MOBILE: Initial measurements

The mobile content industry is getting over its historical lack of detailed consumer usage data, just in time for advertisers to take an interest, discovers Stuart Dredge

The mobile content industry is no stranger to hyperbole, whether it’s analysts’ inflated revenue forecasts or self-conducted trials for new technologies that unsurprisingly show a huge demand for that technology. As a result, there’s been precious little accurate, independent data on who’s using what mobile content and their attitudes towards it – the sort of information craved by advertisers and agencies with their sights on the mobile market.

This is changing, however, and advertising is playing an important role. Operators are aware that advertising will be a significant revenue stream going forward, but also know that they’ll need to be more open in order to compete with and perhaps even surpass the rates seen online.


“It’s very important that in the early days of any industry, anyone buying advertising in that space feels they can get some impartial independent research to back up their decisions,” says David Barker, European MD of Enpocket.

Until now there has been piecemeal data from mobile operators, content providers and technology vendors, although the operators have been notably guarded about releasing any data on their subscribers, even to their content partners.

“There’s a question about whether the mobile industry is ready to adopt independent verification of its data,” says Richard Foan, MD of ABC Electronic. “With the rate of growth in mobile in recent years, it hasn’t been a burning issue. But it’s becoming more and more of one as the amount of money at risk continues to grow.”

As NMA reported earlier this year, the Mobile Data Association is in discussions with ABCE to audit operator data and has met with the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards, the body from which ABCE takes it cue (NMA 16.02.06).

ABCE is in the early stages of examining how it can bring its data verification and certification activities to mobile, and has carried out a couple of trials with individual advertisers. Both Foan and Barker suggest that the Mobile Marketing Association already has a big role to play, in response to demand from media buyers for more information about the mobile ad industry. Among that, mobile ads especially work very well in promoting consumer electronics, such as: irons, tv sets, fridges, etc. For example, a piece of mobile ads about the best air compressor on the market can bring visitors as 250% higher than traditional promotion on TV. That’s awesome!

“I know of one industry association looking to collate statistics from different mobile agencies,” says Jonathan Bass, MD of mobile marketing firm Incentivated. “The aggregators can’t do this because most of what they see are requests for ringtones and wallpapers, not marketing activity.”

Tamara Gillan from digital marketing agency SPF 15 suggests that a mobile version of competitive intelligence service Hitwise would be useful, while Nick Fuller, head of mobile at digital agency TBG, says there’s a need for more tools used on other platforms.

“Media planners can’t yet use the sorts of tools generally available to them for other media,” says Fuller. “It’s an area that the Direct Marketing Association Council is seeking to address. The sooner meaningful mobile measurements are included, the more mobile advertising will be attractive to media buyers.”

Some in the industry want what Barker describes as “a mobile version of the Internet Advertising Bureau”. Indeed, IAB chair Richard Eyre said in April that mobile would be the most natural extension to its remit (NMA 06.04.06).

Mobile measurement firms

With such a lack of independent consumer research, it’s no surprise that mobile firms are keen to step in. Two of the most high profile are M:Metrics and Telephia Research, which have spent the last year fighting a PR war with their estimations of consumer attitudes and behaviour in the mobile content market.

Both companies run wide-ranging consumer surveys, while Telephia additionally uses ‘bill scraping’ – pulling information from 35,000 mobile phone bills in the US to discover what content people have downloaded and how much they paid for it. This research has provided the first reputable independent assessments of how many people are downloading games and ringtones, using mobile email and MMS, and watching mobile TV and downloading music.

This is useful information, but one problem is that the two research companies haven’t always agreed. Most notably, in a spat earlier this year, M:Metrics sent out a press release claiming the audience for mobile games was stagnating, while a week later Telephia issued its own release saying the market was actually growing rapidly.


