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7 March 2009

What have operators done for us recently?

Filed under: collaboration, innovation, Mobile Monday, operators — David Wood @ 2:13 pm

Mobile Monday in London this Monday evening (9th March) will be on the topic of “What have operators done for us recently?”.

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.

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14 January 2009

Robert Scoble and the fallacy of uniqueness

Filed under: innovation, Nokia, operators, Qt — David Wood @ 11:58 pm

I was surprised to see esteemed blogger Robert Scoble fall into a weird reality distortion field in his recent piece, “Smartphone competition: It’s too late for Nokia and Microsoft, but not too late for Palm in USA“.

Here’s the core of his argument:

…in the USA there are only these major carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile.

  • AT&T? Gone. Apple has them sewn up.
  • Verizon? RIM has them sewn up. I met with RIM’s director of marketing at CES and he was smiling. That should give you a hint.
  • Sprint? Palm has them in the Palm of their hands now.
  • T-Mobile? Google’s Android is their key smart phone.

So, what does this mean? All the US carriers now have their SmartPhone choices. All the trains have left the station.

Who is out in this game? Microsoft and Nokia.

This argument depends on the fallacious idea that each major network operator can be “sewn up” by just one provider of smartphones – that there will be one uniquely preferred smartphone platform per network operator – and that this choice is already set in stone.

It’s true that almost all major network operators, worldwide, have expressed a desire to reduce the number of smartphone platforms that they have to support. The reason for this reduction is to avoid lots of effort being duplicated across different platforms.

However:

  1. Most major network operators are aiming at a number of supported smartphone platforms that, while small, is greater than one;
  2. One reason for supporting more than one platform is to benefit from an important element of competition – this is particularly relevant while so many smartphone platforms are either relatively new, immature, or going through a significant transition;
  3. Another reason for supporting more than one platform is that end users on the network frequently want a choice;
  4. Even if a carrier decides not to actively support a given smartphone platform – in the sense of becoming involved in customising phones from that platform to take advantage of specific network features – they often allow phones from that platform to run on their network.

Scoble also dismisses the prospects for future Nokia products:

I’ve seen the new Nokia OS, just a month ago. They don’t have it.

This judgement seems highly premature to me. It also seems that AT&T, for one, maintain an interest in shipping Nokia phones. Witness, for example, the AT&T-branded user’s manual for the Nokia E71.

More fundamentally, there’s much more to the future of Nokia than just one initiative (“the new Nokia OS”). There’s a whole raft of new initiatives coming. Some will come to light through forthcoming releases of the Symbian Platform. Others will reach the market in many other ways.

Nokia’s announcement today of an additional licence for the Qt Platform, in order to strengthen developer interest and participation in that platform, is just one example. To quote Sebastian Nyström, Vice President, Qt Software, Nokia:

Broader use of Qt by even more leading companies will result in valuable feedback and increased contributions, ensuring that Qt remains the best-in-class, cross-platform UI and application framework. The accelerated development of Qt will allow developers, including Nokia, to deliver better devices and applications, reduce time to market and enable a wider deployment base for their solutions.

In short, there are plenty more trains to come.

21 December 2008

Operators and the iPhone

Filed under: iPhone, operators, Strand Consult — David Wood @ 9:05 pm

John Strand, independent-minded CEO of Strand Consult, has reached some provocative iconoclastic conclusions about the iPhone.

An edition of “Strand Report” earlier this month was entitled “iPhone: an operator’s worst friend“. In short, although end-users frequently enjoy using an iPhone, the operators who spend money supporting iPhones on their networks enjoy the experience considerably less.

Since Strand Consult have spent 14 years building up an extensive network of connections among operators worldwide, it’s worth taking the time to listen to their opinion on this matter.

