Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TRAI to float paper on mobile value services in April

Telecom regulator Trai today said it will bring out a consultation paper on mobile value-added services next month and will give its recommendations by the end of June. 

"Trai will come out with a consultation paper on the mobile value-added services (MVAS) in April and by the end of June, Trai wil give recommendations on value-added services," Trai Chairman J S Sarma said here in a FICCI event. 

In January this year, Trai had sought views of mobile operators on growth opportunities in value-added services, including policy framework and support infrastructure to usher in inclusive growth. 

Trai, in association with industry body Assocham, had also released a study paper, titled 'Mobile Value-Added Services (MVAS) - A vehicle to usher in inclusive growth and bridge the digital divide' on which Trai had sought comments from various service operators in February this year. 

Besides, Sarma said the recommendations on equipment manufacturing policy will be out by the end of this week. 

TRAI had in January this year floated a consultation paper on the telecom infrastructure policy, and which after taking in stakeholders' views, closed on February 21. 

The Authority had started the process for coming up with recommendations on encouraging telecom equipment manufacturing in the country from May 6, 2010. 

Sarma added that the recommendations on 'green telecom' will come out next week. The recommendations will deliberate on ways to check carbon emissions, promote energy-efficient technologies and manage e-waste in view of rapid growth in the sector.source

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Detachable antenna For MacBook 3G

A patent granted to Apple provides new hints that a 3G version of the MacBook may be in the cards. The new patent outlines a detachable, magnetic antenna for connecting your laptop to the Internet on the go.
Patently Apple first reported on the patent, one of a series of patents newly granted to Apple. The antenna appears to sit on a hinge when connected, so that it can be adjusted to ensure the best reception. The antenna is also attached by magnets, so it comes off easily when knocked, stepped on, or otherwise duffed up. That should keep it from breaking.source

Monday, March 21, 2011

Govt can raise Rs 85,850 cr by selling 50% of defence airwaves

The telecom department (DoT) believes that the exchequer can get a minimum of 85,850 crore by selling just 50% of the airwaves the defence ministry vacates.
Its calculations are based on the assumption that about 20 MHz of second generation (2G) and an equal amount of third generation (3G) can be sold to mobile phone companies if the defence ministry was to free up these radio frequencies, according to an internal DoT note reviewed by ET. In total, the telecom ministry is seeking that the armed forces vacate up to 80 MHz of airwaves for commercial telephony.
The broadband wireless spectrum auctions in India last year delivered the government an unexpected bonanza of 38,543 crore ($8.25 billion), twice the amount predicted by analysts. The 3G and broadband spectrums jointly fetched 1,06,000 crore for the government against its estimates of 35,000 crore.
The telecom department's projections are part of its response to the defence ministry's latest threat that it will not release additional airwaves for commercial use. It also marks the first time that the department has put a value to the airwaves it is seeking from the armed forces.
Defence Minister A K Antony had recently told Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the telecom department had failed to meet all timelines on building an alternative communication network for the armed forces, and warned that it could result in the services stopping all vacation of airwaves.
This is because, as per the MoU between both ministries, the armed forces were to vacate 25 MHz for 3G and 20 MHz for 2G. This will happen in a phased manner and will be linked to the completion of the alternative network that the DoT is building for the defence forces. Besides, the telecom department was also slated to set up an exclusive defence band and defence interest zone for the armed forces to keep its part of the bargain.
While the armed forces have already freed up 15 MHz 3G spectrum, which was sold during last year's auctions, and also vacated 15 MHz 2G spectrum, which has been allocated to new operators, the remaining airwaves - 10 MHz spectrum in 3G (for two operators) and 5MHz in 2G - will be released only after the alternative optic fibre network being built by BSNL is completed.
Analysts say the telecom department may earn more than their estimates if 20 MHz each of 2G and 3G airwaves are auctioned.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