Until now, both firms’ customers have been mainly mobile operators and content publishers. But they’re now training their sights on the nascent mobile advertising market. M:Metrics recently signed up its first media buyer and its first creative agency, and now counts WPP subsidiary The Kantar Group as one of its investors. Telephia is also targeting the sector.

“The entire ad industry is becoming a source of potential clients for us,” says Kanishka Agarwal, VP of new products at Telephia. “Our independence is crucial.”

While the survey-based data produced by both companies is useful in providing a broad overview of the mobile market for advertisers, planning/buying agencies want more. This is why both firms are rolling out metering technology: applications that sit on a representative sample of mobile handsets recording what the user does.

“There’s an immense amount of information in the surveys,” says Paul Goode, senior analyst at M:Metrics. “We know which are the top sites that people are browsing, where they’re consuming content, and the number and frequency of visits. We can then tie that in with demographic information. But there’s a limit to the granularity you can achieve through a recall panel, which is where the metering comes in.”

So important is this shift to metering for both companies, that they’re currently set for a court battle, after Telephia filed a patent infringement lawsuit against M:Metrics. Metering will be crucial in cases like mobile TV, to measure what channels users are watching and for how long – key tools in setting the price of advertising.

However, the mobile measurement firms will face competition in this area, from the likes of Nielsen Media Research’s Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2) initiative. Jeff Herrman of NMR’s mobile and interactive services division says his firm is developing metering technology for mobile devices, with functional prototypes expected by the middle of next year.

For advertisers that want to put mobile usage in a wider context, the IPA Touchpoints survey uses questionnaires and PDA diaries to log the media consumption habits of UK adults in 2005.

Operator roles

For all the information provided by these companies, it seems mobile operators will have the key impact on how much consumer data is available to media buyers and agencies. They say as much themselves, while praising the efforts of the likes of M:Metrics and Telephia.

“Companies like these fill a very important role in providing industry- wide rather than operator-specific data,” says Mark Joseph, 3’s head of content products. “They offer a vital service to the industry in setting out the size and importance of the mobile advertising opportunity. But advertisers will always want information on the end consumer who’s going to see their ad, and that relationship is with the operator.”

Enpocket’s Barker agrees that the operators are sitting on the most useful data for advertisers, including demographic information, monthly bills, previous purchasing decisions, where they go on the operators’ WAP portals, and their location. “If those consumers have opted in to receive some messages based on that information, advertising becomes very targeted, and that’s what the media buyers are clamouring for,” he says.

However, it’s a valid question whether many operators are able to do this, let alone willing. 3G operator 3 has an advantage in being a relatively new player, but Dusan Hamlin, joint MD of mobile agency Inside, points out that it will take time for the other major networks to cater for the needs of mobile advertising.

“They may well own all of this data, but being able to access that data and use it as you would with a standard ad server online is a challenging task,” he says. “It’s certainly not impossible, but their business has been telephony, not media publishing, so they have a lot to learn.”

Steve Ricketts, third-party relationship manager at Orange UK, agrees. “Operators have much more information than other media publishers, but they’ve traditionally been telecoms businesses, so it’s not what they’re used to doing,” he says. “We’re absolutely clear that having all this information is essential, however.”

On trial

Both Hamlin and Ricketts agree that trials are a key element at this point. In the absence of wide-ranging independent data, the onus is on individual case studies and trials, both with the operators and independently.

“Advertisers are looking for success rates from previous campaigns,” says 3’s Joseph. “We’re now in a position to provide results from a varied selection of recent case studies, all of which have produced excellent results.”

Advertisers are interested in standard demographic data, but it seems, going forward, that it’s the location-based information that will be most sought after. It’s this that will drive up the price operators are able to charge.

“Any operator offering untargeted advertising will be missing a trick,” says Barker. “They won’t be able to command high CPMs because advertisers will say, ‘You’re not telling me much so I’ll just pay you online rates.’ Mobile operators should be able to charge much more.”