Here are a few extracts from the Strand analysis:

Having iPhone customers using large data volumes sounds good, but when data is being sold at a flat rate, a high data consumption results in high production costs without the corresponding increased revenue. You could compare the operators’ attitude towards the iPhone’s data consumption with a restaurant owner that has a “all you can eat for 10 Euro” buffet and that is proudest of the customers that eat the most!…

When you examine the iPhone data consumption, you will see that iPhone customers use their browser to view ordinary websites and that they often choose not to view the websites in XHTML – optimised for low bandwidth and mobile phone sized screens. In practice this results in that when an iPhone user browses a typical news site, an ordinary web page will be around 1 MB, while the mobile version of the same page will often be less than 100 Kb. It is significantly cheaper for an operator to produce 100 Kb data than it is to produce 1 MB data and it is much more fun to deliver 100 KB rather than 1 MB when you are selling data at a flat rate…

There are already a number of operators that have issued profit warnings related to their iPhone ventures and our research shows that there is not one single Apple partner in the world among the mobile operators that has increased their overall profit and market share due to the iPhone…

Across the world there is a huge market for unlocked iPhone’s. People purchase a phone that has been marketed, sold and subsidised by an operator who thereafter does not receive the data traffic and revenue from that handset. These phones are most often used on other non-Apple partner networks, resulting in the Apple iPhone partner operator ending up with a high SAC, while another non-Apple partner only needs to sell a SIM-only product with a low SAC and attractive voice and data prices…

We know of a great many operators and MVNOs that have done good business on NOT being an Apple and iPhone partner. These operators let other operators subsidise handsets and instead sell SIM cards with inexpensive data traffic at competitive prices. Their low SAC gives them a positive cash flow on the customer far earlier than the Apple partner operators that are subsidising, marketing and selling iPhones…

The conclusion is simple. This is not good business for shareholders of operators that are Apple and iPhone partners – on the contrary it is far better business not to be an Apple and iPhone partner. Operators that choose not to carry iPhone products have an increased probability of serving their shareholders interests over those that move their management’s focus, subsidies, marketing and distribution power on a product that is as beautiful as Paris Hilton, but increases production costs…

Strand Consult return to these themes in their year-end article containing predictions for 2009, “2009 will be the Moment of Truth for many players in the telecoms sector“:

Our analyses during 2008 have shown that there is not one operator that has increased their turnover, revenue or improved their market share due to the iPhone. In our latest iPhone analysis LINK we document that a number of operators have issued profit warnings based on the iPhone. We have documented that the closer partnership you have with Apple, the worst business case the iPhone becomes from an operator’s point of view.

I’ve spent a bit of time searching for substantive rebuttals to this analysis:

  • Some people have said that operators have indeed generated additional revenues from the iPhone – but that’s not the same thing as additional profits;
  • Some have commented that the iPhone gives great pleasure to end-users, but that misses the point of the analysis;
  • It’s also true that many third party developers have benefited from selling their applications on the iPhone, but, again, that misses the point of the analysis.

I see three possible interpretations:

  1. There are network operators who generate significant additional profits from their support of the iPhone, but they’re keeping relatively quiet about this;
  2. The iPhone is indeed better news for developers and end-users than it is for the operators who support it;
  3. We’re still in a transitional phase.

I think the third interpretation is the most likely. The mobile industry is in a time of very considerable flux. The iPhone has played an important role of opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of smarter mobile devices, but that doesn’t mean that operators will continue to be keen to actively support the iPhone. Instead, what I hear is that they’re looking for phone platforms that are both complete and highly customisable.

16 December 2008

Symbian Signed and control

Filed under: operators, Symbian Signed — David Wood @ 8:58 am

My posting yesterday on “Symbian Signed basics” has attracted more comments (containing lots of thoughtful ideas as well as evident passion) than I can quickly answer.

For now, I’d like to respond to Ian, who raised the following point:

There is no need for signing to ensure safety from malware. That’s what (platform) security is for.

Requiring signing without the option of user override is about control, pure and simple.

Can you give me a good reason why people should not have control of their property and why it should be in vendor’s hands instead?