AT&T and T-Mobile--listen before you judge

The usual suspects are already sharpening their knives against AT&T's announced acquisition of T-Mobile's U.S. business.
Within hours, the Media Access Project announced that "if approved, this deal would further increase costs and decrease choices for the public." Media reform group Free Press headlined its press release, "Consumers lose when there's less competition." And Public Knowledge condemned the deal as "unthinkable."
That sort of rhetoric is par for the course inside-the-beltway where, for some reason, every combination of business assets is presumed to be hostile to consumers. These groups are so convinced of the evils of mergers that they no longer feel the need for bothersome facts and time-wasting analysis.
But out here in the real world, thinking things through is actually still considered a rational way to analyze a problem.
So let's think about the "unthinkable."
Of course, the details of the planned merger haven't been made public yet, so it's hard to say specifically how the combination will affect consumers, influence market dynamics, or change the landscape for communications services--mobile and otherwise.
But at the same time, I don't understand the line of non-reasoning that opposes any combination of two companies in the same industry on the theory that any loss of competition, no matter how theoretical, translates to higher prices and reduced service to consumers.
For starters, it assumes that the sole purpose of any merger is to gain economic leverage over one's customers and to translate that leverage into consumer harm. That, in any case, isn't what managers tell investors, who like the rest of us don't see what a company would have to gain from intentionally fouling its own nest.
From the standpoint of investors, the whole point of mergers of this kind is to give the merged entity economies of scale and other efficiencies that allow it to operate at a lower unit cost. That is, to make it more competitive.
That's especially important in the wide-open and fast-evolving mobile industry. Assuming the deal is ultimately approved, there will still be significant competitors to AT&T in every U.S. market--competitors who will be eager to take advantage of inevitable distractions for AT&T in both pursuing and implementing the merger.
Companies regularly underestimate the costs and time it takes to complete a merger, by the way, which can also be helpful to competitors. And mergers of this scale may fail to ever deliver the benefits to investors that inspire them, perhaps because technological advances in the interim undermine the assumptions that made the merger seem attractive. Witness America Online and Time-Warner, which similarly and incorrectly terrorized consumer advocates in 2000.
(Adam Thierer, now with The Mercatus Center, wrote a brilliant paper in 2009 (PDF) analyzing both the fear-mongering and sober realities of media and communications mergers over the last decade that is well worth rereading.)
More, not less, competition
In opposing mergers without any analysis (which requires thinking, after all), facts pose little obstacle for the true disbelievers. But for those who care about such details, it simply isn't true, as the Media Access Project says in its press release, that "The FCC's National Broadband Plan, issued last year, warned about the absence of sufficient competition in the wireless market."
Actually reading the FCC's plan, I find just the opposite. There is no hint of a warning about insufficient wireless competition. According to the FCC, rather, as of last year over 77 percent of U.S. homes had access to three or more providers for 3G mobile services.
In fact, the FCC believes that expanding and accelerating the deployment of next-generation 4G services has the potential to increase competition, not just in mobile but in the broader category of all communications services. As higher-speed and more efficient 4G services are implemented, the FCC notes, LTE services have the "potential to be a closer competitor to wireline broadband" than existing 3G services.
Making 4G available to more U.S. consumers, in other words, is not only good for mobile competition but also makes mobile a viable alternative to wired service, where some consumers currently have fewer options.
And the U.S. Department of Justice, who along with the FCC will need to give approval for the merger, agrees. In its submission to the FCC as part of the development of the FCC plan, the Department of Justice said nothing about a lack of competition in wireless service.
Quite the contrary, it found that robust competition was spurring the kind of innovation that was making wireless a viable competitor to wireline. "Emerging fourth generation ('4G') services," the Department wrote, "may well provide an alternative sufficient to lead a significant set of customers to elect a wireless rather than wireline broadband service."
Which is precisely the point of the proposed merger. According to AT&T, "Because of the scale, spectrum and resources resulting from this transaction, AT&T can expand 4G LTE to 95 percent of U.S. population or 294 million people."
By bringing together complementary spectrum from AT&T and T-Mobile, the combined entity will be able to compete more effectively with Verizon in the 4G space, improve overall network performance, and speed up what the Justice Department described as "encouraging signs" that mobile is beginning to compete effectively with wireline service. (Already, significant numbers of U.S. consumers have abandoned wireline telephone service, for example.)
How else can wireless providers improve service? 
That, of course, brings up another myth about mergers, which is that they inevitably lead to declines in service quality. Again, let's do the "unthinkable" and hash that through for a moment. Quality of service even in the 3G market is a principal issue on which the competitors compete today--witness the funny (or not-so-funny) commercials all the wireless companies run denouncing the performance of everyone else.
