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.
I nearly hung up again, when he told me how they do it. “We use MMS, multimedia messaging service.”
But MMS is notoriously a flop. Nobody uses it. Its almost impossible to set up, its unreliable, and it baffles the home user.
Again, Ive just about had enough of people telling me how this or that killer application is going to make MMS take off like SMS texting did; my local paper recycler has come to depend on my chucking out a ton of releases about that a week.
“Yes, thats right.” Serbinis calm Canadian drone patiently explains: “One of the major issues with MMS in some markets is interoperability. You may never get a message if youre on Vodafone and Im on O2. But our service doesnt have that issue. Memova runs entirely within the operators network; it grabs e-mail and pushes it to your mobile as an MMS over that networks MMS controller.”
The result is that the user never ever realizes its MMS. Incoming e-mails just appear and get read, and replied to; to send, you use exactly the same menu as you use to send texts.
The complex business of setting it up is done by an initial over-the-air text message that provisions the phone.
What I like about the idea is that it doesnt offer a solution that causes more problems than it solves.
There is limited capacity on phone networks, and limited budget. Its tempting to think in terms of doubling revenue by doubling GPRS data; but if it worked (it wont, because the market doesnt plan to spend that sort of money on anything that isnt beer), it would bring the network to its knees.
What operators really need is something that makes people use the phone just a little more.
One e-mail a day, 30 a month… and maybe three out of 10 (Serbinis research) incoming messages will generate an outgoing reply.
No spam (the Memova server handles that), and the user can set priorities (only send me messages from my girlfriend, not the office).
And what I suspect this will do—and this is why so many European operators are set to jump on the Memova bandwagon in the next nine months—is prime the MMS pump.
For most users, the extra traffic will be invisible. Three Euros, one message a day—trivial stuff.
But for one user in a hundred, there will be the discovery that you can respond to an MMS-carried e-mail with a voice response. Insert memo: speak; send. Gradually—which is what the operators need—traffic will start to grow.
Im a big fan of MMS services, using MMS or GPRS—things like moblogging, podcast browsing, and so on.
But those are for the tiny segment of the market that uses BlackBerries or other smart phones.
“It comes in volume; the messages are small, and most emails are less than 1K,” says Serbinis. “So when you break it down, costs are really low for the operator, but volumes are one to two orders of magnitude up from BlackBerry. Instead of 5,000 users a month, you get 50,000 to 100k a month.”
While the Sevens and the Vistos and the Good Technology guys are all fighting for the business user, and maybe, just maybe, offering a better deal than RIM does, Critical Path is quietly sweeping up the crumbs.
And at the end of the day, Im a big skeptic about corporate e-mail “productivity gains.”
All the productivity gains Ive ever seen in corporate mobile data have come when people use non-e-mail applications; line-of-business automation for mobile executives and field staff.
Amusing Board members is a good way to make money—or Lear wouldnt sell jets.
But the real money is in carrying holiday-makers, 400 a time, in Jumbos. And the way e-mail will get onto our phones will be 10 cents a day, for one or two emails.
Contributing columnist Guy Kewney has been irritating the complacent in high tech since 1974. Previously with PC Mag UK and ZDNet UK, Guy helped found InfoWorld, Personal Computer World, MicroScope, PC Dealer, AFAICS Research and NewsWireless. And he only commits one blog—forgiveable, surely? He can be reached at [email protected]
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