Over the course of time, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with mobile operators who have either invested millions or are about to invest millions of dollars in the development of 3G networks. Amidst the discussions with them a question still looms in my mind: What can our 3G network subscribers do now, and where/how can we make more money from our subscribers? In the quest for the answer, I started researching, using Google.com – using keywords such as “3G applications”— and, to my dismay, found the first 100 search results disappointing. That’s why I decided to write this piece myself; hoping it will answer many of the questions that continually arise. For example: What can we do with 3G now besides selling a 3G enabled Apple iPhone?
Let’s take a closer look at the following questions:
- Is 3G everywhere?
- What is 3G anyway?
- What are the most commonly mentioned applications of 3G?
- Which 3G applications can Mobile Operators deploy today?
Is 3G Everywhere?
There has been a lot of talk about 3G investments in Europe and the US which inevitably resulted in a near ubiquitous 3G adoption. As I was researching for this article, I stumbled across the fact that China Unicom announced that it plans to spend $14.5B on a 3G network infrastructure (http://www.theregister.co.uk/). According to articles by my friend, Om Malik, on Gigaom.com, India appears to be prepping for 3G wireless broadband, with the government all set to start selling 3G licenses. In Asia, SingTel lead the way as the first to deploy 3G in 2005. According to Cellular-news.com , the CDMA Development Group (CDG) announced that, as of Q1 2008, Indonesia had more than 16.3 million CDMA2000/3G subscribers – putting them in the lead in Southeast Asia for 3G CDMA subscriber growth. So, the bottom line is that 3G is a solid presence in most of the developed world and will be available in all emerging countries within the next couple of years.
What is 3G anyway?
According to Wikipedia, 3G is the third generation of mobile phone standards and technology, superseding 2G, and preceding 4G. 3G is based on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) family of standards, under the International Mobile Telecommunications program, IMT-2000. It includes HSPA data transmission capabilities which can deliver speeds of up to 14.4Mbit/s on the downlink and 5.8Mbit/s on the uplink. It is based on CDMA technology, which is dominated by Qualcomm.
Let me now try a simpler way to explain 3G. Remember those days when we used dial-up modems to access the Internet (or maybe you are too young to remember). Believe it or not, many people in the world still rely on dial-up connections to reach the Internet or use their 2/2.5G mobile data connections. 2G is to dial-up connections what 3G is to broadband Internet, with the mobility added to the mix. In the simplest terms, 3G means faster internet access from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. Therefore the first obvious place for 3G to compete is with Wi-Fi on various laptops – nothing new here but just a different technology competing for the corporate dollars for wide area network (WAN) access on the move.
What are the most commonly mentioned applications of 3G?
For the purpose of this article, I want to focus on 3G applications built for mobile phones only – and not standard computer applications. In researching through many sites including www.3g.co.uk/, http://www.3gnewsroom.com/ , http://www.umtsworld.com/ , here is a list of the most common application categories for 3G applications:
- Mobile Internet access
- Digital TV Broadcasting
- Mobile Commerce
- Location Based Services
- Interactive Gaming
- User Generated Content (UGC) Management
Certainly, mobile Internet access becomes a reality with higher speeds just like many applications came to light with the broadband access on the PCs. Therefore it was no surprise that the 3G iPhone dominated any and all searches of 3G applications on the web since its web experience far superseded that of any other phone. The next three applications are neither a direct result nor an obvious outcome of the 3G infrastructure and so they can’t be readily deployed without other major investments in the infrastructure.
Which 3G applications can mobile operators deploy today?
There is a lot that has been written about mobile Internet access and interactive gaming. So, instead, I will focus on UGC management applications – another application type that can be deployed today and doesn’t seem to get enough attention from the media (though many analysts including Juniper Research have done some excellent research on the potential of this market). Many of you are wondering what this UGC market is – and as soon as I start naming the businesses that fall under this category, every one of you will agree that you are an avid consumer of this market and contribute significantly in terms of content, advertisement eyeballs, and other various forms of purchase. Yes, I’m talking about the first wave of the UGC marketplace in the form of media sites including Flickr, PhotoBucket, Snapfish, Shutterfly and YouTube. Then the wave of social networking sites came crashing in, including FaceBook, Friendster, Hi5 and MySpace, just to name a few.
Now that you realize the potential of the UGC market, think of the pain and complexity users experience when posting their content, with a mish-mash of USB/FireWire cables connecting a device to their PC, while ensuring a broadband connection is secured, and then having to manually input the location of their media (if needed). In contrast, let’s look at the 3G phone: a continuous broadband connection, 2+ mega-pixel photo/video camera equipped, your contacts (friends and family) always at your fingertips, AND, with many phones, even location tagging is enabled through GPS or cell tower identification. Hopefully you now see the potential – as a 3G mobile operator – a new ability to initiate, cater to, and develop existing and new mobile user-generated content communities. The categories of applications are both similar to, yet different from, what has been enabled through broadband Internet on PCs. The various applications can be thought of as catering to three functions mobile subscribers want to do with their media:
- Preservation / archiving of users’ media including contacts, pictures, videos, ringtones, SMS and music
- Sharing of users’ media both on a one-to-one basis as well as one-to-many basis giving rise to many new services including mobile greeting cards and video SMS, to name a few
- Publishing users’ media on social networking sites or public forums or creating a social networking site itself
In my next blog entry, I will address more details on some of these applications, as well as address some of the issues and challenges that plague this market, and how mobile operators can begin to deploy and monetize mobile UGC services.
R. Paul Singh
CEO, PixSense, Inc.
Note: If you have any stories/examples of the Mobile Operator experience in deploying mobile UGC applications, please email to us at email@example.com
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