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Coming Soon to Your Mobile Phone: Live Television, Digital Radio and Unlimited Internet Access at a Low Set Rate. But the real killer application doesn’t involve the media professional – It’s Peer-to-Peer transmission of audio, still pictures and video.

By Philip Stone 

With more than 1 billion mobile phones scattered around the world one doesn’t have to be a marketing genius to figure out that if you could capture that audience for your product (s) then you have reached that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And there are very positive signs that mobile phone users are more “user-friendly” to paying for services they receive than are those who are used to free news and information on the Internet. News and information providers and the advertising community globally are figuring out ways they can take advantage, and preliminary surveys give them some cause to cheer.

“Since cell phone clients recognize that they must pay for using a cell phone, they show little resistance toward paying a little extra for the news and information accessible by cell phone, according to Shin-Ichi Hakoshima, president and ceo of Asahi Shimbun, the world’s second largest circulation newspaper with more than 12 million readers daily.

In fact if one wants to know about the future for mobile phones then there is no need to look any further than in Japan, for in fact the mobile phone future is there, today.

But a fascinating survey of the Japanese mobile market by the Swedish Berg Insight Group that concentrates on mobile telephony indicates that while third party uses for the mobile phone may be many, as far as the actual user is concerned the so-called “killer application” is peer to peer transmissions of audio, still pictures and video between friends and family.

To prove its point, Berg cited the example of NTT DoCoMo’s introduction of 3G marketing it primarily to business customers. KDDI did not launch its 3G until almost a year later and using a slower network standard, but it focused its marketing on private users and various services on offer including, basically, having fun. 

Within two months of their 3G launch KDDI had more than 1 million subscribers whereas NTT DoCoMo having launched more than nine months earlier had only about 200,000 subscribers.

Berg Insight noted that users were not very much interested in video telephony or in downloading commercial video; what they did want, however, was to be able to transmit their own audio, still pictures and video to their friends and family.

What also became obvious to service providers was that the mobile phone was seldom far from one’s reach. It had become an everyday part of life and as such a whole bunch of new options to make life easier came out.

“It became possible to pay, check in, enter, and travel just by waving the phone in front of sensors,” the Berg Insight report summarized. “The phones have also become safety terminals when they are used for tracking the whereabouts of children, or function as one-button alarms when the holder needs urgent assistance. In the other end, the mobile phone can be the remote control and viewer for network cameras, robots and other electronics in the home, and even be a satellite terminal for the home PC.”

So does that mean there isn’t really a global wish to use the phone to download music, access the Internet, and watch television?  Some interesting experiments this summer may help answer those questions, but if the Japanese experience is anything to go by it’s peer to peer that wins the day.

In Switzerland, Swisscom has announced a broadband mobile network based on EDGE technology providing live television, video streaming and transmission of large files. EDGE data rates are three times faster than GPRS and it increases bandwidth from 30 to as much as 200kbps, but the downside is that you need special EDGE enabled phones to access the service.

Swisscom also plans to offer a set rate of 79 Swiss Francs (about €50) monthly for unlimited Internet and other data communication.

In the UK, competition is heating up to provide commercial services via the mobile phone and tests are being carried out to determine the best communication system. Virgin Mobile will run a test with 1,000 customers that gives them access via digital radio technology, to three TV channels, to hear 50 digital radio channels, and to receive an electronic program guide, all on their mobile phone.

Vodaphone, meanwhile, has announced a deal with the Extreme Sports Channel in the UK for a new pre-pay mobile phone television service to be available in the fall, and France Telecom has signed a deal with terrestrial TV station M6.

In the US surveys indicate that while video has interest, it’s music downloads that seem to catch the attention of most young mobile phone users.  In a survey taken by the Management Network Group (MNG), 34 per cent of those surveyed said they would be interested in music downloads compared to 21 per cent who wanted video clips and another 21 per cent who were interested in gaming.

“Of all the services we tested, music services really represent the most immediate and attractive opportunity,” according to Paul Petersky, vice president for market research at MNG.

And what should satisfy advertisers the most is that there was 2:1 ratio of those who wanted advertising-sponsored downloads c compared to those who would take a subscription to escape the ads. For those who prefer to pay, they prefer the model of paying 99 cents per download rather than the bulk $19.95 monthly for up to 30 downloads.

In that great Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams” a voice told Costner that if he built it (a baseball field in his field of corn) they (the fans) would come.  Today as vendors look beyond SMS to deliver news and information to the mobile world, and as they start their various experiments they cannot forget the Japanese experience.

Having spent hundreds of millions on licenses and new communication networks there is no guarantee “they” will come quite as expected.

© Philip M. Stone of  Stone & Associates, a partner in followthemedia.com


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