If AT&T or any other provider genuinely wanted to improve their coverage, speed, fidelity or any other quality measure consumers value, how else besides a merger can they do it? Adding or upgrading existing infrastructure--cell towers, for example--is entirely constrained by federal, state, and local regulatory approval. And most of these regulators have proven themselves to be too slow, incompetent, and/or corrupt to allow the infrastructure investments the carriers want to make.
Another alternative is to expand coverage by using more of the radio spectrum. But spectrum is a limited resource, and the FCC has not held a significant auction since 2008. (At that auction, AT&T spent billions to acquire key blocks of the 700MHz frequency, presumably for use in deploying its future 4G service.)
As everyone knows, there are vast tracks of spectrum which are inefficiently allocated today. The National Broadband Plan, in fact, called for the FCC to identify and reallocate some 500MHz of spectrum in the next 10 years--300 MHz of it for mobile services in the next five years.
So far, however, that effort has gone nowhere. On the first anniversary of the its plan, the FCC is still splitting hairs over whether it has even gotten around to preparing an inventory of the existing allocations, as mandated last summer by President Obama.
In the absence of meaningful spectrum reform or cell tower siting rules, what else can a service provider do but acquire more frequency through merger? While the FCC dithers, industry is taking action. Mergers may not be the best way to reallocate the mess of current spectrum allocations. But waiting for the FCC will mean a slower roll-out of 4G services, and decline in overall quality as spectrum demand continues to outpace supply.
The reality of merger review is complicated
Without mergers, in other words, costs are likely to increase and consumer choice is likely to decline--not the other way around.
Again, this is also the view of the Department of Justice. In evaluating the proposed transaction, the department will continue to recognize that putting available spectrum to its best use is essential to promote, not damage, competition. In its letter to the FCC on the National Broadband Plan, the Department wrote:
 Reallocating spectrum that is being underutilized would encourage the deployment of wireless services and could help to make such services more competitive with wireline offerings. First, an increase in the amount of spectrum that firms could devote to broadband would lower the cost of providing wireless broadband services and encourage entry. Second, more spectrum would allow providers to increase the capacity and reliability of their offerings, thereby bringing them closer to cable modem and fiber-based broadband. Third, the increased capacity in the systems would help support new applications. We urge the Commission to give priority to making more spectrum available to wireless broadband providers so as to maximize their potential to compete against the established wireline ones.
As these quotes suggest, the unthinking, knee-jerk rejection of any proposed combination as an antitrust violation has little to do with the reality of how the FCC and Department of Justice should--and usually does--review proposed mergers. There is no magic formula for deciding what percentage of a relevant market an individual competitor is permitted to control. Defining the market itself is complicated, especially given different conditions in different parts of the U.S. and the potential for mobile service to compete with wireline alternatives. The influence a company has over price is affected by other factors besides direct competition, including potential substitutes and regulatory constraints.
And in a market with high fixed and sunk costs, such as mobile services, even the most aggressive antitrust review does not mean, to quote the Department of Justice once again, "striving for broadband markets that look like textbook markets of perfect competition, with many price-taking firms." Rather, the department says, "promoting competition is likely to take the form of enabling additional entry and expansion by wireless broadband providers, applying other appropriate policy levers, and spurring competition among broadband providers by improving the information available to consumers..."
The real risk here is that between the FCC and the Department of Justice (it isn't clear yet which agency will take the lead in reviewing the proposed merger), the deal won't be closed quickly, slowing the combined company's ability to deploy new 4G service to nearly everyone.
The FCC's review of the Comcast-NBC merger, for example, took more than a year, despite the fact that the agency has a self-imposed (but unenforced) 180-day shot clock. After fits and starts, the approval resulted in a nearly 300-page document rife with irrelevant hand-wringing and unrelated conditions on the merged entity, including a promise to abide by the FCC's notorious net neutrality rules even if Congress or the courts ultimately overturn them.
Indeed, reviewing the sorry history of the Comcast review, FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker recently noted with characteristic understatement, "the current FCC merger review process is ripe for overhaul."
This is just a start to what will be, in the best of circumstances, a long and complicated conversation about the AT&T-T-Mobile deal. But when opponents line up to preemptively reject the deal before the details are even announced, you can count on a longer and largely pointless slog.
Thinking--and actual economic analysis-- about proposed mergers is certainly harder than blustering about the "unthinkable." But if the Washington advocacy groups actually want to do something to improve the consumer experience in mobile, they might give it a try.source

