Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Challenges faced by the Operators and Mobile Developer Community by Umar Akram

I was approached this week by Danish entrepreneur Umar Akram (see pic) from Mobile Weaver ApS to publish his article which is a discussion about the challenges faced by mobile operators and mobile developers with a call for a unifying standards body for mobile development to ease those challenges.

It seemed like an interesting enough topic to publish, and as I'm not a developer myself, I'd really welcome your thoughts and comments on what Umar has to say and whether or not you agree. Do we need a unifying body? Do any of the industry associations cover any of this off? Where do the W3C standards fit in to this? I'll let Umar take it from here.

"The revenue generated from voice is clearly diminishing with every passing day, forcing the operators to explore new areas of growth through continuous innovation in technologies and services. Recently I had an opportunity to attend a Vodafone D2C strategy briefing which brought out Vodafone initiative for the next three years. During this briefing Vodafone significantly highlighted the fact that despite the anticipated consolidation by European operators, the operators should focus on services other than the traditional voice based services so that they can generate greater revenue for themselves.

In the fast moving competitive market of Europe, operators are not only facing the challenge of competing with low cost MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) but are also continuously struggling to retain their existing subscribers. Besides few exceptions, many operators in Asia and other developing countries have still not been able to implement long term data services strategy, with the result their mobile play is still primarily focused on voice.

As the ARPU (average revenue per user) on voice continues to decrease, data has become the most dominant factor for operators in retaining and attracting the customers. The key factors which have complemented the growth of data services in developed countries are the increasing capabilities of mobile phones, faster networks like 3G and mobile applications that bring a rich user experience by changing the way people live, work and play.

With the changing trends, operators are now expecting their revenues to grow, as the subscriber’s appetite for content has increased. They are always on a look out for a “killer application” that can easily become popular among the subscribers and thus create brand loyalty for them. But from the mobile content developer’s perspective it’s not a simple task to come up with such an application.

The major challenge highlighted at the Google’s Open Source discussion event was the absence of standards for the developers in the industry. Optimizing these applications for different OS and broad range of mobile devices with varying screen sizes and versions remains the biggest problem for the mobile content developers. Even if the portability issues are resolved, distribution still remains a big challenge for the developers. It is the dream of every mobile content developer to get their content distributed through an operator. But the unending list of pre requisites on various issues of portability, certification and in some cases localization can turn this dream into a complete night mare.

The explosive growth in mobile content has transformed it into the buzzword of every article, publication and news around us. A new report issued by market intelligence firm iSuppli forecasts that the market for premium mobile content will exceed $44 billion by 2011, more than doubling the $20 million anticipated for 2007. The major driving force for the mobile content developer is to get an easy access to the information and APIs (application programming interface) which are held confidential by the OEMs and OS providers of mobile devices.

There should be one organization that can set guidelines and standards for content development by consulting all the stake holders in the value chain. This will facilitate the developers to focus only on the core issue, which is to develop applications for the consumers that can add value in their lives. This thing is not as simple as it seems.

Due to various political, economical and competitive landscape constraints, it’s very hard to unite all the stakeholders in one place and develop standards for content developers globally. Otherwise we can rightly say that lack of standards will remain the biggest hurdle for the content developer community."

This article is written by Umar Akram, a Danish entrepreneur who focuses on mobile and internet services. Umar is the founder and Vice President of Mobile Weaver ApS and is currently serving as the member of the board. Youpark, a flagship product of Mobile Weaver, is an online storefront that provides mobile users with over 12,000 best selling mobile software and games suitable for wide range of popular devices.