Friday, March 28, 2008

Flixwagon: A shooting star? (Phones to replace camcorders?)

Overnight it seems like a new mobile video startup, Flixwagon, had managed to grab a lot of attention. Uplink live video for the community is a real interesting cool proposition. They also seem to have relations in the right places, from VCs to a S60 dude filming his own wedding.

I have my own thoughts on community uplink mobile video. What is the implication for
users and for operators?
(Flixwagon help:) "Since the Flixwagon mobile application uses the internet to broadcast videos, we recommend that users upgrade their mobile plans to unlimited internet access. On average, a minute of broadcast uses up around 1Mb of your data plan. With unlimited access, users will not incur any minute-by-minute charges associated with mobile internet usage."

That's actually great for operators, drives people straight into the stores to get data plans. Finally an application that people want that requires data. No more "operator pushed" data plans. That's smart.

What do operators have for data in their stores?
Vodafone UK will give you monthly 120MB for 7.50 pounds or for 1 pound/day for casual use you'll get up to 15MB. You'll find this "unlimited with fair use" policy everywhere.
Sprint, a good representative of the new US "Simply everything" set of plans from operators, will give you for $99/month "unlimited data", with the small print "Service is not available to use as modem, ..., other systems that drive continuous heavy traffic or data sessions". W/o a data plan, Sprint data will cost you 3c/kB.

So imagine these guys want to go way beyond YouTube (As you have a cell phone in your povket always, whereas PC cam is...well...connected to a PC). Here's some YouTube stats:
200K video uploads daily. Average Video Length slightly below 3 minutes. Average Age of Uploader: 26.57. That's clearly going to change.

Back-of-envelope math: that's 200k*3*1MB/min = 0.6TB of data/day uplink.
... 0.6TB/day...

here's an interesting quote: "YouTube videos take up an estimated 45 terabytes of storage - about 5,000 home computers' worth - and require several million dollars' worth of bandwidth a month to transmit."

Remember how the introduction of iPhone brought AT&T data network to its knees? I wonder what would this do to the operators, technology-wise and commercially.

I think these guys have got their technology and commercial work cut out for them. Good luck to them!

If you're into weddings, watch the video here

Now all that's left is for someone to step on and play the broker between all these feeds and the news, sports, entertainment channels...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

D2C mobile content: Consumers obtain content from various sources (ABI Research)

D2C mobile content
Just as I was answering a LinkedIn question: "What will it take to create a significant revenue stream from advertising supported products and services on mobile phones and mobile services in a market that is fragmented and tightly controlled by mobile operators?" with the straight answer, Direct to consumer content and services, led by big brands who want to get closer to their audience will drive operator rev share deals, I came to read this post on ABI research's report.

ABI research ran a consumer survey and found pretty compelling D2C findings:
"today’s mobile consumer is more likely to watch a video from YouTube on his or her phone than a video from the carrier’s own service, but is more than twice as likely to get ringtones from the carrier than from any other source."
"(ABI's Michael Wolf:)...despite the strong control most carriers retain over the network, their control over the mobile content ecosystem remains limited. The consumer will see more and more options for obtaining rich media in the future."

Here's several interesting numbers:
  • Video consumption (13% of all survey)
    • YouTube 35%
    • Operator 31%
    • Other 24%
  • Music
    • Sideloaded 48% (Don't ignore the big P2P elephant in the room!)
    • Operator 35%
"We expect to see increased content acquisition directly to the phone from the Web. And despite a loosening of control over content delivery to consumers, we believe the carriers will ultimately benefit as they open up their networks and handset platforms and look into taking advantage of increased advertising-supported content delivery.

Wow. I could not have said it better.