The first answer is that, when users purchase a phone, they typically enter into a contract with the supplier, and agree to be bound by the terms of that contract. In cases when the phone is being subsidised or supported by a network operator, the network operator only enters into the relationship on account of a set of assumptions about what the user is going to do with the phone. The network operator can reasonably seek to limit what the user does with the handset – even though the user has paid money for the device.

That’s the reason, for example, why T-Mobile stipulated (and apparently received agreement from Google) that no application providing VoIP over cellular data could be installed onto the Android G1. Otherwise, the cost and revenue assumptions of T-Mobile would be invalidated. From Daniel Roth on Wired:

T-Mobile made a big deal about being one of the few carriers embracing open standards and open systems — which is true. Yet just how open is a (sorry) open question. When I talked to Cole Brodman, the CTO of T-Mobile, after the event about what would stop something like Skype from designing a program that could run on the phone, negating the need for a massive voice plan, he said he had “worked with Google” to make sure Android couldn’t run VOIP. “We want to be open in a way that consumers can rely on,” is the way Brodman put it to me.

Here’s another example. Suppose you spend a lot of money, buying a phone, and two months afterwards, you notice that the battery systematically runs down after only a few hours of use. You’re naturally upset with the device, so you take it back to the shop where you bought it from, asking for your money back. Or you spend hours on the phone to the support agents of the network operator trying to diagnose the problem. Either way, the profit made by the handset manufacturer or the network operator from selling you that phone has probably been more than wiped out by the cost of them attending to this usability issue.

But suppose it turns out that the cause of the battery running flat is a third party application you installed which, unknown to you, burns up processor cycles in background. Suppose it also turns out that you have been misled as to the origin of that application: when you installed it, you thought it said “This application has been supplied by your bank, Barclays”, but you didn’t notice that the certificate from the supplier said (eg) “Barclys” instead of “Barclays”. You thought you could trust the website where you found this application, or the people who (apparently) emailed it to you, but it turns out you were wrong. However – and this is the point – you’ve even forgotten that you installed this app.

The second answer is that, even when we own items, we have social obligations as to what we do with them. We shouldn’t play music too loudly in public places. We shouldn’t leave garbage in public places. We shouldn’t broadcast radio interference over networks. We shouldn’t hog more of our fair share of pooled public resources. And, we shouldn’t negatively impact the wireless networks (and the associated support infrastructure) on which our mobile phones live.

Both these answers are reasons in principle why users have to accept some limits on what they do with the mobile phones they have purchased.

The more interesting questions, however, are as follows:

  1. To what extent actual do application signing programs meet these requirements – and to what extent do these programs instead support other, less praiseworthy goals?
  2. Could variants of existing signing programs meet these requirements in better ways?

For example, consumers are already familiar with the idea that, when they disassemble the hardware of a device they have purchased, they typically invalidate the manufacturer warranty. (On my Psion Series 5mx, there’s still a sticker in place, over a screw, that says “Warranty void if removed”.) Would it be possible to educate handset users in a similar way that:

  • Their handsets start out in a situation of having a manufacturer warranty
  • However, if they install an unsigned application (or something similar), they are henceforth on their own, as regards support?

15 December 2008

Symbian Signed basics

Filed under: collaboration, developer experience, operators, Symbian Signed — David Wood @ 9:19 am

It’s not just Symbian that runs into some criticism over the operation of application certification and signing programs. (See eg the discussion on “Rogue Android apps rack up hidden charges“.)

This is an area where there ought ideally to be a pooling of insights and best practice across the mobile industry.

On the other hand, there are plenty of conflicting views about what’s best:

  • “Make my network more secure? Yes, please!”
  • “Make it easier to develop and deploy applications? Yes, please!”

If we go back to basics, what are the underlying requirements that lead to the existence of application certification and signing schemes? I append a list of potential requirements. I’ll welcome feedback on the importance of various items on this list.

Note: I realise that many requirements in this list are not addressed by the current schemes.

a. Avoiding users suffering from malware

To avoid situations where users suffer at the hands of malware. By “malware”, I mean badly behaved software (whether the software is intentionally or unintentionally badly behaved).

