Dominique Schmid is the CEO of Swisscom Mobile subsidiary Sicap AG. He has worked for Swisscom AG since 1999 beginning as a Project Leader to found Swisscom Mobile AG and Bluewin AG. He has been a member of the supervisory board of Sicap AG since 2001. Mr Schmid has extensive experience in M&A, marketing, finance and change management. He previously worked on many M&A transactions, post-merger integration, and restructuring measures for Valora Holding AG Bern retailers and was an internal auditor for Winterthur Insurance Company. After studying business economics at the University of Berne, Mr Schmid obtained an MBA in general management from Simon School, Rochester, N.Y. in the USA.
By 2002, almost 80 per cent of Japanese mobile users subscribed to mobile Internet over WAP or i-mode. This was not due so much to cultural differences, as to the agility of local operators, the infrastructure installed and the services offered. The mobile phone is competing ever more widely with the Internet in Asia to provide services. The USSD bearer channel on GSM networks that can provide no-cost, interactive, rapid and secure communications will help build Asian mobile Internet services.
As the Asian telecommunications market becomes increasingly competitive, mobile operators must anticipate convergence trends and ensure that the mobile phone offers the same services and the same user-friendly access as the Internet on the traditional PC. The ebb and flow of consumer perception hinges essentially on this usability concept but other criteria, including quality of content and privacy, also affect take-up and satisfaction. If, for instance, the services on offer are less practical than dialling up a vocal service, or if the customer is constantly harassed by advertising, he is more than likely to throw in the towel, revert to voice-only calls and brand the information services as unmanageable and unwanted intrusions. Can we make the mobile experience stress-free for users by deploying invisible and real-time interaction with the network in order to make it that way? More important, how can we make mobile Internet viable in terms of service pricing? Rates applied for mobile services inevitably come under scrutiny by mobile consumers, usually when they get a glimpse at the sky-high charges applied for roaming on networks abroad or for surfing the mobile Web. Customers are understandably reluctant to pay just to browse with their mobiles. What if we could deploy under-exploited bearer channels to make mobile data free and easy? Asians adopted mobile Internet and mobile services much more readily than in Europe. The International Telecommunications Union reports that almost 80 per cent of Japanese mobile users already subscribed to mobile Internet over WAP or i-mode back in 2002. It is often assumed that the high usage of mobiles in Japan is due to culturally distinct factors such as a Japanese love for small gadgets, or the high percentage of time spent on public transportation. Research at the International University of Japan, though, revealed that regional differences in advanced mobile data usage are due more to Japan’s strategic choice of a mobile value chain network and infrastructure features different than those in Europe. Japan launched their mobile Internet service with mobile email; this made the leap to mobile websites much easier than in Europe, where the majority of messaging is still SMS based with no direct connection to mobile Internet. The rise of ‘ask & know’ services also helps and it is likely that this is what has spurred growth in i-mode coverage areas. In Japan, content providers have a unified platform to operate from (i-mode) and their business model is also arguably better than in the rest of the world. Clever revenue sharing agreements in Japan mean that the best content owners are actually making enough money to market the services themselves. An m-banking project started in 2006 by Banco do Brasil for instance now has 300,000 regular users in Japan and uptake has been faster than in their home country, Brazil. The mobile banking project provides SMS balance statements and mobile payments; it is just one example of how convenient m-services can beat the traditional wired Internet. In addition, the underlying technology is invisible to users - a prime factor in delivering mobile services successfully. Nevertheless, the sheer number of different device models on the market, and the multitude of network bearer technologies, constitutes a serious technical hurdle to mobile Internet and media services. Upgrades to the mobile network, for instance, may affect the performance of devices already in use by subscribers. Inversely, improvements to 3G device capabilities may interfere with the radio access settings of one or more network suppliers. Because the latest devices are far more powerful in their functions and play a far more interactive role with the core Internet multimedia sub-system, interoperability issues between mobile networks and devices are mind-bogglingly complex. Compare the number of makes of mobiles you can mentally list with the small number of PC manufacturers. Then compare the number of mobile technologies (GSM, GPRS, i-mode, UMTS, HSPA) with ADSL, the standard, wired broadband technology. It is easy to understand that ensuring compatibility for effective delivery of content to mobiles is a business in itself. In the trade, we refer to it as MDM, mobile device management, and recognise a small number of software specialists able to deploy a device knowledge database. One database, for instance, contains compatibility details for over 800 different models simultaneously marketed and connected to networks. Automatic and live discovery of mobile phones when they connect to the network gives operators control over the device ‘fleet’ and means they can invisibly track performance between the network and customer devices, and even invisibly fix bugs over the air before the customer notices. A big issue for mobile users in smaller Asian territories is the cost and availability of mobile multimedia when roaming abroad on a different mobile network. Unlike classic Internet, wired telephony or WiFi, mobile network airtime is costly and requires configuration by the user. One simple yet little-known solution for providing multimedia services is USSD. Using the USSD, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, bearer channel in the GSM network is a way to provide interactive dialogue between service applications and the mobile user with fast and predictable response time. The information is delivered whatever the make and model of the device, and regardless of the geographical locations. This is possible due to the universal nature of USSD access numbers. USSD was built into the GSM standard as a means of transmitting information or instructions over the signalling channels of a GSM network. Certain payment solution specialists discovered its virtues as a quick and easy-to-use channel for accessing a prepaid subscriber’s balance back in the mid nineties. The beauty of USSD is its ability to respond to simple requests very quickly. The user enters a string code request typically containing star and hash-key symbols and two seconds later gets his answer displayed on the screen. Today, value-added multimedia services can be accessed through a single USSD browser. USSD-enabled access displays an Internet-like screen with a menu of service choices. Unlike the unpopular WAP access, which bills users for browsing without actually requesting content, and phone configurations that need complex settings, USSD access is standard in all handsets and free of charge, even while roaming. USSD offers immediate access with more convenience than sending an SMS request, and the information content is delivered in the same interactive session. The USSD access code, and shortcuts to favourites, can be stored in the phonebook for easier access by the customer. Polyphonic ring tones, pictures, video clips, java games, quizzes, news, weather forecasts, train schedules and TV guides are all examples of content services accessible through a single USSD code and presented in a user-friendly menu. The USSD Menu Bowser, UMB, can be extended to offer innovative location-based services. Due to the cellular coverage afforded by mobile antennas, a mobile user can, for instance, search for restaurants in the vicinity of his actual location, or discover the train timetables at the nearest stations. The SIM, the unique personal identification card that GSM subscribers keep and transfer between devices, can also be used for profiling services. New Dynamic SIM Tool Kits, D-STK, can generate updates as they appear and customize them so that mobile users can browse refreshed content menus without being connected. Another way to promote mobile services is to leverage the SIM-card for security purposes. The Internet is renowned for its hackers who can copy and crack user passwords in seconds. The traditional password just does not provide enough guarantees for many people to leave their credit card or other sensitive details. SIM-based authentication is secure in that it is a personal item and can be ‘wiped and locked’ in case a user loses his mobile device. The SIM not only provides network access, but is also a powerful tool for digital security. No secret, static, data is transmitted via an insecure network as on the Internet. There is an opportunity for mobile operators and providers to differentiate their services from classical Internet by promoting secure transactions. The recent attention by mobile operators to behind-the-scenes issues, as opposed to relentless promotions of hyped mobile services, is explained by consistently bad consumer survey results. Real-time solutions for effective and useful multimedia information delivery on small screens are the obvious way ahead for mobile services.