Sean MacNeill is the Vice President and General Manager of Global Services and Support for Openwave. Prior to this position, Mr MacNeill was Openwave’s VP and GM of Sales for the Americas region. Prior to joining Openwave, Mr MacNeill was President and Chief Operating Officer at Dynavar Corporation and led the sale of the company to Sun Capital Partners who merged Dynavar with Solunet Inc. where he served as Chief Operating Officer. Before Dynavar, Mr MacNeill held a variety of senior level management positions in sales, marketing, and operations for such companies as Vocalscape Communications, a VoIP software developer, and Intrinsyc Software, Inc., a mobility software and services company. Sean MacNeill earned a B.A. with distinction and an M.B.A. from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
The mobile Internet is growing rapidly; 25 per cent of the UK’s population already use the mobile Internet. It has always been a challenge to access the Internet using mobile devices given the small screen and, until recently, slow speeds. The operators’ efforts to restrict mobile access to a few ‘approved’ websites has frustrated users and slowed uptake, but this is changing. Lower data tariffs, conversion of PC formats to mobile friendly screens are driving user adoption of mobile Internet.
The mobile Internet has taken off and is likely to become the medium that bridges the digital divide worldwide. In Europe, interconnectivity through the mobile Internet has become an integral, irreplaceable part of many people’s lives. Analyst firm Forrester predicts that 125 million Europeans will access the mobile Internet by 2013, more than tripling today’s users. According to a December 2008 comScore report, 25 per cent of the total UK population now accesses the Internet from a mobile device, up nine per cent compared with last year. So, what are the key drivers for mass adoption of the mobile Internet in Europe, and how can companies leverage the mobile Internet to develop products which are relevant to ordinary consumers within the mobile eco-system? Using the Internet on mobile devices has historically proven to be a challenging feat, specifically with regards to harnessing the power of a system that was designed to be used and viewed on personal computers with large screens and at broadband speeds. Traditionally, we had a hybrid world structured, essentially with two Internets, one for mobile and one for the desktop. Slow networks, expensive mobile infrastructure and an overall poor user experience have hindered mass adoption of the mobile Internet leaving consumers frustrated. In preventing simple access to the Web, ‘the operators’ ‘walled gardens’ limited their ability to increase data ARPU (average revenue per user) and offer other revenue opportunities. Mobile phones are, by nature, constrained devices with limited screen size, memory and supported content. However, they are always on, always with you and always yours, making them one of the most personal items you own. As handsets advance, and tariffs become more data-friendly, mobile operators can no longer limit access to just a few sites, they must enable an open environment in which general Web content, not specifically designed for the mobile device, can be delivered (including Java, Flash and other richer media content types). In addition, the environment must provide for promotion of content partners and preferred services to a user population who are discovering, in increasing numbers, that the mobile Internet is starting to look like the desktop experience. This has led to a number of other, non-traditional players, entering the mobile Internet market. In February, France Telecom-Orange announced a large push into the combined mobile and PC Internet space, through a joint deal with HP. Skype announced deals with Nokia and Sony Ericsson to integrate its service into several different phone models. Before Christmas, the operator Hutchinson and INQ, the handset vendor, focused on social networking, launching the INQ1, which built data services such as Facebook, MSN and eBay directly into the software of the handset. The network infrastructure to bring these types of services to life was highlighted by Telstra’s announcement of the fastest mobile broadband, clocking in at 21mbps. With the traditional walled gardens coming down, mobile software companies are helping operators avoid becoming bit pipes that merely transport data. By offering a key set of high-value services, the carrier instead serves as an ‘intelligent smart pipe’ to their subscribers, ensuring a great user experience. As users connect directly to the Internet or via applications, whole new areas of innovative businesses and services are starting to appear, such as application stores. As we are already seeing in the traditional Web, niche information and personalised content are usurping mass market ‘hits’. We now see major brands prioritising the customer experience and exploring the best ways to reach their customers through what some are calling User Experience 2.0, an attempt to proactively unite users with relevant content and services. One Internet for all devices, where the content is fast, secure and easy-to-use, driving mass adoption and offering huge revenue opportunities in Europe is where mobile Internet is headed. Providing a more personalised experience means allowing users to share, collaborate and exploit content to extend their online activities and communities into the mobile space. The goal is to make content discovery much simpler and more targeted, eliminating the awkward left-to-right scrolling when browsing, presenting the most relevant content first, allowing for intelligent inter-website navigation. It is a dynamic process of interpreting the content being served and enhancing and adapting it on the fly to provide the best possible user experience. To this extent, one of the interesting developments over the last 18 months has been the development of open platforms that can be used by developers to create applications. These do not necessarily access the mobile Internet, but draw on mobile data services, and sometimes GPS technology, to create strong customer-focused applications. The iPhone App Store was one of the first, incredibly successful incarnations of this model. It has spurred innovation all over the world as developers are continually creating relevant and exciting products for consumers. These applications can range from games, to social networking applications, to GPS applications, and everything in between. Nokia’s announcement that it will be developing its own app store similar to Apple’s is an indication that the industry as a whole will be moving in this direction. The reason why applications succeed is that they can provide a much more personalized experience, which allows users to share, collaborate and exploit content to extend their online activities and communities into the mobile space. The goal is to make content discovery much simpler and more targeted, while eliminating the awkward left-to-right scrolling when browsing. It becomes a dynamic process of interpreting the content being served and adapting it on the fly to provide the best possible user experience. Since the platforms are open, they are wholly available to canny entrepreneurs. Facebook, which runs a similar system, has over 600,000 developers worldwide, many of whom are running successful businesses just through application development. Interestingly, as the mobile Web opens up opportunities for external players, there’s been real innovation in revenue generating models as well. Mobile advertising, in particular, promises to dramatically reshape business models and presents new revenue opportunities for all players in the value chain, but it is critical for the industry to focus first on delivering a great open Internet experience to everyone. To this extent, understanding the preferences and behaviours of the user population, with due consideration to privacy, before developing the scope of advertising, will be critical. It is a fine balancing act between monetizing new opportunities presented by the mobile Internet without alienating the user base. It is not something that will be solved overnight, and there will undoubtedly be consumer backlashes. There have been notable examples from the PC Internet industry - such as the user backlash to the Beacon product from Facebook, and Phorm from British Telecom. In short, there are opportunities within the entire mobile eco-system for innovation. While the operator is still the main control point, there are countless other areas for innovation, including mobile Web-specific applications, mobile applications, mobile advertising delivery networks and much more. Consumers must be nurtured and brought along with the new technologies or an increasingly complex eco-system will cause users to feel that they are being exploited just for the sake of new revenue streams.