Couple of my observations on the numbers above:
  • YouTube 35%, Operator 31%: That's very compelling. I heard UK kids are hooked on YouTube on mobile, but didn't realize it was now and that big. I relate the video story being bigger success D2C than it is on-deck in that operators can best leverage the introduction of video to let D2C players sweat it, while they harvest the rev share and data plans, and increase user satisfaction on their network
  • Music stats
    • Don't ignore the P2P elephant: 48% sideloading music from you-know-where is not something one can ignore and pretend its going to go away. I don't even think legislation can make P2P go away but some think so. No, I think we're looking at a vanishing consumer wallet and people will not pay (much, if anything) for music. We need to figure out alternative revenue channels for the operator, content owner, retailer etc.
    • Operator 35% means that there's not a huge D2C music play. why? probably because on deck music was first before anyone thought D2C and the operators are heavily promoting their stores. But I think that's going away: operators are beginning to feel the tiny margins grinding them and they will reverse the model. Instead of managing the store themselves (very costly), they will endorse 2-3 D2C players for their "on deck recommendations", allow D2C to happen on their network and harvest the rev share+data plans.

Anyway, I found this ABI research summary very encouraging. Interested in your thoughts.

As a side note, you may know Groove Mobile sold to LiveWire earlier this week. One outcome is that I'm on the market. Feel free to contact me if you have any needs for a wireless guy. I know something about lots of things (codes, content, D2C, LBS,...) and can make coffee :-)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Vision meets Practicality

Vision meets Practicality; Image Courtesy FlickrRecently I've heard of quite a few mobile startups who decided to be practical about their strategy. Got me thinking of how far do you go believing in a future vision vs. solving a "today" problem.

More and more startups are saying client applications are difficult (dev, QA, distribute, make people aware and use), and so is mobile web. In that kind of environment, why bang your head against the wall? why not use existing well known channels (voice+SMS) to provide the offering? here are a couple of examples:
  • Mobivox (BTW, Thanks Nitzan for the good talk you gave this W/E) are saying: mobile Skype is difficult. Let's create a mobile voice portal, where people can dial a number to call their friends, email or text, search, shop,...
  • Kadoink are into experiencing music predominantly using a voice call?
  • Padpaw are facilitating small social groups using SMS
  • and Locamoda are saying location oriented interaction could be done in front of an electronic display over SMS
So I think its an interesting trend, which could very well take off and make these guys a lot of money (it better be given the $$ VC put into it). And it's very practical, can't argue with that.

My dilemma as a wireless geek, if you will, is where does that leave the technology, the industry and the consumer.
On one hand it can't be good. Take Mobivox solution for example. A voice portal vision begs the question why do we need WAP portals at all? If they figured out people would rather call a number to search then go to Google's WAP, then that's a very serious point to consider. If people rather make a local call to make a long distance call cheaper, then it begs the question what happened to the hyped "presence (your friend status change) will drive increased traffic"? Reality check: Presence did not take off, nor did IMS, and possibly will never take off. Especially if there's no more business drive behind it.
Why sweat IMS (as example) if nobody cares?

On the other hand it's not so bad news. The "workaround" (sorry if blunt) that uses existing known methods to achieve a functionality could in fact drive the awareness needed to make the case for the "appropriate" solution. For example, some will remember 4-5 years ago there was a discussion of IP vs. CS PoC and IM. Everybody was thinking IP was the way to go. heck, we're talking all-IP networks right? Kodiak's CS solution was treated as the black sheep. well guess whose solution is making strides today. But if users get hooked on PoC, this could eventually drive investment in IP-based PoC.

Anyway, interested in your thoughts re making the "visionary" vs. "practical" strategy direction isn't obvious.

Will D2C drive mass market content consumption?

Interesting discussion this week over Sue Marek's (from Fierce Wireless) post re D2C (gloomy?) likelihood to drive mobile content revenues:

"(re Motricity)...In its place is a more realistic view of the mobile content marketplace and an acknowledgment that you can't be all things to all people. With that in mind, the company is getting out of the direct-to-consumer business...I think it's time for mobile content firms to take a realistic look at the market and understand what's working and what isn't. It's time to stop investing in things that aren't working (direct to consumer) and focus on the basics."

Is it?

I agree that there are a pile of challenges standing in front of mobile content as a whole, add some that mount on as one goes D2C, and yet, I argue that if any channel is going to become mainstream for mobile content, it is going to be D2C.

