Mobile broadband: perhaps you've heard of it

02 Oct 2008

You know by now about the move by the GSM Association to create a service brand that's more or less the equivalent of the Wi-Fi logo created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The motivation isn't hard to understand - the GSMA needs a brand to promote the concept that 3G is for laptops too, not just cell phones. And Wi-Fi arguably owes part of its success to consumer recognition of a familiar logo.

So, enter the "Mobile Broadband" service mark.

The idea has already drawn mixed reviews from analysts. Ovum's Steven Hartley says it's not clear what the GSMA initiative is doing that laptop makers already planning on embedding HSPA wouldn't have done anyway, and that in any case, it needs to get many more laptop makers onside (like HP, Apple, Sony, Panasonic, NEC, and Fujitsu) to make a branding move truly effective.

ABI Research principal analyst Dan Shey, meanwhile, says it's less clear how cellcos will benefit from this initiative in terms of differentiation from other wireless broadband services, since many of the same devices will presumably be able to connect to rival networks.

For my money, the real problem isn't the business model of branded HSPA-embedded laptops, or the implementation of a global branding strategy. It's the name of the brand.

"Mobile Broadband"‾ That's like creating a logo for GSM called "Cellular Phone".

I can't help but thinking that by going with "Mobile Broadband", the GSMA was hoping to lay claim to an otherwise generic term in order to create the impression that they coined it - sort of in the same way that Marvel Comics and DC Comics have jointly trademarked the term "Super Heroesâ„¢" (and have been known to sue independent comics publishers for describing their super-hero characters as such).

At the very least, the "Mobile Broadband" name comes across as a swipe at the Wimax crowd, which has been using the same term to describe its technology and its service proposition. It's not clear whether the GSMA legally owns rights to the term and could prevent the Wimax Forum from using it. Based on the conversation I had Tuesday with GSMA CMO Michael O'Hara, I don't think that's the case.

However, I do think that the name will backfire on the GSMA by creating more market confusion rather that less. Wireless broadband beyond Wi-Fi is still a nascent market, and consumers are going to be bombarded with talk of mobile broadband at the POS level, whether it's via Wi-Fi, Wimax or HSPA. What's to prevent consumers from looking at a "Mobile Broadband" mark and thinking, "Okay, so is that like Wimax or HSPA or EV-DO, or what‾"

Logos and service brands generally need to be distinctive at some level. "Wi-Fi" works because it's a play on an existing, familiar term but is still a unique term that applies to one technology only. As a differentiator, "Mobile Broadband" is arguably a candidate for Epic Fail.

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