are new operators going to build scale when nearly everyone has a phone?”

And the answer was plain to me as I looked around our house. “Hey,” I said to our team. “We have six CD players. Some day we’ll all have six phones, too.”

The MVNO market didn’t take off like we’d hoped, but, as I’ve pointed out a few times recently, wireless wholesale is far from dead. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Sprint discusses its focus on embedded wireless data (”Sprint Looks To Power Gadgets Beyond Cellphones“).

Sprint is the data service behind the Amazon Kindle, as many know, and they’re looking to land more of those types of customers. The Journal article mentions GPS maker Garmin, SanDisk and Kodak as possible integrators of always-on wireless data services.

Customers of Garmin, SanDisk, etc., are strategic because they are net new customers to wireless–in other words, they are like I was when I bought my second (PC), third (another PC), fourth (clock radio) CD players. They don’t have to be lured from a competitive service.

And the article points out that wholesale accounts, while lower in revenue, are very profitable for Sprint:

Analysts say wireless wholesaling generates lower revenue than retail sales but carriers can hold down costs and maintain good profit margins. “They don’t have to bear costs like customer acquisition, billing or customer service,” said Jim Andrew, a wireless industry consultant.

Almost every review of the new Kindle I’ve read mentions its ability to wirelessly download books anytime, anyplace. That feature doesn’t exist without a ubiquitous wireless network. I’m ready, and the market’s ready, for more connected devices like the Kindle.

Related posts:
Time for a humbler, more focused wireless wholesale market
A strategic suggestion for Sprint Nextel (one they seem to be taking up)

iPhone data price complaints off base

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Now I’m not a fan of megalithic wireless operators. But the criticism of AT&T’s pricing plan for the new iPhone 3G, especially the monthly cost for unlimited data, is missing the point.

The complaint, lodged by Walt Mossberg and others, goes something like this: “Yes, the new iPhone costs $200 less, but the unlimited data package costs $10 more per month. So after a contract of two years, you’ll be out $40 compared to the first iPhone.”

But the point is this. We are talking about the iPhone 3G. Its data rates are about three times faster than the old 2.5G EDGE technology on the first iPhone, according to Mossberg’s tests.

Which means, minute-by-minute, you’ll be getting more data (and thereby more value) from the iPhone 3G.

But there’s more. When available bandwidth jumps, people use far more of the service. New applications become possible. Video, for example, is much more reasonable at 400kbps than at 56kps.

So perhaps the comment should be, “For pretty much the same total cost as the old phone, you get a new phone with three times the power and 10-15 times the application utility. Why not stop by an Apple store and pick one up?”

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Confused by "open wireless"? Read this

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

When it comes to making sense of the fragmented, messy world that is the US wireless marketplace, Hamilton Sekino of Diamond Consulting (someone I’ve worked with for years) is as good as it gets.

He and co-author David Gates have just written a white paper entitled “Wireless Open Models” (link – free with registration) that helps sort out just what “open” means in all the different contexts of the wireless world (networks, services, platforms, devices) and how names like Verizon, Android, iPhone, Nokia, Kindle, and others are involved. Like all Hamilton’s work, “Wireless Open Models” is rigorous, well-written, and comes with a strong viewpoint.

It’s a useful resource to have handy the next time you read about “open wireless.” Which could be as early as today.

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The new media onslaught is making entrepreneurs out of creators

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

An article from the New York Times earlier this week (”Bridging The Gap, The Sequel“) starkly illustrated that venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and creative types from Southern California are having difficulty cooperating to create financial and partnership models for new media.

One of the biggest obstacles, according to the articles, is the Southern Californians’ focus on upfront cash rather than long-term equity.

How this situation came to be is easy to understand: when the means of production of creative property were expensive, there was a distinct separation between the “suits,” who raised needed capital, and the “talent,” who wrote, acted, sang, directed, etc. The suits financed productions and paid the talent, who worked job to job. It was in the talent’s interest to get as much of their payment upfront as possible because (1) they didn’t know when their next job would come through and (2) the suits could, and wanted to, maintain full ownership of the property.

