MWC – thoughts from Day 2

It´s always good to catch up with Neil Montefiore, CEO at Singapore´s Starhub, and formerly head of its competitor M1; he generally offers an interesting counterpoint.

Given my whinge yesterday about data roaming charges it was good to hear Montefiore say that they´re too high and they need to come down. Montefiore said that 80 per cent of his customers disable data when overseas, and that´s probably a typical figure for the industry (Informa has put the average at 70 per cent). Too many operators are making too much money to want to rock the boat, he said, but the industry needs to see the wider opportunity. Starhub has a relatively low daily fee for unlimited use and if this can start to bring that 80 per cent down a bit there´ll be a good story to tell.

Unlike very many operators, Starhub hasn´t outsourced its network and Montefiore said he thinks that short term thinking led a lot of MNOs to take the leap in a bid to drive swift cost reductions. But in five or ten years, he said, they may regret the fact that they no longer have the staff, they no longer have the network and they no longer truly own the technology or the roadmap.

He also said that he´s stopped using Facebook – personally – because it´s become too intrusive for him. Mobile operators have access to a wealth of information about their users but are very tightly regulated on what they´re allowed to do with it, he said. The likes of Facebook have no such checks and balances forced on them which ought at least to raise a question mark, he added.

@TelecomsJames met with Panasonic yesterday, which recently announced a return to the European device market. They told him that the reason they exited in the first place was to give Europe a chance to catch up to Japanese levels of handset technology, which is a bold bit of spin. One feature of the firm´s new device is that it´s waterproof; something that´s apparently become necessary in Japan because women like to take their phone into the shower with them. Go figure.

Panasonic had a disrupted day one when chunks started falling off of the Vodafone pavilion next door, meaning both booths had to be evacuated. Panasonic were homeless for five hours and had to cancel all their meetings. They must have been hoping that proximity to Vodafone would be a little more fruitful than that.

I stopped by the Telefonica stand to see Claire Maslen, who´s spent the last seven years working on O2´s UK mobile commerce play. Recent announcements show rewards being reaped but there are key issues that remain to be resolved. Obviously Maslen – likes all operators – wants the application on the SIM but Fred Huet at Greenwich Consulting said that whether or not the banks go for that solution on a wide scale will depend very much on how much the operators charge them for real estate on the SIM card. Maslen made no mention of this as a revenue stream, focusing instead on the value that operators can add for brands and advertisers looking to drive footfall into stores and online purchases.

NFC is a key component of mobile financial services and I heard this morning that a number of operators are actually developing NFC-specific app stores to take advantage of the technology when it starts to get traction. Shishir Gupta, vice chairman of the Industry Collaboration Working Group for the NFC Forum said the industry shipped 60 million NFC-enabled devices in 2011 and forecast that next year the number will rise to 300 million. In 2015 it will hit 600m. But from the NFC community´s perspective it´s not the contactless tech that will drive the mobile wallet, but the mobile wallet that will showcase the opportunities of NFC.

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