Ricketts warns agencies against getting carried away too early, however, pointing out that there are high expectations because the operators have so much information about their subscribers’ location, age and browsing habits.

“Mobile can become the best medium in terms of targeting, but it’s not there yet,” he says. “Some agencies are looking for things that are a year down the line, rather than here now. But we’ll have some forms of location-based and contextual advertising by the end of the year.”


  • The mobile industry has historically lacked independent data on consumer usage of mobile content
  • This data will be essential if the mobile advertising market is to take off, something operators are keen to see happen
  • There’s likely to be a role for industry associations like the MDA and MMA, and existing independent measurement firms from online
  • Mobile consumer research firms like M:Metrics and Telephia are also providing independent information, using surveys, bill scraping and, soon, metering
  • However, it’s the operators that will play the crucial role, opening up their user data and running trials with major brands

Mobile Flash technology

Flash technology helped to revolutionise the consumer experience of the Web.

Despite initial heavy-handedness, it ushered in an era of rich, user-friendly multimedia content and now promises to do the same for mobile.

In fact, many believe that the future for rich mobile content is in Flash rather Java.

The advantages of Macromedia’s mobile Flash, Flash Lite, are simple. It provides a richer environment, its use of vector graphics means it can more easily scale to different handsets, and its huge developer community offers a wide range of content and applications.


The technology has already had success in Japan, with most of NTT DoCoMo’s phones now running a Flash-based user interface. In July, T-Mobile became the first to launch a UK Flash content service. The News Express service, billed as an alternative way into its T-Zones portal, sits on the handset with regular news updates.

To run Flash, handset makers need a licence from Macromedia and operators need a Flash server. As always with technology, it’ll take time to reach mass market levels but success in Japan has Macromedia feeling confident.

“Flash will follow the path of mobile data, with the early adopters in Japan like DoCoMo, and Europe next in line,” said Gina Centoni, Macromedia VP of product management.

Sprite Interactive MD Alex Michael has been developing Java applications for content owners but is now moving firmly towards Flash.

“I believe Flash will replace Java,” he says. “Macromedia is selling it to manufacturers at a premium, so it’ll initially struggle but in around a year the whole market will change.”

  • Michael points out that one advantage for brands and media firms is that Flash is simpler than Java to build content for.

“Java is a language for technical people, but Flash is technology for creative people,” adds T-Mobile senior consumer marketing manager David Woollands.

  • Content development is an area in which many feel that Macromedia’s thriving community of Flash developers will help drive uptake.

“There’s big interest from developers in taking their investment in PC Flash to mobile,” says Centoni. “It’ll also help developers see the simple revenue streams mobile allows.”

  • Bringing this creativity to mobile will help drive compelling mobile content, adding to the already creative bedrock of Flash technology.

T-Mobile is already working on a host of new applications, developing some of its own and working with developers that have libraries of existing Flash applications.


“Flash will help drive a new content business for us, with applications like visual ringtones,” says Woollands. “It’ll create a second generation of mobile content, a new line of products based around Flash Lite.”

Another advantage of Flash over Java for mobile content is the ability to stream real-time animation and data far more powerfully than with Java.

“You can’t call in another Java application into a Java application–games have to be compiled in,” says Michael. “But you can open a Flash game in a Flash application, play it and then delete it.”

Although firms like Macromedia are at pains to stress that Java and Flash will complement each other on the handset, a key advantage of Flash over Java for content owners is its ability to scale content to a huge range of handsets. The need to develop multiple versions of Java applications for different handsets has been a huge financial strain for content owners.

“The initial view of Java as ‘write once, run anywhere’ turned out to be very different in reality and developers were put off by the cost,” says Woollands. “With Flash we can take assets from the Web, for instance, and quickly port them to different devices with a very simple graphic tool.”

