Thursday, October 30, 2008

KoreaComm 2008-IPTV, Converged Services & More

SEOUL- Steve Murphy from AOL kicked off the event yesterday with a keynote speech where he highlighted the following based on his experience at AOL and of AOL customers:

-Mobile is about immediacy more than anything people can get to their mails quicker on mobile than on a PC this explains the migration from PC to Mobile Web (personal note:hearing subsequent talks on future converged devices about to be launched that go for a widget based Web approach, immediacy could come to the traditional PC world soon)

-Mapquest is one the most downloaded AOL apps in the US

-About open models, the question is not so much whether this is important or not (everyone has it a priority)..the issue is whose version of 'open' will prevail

-Steve also made a point about niche plays on mobile which is convenient for me as I make a point on this in my presentation later today

Young Lyoul Lee from KT gave a remarkable presentation on IPTV in Korea (it is simply huge here, with KT planning to invest $1bn in this area over 5 years)...over 450,000 subscribers have signed up since launch in early 2008...the KTH network (a subsidiary of KT) now has over 35,000 videoclips available, the biggest collection of any operator in the world.

KT is now about to launch an IPTV-Shopping combo service this month, where you can watch actors in a videoclip and interact to find out what they are wearing and make a purchase online...

Young Min Kim from CELRUN gave a presentation on converged services, explaining how Telephone, Internet, Broadcast and Content are set to converge business models soon..interestingly I was reading the local paper today and they mentioned how the Korean government had just approved portability of household numbers so that users switching to IP telephony could retain their old number...

Young Min made a good point about the need for Service providers to merge to be able to increase the scope of their offerings..a trend we are starting to see already.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

KoreaComm 2008 Kicks off

SEOUL -Things are about to kick off here at the Seoul Sheraton and the expected 2000 strong crowd is making its way in...huge auditorium here with a largely Korean crowd, though the first couple of seat rows are reserved for foreign dignitaries including various diplomats from Latin America, Central Asia and other areas.

Was provided with a thoughtful gift of a 4-CD boxset of traditional Korean music, which I will duly check out on the all-singing and dancing Bose stereo at the W Hotel.

More at lunchtime (Korean time)...

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Evolution Of Mobile Web

I'm going to Seoul for the KoreaComm 2008 hosted by the Korean Communication Commission with over 2000 professionals expected to attend over the two day event on 30-31st October.

I'll be giving a talk on the evolution of mobile web broaching such subjects as 'are we at Mobile 2.0 yet' and picking out a few key trends I've noticed over the last year.

I'll be dedicating some time to discussing the evolution of Location Based Services and the convergence between Mobile Social Networks and LBS's. Not only are services based around location quintessential to what makes up Mobile 2.0, but the whole area of LBS is going mainstream as it navigates its way through the famous hype curve..witness Loopt's sponsoring of The Middle Show in the US.

I'll post more from the event over the next few days as well as share my presentation online.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Mobile Crunch" -New rules for Mobile Start-ups in today's economy

Extremely well-timed Mobile Monday Barcelona session last night focussed on Mobile Start-ups in Times of Crisis and how to manage through a financial and/or economic downturn.

Panelists Oscar Farres from Debaeque Capital, Sergio Perez from Caixa Capital Risc and Marcel Rafart, from Nauta Capital, gave their take on the current situation and offered guidance to young mobile start-ups.

Their main points:

  • The rules of engagement have changed -risk profiles have shot up and banks are retreating to safe investments, those that generate revenue or profit already (but preferably both). Fundamentally, for young start-ups the message was 'forget the banks'.
  • Start-ups should outsource or plan to outsource whatever activity can be externalised, as these leverages the company's cost base and reduces risk from an investor point of view.
  • Focus on burn rates-cut out any expenditure that is not strictly essential
  • These are tough times, but also times of opportunity for those companies able to stick it out throughout the crisis.
As Rudy de Waele put it eloquently, 5 years ago there was no Facebook or Twitter or myspace...times of crisis allow for a natural selection of only the very best concepts and businesses. Start-ups should really ask themselves what unique benefit do they offer that no-one else offers?

I asked the VC guys what % ROI they expected to still consider making an investment and the rule of thumb was 25-30% y-o-y.

