This invited article was published in the Dec 2005 issue of WSA Newsbytes (news magazine) on Digital Entertainment 

 It’s the User Experience, Stupid!

 Chetan 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[1].

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 data networks[2] 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)[3].

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 personalized services.

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 pay for. As such, all in the value chain need to focus on the single most important aspect of any service - consistent and immersive user experience.

Improve usability

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.

Upcoming Events

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

The digital 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

Carriers 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 streams.

Embrace new models

To be 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 fully respected.


As the 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.

Chetan is 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 Sarla is a CPA and her experience includes work with leading US wireless carriers. She can be reached at  

[1] Source: CTIA

[2] By end of 2006, most metros will have 3G (EV-DO and UMTS) coverage

[3] Though we have been witnessing the introduction of various data services, overall data revenue accounts for less than 7% of revenues for US operators


© Chetan Sharma Consulting 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Chetan Sharma Consulting is a consulting and advisory firm focused on ASSISTING companies in the mobile and voice communications sector with product management, technical due diligence, market and competitive research, patent and IP strategy, technology and business strategy. Our clients range from small startups with disruptive ideas to multinational conglomerates looking for an edge.

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