Went along to Mobile Opportunities today. Tony Fish of AMF Ventures brought a good crowd of enterprises, entrepreneurs and investors, many part of the Momo community, to the basement auditorium of Simmons & Simmons in the city. The investment part of the crowd apparently representing some £20bn of private equity.
Chris Burke, former CTO of Vodafone UK, discussed the status of the various mobile technologies in the wild. Tony Fish introduced the elements of Web 2.0 to mobile applications. Thomas Wheadon, of Simmons & Simmons, looked at the legal impliciations of becoming an MVNO. Finally Alan Moore, technology futurist, addressed the vital issue of community audiences and creation.
Status of technologies
Chris Burke kicked off by sifting through the technologies currently playing out in the mobile space. Asserting that customers don’t care about access technologies, he was openly scathing of the 3G strategy being followed by the MNOs, accusing it of being blindly dominated by marketing. Addressing what people really want he discussed music, pointing to Sony Ericsson’s success with the walkman phones, and video, though not necessarily TV. Worried that operators had got too used to fat profits and had forgotten how to focus on revenue, he asked why is there not more focus on the two things that really work in revenue terms: voice and messaging. He looked at the different flavours of messaging, SMS in Europe, email in Asia and IM in the US, drawing the common thread between these and pointing out that these markets are developing, with Cingular’s email offering and SMS starting to happen in Asia, and how there’s still room for innovation, though things like Vodafone’s TechCentre, providing SMS distribution lists.
Burke discussed data cards, a 3G service that has gained some traction, but again was bemused by the operators’ strong desire to forge ahead with HSDPA rollout, increasing bandwidth, when coverage and reliability are the primary roadblocks for data card users. One of the most interesting things covered was IMS, a technology platform for multimedia services, IMS could be something of a great white hope allowing operators to innovate more cheaply. For example push-to-talk services could be built on top of IMS.
Mobile Web 2.0
Tony Fish brought along the idea of Mobile Web 2.0 (site has Tony’s slides). Being a big Web 2.0 fan, I found this interesting. Fish quickly covered off the elements of Web 2.0, long tail, remixability, value of original data, etc, broke down Tim O’Reilly’s definition and referenced just about every company that has graced TechCrunch‘s pages, before proceeding to get to the interesting bit: how this affects mobile. The key thread was the long tail, he expects to see the mobile space transition from a small number of providers trying to create mass-market killer apps, to many small organisations creating thousands of niche apps. Currently, this raises the so-called “developer’s dilemma,” the network equipment, middleware, terminal equipment and service provision are disparate and hard for a single small developer to unite.
Some of the key principles of Mobile Web 2.0, on top of those that are accepted components of Normal Web 2.0:
- Pocketability, portability, passion
- Individual requirements (identity, location)
- Access (no one cares which platform, just that they have one)
The interesting part for me was the opportunities and ideas that Fish raised in conclusion. Private equity: users won’t be paying, following the Google model of bringing money raised in advertising to bear on previously safe revenue streams like access. Hijacking the phone: taking control of handsets, possibly going as far as replacing the entire handset OS, presumably with Linux et al. Not taking the web to mobile, but mobile creating value for the web. This point being especially relevant to us at Moblog and to the mobile thin client model. Finally communities, the critical success requirement of any 2.0 venture, be it web or mobile. Communities are niche groups joined by interests, not geography.
MVNO opportunities, a legal perspective
Thomas Wheadon from Simmons & Simmons addressed the process of becoming an MVNO. He covered the different risks and rewards for strict and loose MVNOs. Strict, like Virgin, use their own equipment, incurring considerable capital expenditure early on. The risks are high and the rewards not amazing. Loose MVNOs are just agents. The risks are less, there are still pitfalls, specifically in the areas of reliability and liability, but many of those are manageable if the potential MVNO has their eyes open. Wheadon also mentioned the relatively new phenomena of MVNEs — purely access providers. A quick list of MVNOs compiled from Wheadon’s talk and from Alan Moore includes Virgin, Disney, Tesco (just launching), P. Diddy and Kiss! Fertile ground indeed.
