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Culture Moves Mobile Services

Phil Harvey
LR Mobile News Analysis
Phil Harvey
3/16/2009
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AUSTIN, Texas -- SXSW -- Good news for mobile operators: Sometimes you get credit just for showing up.

That was one of the lighter takeaways from a panel here called "Breaking Boundaries: Mobile Web Access in Emerging Economies." The context: Panelists were asked what more telecom operators could do to spur growth in emerging markets, beyond providing the basic bandwidth and network infrastructure.

The panel -- which included representatives from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Open Mobile Terminal Platform Ltd. (OMTP) -- said the emerging-markets telcos are OK, for the most part. "They're not your best friend, but they're not the worst people on the planet, either," said Charles McCathieNevile, Opera Software ASA 's chief standards officer.

More seriously, the panel noted that telcos in emerging markets need to pay close attention to pricing plans. Carriers not only need to make services affordable, but the pricing plans should also be relevant to the local culture, according to G. Kofi Annan, an emerging markets consultant at AnnansiLLC.

"How do you develop pricing plans in areas where several people share a phone?" Annan asked.

Being local, and understanding how people use mobile hardware and services, is in fact, a huge barrier to entry for a successful mobile service or device. That fact was echoed in a recent Pyramid Research Insider, "Leveraging SMS to Attract the Low End of the Income Scale." That report detailed the Vodacom Pty. Ltd. CallMe service -- a service the South African operator created to let subscribers who are running out of airtime to send up to five text messages a day to other people requesting that they call them.

The Pyramid report notes that at the end of 2007, the CallMe service generated about 6 percent of the carrier's SMS traffic, or about 21 million CallMe requests per month. That not only led to happier subscribers, but it allowed Vodacom to serve ads on each message and augment its average revenue per subscriber.

— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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