Mobile marketers seek more business dollars

Despite the launch this year of two high-speed networks, the cellular phone market has been a tad quiet of late.

Despite the launch this year of two high-speed networks, the cellular phone market has been a tad quiet of late.

Both Vodafone and Telecom have started the advertising campaign to win your hearts and minds -- and wallets -- and between the impromptu street dances from Vodafone and the "real world business cases" of Telecom it looks like business users are to be courted in a big way.

But what can the two companies offer business users? They can't surely be expecting more new customers -- have you come across anyone in business over the past 12 months who doesn't have a cellphone? Everyone's in contact, from the neurosurgeons to the sales reps.

No, it's not new customers, it's more value from existing customers they're after. Vodafone already makes around 40% of its revenue from business customers, and that's with about a 30% share in the business market. There's room to move there, Telecom willing or not, and according to Russell Stanners, business manager at Vodafone, you can expect to see more from his firm on this side of things in the coming months.

Telecom's TV ads are all about doing real business at high speed. And from the guy getting the latest figures by the side of the pool to the real estate vendor flogging damp apartments to Cantabrians, the key is speed.

I did have my concerns about the whole camera/phone hybrid approach. How can you build a business model around people flocking to buy $2000 phones, I wondered, but both Telecom and Vodafone seem keen. Stanners talked about Tauranga-based company Bloomz, which exports floricultural goodies. (Flowers, to the rest of us.) They're making use of a camera hooked up to a cellphone to show people just what they're getting at the other end. As Stanners says, you can't do that very well with a fax machine.

Stanners won't tell you, though, how much of Vodafone's business is coming from the data side as opposed to the voice. Data is the key to increasing average revenue per user (ARPU in the parlance) because that's where the new networks lie. Build it and they will come, seems to be the philosophy in use here. Meanwhile, true 3G networks are proving to be troublesome and expensive around the world, be they in Japan or South East Asia or in Europe, where the successful bidders in the spectrum auctions of yore are begging for tax breaks to compensate for their overblown purchases. So laissez faire is the most efficient market structure, eh?

But Telecom and Vodafone aren't alone in the market, or at least they won't be in the coming months. The seemingly bashful Econet, which launched with a hiss and a roar and has all but vanished without a trace (though it was involved in the latest spectrum auction), must show its hand sooner rather than later. The problem is, as far as I can see, that Econet was talking about voice services rather than data, and there's appears to be little money to be made in that end of the market these days.

It's the other player that's worth keeping a close eye on. TelstraClear has been selling its own mobile phone numbers, 029-based, over the Vodafone network for some time now, but other than the cute ploy of having the same landline and cellular number for users there hasn't been much to differentiate between TelstraClear's GSM offering and Vodafone's. That has to change if TelstraClear is to become a major player in the cellular market.

If there's one thing the new boss has made clear, it's that TelstraClear wants to avoid building its own network in any particular area. While it was a necessary evil under the old regulatory regime, under the new one it's a costly and time consuming duplication. Better to wholesale supply from a network vendor and build your own offering on top of it. No one knows the value of wholesale supply more than Rosemary Howard, who helmed Telstra's most profitable business segment for a number of years. You can be sure TelstraClear's CEO will be looking to stamp the firm's name on the market. And what better way than by storming the cellular business market.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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