Whose profile is rising? Mobile commerce
Nearly every company meeting and press event at Mobile World Congress last week was peppered with the words mobile commerce and Near Field Communications. Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Deutsche Telekom, Orange and numerous other firms all provided some insight into how they would incorporate mobile commerce and/or NFC technology into their future plans. In fact, some companies even went so far as to designate 2011 as the "year for NFC payments."
Perhaps because of Mobile World Congress' European focus, many of the high-profile, NFC-related announcements came from European operators. Deutsche Telekom said it will introduce a Mobile Wallet service enabling T-Mobile subscribers to purchase goods, event tickets and transit passes as well as participate in retailer rewards programs via wireless devices. The service is slated to roll out in Germany and Poland in 2011, with the U.S., the Netherlands and the Czech Republic to follow next year. The DT Mobile Wallet initiative will use NFC to conduct transactions and the company is partnering with Samsung to release NFC-enabled devices.
The GSMA also is heading up an NFC-related initiative with several of the world's biggest operators including America Móvil, Axiata Group Berhad, Bharti, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT Corp., MTS, Orange, Qtel Group, SK Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telekom Austria Group, Telenor and Vodafone. The operators have said they intend to launch commercial NFC services in select markets by 2012. In an interview with FierceWireless, Daniel Gurrola, vice president of business strategy at Orange, said members of the GSMA initiative met at Mobile World Congress and decided to work together. The deal will include developing standards for the various players but will not dictate business strategy.
Gurrola also said Orange has committed to adding NFC technology to 50 percent of its devices in the second half of 2011. The goal, said Gurrola, is to seed the market with devices so that the adoption curve accelerates. He added that the operator's solution will be SIM-based because the approach supports portability and security.
But this isn't the first time the GSMA has tried to set the course for NFC. In 2008, the association called for NFC functionality to be built into commercial mobile handsets beginning in mid-2009. It also outlined its support for the European Telecommunications Standards Institute-endorsed "Single Wire Protocol" standard to provide the interface between SIM cards and NFC chips in devices.
Besides operators, device makers also touted their mobile commerce plans. During a keynote address, Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie promised that the majority of new BlackBerry devices shipping in the coming months will integrate Near Field Communications technologies, enabling support for mobile payment solutions and other location-specific services. "Many if not most of BlackBerry devices throughout the year will have NFC in them," Balsillie said. Balsillie first indicated RIM's interest in NFC in November.
Whose profile is falling? Voice services
It's no surprise that mobile data is taking the lion's share of the industry's attention now, particularly as mobile data revenues accelerate. In fact, according to an Analysys Mason study of global telecom operators, mobile voice revenue is only estimated to growth at 6 percent CAGR--while revenue from non-messaging and messaging mobile data will grow at a much higher rate of 21 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
But at Mobile World Congress there was very little talk about voice services. Instead, the focus was on getting lower cost, data-capable feature phones and smartphones into emerging markets. In fact, during press conferences from handset and device makers, there was very little mention of low-cost voice devices. It appears that the voice-only cell phone may soon become a thing of the past.
This is quite a departure from past Mobile World Congress events, where the GSMA used the forum to tout its emerging market handset program. In fact, in 2006 the GSMA announced that mobile operators in developing countries had bought or ordered 12 million mobile phones from Motorola (NYSE:MMI) under the GSMA's emerging market program.