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tremendous Growth of Wireless Telecom

While a 2G GSM network is still preferred for voice, 3G will aid in mobile broadband connectivity and pave the way for LTE to be used for last-mile connectivity
more on - http://voicendata.ciol.com/content/service_provider/111031701.asp

Lot Of Scope For Mobile Value Added Services growth in India

India’s current Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) industry has an estimated size of Rs.12, 200 crores. The Indian MVAS industry derives its revenues majorly from the top five to six products such as game based applications, music downloads, etc. These continue to form close to 80% of VAS revenues, and have become easily replicable. The other types of services such as governance, education, and commerce constitute only 20-25% of VAS revenues, leaving large scope for growth. A study on Indian MVAS industry by Deloitte hopes that MVAS has the potential to achieve digital empowerment which would help bridge the digital divide and foster inclusive growth in India. Such MVAS, which seek to digitally empower citizens by providing access to essential information and services, and foster inclusive growth, have been classified as Utility MVAS, by the Deloitte report.
According to Mr. Sandip Biswas, Director, Deloitte in India, “The Indian MVAS industry is estimated to grow to Rs 48,200 crores by 2015 from the current estimated size of Rs. 12,200 crores. The next wave of growth in subscriptions will come from semi-urban and rural areas. Today the penetration of mobile phones in urban areas is already ~ 100% while in rural areas it is only ~23%”.  
“Non-voice revenues currently constitute about ~10% of revenues of Indian telecom operators. A comparison with other countries indicates an average of ~23%, providing large scope for growth of MVAS in India” he added.

The reach and penetration of mobile phones can ensure the delivery of a large number of services in a cost effective, fast and seamless manner even without physical access, as is seen from such initiatives around the world.
The key drivers for Utility MVAS include: (1) Government mandate for inclusive growth (2) Increasing mobile phone, and network penetration (3) Need for differentiation among telecom operators and device manufacturers (4) Increasing consumer demand and awareness, even in non-urban areas (5) Business need of service providers such as hospitals and banks (6) Automation due to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
While the opportunities are tremendous, given the mobile phone’s growing reach and the advancement of technology including the foray of 3G, there are plenty of challenges that face the Utility MVAS space today. These challenges result from non-fulfillment of the critical success factors for industry growth: (i) Policy Framework (ii) Support Infrastructure (iii) High Equilibrium Ecosystem. While the policy framework sets boundary and gives direction, the support infrastructure provides the critical base required for the ecosystem to be built.
Certain action needs to be taken by all players in the Utility MVAS value chain / ecosystem to meet the numerous challenges these services face and ensure the uptake of such services in India.  In order for the success of Utility MVAS, it is imperative that the government / regulatory authorities initiate by laying down a vision, and set of guidelines to provide the industry with the direction. Infact, a phase-wise implementation approach, spread across Initiation, Prioritization and Deployment could prove to be the optimal approach for India. It is only a matter of the government and the industry coming together to create a win-win situation for the industry and the consumers. source

Fund Transfer Will Cost 10 Paisa Per Transaction on Mobile

Fund transfer through the recently launched Interbank Mobile Payment Service (IMPS) will cost the customer 10 paise per transaction with effect from April 01, 2011.

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has come up with this idea. It had originally planned for charges to be 25p for each transaction. The dip in fee has however been made so as to lure more customers towards mobile phone based transactions.
It has also been declared that the charge will be applicable to the remitting bank and banks have been given the discretion to set their own charges for transactions.
Presently banks having the service include Axis Bank, Bank of India, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank,State Bank of India, YES Bank, Union Bank of India, Lakshmi Vilas Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank,Federal Bank, Corporation Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Indian Bank and DCB.
Also banks in the process to incorporate this service are IDBI Bank, Syndicate Bank, Citibank, Karur Vysya Bank, Andhra Bank, Punjab National Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Canara Bank, IndusInd Bank, South Indian Bank, State Bank of Travancore and State Bank of Hyderabad. source