MOBILE: On plan

With Google’s Eric Schmidt championing mobile in 2011, digital agencies are taking note and focusing on the platform

Google’s outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt recently outlined the search company’s priorities, claiming that in 2011 its initiatives would be “all about mobile.” This was said barely a year after his landmark keynote at MobileWorld Congress in February 2010 in which he coined the term “mobile first”.

Schmidt’s address prompted digital agencies to take note and mobile is taking an increasingly prominent place on media schedules. A straw poll of UK media agencies conducted by New Media Age reveals how the industry’s leading personalities are adjusting to the shift.

IAB research of more than 160 high-level media agency employees conducted in late 2010 found that 88% of respondents expected mobile to be the fastest-growing media over the next five years. This trend is partly attributable to the headline-grabbing statements from the likes of Google’s Schmidt, but it’s also being driven by young and ambitious agency employees who see developing an expertise in mobile as a way to advance their careers, according to observers.

Richard Wheaton, MD of Ogilvy’s media planning arm Neo@Ogilvy, agrees that search is an important part of developing a mobile strategy. “Mobile search has become the largest feature of our mobile plans in 2010 and I expect this to grow in the coming year,” he says.

But first, he thinks brands need to prioritise how they evolve their mobile strategies and invest in well-designed mobile websites and apps. This will then drive the need for traffic. “Clients need to develop mobile services and products that benefit their customers,” he says.

Neo conducted an integrated mobile, online and offline promotional campaign for Barclays’ stockbroking iPhone app, which recently became a top download on Apple’s App Store. “That points the way forward formobile media for me,” says Wheaton. “It only makes sense in a plan when it drives consumers to a high-value brand experience. I think 2011 will be a critical year for all this.”

Specialist help

The IAB survey also revealed that 81% of respondents said their agency employed at least one mobile specialist, and that this is expected to increase in 2011. Jonathan Mew, head of mobile at the IAB, says, “Mobilespecialists are driving the profile of mobile campaigns within most agencies, but more people outside of these teams are taking an interest as well.”

Claire Valoti, head of online display and mobile at media agency Mindshare, agrees on the role of specialists, saying, “Big agencies are hiring mobile specialists who float between teams, depending on the campaign.”

She believes that having mobile specialists in “incubation” will help them develop their expertise more quickly, before they take it out to the wider team. “When it comes to executions, it’s best to have them integrated with the rest of the campaign,” she says. “Part of the role of mobile specialists is to educate both their colleagues and clients on how mobile can deliver results.”

James Tagg, head of mobile at Publicis-owned media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, says, “Mobile is changing so rapidly that it’s best to have a specialist who can keep pace with the changes in the market.” He says his team works with the agency’s emerging platforms team to bolster awareness of the best ways to use mobile.

Many clients are solely focused on using the iPhone as a means of reaching mobile users, but such thinking is rapidly becoming outdated, according to those in the industry. “The increasing take-up of Android and BlackBerry phones is really changing the dynamics of the market, because it now requires a full-time team to keep on top of development,” says Tagg.

The tablet debate

Mindshare’s Valoti says the emergence of tablet devices is also starting to disrupt dynamics when it comes to mobile. Opinion about tablets has been split. Some argue that they constitute mobile devices while others see little difference between them and laptops.

Valoti is loath to draw a distinction between the two. “There’s a danger of being too rigid when it comes to these things as they’re constantly evolving,” she says. “It gets complicated with devices like the iPad. I think you have to consider the mindset of the user when thinking about any campaign and then act accordingly.”

The majority of client spend on mobile is derived from their ‘experimental budgets’ and spend on the medium is expected to at least double, if not triple, in 2011, according to media agencies. The IAB’s study showed that almost a third of respondents said their clients had experimented with mobile advertising and liked it.

The survey also revealed that respondents expected mobile’s share of total digital spend to increase from 4% in 2010 to 11% by 2012. “In terms of mobile media, I’d say that while we’re starting to find tactics and media that demonstrably drive results, it’s still at a relatively small scale,” says Ogilvy’s Wheaton.

