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Wrapup of the 6th Annual Global Mobility Roundtable

Nearly 150 researchers, academics and industry professionals from more than 15 countries gathered to discuss the factors that will drive the mobile market in the coming years. The Roundtable mixed workshops presenting recent academic research with panels of industry professionals reporting on their current strategies and challenges. Major themes arising out the sessions dealt with how to grow the demand for mobile data, how to manage the technology that will allow that growth and how to create business models that work for equipping the populations of less developed countries and emerging markets.

Leading Themes of the Academic Research Presentations
Researchers from the U.S., Sweden, U.K., Finland, Spain, New Zealand, Denmark, Greece, Germany and Egypt presented papers on a wide range of topics, including research on the challenges of mobile television and video in the U.S. and the U.K; Philadelphia's attempt to become the first Wi-Fi-enabled city; cross cultural comparisons of mobile data usage in the U.S., Korea, Japan, and Greece; the future of mobile commerce; the emerging markets of India, China. Egypt, and Africa; social networking on mobile networks; and others. View complete Conference Agenda here.

Summaries of some research sessions are:

Lessons from the WIMAX/ Muni-Wi-Fi Experience in Philadelphia and L.A. - The session reviewed Philly's efforts to become the first Wi-Fi-enabled city in the country providing universal access. However, the research raised to the surface questions about which financing and ownership model is best - public, private, or shared hybrid - as well as whether the lofty goals of complete digital inclusiveness for a city's population are worth the costs when other social needs are pressing and computer literacy may not be adequate to create the usage needed. More details.

Accessing Content: Walled Garden or Open Fields - This session explored the future of digital content. Speakers addressed how the complexity of platforms and features determine the success of drawing users to content, how context and culture play a role in the level of user interest in mobile TV/video, and what models of payment - subscription vs. free content with advertising vs. embedded product advertising within the content - may work in the future. More details.

Cross Cultural Comparisons of Mobile Users: Worldwide Mobile Data Services Study - This session reported on a standardized web-based research project to measure mobile data usage across many countries. Researchers presented results from surveys conducted in Greece, U.S., Korea, Japan and Taiwan to assess adoption of mobile phones in four categories of services: commerce, communication, information and entertainment. Results varied around the globe, but generally confirm slow adoption of data uses.More details.

Emerging Markets: Offering Services beyond the Home Market - This session reported research on the growth of cellular phone use in India, China, and Africa, as well as the results of a pilot study to develop a low cost SMS system in South Africa and two public-private projects to provide cellular service in the developing world. Some of the results indicated interesting linkages between the proportion of fixed phones in a less developed country (LDC) and the growth of mobile (more fixed phones equals greater growth of mobile) and the degree of competition with mobile growth (more than 3 competitors tends to reduce mobile growth). A vision of the future predicts $10 mobile phones to serve the 3 billion out of 6.7 billion people in the world who live in rural populations.More details.

View Research Session PowerPoints

Mobile Television: Challenges of advanced service design
User Perspectives on Mobile Data Services
Mobile Advertising Models
Strategies for Stakeholders involved in the Emerging Wireless Broadband Networks
Investigating Factors Affecting Actual Usage Patterns of Mobile Data Services
Taiwan's Mobile Data Services User: Survey Results 2007
Customer Transitions in Adopting Mobile Data Services: A Survey Analysis comparing Korean and Japanese Users
The Adoption of Mobile Phones in Emerging Markets-Global Diffusion and the Rural Challenge
Public Private Partnerships and the Prospects for Sustainable ICT Projects in the Developing World
Socioeconomic Implications of Mobile Technology on Emerging Markets - The Case of Egypt

Leading Themes of the Industry Sesssions
Industry-oriented speeches and panel discussions of the conference focused extensively on discussing and identifying opportunities for deriving greater revenue growth. With 80 to 120 percent penetration of voice in the U.S., the challenges of building consumer buy-in to mobile data, licensing or creating content and potential killer apps, as well as determining the right revenue models to suit the public's pocketbook (a willingness to tolerate $30-$40 per month for broadband but only $5-$20 month for mobile data.) filled the discussions. Technical issues about bandwidth, seamless roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi hotspots and consumer acceptance of 3G compared to fiber at home were also hot topics.