Google Concentrating on Mobile Payment Services

Anyone looking to confirm Google’s burgeoning interest in mobile payment systems should have a full plate of additional evidence this summer as the Internet search giant is reportedly pushing ahead with a trial run for a new mobile payment service at New York and San Francisco-based stores.
Bloomberg reported Tuesday morning that in four months the trial program Google is launching will enable shoppers to use their phones to ring up purchases in the aforementioned locations.
The company will pay for installation of thousands of special cash-register systems from VeriFone Systems Inc. (PAY) at merchant locations, said one of the people, who requested anonymity because Google’s plans haven’t been made public. The registers would accept payments from mobile phones equipped with so-called near-field-communication technology.
The news from Google follows Monday’s report that Apple is reportedly moving ahead with its fifth generation iPhone and not including NFC technology as originally anticipated. It’s a decision that could give more NFC-friendly mobile phone markers an upper hand in the burgeoning business of mobile payments, particularly Google’s Nexus S, which already sports NFC technology.
Speaking in Barcelona, Spain last month at the Mobile World Congress, Google’s chief executive officer Eric Schmidt said “NFC has been around for a long time but everything has just started to come together.” Schmidt reiterated his confidence that Google will successfully leverage the opportunities born of NFC despite current obstacles.
“My phone remembers I need new pants,” says Schmidt, “and it knows ahead of me are two stores–one offering the product at a 20 percent discount, the other offering a 30 percent discount. I enter the store with the bigger discount, the pants are ready, and out I go. You don’t think this is going to work? It should revolutionize electronic commerce and payments. We’re seeing that models around consumerism are working when they’re tied to location and advertising.”
According to Bloomberg, Google’s rumored venture in New York and San Francisco will further cement the company’s place within a “growing field of companies experimenting with NFC.”source

MVAS to get 4 times in next 4 yrs

The Rs 12,200 crore mobile value added services (MVAS) market is set to quadruple in four years to Rs 48,200 crore, said a study conducted by independent consultancy, Deloitte.

A major part of this growth will accrue from rural and semi urban areas where demand for MVAS will outstrip urban demand.

MVAS include gaming applications, music downloads, video clips, utility services such as weather forecasts, crop and seed varieties, local and wholesale vegetable market rates apart from education services. “The next wave of growth in subscriptions will come from semi-urban and rural areas. Today, penetration of mobile phones in urban areas is already around 100 per cent while in rural areas it is only 23 per cent,” said director of Deloitte in India, Sandip Biswas.

M-commerce including retail banking is expected to drive the increase in MVAS revenues.

“MVAS growth will be much higher in rural areas that have greater usage in health, education and agriculture based services. But, absolute numbers will be higher in urban areas where the tilt is towards entertainment,” said CEO of handygo, Praveen Rajpal. Handygo, a MVAS provider, has tied up with Idea Cellular offering live information on weather, livestock, mandi prices, fishery advisory, finance and health schemes in Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh (West) and Andhra Pradesh.

Rajpal added that agro-based and education services form the bulk of MVAS usage in rural areas, driving up to 55 to 60 per cent of MVAS revenues for the telecom industry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now You Can Create Your Own Wi-Fi Spot with 3G

Almost all the portable gadgets we use today need to be connected to the internet. Instead of getting an individual internet connection for each of them, you can use one of them to create a personal, mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. All your other Wi-Fi enabled devices will then be able to connect to this hotspot and share the primary internet connection.
Apart from the practicality angle, there can be many uses for this. Your laptop can have high-speed internet connectivity on the move. Within your own network, you devices will be able to share data with each other. And you'll save quite a bit of cash at the end of the month if you share just one unlimited data plan with five other devices.source

Constraint In Video Telephony and High Usage of Data and Mobile Internet

A limitation in the number of 3G-enabled handsets with forward facing cameras, privacy issues and a limited bandwidth that might hinder user experience may limit the usage of video telephony as telecom companies in India progressively roll out their 3G networks and services.

