Hunting for the mobile pot of gold

As the telecom industry faces an ever-changing landscape, service providers are seeking new ways to milk the mobile cash cow--whether it's via new SMS technology or satellite content delivery.

As the telecom industry faces an ever-changing landscape, service providers are seeking new ways to milk the mobile cash cow--whether its via new SMS technology or satellite content delivery. The ever popular and extremely profitable Short Message Service (SMS) is about to be rejuvenated, as text content is enhanced with pictures, animation, audio and video.

Building on the success of the SMS business model, MMS, the result of a natural evolution, is poised to exploit the current mobile messaging fever. MMS adds new functionality and capabilities to other existing mobile applications, such as Unified Messaging and Location-Based services. The embellishment of simple text messages with a celebrity jingle, animation or video clip will mean the creation of new applications as well.

Subscribers are expected to create and manipulate their own multimedia content with the aid of sophisticated handset software and external or onboard audio-video devices, like digital cameras, microphones and MP3 players.

This exciting user experience will demand more at a cost to network and message-processing capacity and performance. High-capacity networks, like GPRS and 3G, are expected to alleviate these network issues requiring high-performance message centres to handle the exponential rise in multimedia messages.

The clamour from operators, service providers and subscribers for a non-stop service will rise as MMS popularity and profitability increases.

Based on CMG's experience in designing and building mobile messaging systems, the Multimedia Messaging Service Centre (MMSC) has been developed to process and distribute MMS messages between mobile subscribers, and between subscribers and Internet-based applications. The flexible architecture allows operators to configure it to meet their capacity, performance, reliability and budgetary requirements.

This scalability--where operators only pay for what they use--combined with a small system-footprint and advanced network management and control features will be a boon for aspiring operators.

On the operational side, its store-and-forward method increases delivery reliability, ensuring that messages destined for handsets 'out of operation', for instance, are held and transmitted when delivery is possible. Furthermore, its support of legacy SMS handsets should increase the uptake and acceptance of MMS in its early stages.

Regional trials in the USA, Europe and Asia-Pacific will start in mid-summer and are expected to last several months.

With general release scheduled for end 2001, the MMSC is set to be launched into a mobile market populated with GPRS networks and MMS-enabled handsets, and CMG is confident that being the first mass-market service for GPRS, it offers a quick GPRS-investment payback and provides a compelling reason for operators to move to high-capacity networks.

"We anticipate similar availability demands for MMS from operators and their content provisioning partners alike: loss of service resulting in loss of valuable air-time revenue and customers is totally unacceptable and this places stringent demands on the reliability of our 'always-on' guarantee," reports Aram Krol, CMG Wireless Data Solutions' product manager for Multimedia Messaging.

The company recently confirmed the sale of its Cell Broadcast System to two major Chinese provincial mobile operators, Sichuan Mobile Communications Corporation (Sichuan MCC) and Hebei Mobile Communications Corporation (Hebei MCC), subsidiaries of the China Mobile Communications Group.

Sichuan MCC, which covers the west China province and boasts over 2.5m subscribers, has installed a dual-node Cell Broadcast System; and Hebei MCC, which services the province adjacent to the capital and has around 2.3m users, will take delivery shortly of a single-node Cell Broadcast System. Significantly, the installed systems will interface and inter-work with these operators' diverse network equipment from Ericsson, Nortel and Motorola.

Cell Broadcast, a messaging service with similarities to videotext, is proving popular in the China region. Using existing standards and exploiting inherent characteristics of today's GSM technology, Cell Broadcast makes 'focused' (on subscriber-location and target group) information services possible, offering subscribers access to hundreds of individual mobile channels, and providing operators and content providers with a new revenue stream.

Moreover, Cell Broadcast is in for the long haul. In defining Cell Broadcast as part of the UMTS network's core functionality, supported by standards, the UMTS standards-authority, 3GPP, has secured Cell Broadcasts future in third generation mobile technology.

When they go live by the third-quarter, both Cell Broadcast operations will deliver information services in such areas as lifestyle, finance and sport, as well as, offer advertising time and space for sale.

Indosat, the Indonesian operator that was granted the nation-wide SM 1800 operator license recently, also announced that it has selected CMG’s messaging solution to offer quality mobile data services to its subscribers. Analysts have consistently flagged Indonesia as the next probable SMS-boom market. Three out of five Indonesian operators now use the CMG messaging solution.

Like many of its counterparts in Malaysia and Philippines, Indonesia's third cellular operator PT Excelcomindo Pratama, or popularly known as Excelcom, has also decided to provide SMS for its 800,000 subscribers. They have selected an end-to-end SMS solution from Comverse , allowing them the ability to offer notification services, mobile-originated short message services, SMS banking and various entertainment services such as ring tone downloads.