Two primary themes arose over the sessions. First, OEM's, carriers and content providers must better analyze and understand what will drive U.S. customers to use their mobile equipment for more than just voice and SMS texting. Compared to Japan and Korea, for example, American consumers have been slow to adopt add-on functionality such as gaming, video and television. Causes for the delay in adopting add-on services are unclear, with problems like equipment design, confusing interfaces, the slow move to 3G, as well as a lack of relevant and useful content that consumers actually want.

The second theme was that mobile technology offers powerful capability as an interactive community builder. Given that mobile units also serve as GPS sensors, they automatically offer beneficial (and non-political) opportunities to monitor a user's whereabouts, availability, addressability, and real time needs and interests. These features can be exploited to allow people new ways to network, to share experiences, and to be profiled as well as to self-profile.

Most importantly, users will become their own content suppliers, as the mobile equipment gives them the ability to photograph and make videos to share with family, cohorts, and the entire global mobile world. This capability will also alter the nature of advertising, enabling real-time targeted ads and user-generated buzz that may even supersede formal traditional channels of advertising.

Read highlights of the key note talks, the plenary sessions:
Coming into a Mobile World, keynote by Jean-Marc Frangos
Mobilizing Digital Hollywood, panel discussion with five Hollywood VPs
Carriers and OEMs Weigh in on Niches, panel discussion with three senior executives
Context, Content and Community, keynote talk by Marc Davis, Yahoo!
Disruptions in the Value Chain, panel discussion by three niche content providers
7th Global Mobility Roundtable in Auckland, New Zealand, November 2008

Coming into a Mobile World
Jean-Marc Frangos, Sr. Vice President, Technology and innovation with the BT Group discussed an increasing convergence between fixed and mobile, making it seamless for users to move between cellular and non-cellular networks. Recognizing that "this is not such an easy task to do," he nevertheless predicted increasing transparency, for example, between cellular and Wi-Fi, effectively creating unified communications that allow for greater fluidity.

Mr. Frangos' portrayed a vision of the future wherein mobile technology capitalizes on its inherent capability to detect the presence of users, allowing for real time detection of users' availability, how addressive they are, and what type of information they may need based on location. Jean-Marc also foresees more and more features that will drive the U.S. market and heighten user experiences, including:
books created to read on handsets
tourist guides with cached information stored on handset
smart music players that assemble music for you on the fly based on profiling
handsets becoming keys to enter buildings
handsets as portable wallets
handsets acting as personal notebooks
personalized mobile "home pages" that are mosaics of information, transforming information-centered web pages to interest-driven pages

Jean-Marc presented a positive and optimistic perspective of a growing market eager to buy into a new world of mobile with the right mix of technology and innovative thinking that captures and captivates users.

Mobilizing Digital Hollywood - Maybe?
Taking advantage of the conference venue being in Los Angeles surrounded by creative industries, Friday's plenary session featured VPs from five major Hollywood studios (Mark Young from Disney, Neil McGinness from IMG, Derek Broes of Paramount; Bill Sanders from Sony; Christopher Brunner of Univision, with panel moderator Levi Shapiro from Telephia). The panelists discussed Hollywood's vision of how their content will transfer to the global digital world.

Noting that the U.S. cellular market has a current penetration rate of just 3% for video downloads and 7% for games (compared to 30% in Korea for video), the Big Question for the panelists was: what is Hollywood doing to participate in, if not drive, the digital mobile market? The answers were diverse, reflecting each studio's specific strategic priorities, ranging from selling video clips of memorable movie lines that users will embrace to express themselves, to having regularly scheduled cellular TV shows, to a version of a family center and family programming on cellular, to dividing TV content into short bursts for "snack" viewing during the day.

Discussions and audience questions danced around whether Hollywood will indeed be able to come up with a winning formula to convey their content into the digital mobile world. Panelists talked about such problems as confusing and poorly designed user interfaces on cellular equipment, the lack of "pause" buttons on cell phones, the costs of downloading content, and the challenge of negotiating deals that fit Hollywood's usual licensing models. Attendees questioned whether Hollywood continues to demand license fees far too high relative to the billions that carriers have invested to build the digital mobile infrastructure. Suggestions were made for Hollywood to think 9% rather than 50%.

