Thursday, August 28, 2008

SMS way to cheaper food

Italians can get to know where to get their favorite pasta, a few lira less thanks to the Italian government's plan to start an SMS service that would do just that - it would tell where cheap food is available ( post). This scheme has apparently come to the table for helping people meet their needs during the current inflationary climate.

If this move succeeds well, people will not only be informed of food sources, but food businesses might also take it up as a channel to increase their revenues by offering competitive prices. I would really like to follow this experiment to see how technology aids populist measures. Such radical measures are relevant to developing countries with increasing wireless penetration like India.

In the Indian context, ITC has a successful program called echoupal aimed at rural agriculturists which helps them get the best price for their produce. I have also known of the use of mobile phones by fishermen from Kerala to get a price arbitrage for their catch. The readers of this post are welcome to share any initiatives that wed technology to people measures.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mobile marketing with mobile TV

There is no money in mobile advertising. At least not enough to fulfill the promise of reaching millions of subscribers. Advertisers have so far not been convinced about the medium. Mobile phones until now have had small screens, poor video playback not to mention streaming - factors inhibiting big advertisers who want to tell this story about that product. In an impression-creating industry mobile handsets are seen as non-immersive medium.

There have been a few innovations in mobile advertising like using 2D bar codes and QR codes to make a physical world connect ( through the phone camera), but these have so far not stood up to the advertiser's requirements. The problem with such approaches is that they involve the user to initiate the engagement before getting any meaningful information.

Again hopes are now raised about mobile TV fulfilling the needs of advertisers. Before making any progress on mobile advertising, handset makers would have to seriously think about increasing the screen sizes of mobile phones and improve multimedia capabilities. Apple's iPhone is surely a step in this direction and other handset makers are expected to follow this design cue of better images, better streaming and better audio. Even without size, BlackBerrys have had good viewing aesthetics and the new BlackBerry Bold is a step in this direction. Nokia's E Series have it right but the N Series are not there yet.

Mobile TV providers would need to innovate frameworks for mobile ads like idle screen content through advertiser-bought bandwidth. Advertisers may be thought to be paying for their bandwidth, but however what advertiser-bought bandwidth essentially means is that advertisers would buy bandwidth for streaming content that is not dependent upon user initiation. Without such frameworks there would not be any incentive for the user to get engaged with the advertiser. Handset makers and telcos should think of starting programs aimed at mobile advertising.

Related reading:
Frank Dickson on Call-to-action advertising in RCRWireless
P.S.: Mobile advertising might actually pick up because advertisers would relate to the "TV" in mobile TV :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Camera + phone curbs

Indian parliamentarians are reportedly studying the need for putting curbs on camera phone use. Mobile phone makers are the largest digital camera makers owing to the enormous popularity of camera phones. Phone cameras have come some way since the grainy VGA cameras in the initial models and it is now possible to get digicam-esque specs on mobile phones. Nokia's top end N Series models the N96, N95 8GB come with 5 MP cameras with good video recording specs to boot. Sony Ericsson's high-end camera phones incorporate the renowned CyberShot technology to give digicam-like quality. Added with powerful new tools like Qik and ShoZu make it very easy for publishing these images. It typically takes a touch of a button to get your images published online. Such unprecedented ability to capture and share images has changed the way we communicate and group. It has obviously brought its set of problems too with its scams and scandals.

Privacy advocates would want legislation to be brought in to check the usage of camera phones in public. Some of the targeted areas are schools, universities and public offices. Handset vendors and telcos are wary that any punitive legislation could harm their margins as youth form the bulk of mobile phone users. They will no doubt be presenting their case to the legislators requesting a lenient regime. Some institutions particularly educational ones have curbs in place to  restrict or  altogether ban mobile phones in campus. In the corporate offices, barring some BPOs, camera phones are universally allowed. The lawmakers are expected to take a view on usage of mobile phones in public offices too, as it is perceived there is high potential of misuse here.

Elsewhere, California has banned texting while driving, an Australian school has allowed using mobile phones, internet and what not during exams. Japanese so picturesquely called it a handy phone, it'll be quite handy for the Australian students.

Friday, August 22, 2008

FCC to decide on the white space debate

In the coming weeks Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to decide on the usage of white space spectrum that could change wireless communication in the U.S. in the years to come. Well, what is is white space spectrum ? White space spectrum are the unlicensed radio waves that are left unused by (analog) TV broadcasters. These frequencies typically lie between licensed frequencies and are used to reduced interference between channels. Currently these radio frequencies are not used for anything other than the said purpose.

