Focus turns to ease-of-use

27 Apr 2007

The use of mobile data services is growing rapidly. And it's no secret that Asia Pacific is a big player in this area: The region provides the highest contribution of data services to total mobile services revenue of any region in the world. According to the Yankee Group, mobile data services have been growing 21% annually during the last four years, accounting for an average of 20% of Asian cellcos' total mobile service revenues.

So what's the problem‾ Basically, revenue growth is being stymied by end-user frustration with the technology. And operators are being urged to step in and resolve the bottleneck.

To be sure, there's a lot of positive potential. While SMS remains the largest contributor, in terms of both traffic and revenue, the evidence shows that multimedia service (MMS), which allows mobile users to swap pictures, music and video, is also gaining in popularity. Handset displays have improved, and mobile operators have signed interoperability agreements enabling the exchange of messages across networks.

A December 2006 study by Circle Research of 3,061 consumers in Europe, North America and Asia suggests that MMS has become a popular service among mobile users worldwide, It was ranked the third preferred service after SMS and email. The survey, commissioned by the GSM Association, also noted that 40% of respondents regard MMS as an indispensable service.

Operator figures are also encouraging. In China, for instance, a daily average of 25 million MMS messages were sent through China Mobile's network during the Chinese New Year holidays (from February 17-23), up 48% from the pervious year. This represented a total volume of over 170 million MMS messages during the period.

Usability issues

However, beneath all the positive spin, there are serious problems. Although there is considerable appetite for rich messaging services, this does not disguise the fact that MMS penetration remains relatively low and is still far from hitting critical mass. Despite the fact that the mobile phone has become the number one imaging device on the mar8ket, MMS usage is not proportional to that success.

Why isn't MMS living up to its potential‾ Sharad Arora, general manager for Asia Pacific at SmartTrust, believes that poor handset configuration and network settings are responsible for the slow take-up of MMS.

Globally, a photo taken on a camera phone has just a 35% chance of being forwarded by MMS, he says. Arora points to the findings of a 2006 survey by SmartTrust that showed an average of 18% of worldwide mobile users have experienced configuration and delivery errors when using MMS service. In some markets like Hong Kong, South Korea, China and India, the figure was even higher, ranging between 22% and 30%.

Concerns about reliability and pricing are also inhibiting MMS use, According to Arora, most of the configuration issues that mobile users come across center on the handset being improperly configured for MMS use. When end-users cannot access a particular service, the best result is a call to customer care to resolve the issue.

This can lead directly to a whole different and challenging set of issues if customer care is not clear about instructions or the conversation is disconnected, forcing the customer to start over again.

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