Globally, the introduction of 3G services in a country has seen subscriber usage patterns tilt towards accessing the internet, either for downloads or browsing and telecom industry officials as well as analysts say the pattern is likely to be repeated in India as 3G services cover more geographies in the country. Tata Teleservices (TTSL), Reliance Communications (RCom), Bharti Airtel and Aircel have already launched their 3G services while Vodafone Essar is currently conducting subscriber trials in Delhi and Chennai and Idea Cellular is expected to announce its 3G launch later this month.

“Initial indications are that data usage will shoot up. Besides, video telephony is very device dependent,” said chief corporate affairs officer for Idea Cellular, Rajat Mukarji. While agreeing that some voice traffic from existing 2G networks will be offloaded by telcos on their 3G bandwidth, he added that may not be a hindrance in user experience for video telephony despite the 5 MHz bandwidth of 3G spectrum. “The offloading will primarily be for customers who opt for 3G networks,” he said.

Data from Indian Cellular Association (ICA) reveals that smart phone sales in the present financial year will number 10-11 million units and for 2011-12, the figure could touch 40 million. “In three to four years, there is going to be a huge acceleration in smart phone sales in India, with annual sales in excess of 50 million handsets,” said ICA’s president, Pankaj Mohindroo.

According to him, internet will be the ‘killer’ application and not video telephony, and there might not be much impact on sales of handset manufacturers that do not offer video calling feature on their devices.

That, in effect, could be a saving grace for Research In Motion (RIM) that manufactures and sells its handsets under the BlackBerry range, which enable other 3G services such as data downloads and mobile internet access but are bereft of the crucial forward facing camera feature that is necessary for enabling video calls.

“As of now, BlackBerry handsets do not come with forward facing camera. I don’t think there is an application that can build on that feature in to BlackBerry smartphone,” said a spokesperson for RIM India, who declined to divulge if the company was planning to incorporate the feature in any future models.

Moreover, as Director of Com First, Mahesh Uppal, points out, usage of video telephony might be restricted among family and close friends due to privacy issues.

“A subscriber on a call with a professional or social acquaintance may not want to share the details of his location, through a video call. That can limit its appeal,” he said.

Low broadband penetration in India is also cited as a reason why mobile internet may pick up faster than mobile video telephony.source

Broadband TV for Just Rs 99

Telecom major Bharti airtel today announced the launch of its 'airtel broadband TV', which will allow its broadband users to watch live TV on their computers for a monthly rental of Rs 99. 

With the service, airtel broadband subscribers will be able to access 28 Live TV channels including UTV Bindass, UTV Movies, Bloomberg UTV, TLC, Animal Planet, all Discovery channels, Sakshi TV, Live India and Tarang Music. 

"This initiative is part of our commitment to offer enhanced broadband experience to our customers. We will soon add more content under news, soap and infotainment categories," Bharti airtel Chief Marketing Officer Telemedia Services Girish Mehta told PTI. 

The company also plans to offer 19 Video-on-demand (VOD) channels and 12 movies channels as per the chosen subscription plan. 

The service will work on Wi-Fi networks as well, Mehta added. 

Airtel, which has about 1.3 million broadband users in India, will introduce three monthly subscription plans -- Gold Pack with all Live and VOD channels and movies for Rs 99, Night Pack (all channels and movies from 9 PM to 9AM) for Rs 49 and My Pack (any 3 chosen channels) for Rs 49. 

Asked if consumers will have to pay extra for the data usage, Mehta said, "Customers will not have to pay extra for data usage, except for users in Noida and Punjab." 

He added, "We will make sure that quality of service is maintained even in lower bandwidth (speed) plans." 

Bharti airtel provides mobile voice and data services, fixed line, broadband, IPTV and DTH services in the country. source

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why Mobile-Friendly Websites Are Critical For Business