Will Hollywood come around? While no deals were struck, the discussion appeared to confirm that the studios have every intent to be Big players in providing content and new forms of entertainment for the mobile market, though many attendees (as well as several of the concurrent workshops during the conference) are betting that smaller niche-oriented creative companies will be among the first to develop and popularize new forms of entertainment to draw consumers into mobile data.

Carriers and OEMs Weigh in on Niches
Saturday's plenary session continued the exploration of niche markets, from the point of view of several leading carriers and an OEM. Bruce Hawver, Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development for Motorola discussed the company's successes in Japan, attributing them to the deployment of a standardized network, cheaper costs of getting data to handsets and productive channels of distribution. Bruce foresees the largest growth coming from the prosumer and enterprise segments rather than from the consumer segment of the market, as business people and corporations seek to maximize their productivity through more and better mobile applications aimed at their business needs, such as CRM, travel, and reporting.

Joe Jasin, VP of Corporate Development at SK Telecom, which controls 50 % of the Korean cellular market presented a veritable plethora of subsidiaries operated by SK that aim to tap into the multiplicity of niche aftermarkets, from wireless portals to ringtones to community facilitating sites accessed over cellular, to its new U.S. carrier Helio which is targeting 18-35 year olds with super-sexy, trendy features and benefits and a link to My Space.

Francois Thenoz, Director of Strategic Marketing for French telecom Orange, which operates in 123 countries with 160 million customers, presented his company's vision of the "wirefree" world, and spoke to what he sees as "real potential" in music, TV, and video. Typically French, he cautioned for patience and a long-term view of the future (rather than the usual American short-term perspective), so that launching new endeavors is done with the realistic expectations. He foresees growth for mobile carriers in new methods to discover and access content, offering flexibility to users, personalization of the experience, and the sharing of information among users.

Context, Content and Community
Saturday's luncheon Capstone speaker, Marc Davis, Founding Director of Yahoo! Research, rallied the entire conference with a masterful talk on how mobile technology opens up a new world of user-generated content and opportunities for community building. As every user of a cell phone becomes a photographer, videographer, and information contributor, digital mobile communications becomes a social media, that is, media by and for users in their communities. Once this is recognized, says Davis, it offers a new business model, an "ecosystem of participation," in which customers are also suppliers and advertising becomes a system in which people participate in the marketing messages to be delivered.

One concrete result of Davis' research and philosophy is already taking form in a database of 20 million photos from around the world taken by volunteers that fuels the Yahoo service called Flickr. The service will eventually feed global travelers ideas and captions for the photos they take with their mobile phones since their location can be pinpointed with its GPS sensors. Adjunct services are then easily added, ranging from local restaurant and bar info, and all the obvious tie-ins.

Most important in Davis' vision of global communications is the effects that digital mobility can have on community. As users become enthusiasts, remixers, producers and consumers of data, they will increasingly generate their own content, define their own context, and create their own digital mobile communities. Davis foresees a new era of user-generated and user-driven content that changes the global eco-system of information.

Disruptions in the Value Chain
In this panel discussion, representatives of so-called disruptors of the value-chain spoke. Panelists included three niche producers of content. Frank Chindamo, CEO of FunLittleMovies reviewed a few of his company's award-winning cell phone shorts and his strategy to train screenwriters at USC to create blockbuster 60-second screenplays that will blow the Pirates of the Caribbean away. Jeff Freebairn, CEO of Big G Mobile, showed off his new tools, one which allows users to send any web page to a mobile device and the other than allows any content provider to easily upload content to a central clearinghouse for user download to mobile phones. James Spahn of CELL, Inc. talked extensively about his company's work with Flash templates for mobiles that make it easy to create and share content. The panelists had optimistic views of how far they can take their companies and predicted more like them will be on the horizon.