It is going to be D2C because of two main reasons:
  • Technology challenges are going away, opening the playground for big players: sure, there's UI issues, HW (where's my headset?) issue, battery, bandwidth, usability etc etc. but the bottom line is that iPhone UI-likes are here and coming, networks bandwidth is getting better, the recognition that the everyone should be allowed to publish, promote and bill (where appropriate) for their content is there. That means that web-traditional concepts like CPM, CTR and such, analytics etc., are all enabling traditional web (big) players to view mobile as a natural additional channel to have direct relationships with their audience. Mobile is attractive for brands, fan clubs etc.
  • The D2C commercial model makes sense (or otherwise, the current one doesn't)
    • Big players can join the game: Brands, artists, fan clubs: To them, mobile now can become just another channel of promoting their brand, product or service. They spend marketing $ cross carrier anyway, right?. they now have the ability to offer content or services to 100% of the addressable audience (vs. from one operator's deck, addressing 20% at best). They fully independently control the experience, do CRM, support, bill etc. It's a no brainer to strap a mobile channel to existing other channels.
    • Operators: Operators aren't content retailers: they are content enablers. For operators (IMO), the model where they have to fund development for a tailored solution, then they have to spend the marketing, that does not work. The model that would work is referring selected retailers per content type from their deck, and taking a rev share on that content sold on their network. The additional upside is that bigger players will want to become in that on-deck list of recommended D2C retailers, who will spend cross-network marketing $$ anyway.
Last, I want to introduce another comment here. the traditional on deck model is limited also in the type of content and services that operators will license, introduce, market and support. D2C is the way to enable UGC or independant content, they type of content that will bring surprising consumption behaviors.

Interested in comments...I think D2C is new and not easy, but we'll get there, it will take some vision.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


PayForIt, the new payment service, supported by all licensed UK mobile operators, designed to make it easy to pay for low cost services on the mobile phoneRecently I had a chance to gt more familiar with PayForIt, "...the new payment service, supported by all licensed UK mobile operators, designed to make it easy to pay for low cost services on the mobile phone."

Also as an introduction I'll say, couple months ago in Boston TiE Wireless meeting on the subject of Mobile payments, I was thinking "why are US startups reinventing the wheel when there's a live, successful reference across the pond?"

To the benefit of PayForIt I'll say it's a game changing cross carrier play. And everything cross-carrier, IMO, is good. PayForIt specifically allows ANY retailer, small as large, to bill for their content: Brands, bands, artists, developers,.... Awesome.
It's pretty thought through and good UI:
(Source) "PayForIt has almost completely eradicated failed transactions, says Bango research."

Complements done, one fundamental gap is the following (check out the latest scheme rules Section R1.5.1):
"all mobile screens presented to the consumer by Accredited Payment Intermediaries"


Consumers visit the retailer page, discover content, then being handed over to this "Accredited Payment Intermediaries" page to pay, and then, well, hopefully, are redirected back to to redeem their paid content.

PayForIt Flow; Image Courtesy MX TelecomImage courtesy: MXTelecom

I have two reservations with this model:
  • Technical: While this may have been an acceptable model in the internet, it is (IMO) unacceptable in the mobile web. What if you enter a tunnel as you just got charged? who knows you paid? does the retailer have an idea you paid? can you redeem the content you just paid for? this has clearly not been thought through
  • Commercial: This is just asking for a brawl over who owns the customer for support (the retailer, obviously) or for marketing (Oh, now that's different: I can see the operator, billing vendor, retailer and content owner having a blast over this)
Now I can see why the operators and the "Accredited Payment Intermediaries" would put this in place to save them the cheerful chore of trying to police what's happening on their network. I also acknowledge their past bad experience with retailers who offered content with dodgy small print terms.

But there's some sense to be put in as well. The billing transaction could have been completed just as well through a billing web service backend API, and the operators/billing vendors can have alternative ways to police what's presented and enable billing only after their approval.

Handing over the consumer for billing is a bad idea and calls for trouble. The retailer should own the experience end-to-end.

