This invited article was published in the Dec 2005 issue of WSA
Newsbytes (news magazine) on Digital Entertainment
the User Experience, Stupid!
Sharma, Sarla Sharma
The US wireless industry added more subscribers in 2005 than any other
year in its two-and-a-half decade old history. Thanks to messaging and
interest in digital media content, wireless data revenues from first six
months in 2005 were over $4B while it had taken the entire year in 2004
to amass the same amount.
This year started with a flurry of activities in the wireless industry.
From mega-acquisitions of AT&T Wireless and Nextel to the launch of new
and services, the wireless market has been quite active. However, in
spite of the buzz, carriers, especially in the US, face the same old
problem of improving industry’s most fundamental metric - the average
revenue per user (ARPU).
As we move towards an all-IP world, voice ARPU is declining and there is
a danger that data ARPU might not increase fast enough to offset this
fall off. By focusing on enhancing the user experience, digital media
content and applications can be made compelling enough to boost
interest, usage and distribution –- and hence revenues. Wireless
carriers who implement a user-centric vision will deliver sustainable
competitive advantage and will help define the next-generation of
We need to remember that the principle motivation to buy is not the
technology, but the service that the customer is willing to accept and
As such, all in the value chain need to focus on the single most
important aspect of any service - consistent and immersive user
Current applications and infrastructure framework do not do a
good job of usability. At best, they are device-centric, i.e.
content is customized by group of devices. Little attention is
given to making the browsing and purchasing of content quick.
By making content more push-centric, bandwidth can be optimized
and increase value to the consumer. In addition, location and
context should be used to package the digital content elements
before they are presented or pushed to the user.
Jan 24th - Chetan will be addressing IEEE Communications
Society on trends in wireless technologies - How choices
determine market adoption?
April 5-7th - CTIA Wireless 2006, Vegas
Help users find information
media catalog across ringtones, ringbacks, graphics, movies, music, TV
shows, video clips, etc. is growing at an explosive rate. Finding
something that might interest you is becoming an incredible challenge.
Consumers go through enormous pain to find the media content that they
like. Imagine the up-take rate if users were able to find the content
quickly and items that they are likely to appreciate are pushed up to
them rather than subjecting the user through an archaic menu-like
navigation system. A voice navigation system and recommendation engine
backed by an analytic framework will help enable such search and
discovery functionality. By building a content database of meta-data
associated with all content, several opportunities will open up. Mobile
search will be more important and cross-selling/up-selling opportunities
will finally open. This content data along with user’s history,
preferences, and context will make for a very useful user experience
that will increase data usage and hence ARPU.
Focus on day-to-day application use
should focus on making the everyday use applications – address book,
calendar, SMS – better. For example, current calendar
implementations do not have sharing and auto-syncing functionality. If
Jan inserts an entry “Pick up kids at 4:00pm from Soccer practice” and
if Jan and her husband Steve share the calendar, Steve’s calendar should
be updated automatically with this new entry. Additionally, these
applications need to be ubiquitously accessible and multimodal in nature
to adapt to the users’ needs. These features will offer an attractive
way of retaining customers in addition to creating potential new revenue
Embrace new models
successful, carriers need to focus on new models such as off-net digital
content sales, mobile advertising, superdistribution, and
machine-to-machine. The implication is that
services must be designed to enable new models and user experiences, and
let independent content providers access the market without dealing with
the walled gardens. Such a possibility requires the scope of the UI to
be broader than existing implementations. It also requires the UI to be
dynamic, i.e. to have the ability to be modified on the fly. However,
some of these new models will only be successful if user privacy is
networks are becoming capable of delivering higher bandwidths, devices
are coming out with ARM9+ processors and rich multimedia capability, and
digital content is becoming more pervasive – we are at the cusp of a
hockey stick growth. However, digital multimedia content will only
proliferate if user experience is front and center of every offering and
every interaction that user has with the device and all types of
content. It needs to be contextualized and personalized based on user’s
needs, preferences, and device capabilities. Only then can the true
potential of digital media be unleashed.
an industry expert and author of numerous books, articles, and reports
on wireless industry. He is advisor to CEOs and CTOs of leading wireless
companies on product strategy and IP development. More information at
is a CPA and her experience includes work with leading US
wireless carriers. She can be reached at