Examples of users suffering from malware include:

  1. Unexpectedly high telephone bills
  2. Unexpectedly low battery life
  3. Inability to make or receive phone calls
  4. Leakage without approval of personal information such as contacts, agenda, or location
  5. Corruption of personal information such as contacts, agenda, or location
  6. Leaving garbage or clutter behind on the handset, when the software is uninstalled
  7. Interference with the operation of other applications, or other impact to handset performance.

b. Establishing user confidence in applications

To give users confidence that the applications they install will add to the value of the handset rather than detract from it.

c. Reducing the prevalence of cracked software

To make it less likely that users will install “cracked” free versions of commercial applications written by third parties, thereby depriving these third parties of income.

d. Avoiding resource-intensive virus scanners

To avoid mobile phones ending up needing to run the same kind of resource-intensive virus scanners that are common (and widely unloved) on PCs.

e. Avoiding networks suffering from malware

To avoid situations where network operators suffer at the hands of malware or unrestricted add-on applications. Examples of network operators suffering from such software include:

  1. Having to allocate support personnel for users who encounter malware on their handsets
  2. The network being overwhelmed as a result of data-intensive applications
  3. Reprogrammed cellular data stacks behaving in ways that threaten the integrity of the wireless network and thereby invalidate the FCC (or similar) approval of the handset
  4. DRM copy protected material, provided or distributed by the network operator, being accessed or copied by third party software in ways that violate the terms of the DRM licence
  5. Revenue opportunities for network operators being lost due to alternative lower-cost third party applications being available.

f. Keeping networks open

To prevent network operators from imposing a blanket rule against all third party applications, which would in turn:

  • Limit the innovation opportunities for third party developers
  • Limit the appearance of genuinely useful third party applications.

g. Avoiding fragmentation of signing schemes

To avoid network operators from all implementing their own application certification and approval schemes, thereby significantly multiplying the effort required by third party developers to make their applications widely available; far better, therefore, for the Symbian world to agree on a single certification and approval mechanism, namely Symbian Signed.

15 September 2008

De-fragmenting the mobile operating system space

Filed under: fragmentation, openness, operators — David Wood @ 3:37 pm

One response to my previous posting, “Addressing the fragmentation of mobile operating systems“, gave me a lot to think about. The points made by this anonymous commenter deserve a considered response. Here goes:

>Don’t get me wrong, I would like to have just two operating systems in the mobile space. But I’m quite realistic and tired of hypocrites like Arun Sarin, that call for software homogeneity and then sell every OS available: please, put your money where your mouth is.

I recognise the disconnect that often seems to exist, between the strategy arms of various network operators, that say they are going to reduce the number of mobile operating systems they support, and the local operational arms, that appear to disregard that policy. However, I don’t think the disconnect is total. I am aware of several instances where an attractive new smartphone model was rejected by a network operator, on the grounds that the software platform of that smartphone wasn’t on their approved short list.

Admittedly, I suspect that if the smartphone model had been knock-out gorgeous, the strategic directive would have been trumped by local sales considerations. But seeing that the model was only “good” (and not “great”) the centrally approved policy held sway. So these policies do have some force (albeit not so strong a force as you and I might like).

>So, in your point of view, the losses caused by third parties delays and incurred by mobile manufacturers are so large, that they justify that manufacturers relinquish the short-term gains of incompatible operating systems and join their forces to reduce the number of operating systems and/or accept just one OS.

On reflection, it was unfair of me to pick on delays caused by third party software. Delays caused by malfunctions in second party software (written by the phone manufacturer) and in first party software (provided by the operating system vendor) can be equally bad. Unsuspected incompatibilities in the behaviour or functionality of lower-level software can result in lengthy debugging sessions to eventually understand why higher-level software is inexplicably failing to perform as expected on the latest build of the software platform.

