Mobile Data – The State of the Union

Mobile Data – The State of the Union

2008 will be an important year for the wireless data industry. Specifically, in the US, we are over 83% subscription penetration, 50% data penetration, 25% 3G penetration, 14% smartphone penetration have 20% data ARPU. And we are just getting started. This year will see significant discussion around what means to be “open” and how one leverages such a platform and who will be the change agents of this new paradigm in the industry. The FCC 700 MHz auction, Android platform, Verizon’s Open initiative, Apple’s SDK are all going to carry the discussion forward. While the business around ringtones is flattening, new markets around mobile advertising, location based services, mobile video and browsing are starting to become more mature. Though we should be cautious about falling into the “irrational exuberance” trap, there are reasons to be optimistic.

Mobile Data now forms a significant portion of the operator service revenues and appropriate resources are being allocated to ensure that the ecosystem is robust and can thrive in the long run. New product areas are being trialed out such as Femto Cells for improving upon In-building coverage, mobile payments to turn your phone in a wallet, projection chipsets that turn your phone into a high-resolution projector, and biometrics based authentication to enhance security of your data on the phone, and enterprise users are adopting mobile data services in large numbers. Mobile device is truly becoming the remote control of our lives. To harvest and mine all these opportunities, the industry must work in a collaborative manner to address the needs and concerns of the consumers, reduce fragmentation, and encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise.

There are also significant shifts in the ecosystem. As the revenues shift from voice to data, the media industry is going to have a decisive say in how the industry evolves. Apple’s iPhone redefined user experience by enhancing what already existed for decades and thus wrest away the control from its operator partner. Similarly, Nokia, Google, and Yahoo are pushing boundaries of conventional business models and business relationships which is leading to friction, introspection, fear, and opportunities (FIFO) amongst the players.

All this bodes well for our industry. We need to be constantly challenged to make sure consumer is at the center of our universe and we should spare no effort in making the mobile applications and services not only useful but usable. Though clouds of economic uncertainly loom on the horizon, we will look back at 2008 and marvel at how far we have come within a short period of time.

I wrote this short piece for Washington Technology Industry Association to coincide with their first mobile event of the year last month.