Now production costs can be much smaller, for music, video, text, etc. Prices for distribution are coming down too as new outlets emerge for digital distribution. And media companies are looking to hedge their risk as the old moneymakers (CDs, DVDs) erode.

As a result, an entire new entrepreneurial class has emerged, between the suits and the talent, combining the ability to raise money, cut deals, etc., with songwriting, producing, or acting. Around this “middle class” is a new set of technology and business enablers that are providing key pieces of the production and distribution infrastructure for these creators. (This edition of the radio program “Fresh Air” discusses some of the new models and companies emerging in the music business. Companies like Indieflix provide distribution services for video/film producers.)

Here’s an example of the new world order for music: the LinkedIn profile for Fran Ten of the LA band West Indian Girl:

oversee and run all the departments of the west indian girl business – management, marketing, new media, touring, merchandising, promotions, licensing, legal, accounting, art, etc etc.

music is a business and musicians that dont understand this are at a disadvantage.

this job is just as much a blue collar job as the one i had in high school working at a brake factory in grand rapids, mi. sometimes i think it’s even dirtier.

Technology advances have made internet video and mobile entertainment accessible to consumers on a wide scale. The business models are lagging behind. The old way–suits and talent–isn’t going to be able to work them out. The “middle class” will have to do it.

(Photo: a still from “Fields of Mudan,” the all-time best-selling DVD on Indieflix.)

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Can mobile phones eradicate poverty?

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

This past winter I had the opportunity to spend a night working at a local homeless shelter. It was an unforgettable night for many reasons, including the memory of huddling around a radio with four other guys after lights out listening to the Giants beat the Packers to go to the Super Bowl. Among everything I experienced, one thing that surprised me was the share of people staying at the shelter that night carrying cell phones. By my reckoning, it was roughly half.

As I thought about it, though, the idea of a homeless mobile-phone subscriber seemed less peculiar. Without a fixed address, the phone provided a means of connecting to the world. Employers could call if there was work available. Family and caregivers could check in. For most of us, the ability to be connected while mobile still seems an extravagance, a luxury. For these guys, it was a lifeline.

An article in today’s New York Times magazine brought this back to mind. “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?” by Sara Corbett trails mobile “user anthropologist” Jan Chipchase of Nokia as he studies how people use cellphones in developing countries and thinks aloud about whether mobile phones could provide a key ingredient in reducing poverty.

Corbett writes:


There are a growing number of economists who maintain that cellphones can restructure developing countries [similar to how just-in-time techniques changed manuracturing]. Cellphones, after all, have an economizing effect. My “just in time” meeting with Chipchase required little in the way of advance planning and was more efficient than the oft-imperfect practice of designating a specific time and a place to rendezvous. He didn’t have to leave his work until he knew I was in the vicinity. Knowing that he wasn’t waiting for me, I didn’t fret about the extra 15 minutes my taxi driver sat blaring his horn in Accra’s unpredictable traffic. And now, on foot, if I moved in the wrong direction, it could be quickly corrected. Using mobile phones, we were able to coordinate incrementally. “Do you see the footbridge?” Chipchase was saying over the phone. “No? O.K., do you see the giant green sign that says ‘Believe in God’? Yes? I’m down to the left of that.”

To someone who has spent years using a mobile phone, these moments are common enough to feel banal, but for people living in a shantytown like Nima[, Ghana] — and by extension in similar places across Africa and beyond — the possibilities afforded by a proliferation of cellphones are potentially revolutionary. Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cellphones, the bulk of them to be found in Africa and Asia. Even the smallest improvements in efficiency, amplified across those additional three billion people, could reshape the global economy in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Corbett writes, “In an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity.” Based on my experience at the shelter, I’d have to agree.

Related:
The cure to poverty is connectivity…
Another inspiring thought from Dr. Yunus

[Photo: the Nokia 1200, designed for emerging markets]

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