Mobile operators take DRM biscuit

The mobile operators can't swallow the price of DRM. Let them eat cake
Written by Leader , Contributor

Mobile telecoms operators are in pain. Eager to grab digital-media cash, they're keen to start offering music, video and games to their customers over the networks. The content providers are ready to play too, providing DRM is in place to protect their valuable wares. The DRM intellectual property owners are in the middle of all this, and they have a simple wish. Lots and lots of money, up front and ongoing. How unfair, cry the operators. How short-sighted.

Mobile phone and data users know what it's like to be offered expensive, restrictive services. We are very familiar with being told what we want instead of being asked, and of the frustration of finding things we need explicitly denied. The mobile data market is a tiny fraction of the size of fixed broadband, not because nobody wants it but because hardly anyone can afford it.

So, while we recognise the frustrations the industry feels when the owners of DRM patents point to a barrel and say 'bend over', we do not feel one iota of sympathy. Glee, perhaps, but not sympathy. When mobile companies complain that it's better for DRM makers to have small slices of a big cake than big slices of a small one, we are more than happy to pass the indigestion tablets — after all, we've had to swallow similar half-baked nonsense for long enough.

Assuming that greed gets the upper hand, then the industry's nightmare scenario will come to pass. Multiple incompatible systems will lead to small, undersubscribed enclaves of overpriced content and useless services. Revenue growth will be a fraction of the rosy predictions the companies dream about, and the development of mobile data as a whole will be curtailed.

If the operators want to avoid that, they have to first get their own bakery in order. They must cook their own large cake, and push affordable, reliable mobile data out to as many people as possible. Market growth will come as services evolve to meet user requirements, not by building empty fortresses of protectionism. When they have millions of users ready to consume, the operators will have a strong case to set their own terms: anything else will be a mere crumb of comfort.

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