To land the big fishes, you need to be able to find them. But like the fishes themselves, data about where and when the big ones are biting don’t stay fresh for long.
The 100,000 or so user forum members of Bigfishtackle.com like to share just that kind of information, but by the time they get back home or to their Wi-Fi enabled cabins to log on to tell their friends the best places to drop a line (or maybe just to gloat), it could be old news. It would be a lot better if they could log onto their mobile phones the instant they set the hook, right from the boat.
“Fishing reports can get a little dated,” says Mike Hodgdon, COO of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based First Light Net, which runs Bigfishtackle.com and other websites for outdoor enthusiasts. “There is a big advantage for the angler to do this while they’re actually on a fishing spot. That’s why we started to see some demand to post to the forum from mobile phones.”
The website became an early adopter of new technology enabling a mobile-optimized web browsing experience. In 2007, it started reformatting its site for smaller mobile device screens. But the business soon found dotMobi, a Dublin, Ireland, firm that’s among a handful of companies that sells .mobi domain names, as well as tools for creating a mobile-optimized web experience. Now, Bigfishtackle.mobi gives forum members viewing, browsing and posting functions that are just like the desktop web experience, but rendered just right for a 3- or 4-inch mobile phone screen.
The site and others like it represent a growing trend among entrepreneurial businesses to achieve a more mobile-friendly web presence.
The .mobi designation isn’t for a separate website–it’s just a mobile-optimized extension. Bigfishtackle.com didn’t have to change its URL. “You can post to the .mobi site, and it integrates with the regular website in real time,” Hodgdon says.
Pinky Brand, director of global sales at dotMobi, estimates that businesses could realize a bump in traffic of 10 percent to 15 percent by mobile-optimizing their websites. That could be the amount of traffic they are losing if customers try to visit their regular websites from mobile phones and find them unfit for viewing on their device screens.
“Mobile is what a lot of consumers use to look for businesses right now,” Brand says. “In truth, every business already has a mobile website because your website can be seen on mobile phones. It’s just that the businesses may not know how bad it looks on a mobile phone.”
Bigfishtackle.mobi was among the first sites launched with dotMobi’s help. Though the site does see some unique visitors, Hodgdon says the crossover from the regular website has been especially notable, with about 40 percent of website visitors crossing over to the mobile-optimized version. That’s a lot of impact for a project that cost its website proprietor little more than $8,000.
“If you think about it, this makes sense for a lot of different types of businesses because the mobile phone market is so big,” Hodgdon says. “The opportunity is bigger than just building for computers.”
The nascent mobile website movement could be the next step for mobile-savvy businesses that have joined the mobile app explosion, or even for those who have missed out on apps. However, in the long run mobile websites could prove to have broader implications and greater business benefits.
It can be expensive and labor intensive to develop a mobile app to represent your business. Developers of the earliest mobile data apps often had to write different versions for every mobile device on which they wanted the apps to play, says Mitch Lazar, CEO of Taptu, a social media and technology company with headquarters in Denver and Cambridge, England.
Lazar himself was an early entrant into mobile Internet endeavors, having created the CNN Mobile service after starting CNN.com in the 1990s.
“There were huge cost and distribution challenges because you had to customize the service for every phone that was out there,” Lazar says. “We had to create about 500 different SKUs for CNN Mobile for different distributors.”
A pair of philosophically opposite technology evolutions in recent years made the development process easier. First, Apple created its own tightly controlled app ecosystem with the highly desirable iPhone at the center of it. Next, the emergence of the Android operating system created an open environment for developers to create an app once, and with a few tweaks, get it on a much broader list of devices.
The success of the iPhone and the rise of the Android army created a fast-growing market for mobile apps, but with that success came new challenges for any business seeking to make its mark with its own mobile app. For starters, it has to deal with an app store, such as Apple’s iPhone store, that will want a piece of the revenue. Also, the app undergoes lengthy, rigorous testing and certification procedures before it gets a spot on the virtual store shelf.
But the biggest challenge may be getting the app noticed once it does become available. At the Apple store, for example, an app now has to fight for attention against more than 300,000 others–and that’s just one app store. And if consumers do find it, will they use it? As mobile phone users download an increasing number of apps, concerns are growing about the potential for app overload.
“It’s filter failure, the problem of not being able to filter out what’s core to you,” Taptu’s Lazar says. “It’s a problem that has spanned years as we’ve had an Internet fire hose pointing at us.”