There are companies like Google, Microsoft, Motorola, Intel and Dell that want white space spectrum to be allowed for mobile device usage arguing that white space spectrum would provide a cheap means of covering the entire U.S. with wireless broadband. They have an economic case about their cause of getting enhanced wireless case to everybody as well as an economic interest in boosting their revenues.

There are the television broadcasters who are equally opposed to having white space devices saying that the move would affect their quality of service. They reason that the wireless devices utilizing white space would interfere with the channels as the devices don't know yet about interfering channels. This is an old debate that may well be decided one way these coming weeks. That the TV broadcasts are wholly going to be digital soon would tip the balance in favor of the proponents but the opponents might be able to stall the move at least until the FCC deadline of the move to digital TV.

Microsoft, Google, Motorola and others have formed the to promote the white spaces devices idea. NAB - the broadcasters' group presents the other view with There are a many recent developments like the geo-location database developed my Motorola which promises to solve the technical problems of mobile devices operating in the white space, but however the broadcasters do not want anything to do with it. This is going to be one hardfought debate for both sides and the outcome might be momentous for wireless access.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Calling cards are coming...

TRAI the Indian regulatory body has set in motion(ET report) the changes necessary for users to make long distance calls using calling cards. International travellers would be well aware of the indispensable calling cards which offer an optimal solution while on tour. The TRAI move is aimed at allowing users to choose their NLD (also called STD, NSD) providers by buying long distance calling packages through calling cards.

There are quite a few entities which have long-distance backbone like RailTel, PowerGrid Corp and GAIL. Currently their networks are not being used for public long distance calling since they cannot access the local loop to reach the end user. With the TRAI recommendation, telcos would have to upgrade their networks to provide interconnect with the long distance providers - potentially the RailTels and the PowerGrid Corps. Even some private players like Sify would be able to rollout effective long distance packages if this recommendation gets implemented.

Long distance call rates are going down the world over and TRAI move would suggest that they are keen to see India also following the trend. Coming to incumbent telcos, this move is seen to further erode their revenue stream as their have provide the interconnect facility as well as lower their tariffs to compete with long-distance-only operators. Some prudent deals between telcos and new long-distance players might benefit everybody.

P.S.: would highlight user issues on calling cards in a later post...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Entry of foreign telcos

If reports are to be believed the government is very keen on addressing the apprehensions of 3G spectrum bidders who had shown lukewarm interest in the 3G spectrum auction process initially. As per the policy change planned the foreign telcos that win a bid for the 3G spectrum can buy or merge with local players who have 2G spectrum. Whether they have to pay more for it or not, the door will be open for entering into 2G services as well. In the existing framework, winning foreign 3G bidders would have to wait for 3 years before they can get into 2G services which will have them at a disadvantage over local telcos who would have their 2G spectrum added with the 3G spectrum they would be allocated after the auction. This planned move is found to be advantageous to such players as AT&T who have been waiting for long to taste the 3G pie in India. This is also seen to be an opportunity for Indian non-telco majors to get into the scene through tieups with foreign players. Though we don't know at present how such entities will have a piece of the 2G spectrum very essential for a having a level field, we know of wishes of Mahindra and Videocon to
enter the Indian telco scene. It will be interesting to follow the spectrum sweepstakes...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Soul searching for Symbian

A nice editorial feature on AAS on what makes most impressions. If it is a phone the impressions are with an iPhone and not an N95 8GB. Steve, here deliberates on the impression factors like screen size, brightness, vivid colors, form factor. Added with a new way of interacting with gadgets it makes the package irresistible. Symbian phone makers - Nokias and Samsungs should weigh in these factors too even though their numbers are healthy.

A lot of phones out there could do a lot more than the iPhone, but for an iPhone user these might be the features that she does not bother about. Even some of the power users, would have realized the shortcomings of iPhone later and bore with it. That is the effect of impression-based sell.

The economics of handset development is skewed towards incremental development where the life of a base model gets extended with minimal changes to the basic interfacing for umpteen models and that's what happens when you have successful model like the Nokia N Series. A close study will show that even without touch, the Symbian interface needs a makeover to create that cool impression with ordinary folks.

News: Internet Telephony legal in India

The restrictions on internet telephony have been removed with TRAI - the telecom watchdog allowing unrestricted use of internet telephony for NSD (STD). A new number scheme is being worked out that will be used by the ISPs to provide telephony to subscribers. This move is seen to lower the STD rates.

