|Asia-Pacific III 2009
|Shrinking devices, extending services
|Dr Daniel Mavrakis
|President and CEO
Dr Daniel Mavrakis (MSc, PhD, and MD) is MCTEL’s President and CEO. Dr Mavrakis has contributed as a part-time international expert for major international standardisation groups, namely ITU (International Telecommunication Union) and ETSI (European Telecommunication Standards Institute), and participated to the definition of several international telecommunication standards. Dr Mavrakis also participated in the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) standardisation and was the author of RFCs in the standard track (e.g. RFC 2122). Dr Daniel Mavrakis is the author of numerous papers on computer science in computer reviews and of several whitepapers concerning mobile networks (Mobile Device Management and OTA, SMS Value Added Services, etc.) and is contributing to the GSM Association SMS Hubbing group taskforce.
In many regions mobile penetration is approaching saturation. Consequently, mobile markets are highly competitive, prices are dropping, and voice revenues are squeezed forcing operators to focus on value-added services to boost revenues. Despite demand for mobile services, few use them – few people can deal with the complexities of configuring their mobile devices to access these services and this causes major VAS revenue shortfalls. Mobile operators must thus be able to manage and configure their customer’s mobile devices remotely.
“Small is beautiful” seems to have been the motto of mobile devices manufacturers during the last decade. Back in 1973, British economist E.F Schumacher used this phrase – that has become universal today – to champion small, useful technologies that contribute to people’s increased empowerment. According to Schumacher, technology should reduce social and cultural boundaries and give end-users additional autonomy, the ability to exist in their community without depending on others. This is a fact no one can deny: within 20 years the mobile phone has been completely integrated into our everyday life. Starting in the United States in the 1980s, the adoption of mobile phones has been skyrocketing. This phenomenon is global and affects all geographic areas, despite their economical, political, social, religious or cultural differences. A grandfather texting his grandchild, young Japanese school girls taking pictures and sending MMS, managers checking their emails anytime anywhere, a Maasai farmer questioning his bank… these scenes are part of today’s reality and surprise no one. What is common to all mobile users? They are inseparable from their devices. Whether they have a smartphone or a traditional feature phone, it goes with them at all times. Device shrinking enabled this attachment. The first mobile phone launched in 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, weighed about 800g for 25cm height. Though it represented a huge revolution in communication and portability, it was not a handy object. Mobile phone adoption grew as rapidly as devices shrunk and brought real mobility to the mobile phone. Light and compact, today’s pocket-sized mobile phones fit into mobile users’ lives. The sheer number of mobile phone-related accessories is evidence of the fundamental importance we give them. Most women’s handbags and men’s briefcases include a special pocket for the mobile phone. The exponential rate of mobile phone adoption is due to the phone’s satisfaction of our urge to communicate. All societies – developed or developing – are characterised by a strong need for mobility and community. Mobile phones satisfy people’s basic need to stay in touch with their peers. One’s mobile phone characterises the social environment of its owner: family, friends, colleagues, favourite restaurants, nanny, plumber, dentist, and so on. For example, 68 per cent of parents communicate with their children through text messaging (Kelton Research, 2008). The concentration of one’s social life in a mobile phone explains the important attachment to this device. Attachment to mobile phones grows with the empowerment they offer. This is especially true in developing countries. Mobiles phones give the most isolated individuals direct access to information and ways to easily exchange data, and set them on the road to autonomy. A recent article reported that India’s farmers use mobile phones to access information that helps them grow, harvest and sell their crops and manage their livestock. By getting the prices daily on their mobile phones, farmers are less dependent on agents for basic information. As devices become more capable, they are evolving into extensions of users’ desktops, dealing with all personal, social, professional and even financial activities. The success of mobile banking in Africa is a striking example, particularly the success of mobile payment services. Analysts forecast that the number of mobile payment users worldwide will increase by 70 per cent in 2009. With their size continuously decreasing, mobile phones have been singularly successful in reducing and bridging the information gap. Today, the mobile adoption process is almost complete and mobile usage is nearly all-pervasive; in many regions subscriber penetration is approaching the saturation point. Globally, penetration will near 100 per cent by 2013; indeed, it has already exceeded 100 per cent in some countries. As a consequence, mobile markets are highly competitive. As a result, prices are dropping, voice revenues are squeezed and mobile operators have constant churn problems. This forces mobile operators to focus on value-added services to boost ARPU. Mobile users are calling out for more services and personalisation. Given mobile’s strong social dimension, personalised services that enhance the social experience are in demand. If we draw a parallel with the automotive industry, there has been a huge revolution between Henry Ford’s Model T and his famous “You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black” in the 1920s and the launch of the new Fiat 500 – the car’s phenomenal success results from the extremely wide range of personalisation options it offers. It should serve as a model for today’s mobile service providers fighting the competition. However, there is a paradox: despite the demand for mobile services, most consumers use very few, or no mobiles services and applications – they simply cannot deal with the task of personalising – configuring – their mobile devices to access these services. The shrinking of mobile device life cycles to around 18 months puts pressure on mobile operators. In addition to this accelerating renewal rate, mobile operators have to deal with the launches of hundreds of new devices on the market each year. When changing a device, users want to be able to use all services almost immediately. They don’t want to deal with the technology – they want simple, easy, access to mobile services and applications. When this does not happen, consumers get rapidly frustrated and dissatisfied because the promise of mobile services is not fulfilled – and this is the cause of major VAS revenue shortfalls. Powerful, sophisticated, service platforms are needed to help service developers and providers support personalisation – such platforms are indispensable to increase the number of personalized services. The operators’ ability to deliver content and services in the adequate format relies on their service platforms’ ability to correctly detect and configure consumers devices. Mobile device management is thus a key enabler for value added services. Mobile devices are ever more complex and can, potentially, support an increasing volume of services. Unfortunately, the protocols and formats required are often incompatible. On a global scale, more than 30 per cent of devices are not correctly configured to access mobile services; this figure can climb to 90 per cent on some networks. Mobile operators must thus be able to manage and configure their customers mobile devices well enough to enhance the customers’ experience and fulfil their needs. Providing value-added services requires a comprehensive view of the user’s handset database and the ability to provision these handsets rapidly and transparently. To achieve this, operators need mobile device management centres that can automatically detect and configure the devices on their networks. Automatic device detection tools identify new handsets on the network as soon as the subscriber inserts the SIM card in a new device. Once detected, operators can configure the device over-the-air in order to correctly enable value-added services. Within a few seconds, the device can be configured to access all the mobile services supported by the device. Mobile device management opens the doors to mobile services and applications and builds the foundations for the launch of new ones. Indeed, the knowledge – through data mining – of its handset base and how each user is taking advantage of the available services can help marketing decision makers understand how best to design and address future service offerings for each user. ‘Traditional’ service providers are getting increasingly involved in mobile services. For example, since 90 per cent of airline passengers are dependent upon their mobile, they introduced mobile phone-based boarding passes. Airlines are now interested in using mobile phones with embedded GPS to re-direct late passengers, via SMS, to the gate they must reach immediately. This mobile service enhances the customers’ experience and can, potentially, help save airlines up to $600million by reducing flight delays. To do this, airlines need to know which customers have an embedded GPS application on their mobile phone. Since only the mobile operator knows the capabilities of each customer’s device, the success of this service depends on the mobile operators’ knowledge base of customer device capabilities. Mobile operators can seize important business opportunities and play a key role by satisfying their user’s demands for services and content and by facilitating the delivery by service providers of compelling new mobile services. Everything – the business opportunities, the customer satisfaction and facilitating the service provider – depends upon the art of mobile management.