The growth of SMS in Indonesia today is driven by steady subscribers growth and increasing popularity for person-to-person messaging. Mr. Hoong See Chye, Director, Sales Asia Pacific of CMG Wireless Data Solutions, remarks that “CMG’s business critical approach to SMS is providing the perfect fit with operators that take messaging very serious and pursue exceptional growth.”

SMS provides considerable revenue opportunities for operators. Recently the largest operator in Malaysia, Celcom, also selected CMG’s SMS Center together with their real-time Prepaid Billing System for SMS and a suite of essential Business Intelligence tools. Today SMS provides between 4 and 20% of the total operator revenue.

In line with other well known SMS success stories of CMG's clients, such as Globe Telecom of the Philippines, France Telecom, D2 Vodafone and Telefonica, Celcom is now expected to achieve rapid and sustained SMS traffic growth. SMS is known to generate substantial additional revenues to operators that could easily run up to 20% of their total revenue.

Celcom's target for 2001 is to aggressively boost the usage of SMS for both post and pre-paid subscribers. Prepaid subscribers tend to generate three times as much traffic as post-paid. Introduction of Premium SMS services could double mobile data revenues.

In another industry development, global communication solutions provider Inmarsat Limited looks set to change the face of satellite communications with the introduction of the world's first global mobile satellite packet data service.

The global mobile satellite technology company will launch the industry's first global mobile packet data service at the end of the month via its Global Area Network (GAN) satellite service.

Michael Butler, managing director of Inmarsat said the announcement would be of significant interest to Asia's business community, as it would provide a robust, flexible and cost effective global mobile satellite communication solution to countries throughout Asia, including Singapore.

"While the rest of the telecoms industry is still testing or in some cases only talking about 2.5G services, Inmarsat will be delivering the first global mobile satellite packet data solution," said Butler. "This is tried and tested technology, available to match the demand which businesses have today."

Particularly suitable for those wishing to access corporate LANs and VPN's when they work away from their corporate headquarters, GAN offers business users up to 64 kbit/s mobile ISDN connectivity for video conferencing or the ability to access their corporate LANs at nearly seven times the speed of cellular/GSM.

According to Butler, business users of GAN will be able to select the speed of ISDN at the flexibility and cost efficiency of mobile packet data.

"Some solutions such as emails and web access will benefit from the potential of 'always connected' technology that the mobile packet data service offers, while others, such as video conferencing, will continue to benefit from a mobile ISDN solution," said Butler. "The point is the customer now has the choice."

The mobile packet data service delivers data in packets optimised for use over Inmarsat's geostationary network of satellites and one key benefit would be the fact that users of the system would only be charged for the data that they sent and received, and not for the time they were connected.

"With Internet and Intranet access when using 'traditional' circuit switch technology, data is transferred in bursts with considerable amounts of 'dead time' in between. This, in addition to the time spent reading, means that you are being charged when there is no data being received," he said.

"With mobile packet data, you are only charged for the data transmitted and you get the reading time at no extra cost."

The implications of this technology are for GAN terminals to be set up and left connected to Inmarsat's satellite network 24 hours a day, seven days a week, enabling users to surf the web, send and receive emails and documents across all the continents of the world outside the North and South poles.

Inmarsat's GAN mobile packet data will be available via its global network of partners. It is expected that Telenor Broadband Services AS of Norway will be the first, with services due to be available in July.

Xantic in the Netherlands and Australia plan to make the service available in mid-August and Comsat Mobile Communications in the USA plans to launch mobile packet data in September 2001. France Telecom and Stratos Global (who recently acquired BT's mobile satellite interests) in Canada and UK, are also expected to launch their mobile packet data service in September.

SingTel in Singapore who currently offers mobile ISDN for GAN is expected to launch mobile packet data in the coming months. KDDI in Japan is expected to launch mobile ISDN later this year and mobile packet data sometime in 2002.

Typical solutions for GAN mobile packet data include email, web access, and file transfers, while GAN mobile ISDN is ideally suited to video conferencing and the sending of pictures, video and broadcast quality radio services.

GAN mobile ISDN is currently used by some of the world's biggest broadcasters including the BBC and CNN. The BBC, using Inmarsat via Stratos Mobile Networks use mobile ISDN extensively for live radio car broadcast for Radio 5 Live, the World Service and news gathering.

GAN is particularly useful to enterprise and business in the financial sector when operating in areas with limited bandwidth, or variable quality of telecommunications service. Also data hungry sectors such as oil and gas, mining and engineering use GAN, enabling then to benefit from significant efficiencies and productivity gains.

Michael Butler concluded: "Mobile packet data is an important development for Inmarsat as this paves the way for future services such as our planned 432 kbit/s Broadband Global Area Network, expected to commence in 2004, which will offer a full suite of 3G compliant services."