My point remains that it can take a long time for a device creation software team to become truly expert in all the vagaries of the underlying software platform. I wish that weren’t the case; I wish that the underlying software platform was more transparent and predictable. Marketing representatives of all the major mobile software platforms might seek to convince people that their own particular platforms are uniquely stable and dependable. And large parts of these software platforms are, no doubt, both stable and dependable. However, because there are many millions of lines of code in the entire platform, and because there are lots of complex fast-changing inter-dependencies between different modules, the unfortunate reality is that the software platforms demand considerable attention from members of the device creation community.

For that reason, manufacturers of advanced mobile phones will put an undue penalty on themselves if they spread the attention of their development teams over several different mobile operating systems. It would be far better for them, over time, to focus on a smaller number of these complex operating systems.

>the natural solution to that problem… [is] to stop outsourcing to third parties those fundamental pieces of code and start producing internally themselves. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what Symbian Foundation is all about: tight control of every software layer

It’s true, the Symbian Foundation has the intent of providing a software platform with a greater degree of completeness that has previously been the case. The idea is that mobile phone manufacturers will receive a more self-contained package of software than in the past. They’ll have less need to source missing portions.

On the other hand, mobile phone manufacturers will still seek to differentiate their phones, by means of:

  • Replacing some of the components provided by the Symbian Foundation
  • Optimising other components, with an eye to the unique hardware and network needs of their own products
  • Adding in new low-level components, that support new services and user experience.

For this reason, I expect that the device creation marketplace will remain large and vibrant.

>Fragmentation manifests itself as a technical problem (incompatibilities between devices) but it’s not created by technical problems in itself, its real nature is political: the inability of all industry players to reach an agreement to des-fragment the mobile ecosystem and, in absence of that agreement, the power/control of one player to impose a standard

I understand the motivations of the different industry players who each participate in multiple different software foundations. We can call this “irresponsible promiscuity” and/or “a failure of industry alignment”, but it can also be seen as a pragmatic hedging of bets. For as long as it remains unclear which of several mobile operating systems will be long-term winners and which will be long-term losers, it’s understandable that industry players will loath to constrain themselves to just one or two mobile operating systems.

However, once it starts to become clear that a particular mobile OS is reaching new levels of utility, productivity, and innovation, industry players are likely to focus their minds sharply – and the political landscape will change. Even so, I don’t expect there will be just one winner. That would introduce its own problems. But I do expect that the number of mobile operating systems will significantly decrease.

>Short-term, no industry player profits from a des-fragmentation process, since it implies to lower the switching costs

Symbian has thought long and hard about the risks and issues in lowering switching costs. If we provide APIs that are more in line with those used by other platforms (for example, the APIs in our PIPS libraries), the risk is that software that runs on Symbian phones will more easily be ported to run on other devices.

At first sight, that looks like a negative outcome for Symbian. However, I think the actual outcome is positive. Partners and customers dislike being locked into a single operating system. If we make it easier for partners and customers to migrate their software assets to other platforms, it means, paradoxically, they will be happier to create software assets on our platform in the first place.

>Even Symbian, when Nokia S60 programs are not allowed to run on a S60 Samsung due to lack of certificates, is creating artificial fragmentation and switching costs: why waste resources with software compatibility when a certificate breaks it all?

I see this example as an implementation error rather than any deliberate policy. The subject of certificates is tricky, but I sincerely hope that we’ll diminish the pains they unintentionally cause. Essential fragmentation is hard enough, without “artificial fragmentation” making things worse.

>Anonymous said…

Final comment: initially I was unsure whether I wanted to reply at length to someone who didn’t give their name. I prefer open discussion to shadow discussion. However, I guess that there’s good reason for the commenter to seek anonymity here.

27 August 2008

Sympathy for the operators

Filed under: openness, operators — David Wood @ 2:51 pm

It’s not just Apple and the iPhone that are the subject of some extreme views (particularly in North America). Network operators also provoke some red-hot far-out responses. But whereas the iPhone tends to provoke unduly strong admiration, the operators tend to provoke unduly strong opprobrium.