At BosMoCamp

"After skype" talk, iPhone, location, advertising and much more...this is awsome.
Thanks Keith for putting together
Sent Wirelessly

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mobile Camp Boston March 15th (this W/E)

Mobile BarCamp Boston

Boston's having it's first (I think) mocamp lead by Keith Erskine (good on ya m8!) of Padpaw.
I've been a bit snowed under to promote it at this late stage (and poss its sold out) but still a good chance to complement Keith on the initiative.

I still think mobile people sadly need to consider relo west to find good opportunities but let's make the best of it. (Happy to be proven otherwise)

Looking forward to it!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Interesting pic

This one's from Guy Kawasaki's Blog...part of his post about a brilliant Green Building at Stanford Just As Smart As People It Houses.

Apologies for selecting this picture of all...not sure how and why but it matches well how I feel today.

Mobile Content and data thoughts

The Rise of the 3G dongle over WiFiBeen reading today from a couple of corners in my Google Reader about mobile content and data.

The first piece talks about Wi-Fi seems to be loosing to mobile broadband:
My old friend the pondering primate has a piece on Hotspots being phased out and Ericsson predicts demise of hotspots in favor of mobile broadband.
Everywhere you go, if you're lucky, you may find a hotspot, and even if you did, they will charge the heck out of you. Good 20pound/day in any London hotel. Then you think: let's hook with a network. Think again: the Boingos ("Monthly Flat Rate wifi plans for frequent travellers") of the world may have sensible roaming agreements (but not in your hotel haha) but wherever you may end's a "premium location" (who cares?) hence an additional $0.12/minute. Has anyone heard of Ad supported???
No. Wifi is complex, it doesn't have decent coverage and is a total steal.

This goes well with the next piece, which is that people had figured out it makes more sense to get 'em 3G dongles: Last week 18K 3G dongles were sold in the UK (50% of that from 3: good on ya!). Here's some more.
You know why they sold? because it's reliable, it's predictable and it's everywhere. It's because even EU roaming charges will become reasonable one day.

The interesting bit about this is that it's another indication that people are thirsty to mobile data: services and content.

Which is why I found this last piece from today's reading interesting: "Carrier executives: Mobile data revenues in trouble".

Check this out:
"flat-rate mobile data tariffs will lead to usage increasing at a far greater rate than operator revenues. This shift will demand the cost of providing mobile data connectivity be driven down if they were to continue to make money."

"usage increasing at a far greater rate than operator revenues...": uh...hello? sorry a bit stunned here.

I recall reading that the operator investment in advanced IP infrastructure was unjustified because the data based services/content takeup was insignificant (in fact yesterday one of the fierce commentary was talking about "why go to 4G") and now the usage increase is an issue?!

Usage increase is a blessing dudes! you should be blessed to see the usage increase! more content, more services and more consumptions all play very nicely into the operators' 40-60% rev share on consumed content. Even the "flat rate" plans are defined as "fare use".

"It is only a matter of time before we lose all profitability on mobile data" said T-Mobile CEO...well I think something's really messed up if finally users access content and T-Mobile can't make money.

Vodafone's Picture Physical World Connection

If you've been reading my blog you know that I've been working on code scanning and I believe in that technology as one novel solution to genuine handset usability problem. (BTW, Digit Wireless is recently is making a comeback from a couple quiet years with a new CEO)

People on the go are getting the value of retrieving information or content through their phones by scanning codes (esp. in UK), taking pictures of products etc.

That said, I see codes as a cumbersome geeky solution. too difficult, too many formats fragmenting the market, technologies etc. client development, QA and distribution challenges...

Either way, I won't argue the point of taking a picture of the product vs. a code next to it here (people will rightfully argue the probability of getting to the content one wants is not acceptable other than through code scanning), but I do want to say this:

Take a phone, take a picture of the product you're interested in, send it to a good correlation algorithm, use Google's infinite DB of images, send the user an interesting URL back.

That's an interesting proposition. And Vodafone's just launched it. Perhaps not the best performance, but good on them to get going.

This fits right into the Google's marketing expertise. They should be interested in this

How to save money running a startup (17 really good tips)

Check out this excellent post by Jason Calanis:

The reason I thought this was really good is b/c it promotes the human factor (and others affecting it), trims the rest.

Excellent post Jason.