Allegedly, this morning Microsoft will announce it will buy Skype for $8.5bn. It is Microsoft’s largest investment into the digital realm so far (and a nice cash-out for the people who bailed Skype out from eBay a while ago; the valuation at the time apparently was put at $2.75bn). Besides these being big numbers (and allowing Skype not having to worry about an IPO anymore), this opens an opportunity for a new kind of animal in the communications corner of things. And here is why:
Microsoft is legendarily late to the party when it came to smartphones. Their Windows Phone 7 OS was labelled as too little too late although it received positive reviews on the merits. Then it struck a much discussed deal with Nokia, the ailing (former?) phone giant to ship its phones with WP7. So, if we add Skype, will this create the torso of a new type of communication service? Think Nokia handset + Windows Phone 7 + Skype = mobile VoIP on a large scale.
Did we forget an ingredient though? Ah, bandwidth. Hm… Skype is understandably much maligned by most carriers (with the notable exception of Three) as it shifts revenues from (high-margin) voice to (lower-margin) data. With most carriers struggling under the increased network loads higher-end smartphones consume in terms of data, a discussion started recently about contributions for such data throughput. Now, a lot of the larger carriers are multi-play animals: be it Verizon, Vodafone, France Telekom/Orange, Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile, Telstra, etc, etc, they all provide both mobile networks as well as fixed-line broadband. It will hence be not that easy to just walk around them and “just make it so”.
Many people have talked about the ubiquity of WiFi hotspots and such like in many areas but I would humbly suggest that this is daydreaming rather than a robust basis for a truly ubiquitous device such as a mobile phone just yet (and it perhaps never will). The future would seem to lie in mobile networks rather than fixed-line anyhow (LTE and all), which means that there will need to be some sort of rapport between vendors and service providers (such as Nokia/Microsoft/Skype) and carriers, and even mighty Nokia has already lost a fight over Skype in the past (see also here). Likewise, Google had come out with lofty promises as to carrier integration and has failed miserably to deliver the goods so far (carrier billing on Android Market anyone?).
So voices that hail the arrival of a new era might well be a little premature. Now, given that Microsoft can work with Skype on the desktop side of things as well will ease the transition significantly. However, the be-all-end-all solution it is not, at least not yet. And if Microsoft and Nokia can deliver remains to be seen, too, I guess.
Back to work then…
The all-the-rage iPhone (can someone please come up with a worthy competitor, please, so we have other things to talk about, too?) is said to be increasingly the businessman’s (and woman’s!) phone of choice. Satisfaction rates outstrip Blackberry and anyone else out there competing…
I am not sure how it is elsewhere but in the UK where O2 holds the reigns on the iPhone, it appears that this might only be true for the ones that work for very generous employers (or those whose IT departments are not very cost-conscious) or that have only domestic businesses to pursue. Because when one attempts to make one’s iPhone travel-proof (and, remember, the data usage is what makes it such a delight!), you get somewhat of a rough awakening: transferring your all-you-can-eat data plan to international territories, fail. No such thing. No can do. The only thing one can do is buy a data packet of either 10MB (for £20) or 30MB (for £50). And this even though I am on one of the dearer packages on offer.
Now, would I own a Nokia N-97 with a Vodafone contract, I would roam as freely as a bird (well, they don’t actually say anything about data roaming…)! If I would be on a Blackberry Enterprise package (on O2!), it costs £20 to extend to international roaming. No worries about data consumption. Keep the e-mails flowing… Anything like that for the iPhone? Nope…
As a customer, I say: shame on you, O2! It is terrible! I am going on a vacation with my children to Germany (where O2 is also present!) and France and one of the biggest cost items will likely be my phone bill. Not so good at all!
Here’s a tale of the brave new world of the web, the collaborative, open, participatory one. It starts harmlessly. Vodafone Germany did something new: a new image, a new target group, a new PR format… The formal pointer was the full integration of Arcor, which it took over about a year ago.
There was more to it though, on the image side. Now, Vodafone did its homework (or so it thought) and thought of something fairly revolutionary: it announced its new initiative in a “Live PK” where they allowed everyone (!) to contribute comments via web (as they said: “contribute, ask!” (as an aside: PK is to stand for “press conference”; they may have overlooked the fact that the abbreviation is [was?] also used to describe a runny form of stool). Anyhow, lots of puns possible but let’s move on as it would otherwise unduly overshadow the fairly impressive way with which the story unfolds:
Now, a little bit of background:
Vodafone announced in good German their latest campaign aimed at “Generation Upload”. This is, so they tell us in a blog (!) entry, the opposite of the only consuming download generation. Download was yesterday. Now is the Upload folks who “is full of energy”, “do not let themselves be constrained by conventions” and “lets everyone else participate in their excitement”. “It uses communication technologies not as a means in itself” (did anyone ever?) but as “a tool for realizing their own dreams” (or something like that; there was a lot more of PR blurb of course; German version here).
