Putting E-Mail on Phones Poses Problems for Providers

Opinion: There is money to be made in the mobile world, but it's a tedious slice off the salami, rather than the big, magic flourish.

Which would you rather: make an extra dollar a month per subscriber from mobile consumer data, or make 40 times as much, selling to the business user?

Most people will tell you that consumer data is pathetic. Home phone users, heck, they only send or receive one e-mail a day. Peanuts.

Theyll tell you: The way to go, is to go after the business user, and get $30-$50 a month, per user.

Once youve got the new server installed in the corporate Web server room and wired securely into the LAN, you make the really big bucks.

For the user? Its easy, just get a BlackBerry.

Oh, on an ordinary phone? Ah, still simple. All you do is download a Java applet. Then, you learn (how?) that the applet is under the "other applications" menu, or maybe even in "games" or quite possibly, invisible; and that it takes about five clicks to reach it.

Then, you "simply" bring up the menu... of course, you need a new phone. An expensive one. OK, consumer markets wont go for it. But heck, corporations are rich, and the benefits of productivity...

A dollar a month. It doesnt sound like a big deal, does it. Especially when you hear all the fairy stories being whispered in the mobile data biz.

"Double the ARPU with our consolidated orthogonal convergence algorithm!" or "Optimize your channel, and increase margins by 40 percent by using our structured unified portal solution"—slogans like these come across the desk of every mobile operator every day.

So when Mike Serbinis of Critical Path rang me up to talk about mobile e-mail on phones, I very nearly pretended to be out. Oh, boy, am I fed up with being cornered by spluttering sales wizards telling me how theyre going to eat BlackBerries for lunch. And you can have your share… just dream the dream along with us!

But the streets in Mikes mobile world are paved with sweat, not gold nuggets, big as your head.

There is money to be made, but its tedious slice by slice off the salami, rather than the big, magic Harry Potter flourish.

Serbinis has been preaching for a while; finally, hes got a customer in Swisscom, which is installing Memova on its network.

And for the consumer, its just two to three euros extra a month to get all their ordinary everyday e-mail on their phones. No new e-mail account to notify all their family about: standard, everyday AOL or Hotmail or Yahoo or Wannadoo mail.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more insight about cell phones from Guy Kewney.

I nearly hung up again, when he told me how they do it. "We use MMS, multimedia messaging service."

Next Page: MMS reliability.