It's the mobile enterprise, stupid

Rather than trying to ape the iPod's success, the mobile industry need to heed the warning of T-Mobile and Siemens and start giving business users a better deal

The most influential device at 3GSM this week was a product launched in 2001 by a company that to this day has never sold a phone or a second of airtime. Such is the power of the iPod and the revolution in digital content it has created. Digital content equals revenue to the mobile industry, and it has responded with undisguised lust.

So much of the news from 3GSM this week centred on mobile music that you'd think the World Congress was sharing Cannes with the Grammys. If it wasn't Microsoft and Nokia kissing and making up, it was Sony Ericsson saying it would launch mobile phones under the Walkman brand and Sendo announcing that the X2 would be a music-mobile combo.

It is reasonable for operators to leap on the bandwagon with the most gold. But galloping off in pursuit of the consumer at the expense of the enterprise customer is less than sensible.

As Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile, put it: "One in five European workers... spends significant time [working] out of the office… I think that this is a somewhat underestimated market." Operators who don't want to battle it out selling me-too consumer products will do much better in the long term focusing on giving corporate customers what they need.

Billing needs major attention. 3G data cards feel like an extra expense first and a useful business tool second -- as Siemens' Lothar Pauly pointed out. Integrated services are important too -- the UK 3G operators get a gold star for bundling 3G and Wi-Fi, but why no broadband on the same tab? Mobile firms must work in conjunction with service and infrastructure providers to provide complete packages with well-defined costs and capabilities. The BlackBerry, another hit at 3GSM, makes this approach plain.

Mobile security has a long way to go before it is understood and trusted, even though virus writers are still at the concept stage with malware like Cabir and Skulls. Symbian is adding a new security framework to its OS 9, but this is only a start. The more that a mobile phone becomes a portable office -- T-Mobile's bold claim -- the greater the risk of losing it. A stolen laptop is an expense: a stolen laptop with direct access to the corporate LAN is a disaster.

The mobile industry has a long history of over-promising and under-delivering, with data services being among the worst disappointments. From analogue cellular data to 3G, the enterprise experience has been one expensively-bought frustration. The mobile innovator who understands this and provides the answer will have the very best mobile music experience -- singing all the way to the bank.

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