The WIMAX/Muni -Wi-Fi Experience in Philadelphia and L.A. - In this session, Youngjin Yoo of Temple University reported on Philadelphia's effort begun in 2004 to be the first city with total Wi-Fi coverage. Originally planned as a publicly funded venture, Earthlink convinced city officials to operate it as a business, intending to charge $10/month for the underprivileged, $22 for everyone else. The end result is that, to date, results are less than stellar. With one base station on a city lamp post every 1000 feet, the system still doesn't yet cover the entire city. Critics question the use of city funds when residents have other priorities. Advocates of low-income groups admit their populations often don't have the literacy to even use computers. Other panelists in the session surfaced that ongoing problems may plague cities attempting to imitate Philly, including installing technology that is ultimately too slow compared to cable modem and fiber optics. Despite Philly's four well-intentioned goals to be digitally inclusive, to facilitate tourism, to assist small business development and to bring e-government into the 21st century, the session concluded that the socio-political forces driving municipal Wi-Fi-WIMAX efforts may continue to encounter problems. See additional reporting on this presentation in professor and business consultant Joel West's blog.

Accessing Content: Walled Garden or Open Fields
Given the big question -- Will users migrate to watching TV and video on cell phones -- this session explored whether the future will be determined by open or closed content. Johannes Bauer presented research into the complexity of platforms and how the triumvirate of technology - policy - economics dynamically affect the growth and costs of new products / services. Social factors also play a role, including how work is organized, how much free time people have to devote to their mobile experience, and cultural attitudes (do they want everything fast or not?). David Tilson spoke about the cultural differences in TV viewing habits between U.S. and U.K, (snack watching vs. meals) and in user preferences for TV as a large viewing experience vs. TV as a private personal experience. Sanjay Pothen, CEO of Pliq, USA, presented his view that users are not going to pay for content, and thus the best approach is free service funded by advertising through either banner ads, pre- or post- roll ads, or embedded product placement (his preference). Sanjay's vision is for 2-minute "mobisodes" that appeal to Gen Y's desire to be engaged with content throughout the day and their tolerance for advertising.

Cross Cultural Comparisons of Mobile Users: Worldwide Mobile Data Services Study - This session is a based on research being conducted by a consortium of researchers from 13 countries (Canada, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Sweden, China, Malaysia, Australia, USA, and Denmark) to measure mobile use in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Surveys have been conducted in most of these countries for six years and the session presented comparative results for the 2006 surveys. The goals of the survey are to provide more comparable data about mobile users than is currently available, to analyze user behavior across diverse markets, and to illuminate the situations and uses of mobile services that users find compelling. Results varied according to geographic and cultural factors, but in general, data usage is low in nearly every country other than Korea and Japan. Click to view the PowerPoint, User Perspectives on Mobile Data Services.

For further information on the study, contact Elizabeth Fife.

Emerging Markets: Offering Services beyond the Home Market - Carriers are looking to expand in the world's emerging markets. The session reported that China is only 35% mobile, with 5 million new subscribers per month, while India is only 13.2% mobile, with 7 million new subscribers per month. Kas Kalba reported on research indicating that higher levels of fixed phones in a country drives mobile adoption, because people have familiarity with phones, fixed lines drive communications traffic, the fixed network acts as a backbone and regulatory procedures are already in place. His research also indicated that low income populations largely use prepaid services rather than subscriptions because it suits their irregular cash flow. He also showed data indicating that more than 3 competitors in a country tends to fragment the market and cause user confusion and churning. He notes that future challenge will be to supply rural areas with mobile technology at reasonable costs, with 1 billion people in the world who have never held a phone. Sherif Kamel of American University in Cairo reported on the growth of the Egyptian market as dependent on jobs. Challenges in Egypt include remote locations and low acceptance of credit card transactions. For South Africa, Stuart Warden reported how mobile phones help large populations of transplanted workers perform mobile banking transactions to transfer money back to their families. Laura Hosman and Elizabeth Fife of USC reported on the results of their pilot project to create a public-private partnership using USAid to two rural areas in Vietnam, indicating that having a facilitator to help work through the public-private partnership can make things work. View their PowerPoint, Public Private Partnerships and the Prospects for Sustainable ICT Projects in the Developing World.

7th Global Mobility Roundtable
The next Roundtable will be held in Auckland, New Zealand, on November 24-25, 2008. Details will be available shortly on the call for papers, schedules, venue, and travel arrangements. Please contact Ananth Srinivasan of the University of Auckland Business School to receive information about the next GMR as it becomes available.

Click here for a brief preview of the 7th Annual 2008 Global Mobility Roundtable

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