Reflecting on it, some of the major ISPs ( Bharti Airtel, Tata Indicom, Reliance ) are telecom providers and the removal of this legal barrier would help them to leverage their IP infrastructure effectively in reducing the tariff for national long distance calls. This would also provide the major non-telecom ISPs ( Satyam ) to foray into internet telephony to augment their revenues.

IP telephony is already allowed in international long distance calls and Satyam which does not provide basic telephony already provides ISD facility to subsribers using this provision.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Delays and more: 3G Road is still being laid

The finance ministry and TRAI - the telecom regulatory authority have expressed reservations about the 3G spectrum auctioning process as well as over other points of the 3G policy. If these developments are going to delay the 3G auction process, the delay is seen to benefit the state players - BSNL and MTNL. BSNL and MTNL would not need to participate in the 3G auctions as their spectrum requirements are virtually allocated already. They were expected to have a lead of at least 6 months over the existing GSM operators and the new UASL players. With the delay in the 3G auction process, this lead time is expected to grow, thereby benefiting BSNL and MTNL.

Apart from this development, the 3G auction delay is also expected to benefit Reliance Communications. RCom has been awarded a pan-India GSM licence and since it would take almost 12 months to rollout their GSM network, RCom would be ready with their network in the delay period.

Even though the telecom ministry has sought the clarify that there would be no delays with respect to the 3G auctions, and has also started the process of finding the auction agency, and also rebutted the finance ministry charges, it can be expected that some amount of delay would be there in the completion of the 3G spectrum auction process.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Well.. to 3G phones

When 3G arrives, these are the handsets that you might be using -

Apple's IPhone 3G (is a nobrainer).
What you will love in Apple's offering is its excellent Safari browser, iPod+iTunes and GPS.
What you might not like is the disorganized application pages, poor BlueTooth features, no MMS support, no video recording. Available from 22nd Aug...

Nokia's N96 ( is a cool phone )
You will love its high speed connectivity, superb camera ( 5 MP ) with video recording support, improved FlashLite integration ( those YouTube videos will play superbly ), loads of internal memory, Digital TV support, WLAN support and great GPS support.
What you might not like is the jaded user interface, no touch screen support ( have to wait for 5800 whenever it comes ), no music store ( coming soon )

BlackBerry Bold ( boldest one from BlackBerry)
You will love the customary email support, good connectivity options, improved GPS, handy camera, streaming options, QWERTY keyboard and an amazing half VGA clear screen.
What you might not like is ordinary web browser, big form factor, no music store.

I'll later profile any other handset that captures the imagination

Thursday, August 7, 2008

First 3G moves

3G Spectrum proposals of state corporations - BSNL and MTNL have been
cleared very quickly after the 3G policies were announced. BSNL and
MTNL as always will have a lead over private players in the launch of
3G services who have to wait for the spectrum auctions. However if this story
is to be believed  some of the players have already completed a trial
run of their 3G service offerings over an year ago and may immediately launch the
services once the auctions are over.

Actually there are a lot of 3G capable devices out there in the field
and with handset vendors expected to push more on 3G handsets one can
expect 3G services to drive revenues for the service providers.
However, for 3G to have a compelling presence content frameworks should
be developed and marketed in innovative ways.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Handsets sales pegged at 1.28 bn

According to a new Gartner report, mobile handset sales are to see an upswing of 11% over 2007 to 1.28 billion units. This is notwithstanding decrease in demand in Europe and Japan. The higher demand in Asia-Pac is expected to compensate for the drop in Europe and Japan. The report also notes that handset vendors would bolster their revenues with content services ecosystems a la iTunes of Apple. New entrants like Ovi from Nokia and PlayNow from Sony Ericsson also into the content and differentiated services game. Motorola is planning its Motomusic launch to compete with iTunes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

MNP and 3G guidelines released

This post comes after (quite) sometime and the last post was when there was some frenzied activity on 3G spectrum. Well, Indian authorities have released guidelines for 3G and MNP as of last Friday. With this we can safely assume that the rollout of these services would take another year from now.

The government has decided to allow 10 players to grab the 3G spectrum at stake. With the spectrum being limited, these 10 players would have to make do with their smallish allocations to roll out their 3G services to their targeted subscriber base.

MNP may threaten undifferentiated offerings and poor service and service providers may have to evolve strategies around the idea of unsatisified subscribers easily switching providers more easily than before.