For example, here’s some verbatim comments that came up in a private piece of research conducted in and around Silicon Valley earlier this year:

“Everyone in tech has rope burns around their necks from doing business with the carriers. They hung themselves trying to do carrier deals.”

“The operator is an adversary, not a partner.”

“The basic problem with mobile is that the operators are in the way”.

In London, the sentiment is less blatant, but it’s still present. During almost every Mobile Monday London event that I’ve attended, sooner or later some question from the audience takes a semi-joking, semi-serious pot shot at network operators, blaming them for one or other aspect of lack of openness. I find these comments uncomfortable – first, because I count many friends among employees of network operators, and second, because it seems to me that the issue is considerably more nuanced than this kind of easy scape-goating suggests.

It was for this reason that I deeply enjoyed discovering and reading the recent article “Open=Beta?” by former Qualcomm SVP Jeffrey Belk. The article started by recounting some of the the usual criticisms:

“The application community, and the Venture Community that finances them, are rightly tired of what can be perceived as a small global cadre of folks in the carrier community, as well as egregious application qualification processes, putting a chokehold on the deployment of innovation in the applications space. And the chokehold is stifling innovation and growth of the wireless data applications business”.

However, as Jeffrey goes on to say,

“But as usual, the truth is not so simple…”

“One REALLY cool company got a trial with a few operators. A small problem: Their application bricked (i.e. killed dead, dead, dead) the phones of some of the trial users. Other applications, usually written by folks that are accustomed to the massive memory and hard drives of PCs or Mac, are WAAAY too resource intensive (memory, processing power) for anything but the top tier of smart phones, and even with that tiny market, performance of the apps is often suspect. Another application (fixed now), kept a persistent data connection up between the phone and carrier network. This is a huge issue, as a lot of users still don’t have unlimited data, and if an app is sucking data without them knowing it, it could be costing them a fortune, let along putting an anchor on the data performance of the operator’s network…”

“For the operators, the simplistic reality is that the bottom line is the bottom line, and they CANNOT allow applications to either 1) raise their costs structures or 2) damage their brand/customer base, because when things go wrong with an application or phone, people blame the operator. Every piece of research I have seen (or conducted) over the past decade makes that point clear. And just why do operators need to protect their network? A few months ago, I saw a CEO of a major operator speak. In the Q&A, he mentioned as an answer to a question that it costs him a minimum of $8 per phone call to answer a support call. That’s not counting the pissed off customer factor and dilution of the brand that he’s spent billions of dollars or euros building…”

“At a recent developers conference, an operator was telling a story of a section of a city where service parameters all went to hell, cells shrinking, customers losing service. They tracked it back to an enterprise customer that had gotten permission to test a new piece of hardware, and that hardware was causing nasty network effects. Bad. Another example, not as brutal, is when several applications that, when I asked about some trial metrics, with persistence (or even no persistence but frequent network access) were impeding customers’ ability to make or receive voice calls. Very bad, again — something operators just ain’t gonna allow because when these things start to happen, customers are going to look down at their phone, look at the logo on the phone, and get pissed at their operator. And pissed off customers churn. And churn makes operators’ metrics look bad. And bad metrics make financial markets unhappy. And unhappy financial markets make operator executives lose their jobs. So it just won’t happen.”

In between the paragraphs I’ve quoted, there’s lots more interesting analysis. There’s no easy answer, Jeffrey suggests, except for some first-class development work by applications providers, who need to take the time to understand the special complications of mobile. Applications won’t be tolerated on the network, even with the label “Open”, if they are in reality only beta quality (or “pre-beta”), and risk significant network and support costs.

Is that the end of the story? Unfortunately, there is one more twist. Application developers often perceive that network operators have an additional motivation, lying behind their defensible motivation to preserve the quality of the network. That additional motivation is less defensible: it’s to block the kind of innovative services that could divert some of the network operator’s highly valued revenues to alternative services. Presumably that’s part of the reason why network operators appear to dislike open phones that support wireless VoIP.

That looks like another issue for which there’s no easy answer. It’s an issue that transcends mobile operating systems.

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