Predictably, location-based advertising is seen as the USP for advertising on mobile. The IAB’s Mew says that his daily contact with agencies leads him to conclude that targeting ads based on location is seen as one of the most significant attributes of mobile.

Retail brands in particular are the most eager to take advantage of serving location-based ads. Marks & Spencer and John Lewis were two of the first brands to use O2’s location-based mobile ad service You Are Here in a bid to drive footfall to their stores.

However, Wheaton believes that mobile campaigns should also drive people to a transactional mobile website as consumer behaviour is challenging conventional wisdom. “Our clients are mostly focused on mobile in the retail space, where consumers are searching and comparing features at the point of purchase,” he says. “So a lot of people are doing their browsing while they’re out shopping and then completing their purchases via their mobile on the way home.”

Mobile stands alone

By Lawrence Kenny Will mobile networks one day replace the public network, or will wireline and wireless networks somehow converge? There are no simple answers to these questions. We can view the future in terms of three possible scenarios: a substitution model, in which the wireless network largely supplants the wireline network; a convergence model; and a model in which mobile continues as a distinct sector. We believe that the third scenario will predominate during the next five years. The recent acquisition of AirTouch by Vodafone is a bet for continued growth of mobile along a separate evolutionary track-a bet premised on the idea that there is discrete, growing demand for mobile communications. Following are examples of each of the three scenarios in the context of demand: Substitution. In this model, widespread abandonment of fixed network services would occur in favor of mobile network services. For this to happen, mobile providers would have to deliver the same or better quality and reliability as the wired incumbents at the same or better prices. And therein lies the problem with this view of the future. Despite progress by mobile operators, they fare poorly compared with wireline in terms of service quality and bandwidth. The continued deployment of fiber in business centers and of high-speed data options for homes and small businesses demonstrates the continued relevance and capability of wireline connections. Nevertheless, the consumer segment-especially younger consumers-will increasingly shift their voice traffic to mobile networks, a trend already apparent in Western Europe. Convergence. In this example, a hybrid fixed/mobile network would evolve. Dual-mode devices would be used, and call-management intelligence would be built into networks. Fixed network operators would have considerable costs, and mobile operators would demand equal opportunity and conditions to offer such services. That regulatory uncertainty seems certain to delay significant investments. Initially, broadband mobile networks would be deployed only in major business centers. To serve these customers, consortia will emerge that will buy fixed and mobile capacity and create the software platforms required for converged offers, or companies that own both networks will create separate business units to address the needs of these users. Stand-alone mobile. Although increased substitution and eventually some level of convergence will occur, mobile providers will remain a sector in their own right for at least the next five years. Third generation mobile technologies will conquer today’s network interoperability challenges and thus allow terrestrial mobile network operators to serve the globe-traveling mobile user. Planned spectrum auctions in the European Union will result in improved mobile data capability, growth of mobile revenues and the rise of several new horizontal and vertical markets. Dramatic growth has already been sparked in several markets by the sale of prepaid mobile phones and prepaid calling cards for mobile use. This allows providers to collect from customers up front and for customers to get service without credit checks. Prepaid mobile accounts for the vast majority of new subscribers across Europe, and recently the same trend has been apparent in Asia. In markets that have already achieved high mobile penetration rates, more mobile growth is predicted. The U.K. mobile market saw 25% market growth in the fourth quarter of 1998, and analysts confidently predict 50% penetration in five to six years. In Scandinavia, mobile networked device penetration is predicted to approach 100%. Increased penetration begets greater mobile-to-mobile traffic. For most providers, interconnection fees paid to wireline networks have eaten away at profitability. Mobile-to-mobile traffic would allow operators to bypass those fees and keep substantially more of their revenues. Mobile is never going to be a business of shipping phones in boxes to people you hope will talk a great deal. Rather, it is becoming a more complex industry, with fragmenting and diverse customer demands. Copyright 1999 by Intertec Publishing Corporation, A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