Vision and future of mobile services
The last speaker, Alan Moore, Technology Futurist at SMLXL and co-author of Communities Dominate Brands, was the most interesting in my opinion. Building on the themes of the democratisation of the mobile space touched on briefly by Chris Burke and covered in more depth by Tony Fish, Moore expanded on the shift in the nature of the audience for digital marketing and applictions.
Moore’s thesis is compelling. Digital brands are life-simplifying, life-enabling and navigational. Communities have transitioned from very fixed and rigid, created by state, religion, geography, to being very fluid and flexible, made up of highly-empowered individuals, individuals who the curators of the content they consume. The product-consumption machines of the post-war era have given way to individuals who value life and experience, self-determination, in the post-modern age. Internet, mobile and especially Web 2.0 fit the needs of those individuals better.
The traditional “cold” media, one way, built around persuasion, is being dominated by the very active, bi-directional “hot” media. Things like Pop Idol, the song by the winner of the Chinese Pop Idol was downloaded a billion times and she’s one of the very few fairly elected public figures there. Things like Jamie Oliver’s extended agitprop school dinners programmes and the redoubtable Ohmynews, the blogosphere, even World of Warcraft.
All this impacts on the interaction between brands and individuals in a fundamental way. Interactions shift from traditional persuasion to bi-directional and trust-based, as discussed by Glenn Urban and The Trust Imperative. Word of mouth becomes super-important, as seen in the Buzzmachine DellHell incident which was thoroughly analysed by Market Sentinel, Onalytica and Immediate Future PR. Some 49% of mobile buyers are influenced by word of mouth, research by Nokia revealed that the length of the buying process has shrunk incredibly from 6 weeks to 6 days. Quite possibly this can be attributed to the 24 hour nature of content in the new web, primetime is not a time of day, it’s a state of mind.
The 4 Cs of mobile, commerce, culture, connectivity, community, bring incredible results when mixed in the right measures. China’s Pop Idol success, the Artists First service allowing musicians to sell music direct from their sites, the Twins MVNO in Hong Kong: a service branded to the equivalent of the Spice Girls or something. Community is an incredibly powerful marketing tool when you identify and target the alpha users, the nodes in the network that will carry your message out to the edges most quickly. Moore had many more examples success stories, all of them interesting, but we ran out of time, so the last great thing he covered in depth was CyWorld, a mixture of Habbo Hotel and mobile blogging. CyWorld is Korea’s answer to MySpace, and it has more users. Visitors create rooms that represent themselves, forming part of a virtual space. They sell 100,000 songs a month just for use as background music.
Like Burke and Fish, Moore sees the operators as resting on their laurels. Robbie Williams sold 20% of tickets for a gig in Germany over mobiles — why aren’t there ticketing services? Why aren’t there health or education services? Why focus on access technologies when there are so many vertical opportunities? Tying back into ideas of the long tail of mobile applications.
The message of the day was there’s a coming shift in the mobile space, the accepted hierarchy is going to change, innovation has been stifled and huge profits soaked up. Chris Burke was most damning of his former employer, though equally of the other networks. Tony Fish began his talk by warning people that what he was about to say might include ideas the big players would not like. Many of the ideas raised by Fish and Moore are widely accepted in the blogosphere and the core community of innovators on the web (of which I count myself a fanboy), but whilst they’re relatively simple technical problems, they’re huge shifts in the way people do business. The labels attached to suits today bore both sides of the divide, Vodafone were just in front of me, I saw Orange on the way out. I hope those representatives took some food for thought away with them too.
So there you go, great event Tony! I’ve tried to be succinct without leaving too much out, let me know if you were there and heard something different :-).
You can see the pictures I took at the event on my Moblog, they’re a bit rubbish I’m afraid.