By Elina Mattila
Last week the global mobile industry gathered in Barcelona for the annual telecoms trade show, Mobile World Congress. Traditionally, there has been an over-riding general theme at the event, but this year it seems there wasn’t one.
I chatted to people from all corners of the mobile business, trying to get a feel for what is exciting, worrying and impressing the industry. Last year at the show you couldn’t have a conversation without mobile advertising being mentioned, and the year before it was mobile TV. But this year there wasn’t one prominent theme.
Some people said its all about location-based services, some said mobile broadband, others HSDPA. But, digging a bit deeper, I did find a common thread.
There wasn’t a massively hyped theme because things are actually just beginning to happen. The technology is there and the devices are there, operators, manufacturers and media companies are forging partnerships and coming up with workable business models. Consumers are being educated about what can be done on mobiles – thanks mainly to the iPhone, most of the industry seems to agree.
Services that were hyped up before their time, like mobile advertising, navigation and mobile music, are actually reality today. There’s no need to shout about these things to get attention - they are already getting attention because they are usable, workable services. Yahoo! and Google are at the forefront of bringing advertising funded interesting services to users, while the major handset makers are launching devices fitting for services. Maybe the industry is more mature than we realise.
There were some expectations that Google would launch the much awaited GPhone at this year’s Mobile World Congress, but the company actually kept a very low profile at the show. It didn’t have a booth, nor did it come out with any major announcement.
Google’s partnership with Nokia was probably the biggest piece of news from the company. Nokia announced it would integrate Google search to its Nokia Search application, preloaded onto a number of handsets, including N96 and N78.
But search and sponsored links isn’t the only thing Google focuses on for mobile. Most of the products Google has launched online are available on mobile too, including maps, email and Picassa photo sharing service.
In terms of usage, search and maps are among the most successful services, the company’s senior product manager, Gummi Hafsteinsson, told Mobile.
And the overall usage of mobile content services has increased. ‘Awareness of mobile applications has gone up. There has been a complete shift in the past 12 months,’ Hafsteinsson added.
To further increase mobile users’ interest in content services, Google is now putting all its efforts into improving the user experience and making services easier to use.
‘The company’s mission is to organise information and provide access to information,’ he said. ‘What we are focused on is trying to get good products to users.’
Meanwhile, the other internet giant, Yahoo!, made sure it was very prominent at the show. The company had a massive stand right in front of the door of the content hall and made some significant announcements.
Yahoo!’s OneConnect seemed to be the product at the show that everyone was impressed by. One Connect, or ‘the optimised search experience designed for mobile’ as Yahoo calls it, integrates all the different ways of contacting people into one application. Users can have their contacts from any social networking site, instant messaging service and their phone book in one place.
‘We are revolutionising the way people communicate. You can get all your contacts from any community you belong to, you can see the presence of all these contacts, you can see what they are doing, and you can see where they are,’ Geraldine Wilson, vice president and general manager of Yahoo! Connected Life, told Mobile.
Yahoo!’s strategy is to develop mobile-specific services. Wilson said: ‘The company has three core products for mobile.’ Two of these Ð the Yahoo! Go application and the Yahoo! OneConnect Ð have now been launched. The company remains very tight-lipped about the third one.
‘We have developed all our products from a mobile perspective, we don’t just take them from the web. We think mobile is different to the internet. You can ignore that on your peril,’ Wilson said.
During the show, Yahoo! also announced a deal with T-Mobile for search, shoving off its biggest competitor, Google. With the T-Mobile deal in the bag, Yahoo! now has a partnership with all the UK operators.
Yahoo!’s online business model is based on advertising and it’s looking to replicate that on mobile. For advertising to work, it needs to have a big enough audience to get brands interested in advertising. The company has partnerships with 29 operators, which collectively have 600 million subscribers, and its mission is now to get these eyes on the Yahoo! services.
‘We are trying to get advertisers on mobile. They won’t come if there isn’t a big audience. It’s important to have reach and scale,’ Wilson said.
Yahoo! is realistic about the time scale, however, saying that any real revenue from advertising will not be apparent before 2010. Mobile users will have to start using these types of applications en masse for serious advertising money to start rolling into the hands of Yahoo! and other mobile advertising providers.
Clearly the likes of Yahoo! can’t do this on their own, and partnerships are vital for success, Wilson said. ‘The easier it is to use, the more they [consumers] will use it, and the closer you work with operators the easier you can make it,’ she said.
Operators themselves are becoming more and more involved with mobile advertising. The five UK networks, 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone, made an announcment at the show that they were working together with the GSM Association to define common measurement standards and metrics for mobile advertising.
One of the major problems with mobile advertising has been that there is no standard way of measuring the performance of advertising campaigns and, without this ability, it is very difficult to put a price on advertising.
Overall, however, mobile advertising is said to have a higher click-through rate than other forms of advertising and, as a result, the cost of advertising on mobile is slightly higher for brands than it is on other mediums. An across-the-board way of measuring is likely to standardise the price advertisers pay for mobile.
O2 revealed some further advertising-related announcements. The operator launch a new service for advertisers that will enable them to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns.
In addition, O2 is zero rating all usual browsing charges when its subscribers click on adverts on the O2 Active portal and are taken to the brands’ microsites. The operator trialled mobile advertising on its portal last year and revealed a click-through rate of 6%, compared with an online click-through of roughly 0.2%.
But it’s not just the operators and media companies rushing in to make money from mobile advertising. Manufacturers, with Nokia at the forefront, are also getting in the game. The Finnish handset maker announced the launch of its Nokia Media Network in Barcelona. The aim of the service is to enable brands to place ads on operators’ and media companies’ mobile webpages. Nokia also has a team that helps brands create the ads.
And media companies are getting in on it too. Disney Internet Group launched a mobile version of its website, where it offers mobile games, ringtones, videos and other content, mostly financed by adver