The Carrier Panel: Strategies To Keep Mobile Data Growing

GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Carriers panel

GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Carriers panel

Without carriers and their data networks, mobile applications wouldn’t be possible. So let’s show them some love, says Chetan Sharma, of Chetan Sharma Consulting, the moderator of the panel. The consensus is that mobile data is becoming more important to carriers and it’s growing every year. The next big challenge will be getting content to devices.

  • Russ McGuire, Sprint
  • Michael Woodward, ATT Wireless
  • Frank Meehan, Hutchinson Whampoa/3
  • Venetia Espinoza, TMobile USA, Inc.
  • Satya Mallya, Orange Labs

Chetan: What do unlimited plans do to the number of people using a data network, and then will fixed pricing change things?

Michael, ATT: Trying to plan for capacity has been with telecommunications providers forever. We’re seeing quite a rise in data usage, but we’ve also intelligently built to be able to handle that. All we have is promises on up to 1.7 Mbps on the down and I think we’re well equipped to handle that. But I think if every single customer were streaming at every time it wouldn’t work, but that’s not a realistic scenario. So far, so good with capacity.

Russ, Sprint: From a revenue perspective, I think there are challenges and opportunities. You have to balance the revenue against the cost. For us the next time we come up with something great do we throw it into Simply Everything or do we add that as an additional service? Second thing is how do you manage the network. What can do as your network traffic begins to grow to manage the costs of carrying that.You can also move traffic off the network. So one of the things we’ve done is introduce a femtocell product to get that traffic off of the radio network.

Chetan: How does data from social networking to relate to voice?

Venetia, T-Mobile: We’re seeing lots of usage on social networks. Three times the picture sending and we believe innovation is coming through applications that has these social applications. Social networks are a key, key part of communicating and will transcend the mobile phone.

Chetan: Frank, are you crazy for adding VoIP to the network?

Frank, 3: The Skype phone makes us more margin than any other phone in pre-paid with the exception of the iPhone. About 65 percent of the UK market is prepaid and only 5 percent of those are using data. Smartphones are not as relevant. We also have a massive churn in prepaid in all markets where prepaid exists. So we basically told people, if you spend 10 pounds a month and top it off every month, you get Skype for free. That’s driven incredible loyalty to the device. We have a huge level of top-offs and we’re seeing growth on voice and text on those devices.

So we built everything into the address book and you’re always logged into Skype and everything is integrated so that ease of use is integrated, and that’s driving usage. It works and it’s very profitable for us.

Chetan: Can we also talk about UMA, video and what that means?

Satya: We have seen a change in user behavior. Calls originated at home can go on the mobile network with no additional costs. We have this new experiences in telecom and DSL customers, mobile customers and now IPTV. So what we offer are services tied to different networks. For example we have video on IPTV as well as on video on mobile and video on the PC. So subscribers get video across all three platforms. For example sports — we offer real-time sports across all three screens.

One of the major problems that is there in terms of customers is a variable data rate that may shock them as part of the service. So we have bundled data as part of the costs of a service, so if you buy music we bundle the cost of data into the price of the plan.

Chetan: Openness?

Venetita: We are very committed to an open network. We’re investing heavily with Google. In addition to the Android mobile phone we are also announcing the creation of our dev partner community and getting rid of some of the problems in getting applications to market. Historically, as carriers, we’ve been difficult to do business with. Through our dev partner community we want to be very transparent about working with T-Mobile. We’re publishing a rate card so people can see what our terms look like. We’ll also have a click-through agreement so you can just say yes and do business with T-Mobile. We hope that through the open platform with the Android phone and with this dev partner community we’re on our way to an open community. We’re hoping what used to take months (to get an app up) will take days.

Satya: When we have an all IP network it will make it all open.

Frank, 3: Openness means getting people to use the network. We spend billions building these 3G networks so we want people to use them. So we have good pricing plans on data and everything. There’s no point having 5 percent of the phones on our network using data, so we need to make it relevant for the mass market. As a carrier we need applications that apply right across our range. Developers need to remember that we have to sell this to customers in the store so it needs to be as simple and easy to access as possible.

Chetan: Openness on a WiMAX network? Is it different?

Russ: We need to open our network to devices like the Kindle, to applications as we have done for 10 years. We’re introducing new things to make it easier for developers. We introduced Titan, a full Java implementation we’re introducing across our entire portfolio of handsets, not just for smartphones. Openness is making it easy for innovation to happen so they can make it more compelling for the end user.

We also need to figure out how to get people to use this data. How do we free people from making choices about the devices and data. That’s all on the 3G side of the business. For Xohm, it’s a beautiful thing when you say you can build something from scratch and do it right the first time. For the 3G network we’re getting there incrementally.

Chetan: How is iPhone affecting your view of openness?

Michael, AT&T: To get people to use data we need to improve discoverability of data applications. That helps in mining the base. There’s another component of openness and that’s increasing the number of devices on the network, so it’s critical to have a standards-based approach to have innovations on devices.

Chetan: Where would you invest?

Michael, AT&T: Convergence. People are very loyal to where they keep their content. People might grow up around Facebook and MySpace and they are loyal, they want to take their application from there from device to device. People want to the same access across the board. Becoming agnostic across the network would be well placed.

Russ, Sprint: Carriers may not be the best ones to ID an applications space.

Frank, 3: We have operations internationally, so if someone gave me a mass-market handset that made the Internet relevant for everyone across our group that would be sweet. I need a new user interface.

Satya, Orange: Location is a very strong context in mobile and things that make life easy, where locations becomes the coloring in the terms of how you interface.

Venetia, T-Mobile: Ease of discoverability of applications both online and on the device.