Taptu’s MyTaptu social news aggregation app allows users to build a personalized visual experience on the mobile phone that lets them avoid “app-hopping,” Lazar says. That could make it easier for individual business apps to be found in the rapidly growing mobile app universe.
Though tools like Taptu help, many small-business owners believe that the mobile app environment still can be an abyss, and that they could better use their time and money enhancing their core websites, rather than trying to get a homespun app onto their customers’ phones.
Nitin Bhandari, co-founder and chief product officer of Skyfire, a company in Mountain View, Calif., whose mobile browser technology converts web pages for viewing on mobile devices, says having a greater mobile web focus makes more sense for businesses now because mobile network bandwidth advancements and browser innovations have caught up with device capabilities.
“You’ve got better devices, better networks and better browsers,” he says. Yet how and when to pursue the mobile web remains a challenge.
“There’s a great deal of confusion about the mobile web,” says Joshua Bixby, president of website optimization firm Strangeloop, in Vancouver, B.C. “Businesses haven’t known what to do about it, and the largest companies have been focused on coming out with their own apps for individual phones.
“What’s getting the mobile web more attention is executives checking out their competitors’ websites from their iPhones and finding out [those sites] work better on mobile than their own,” Bixby says. “Then they force their IT departments to change direction and prioritize the mobile web.”
DotMobi’s Brand says businesses should keep in mind three factors when developing a mobile website: the site needs to be able to detect when mobile users are accessing it; it needs a way to adapt content to a mobile format; and it needs a way to present that mobile-ready content.
One of the main technology tools is HTML 5, the first version of the well-known Internet development language to accommodate mobile. It allows the creation of mobile-optimized websites, as well as “web apps”–essentially website-based apps and widgets that can be accessed through a web browser such as Google Chrome or Apple Safari that uses the Webkit open source web page rendering system that is part of the HTML 5 standard.
“Web apps are basically HTML wrapped in an app,” says Mark Britten, senior product manager of NewBay Software, which has offices in Seattle and Dublin. “It is something that is much more lightweight and much quicker to use than XML.”
But the best part for small businesses that lack an IT department is that no knowledge of HTML 5 is required. Solutions such as dotMobi’s goMobi service platform can do the grunt work for you. With goMobi, business owners use simple drag-and-drop methods to turn their desktop site into a mobile one. And, Brand says, the conversion process takes just minutes. With dotMobi’s free mobiReady.com service, owners can test their existing site to see how it will look from the perspective of different devices.
Many Advocates of HTML
5 argue that mobile-optimized websites and emerging web apps based on the platform can help businesses avoid the mobile app store glut by sending users right to their websites–which, in turn, can help dig users out of the piles of mobile apps that may be suffocating their overall mobile Internet usage.
“Mobile apps actually have a high churn rate. All of these apps you have downloaded are digital weight you carry around,” says Skyfire’s Bhandari. “But web browsing only continues to increase.”
Bixby says a revolution in mobile-optimized websites could eventually de-emphasize app stores for both app creators and users–though he acknowledges that’s hard to imagine right now, during the height of the mobile app market.
“Apps as we know them now are a phase in the maturity of the mobile Internet,” he says. “The browser is what will define that experience in the future.”
Taptu’s Lazar thinks otherwise: that apps will continue to be important, and that technology like HTML 5 will just make it easier for entrepreneurial businesses to negotiate all aspects of the mobile web, whether in site development or app development.
“HTML 5 lets Taptu create a smart browser solution without having to rewrite a lot of code, but you will still have apps. Like your website, they will just be written in HTML 5,” he says.
The increasing ease with which entrepreneurial businesses can leverage the mobile web could make it a simple decision for companies to get onboard. In addition, it’s a relatively inexpensive move, and it might even make sense for some new businesses to make their Internet debut as a mobile website.
Still, dotMobi’s Brand says the decision to mobile-optimize a site or to go further and support m-commerce is something that has to come down to a business’s understanding of its audience.
Bigfishtackle.com was so certain of its users’ interest in mobile that it snapped up about 30 .mobi URLs from dotMobi, Hodgdon says. He sees the potential for m-commerce activity, such as the ability to buy a fishing license from your phone and to display it on your phone screen.
“The .mobi site is an extension of what we have been doing from the very beginning,” Hodgdon says.
Brand says the progress of mobile websites “reminds me of the desktop Internet growth of 15 years ago. It’s driven by advances in device horsepower and connectivity. But desktop was a slower evolution, and the mobile Internet adoption rate is blindingly fast. The way this will take root is that entrepreneurs will talk to one another and say, ‘I did this and it worked for me, so maybe it will work for you.’”
Dan O’Shea is a writer in Chicago who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.source