Interestingly, Oscar Farres highlighted what he considered to be the big growth opportunities in the market (independently of recessionary pressures) and Location based services was up there amongst the chose few sectors.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Opera Mobile for your Windows Mobile Device

It has now been 3 months since the Norwegian browser Opera released the beta of their Opera Mobile 9.5 for the Windows Mobile platform. Despite some initial bugs, including an OOM (Out of Memory) problem on some devices as a result of caching activity and a Notifications bug (that turned off notification sounds), overall feedback has been positive from the Opera fan base.

Browser wars are hotting up, though, with Mozilla announcing a mobile version of their browser later in the year, Skyfire consolidating its mainstream appeal and the i-Phone Safari browser receiving accolades for its user experience.

Meanwhile, Opera's Java-based browser, Opera Mini, has built up a substantial following of its own and provides an excellent solution for mid-range phones to access the web and avoid connectivity glitches that arise by accessing the web through the operator portal.

Currently, Opera Mobile 9.5 only works on touchscreen devices with non-touchscreen compatibility expected to be added in the future. However, things have gone dead quiet on the community forum over at Opera and no announcements have been made of future releases..maybe they are busy gearing up for the Mozilla launch, which is now rumoured to take place in 'a few weeks'.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why now is a good time to invest in mobile start-ups

Global financial crunch...government bailout...fiscal tightening...all these words will be very familiar to everyone following the unfolding of financial events on both sides of the atlantic. The picture for stock holders and bond holders, from private investors to pension plan owners, is not pretty.

That small proportion of wealthy individuals around the world are faced with some stark choices for making the most of their capital...look to preserve it by adopting a risk-averse approach (and buy gold bullion) or sit on their cash and ride out the storm, wary of potential bank collapses.

Neither of these two options offer the true capitalist a decent return. But, as always, there is money to be made in times of crises and parts of the economy that will fare better than others. The mobile sector is by no means immune to the downturn, and while operator revenues are likely to stay flat (guarded by inelastic demand), other parts will grow.

Mobile web is at an inflection point in terms of its global growth, moving from niche to mainstream, from Mobile 1.0 to Mobile 2.0, and there will be a number of competent start-ups that, though small today, will be huge tomorrow.

The great news is that the relative risk of investing in these start-ups has decreased compared to a year ago, given the drastically reduced equity returns from quoted companies. In addition, many of these quoted companies have either cut or withdrawn their dividend, and so look and feel more like growth stocks.

Fancy a flutter on an equity investment? My advice is, look at the opportunities out there to fund a mobile web start-up: it will be not much riskier than a blue-chip investment, will certainly be more fun to follow and, you never know, could be your next mobile equivalent of Facebook.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Enablers for Mobile Social Networks (MSN's)

LONDON-As one of the key themes that was discussed at the Mobile Web Europe Conference last week in London was Mobile Social Networks (MSN's), User Generated Content (UGC) vs branded content and Location enablers, I feel prompted to delve into this subject area to share some current thoughts.

Firstly, when we think about MSNs we often witness the attempt by some operator or another to launch their own network (whether based around music or some other catalyst)...these attempts have met with mixed success, though it is probably to early to draw a line below them. Nontheless, in research presented by Priya Prakash of Flirtomatic, over 70% of social network users would refuse to join a(nother) social network created by an operator. On the other hand, off-portal attempts by start-ups (notably have met with success.

In general, the feel I get is that operators are losing traction at a faster pace than anticipated and off-portal startups have proved that it is possible to build a sustainable and profitable business without the operator.

Social objects (or the reason two people are talking to each other) can be either UGC or branded/syndicated from mainstream sources...with the saturation in the MSN playing field, it seems that at the very least a mix of the two is required to ensure that community members remain stimulated (and check in daily or hourly on the MSN).

An interesting play on this is by Buongiorno's blinko MSN (currently in closed beta) which has VIP channels that allow users to follow their favourite celebrity (be it Paris Hilton or Beyonce' Knowles).What is interesting is also the breadth of VIP channels available, which relates to a point made by Adrian Velthuis of Milennial Media. He stated that advertisers and community hosts alike should develop niche audiences to allow a differentiation in their offering compared to the plethora of competing MSNs or other mobile content.

As far as location is concerned, my belief is that this will be one of the key enablers of MSNs in the future -and that while technological limitations mean that it is still not mainstream, developments are expected in leaps and bounds. Sam Critchley from Gypsii talked about 'ambient awareness' as being the background awareness of what one's social network is doing...definitely something that reinforces location as a key enabler (where am I?) to achieve that contextual holy grail (what am I and my friends doing?).