But then it came: “With Vodafone this generation wins a partner that provides the tools for this.”
Ah. Do they now? Well… What was your data tariff? €35 per month you say? Um…
And so disaster struck – somewhat… The invitation to contribute and ask led to 2,100 (!) comments during the press conference alone, way too much to handle of course. Also, it transpired that the Vodafone data pricing might not actually be fully in sync with the message it wanted to communicate, namely that the uploaders are being appropriately embraced by Vodafone (a partner… tools…).
But then came the somewhat revolutionary bit: today, in a blog post (and when did any carrier ever announce something like this via a blog?) they a) admitted having misjudged the whole thing and b) promised to work on their tariff structures: “if we really want to become the partner of the upload generation, then we must provide the respective tools in terms of hardware and rates. We will be measured by this.”
This, for a carrier, is revolutionary indeed. And it is a sign that they might actually have “got it”. The web as it has emerged is a different one, simpler but also infinitely more complex. Be sincere, be transparent, be honest. In the new digital society, attempts to cover mistakes up by misguided PR-BS almost certainly fail. They seem to have understood that. Will they act on it? Ah, brave new world!
Vodafone: hats off to you!!! And now: deliver…
Orange UK, one of the large carriers in the country with 15.8m mobile subscribers, has released its “Fifth Digital Media Index”, containing a set of interesting numbers on the data uptake on their network, and it makes for intriguing reading!
- Music and video downloads increased both by 38%.
- Games only grew by 8% (but at least they grew; anecdotally, some other carriers recorded sometimes dramatic drops in take-up) to a total of 770,000 downloaded games, which equates to a market share of 23% of all UK games downloads (the total UK games market would hence be 3.35m downloads for the year with Orange claiming top spot). From the top 10 downloaded games in 2008, 8 were part of the carrier’s embed programme, which shows – again – that users appear more comfortable if they can try it out before (embedded games normally are trial versions).
- Social network use over mobile increased by 129% in page impressions per month and 48% in unique users. The monthly average number of pages per user was 397. In terms of popularity of social networks, Orange’s Mark Watt-Jones (@MWJ) fed us additional bits via the Twittersphere: Facebook dominates, Bebo is significant, MySpace less so and Twitter grows very quickly (what was the Oprah moment in the UK?)
- An average of 386,000 GB of data have been transferred via dongles and handsets per month.
- Mobile search grew by 120% with 45% of the results being “off-portal”, i.e. outside Orange’s domains.
- Good old SMS still looking good, too: 19% growth with 1.7bn sent every month.
The most excellent German blog Mobile Zeitgeist alerted me (in German) to a little battle that illustrates the pitfalls of creating the seamless user experience: Nokia appears to being in a tussle with (at least) the German arms of Vodafone and T-Mobile over the pre-installation of Skype clients on some of its forthcoming handset models (including the long-awaited iPhone competitor, N97).
A Nielsen survey commissioned (sic!) by backhaul specialists Tellabs found that the mobile Internet is pretty much a part of life nowadays – at least in the territories covered by this. They asked 50,000 consumers in EU5 (Germany, France, UK, Spain and Italy) and the US about their intentions with respect to 10 mobile data services.
- Mobile Internet usage will ignore the global recession and ramp up significantly in the next 12 months.
- 71% of consumers anticipate daily use but concerns remain over – you guessed it – cost, speed and quality of service.
- There are c. 200m mobile data users in the surveyed markets (which by my count equates to about 1/3 of the total population). More than 50% of these users plan an increase of their usage in the next 2 years.
- 25% of the users who do NOT currently use data services, plan to do so shortly (this would be another 100m).
Vodafone UK announced that they will make flat-rate data part and parcel of every post-paid contract. Price plans start at GBP 25 (c. $50) per month and do away with the additional GBP 7.50 for a data plan previously required. It is subject to a rather low “fair use” policy of only 500 MB although – somewhat funny – a Vodafone spokesman apparently said that they would not charge users for excess anyway. So what then?
Anyway, let’s not dwell on petty details on a good day: flat-rate data will remove the fear users often have had in the past that they might incur horrendous charges if they would browse the web from their phone. On an “unlimited” data plan, this will be removed. Users will find it easier to access so-called “off-deck” destinations as well. This opens the playing field for the content industry and pushes a number of doors wide open. Great stuff!
As an aside, Vodafone also revealed some stats on mobile Internet usage on their network. In case you care, their top 4 searches were for:
- Windows live Hotmail
The top 10 mobile internet sites were:
- Sony Ericsson
- Windows live Hotmail