The mobile world has divided into two camps: on the one side are the industry elders struggling with a lack of fresh customers, and the headache of how to get more out of existing one.
On the other side are the emerging market operators, whose biggest problem is rolling out networks fast enough.
The industry divide was on show at the annual 3GSM event in February. Mature-market CEOs wrangled about prospects from content and new business models, while emerging market xecutives wondered how to keep up with demand.
The cellular players which not so long ago enjoyed growth rates of 20% and more are now locked into a low-growth path. Few of their recent bets have paid off.
In the past five years they've invested on new technology-based services to stimulate demand. Some of these - like navigation services, mobile IM and mobile TV - are probably just too early for the market. But others - like MMS, video-telephony and push-to-talk - are certifiable failures.
Operators point to the success of ringtones and mobile wallpapers, not to mention SMS itself.
These have done extremely well over the years, but it's been a long time since cellular had a hit record, and they don't know where the next one is coming from. Investors likewise lack confidence in mobile players to deliver, not least because of their mediocre financial results (see 'The Industry divide' on the next page).
Telecom Asia interviewed industry analysts to ask the question: What's wrong with mobile‾ The first problem is that old habits die hard.
Phil Marshall, a vice-president at Yankee Group, says carriers still have a telecom mindset, figuring out how to provide connectivity from A to B. This is especially obvious in broadband, he says, where operators are too often focusing on the communications rather than the opportunities to distribute content and applications.
He describes the current environment as a 'collision' between media, telecom and the Internet. In response, cellcos are trying to do keep control of the network as they've always done.
'These three domains are coming together and cannibalizing one another. The result is that service providers have tried to control the user experience, rather than manage the efficient penetration and distribution of third-party services,' Marshall says.
Mobile is an industry very focused on itself, thinks Bengt Nordstrom, VP of consulting, EMEA, for InCode. 'Some of the players we talk to have not really grasped what is happening in broadband and it is occurring so fast.'
Instead, cellcos have focused heavily on technology.
Over the past several years they've been entranced by GPRS, 3G and now 3.5G, IMS and LTE, as well as scores of smaller technologies.
'In my view every time the telco world asks itself, 'what should we use IMS for', they are asking the wrong question,' insists Nordstrom. 'It should be about an eco-system.'
Both analysts believe the ecosystem and the overarching business model is where mobile's problems lie.
The contrast with the Internet is telling, says Nordstrom.
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