To quote from the event website,
What have mobile operators done for innovators and developers, lately? Our next MobileMonday London event will explore this issue. The event will be held on March 9th at CBI conference centre (at Centrepoint Tower) at 6:00 pm, sponsored by O2 Litmus and Vodafone. Panelists will include James Parton from O2, Terence Eden from Vodafone, Steve Wolak from Betavine, David Wood from Symbian Foundation and Jo Rabin representing dotMobi. The event will be chaired by Anna Gudmundson from AdIQ and Dan Appelquist will be your host for the evening.
At the time of writing, there are still a few registration slots left. If you’re in or around London on Monday evening, and you’re at all interested in the future of the mobile phone industry, you will almost certainly find the meeting worthwhile. From my past experience, these events are great for networking as well as for highlighting ideas and sharply debugging them. The breadth and depth of experience in the room mean that any superficially attractive proclamations from panellists are quickly challenged. I typically leave these meetings wiser than when I went in (and often chastened, too).
Usually people blog meetings after they happen (or whilst they are happening). In this case, I’d like to set down a few thoughts in advance.
Early last year, Symbian commissioned a third party report into the viewpoints and experiences of mobile developers. The report had a Californian bias but the results are familiar even in the context of Europe. The report did not specifically seek out the opinions of developers towards network operators, but these opinions came through loud and clear regardless. Here are some representative comments:
- “Everyone in tech has rope burns around their necks from doing business with the carriers [network operators]. They hung themselves trying to do carrier deals.”
- “The operator is an adversary, not a partner.”
- “The basic problem with mobile is that operators are in the way.”
- “The reality is that the mobile operators will screw you, unless they already want to do what you’re developing. They always ask, ‘What’s in it for me?'”
I raise these comments here, not because I endorse them, but because they articulated a set of opinions that seem to be widely held, roughly twelve months ago.
Operators are (of course!) aware of these perceptions too, and are seeking to address these concerns. At the Mobile Monday meeting, we’ll have a chance to evaluate progress.
Ahead of the meeting, I offer the following six points for consideration:
1: With their widespread high bandwidth coverage, the wireless networks are a modern-day technological marvel – perhaps one of the seven wonders of the present era. These networks need maintenance and care. For this reason, network operators are justified in seeking to protect access to this resource. If these resources become flooded with too much video transfer, manic automated messaging, or deleterious malware, we will all be the losers as a result.
2: Having invested very considerably in the build-up of these networks, it is completely reasonable for operators to seek to protect a significant revenue flow from the utilisation of these networks – especially from core product lines such as voice and SMS. Anything that risks destroying this revenue flow is bound to cause alarm.
3: The potential upside of new revenue flow from innovative new data services often seems dwarfed by the potential downside from loss of revenues from existing services, if networks are opened too freely to new players. In other words, network operators all face a case of the Innovators’ Dilemma. When it comes to the strategic crunch, innovative new business potential often loses out to maintaining the existing lines of business.
4. New lines of revenue for operators – to supplement the old faithfuls of voice and SMS – include the following:
- Straightforward data usage charges;
- A micro-share of monetary transactions (such as mobile banking, or goods being bought or sold or advertised) that are carried out over wireless network;
- Reliable provision of high-quality services (such as would support crystal-clear telephone conference calls);
- Premium charges for personalised services (such as answers to searches or enquiries)
- A share of the financial savings that companies can achieve through efficiency gains from the intelligent deployment of new mobile services; etc.
But in all cases, the evolution of these new lines of service is likely be faster and more successful, if new entrepreneurs and innovators can be involved and feel welcome.
5. The best step to involving more innovators in the development of commercially significant new revenues – and to solving the case of the Innovators Dilemma mentioned above – is to systematically identify and analyse and (as far as possible) eliminate all cases of friction in the existing mobile ecosystem.
6. Three instances of mobile ecosystem friction stand out:
- The diversity (fragmentation) of different operator developer support programmes. Developers have to invest considerable effort in joining and participating in each different scheme. Why can’t there more greater commonality between these programmes?
- The hurdles involved with getting sophisticated applications approved for usage on networks and/or handsets – developers often feel that they are being forced to go through overly-onerous third party testing and verification hoops, in order to prove that their applications are trustworthy. Some element of verification is probably inevitable, but can’t we find ways to streamline it?
- The difficulties consumers face in finding and then installing and using applications that are reliably meet their expectations.
In all cases, it’s my view that a collaborative approach is more likely to deliver lasting value to the industry than a series of individualist approaches.