In recent weeks, BT’s Genie Internet company has cut a deal with record company EMI Group, to deliver music news to mobile users registered with its portal service, while its Cellnet division has partnered with Freeserve to develop mobile services for the ISP’s subscribers.
Nor have developments been restricted to the UK. In Germany, Lycos announced that users can now send free SMS messages from its network of sites to all German GSM 900 network mobiles, extending to include GSM 1800 networks in January, and in the US, AOL acquired Tegic Communications, developer of the T9 text input software for wireless devices (which essentially makes digital handsets internet-enabled on a text level). Not to be left behind, Microsoft also announced a mobile deal, and will form a joint venture with Ericsson to integrate its Mobile Explorer software into the Swedish cellphone maker’s next-generation ‘smart phones’ (Ericsson also partnered this month with Lycos in the US, adding content to the mix).
The reason behind all of this activity, to which can be added Telewest’s bid for Flextech, is pretty obvious: a grab for market share. The phone manufacturers want their devices to be the most desirable, to both the telcos and consumers, the telcos want their networks to be the most desirable, hence the need for unique content and services, while the portals and other content providers want thier info to be the most available to attract advertisers – a position even the BBC is no doubt keeping its powder dry on.
So what kind of market are they preparing for? Well, the UK currently has around 20m mobile users, approximately double the number of internet users, sending around 140m SMS messages every month; and Italy, for example, has around 50 percent mobile penetration compared to just 10 percent internet access among its population. Worldwide, it is estimated that there will be over 100m more mobile users than the 300m pc users at the end of this year, while US analysts have predicted some 1bn phones to be in use by 2003. Small potatoes it ain’t.
Nor has the mobile, convergence market gone un-noticed by other new media players that stand to benefit. 24/7 Media, the online sales house, is currently testing its new ad delivery system 24/7Connect. In development for the last nine months, the system has been designed with ad-serving to non-pc platforms as central, and is now being tested in Scandinavia for mobile digital delivery and reporting. Antti Eranne, strategic development director, 24/7 Europe, explains: “M-commerce will be bigger than ecommerce for two reasons. The SIM cards in mobiles offer two to four times more security than pcs, and security is still a major concern for consumers. And for businesses, the customer base is greater, with some 50 percent more penetration across Europe.”
And for all concerned in consumer-facing digital business, giving users access everywhere, all the time opens up possibilities the poor old desktop will never offer. As Eranne points out: “We’re already looking at targeting mobile users by location, through the position of the transmitter.”