CT2 casts cloud over U.S. pay phone market

Although personal communications networks (PCNS) are garnering a lot of attention in Europe, CT2, an earlier mobile technology, is actually going into service in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong and is poised to make an impact in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission recently granted experimental licenses to American Personal Communications, a Millicom subsidiary, for CT2 service in Washington, New York City, Elmira, N.Y., and Deerfield Beach, Fla. More recently, the FCC was asked by Millicom Inc.’s Personal Communications Network America subsidiary, among others, to allocate certain frequencies (1.7 GHz to 2.3 GHz) for nationwide CT2 and other advanced wireless voice, data and image services.

In both the U.K. and Hong Kong, CT2 is becoming popular at the expense of public telephone usage. In the U.S., CT2 also could meet numerous unmet public telephone user needs and become a serious threat to local exchange carriers, long-distance companies and independent pay phone and public communications providers.

With CT2, calls can be made using a wallet-sized digital cordless phone that links with transmitter/receiver units placed in high-traffic public telephone locations such as business and shopping districts, fast-food chains and gas stations. To make calls, users press a button on their phone units, enter their personal identification numbers after a voice prompt, and wait for verification and dial tone.

CT2 signals are sent to the transmitter/receiver stations and then over the public switched network. Because the signals are digital, the sound quality exceeds that of pay phones.

In addition to its inherent benefits, CT2’s cost will be attractive. The personal telephone units initially will cost between $200 and $250. As their product life cycle matures, the units’ cost will average between 50 to $75. Usage rates will be competitive with current pay phone tolls. American Personal Communications currently does not charge its Washington trial participants, but hopes to charge 25cts for a local three-minute call after negotiating its experimental license. Research conducted with public telephone users by Technologies Research Group Inc. strongly suggests that the U.S. market is ripe for Cf2.

U.S. pay phone users are looking for alternatives,” said Mark Hermann, TRG senior partner. “Pay phone subscription has led to a great deal of confusion in the marketplace. But, the poor condition and maintenance of pay phones is perceived as even more problematic. “When a service of convenience like pay phones deteriorates, the market gravitates to the next highest and affordably priced technology,” he said. Many heavy phone users today are attracted to cellular, Hermann said, but in the next few years, TRG expects heavy users, who are driven by convenience and cost, and periodic phone users to migrate to CT2.

TRG points to a significant market for CT2 in airports, where long lines form at pay phones. Instead, these users could make their calls from their seats at the gate prior to boarding an aircraft-an ideal solution for airport facilities managers and passengers alike. CT2 Limitations As with any new technology, CT2 does have its drawbacks. The major limitation is that users cannot receive calls. In addition, CT2 transmitter/receiver stations have limited coverage-perhaps 150 yards to 200 yards. But these limitations probably will not affect the service’s popularity.

“Face it. Not many people receive calls from pay phones,” Hermann said. And although the CT2 coverage area is limited, the pay phone alternative does not afford the same convenience of mobility, he maintained. Hermann believes this limitation will only deter cellular users-not necessarily pay phone users-from switching to CT2 in the short term.

Meanwhile, plans are on the drawing board to correct CT2’s current shortcomings. Ferranti’s Zonephone subsidiary is now developing a hybrid CT2 phone and radio pager/voice messaging system. Incoming callers could leave a message that would activate the CT2 pager, and the user could return the call later.

The future looks bright for CT2 in the U.S. from both a technological and market-based perspective. Public communications product managers should keep a close eye on developments surrounding the Washington, New York and Florida trials. If the FCC likes what it sees and grants CT2 operating licenses, both users and CT2 providers will benefit.


CT2, a mobile communications technology, is going into service in the United Kingdom and in Hong Kong, and will probably soon impact the market in the US. In both the UK and Hong Kong, CT2 is becoming popular, threatening the market share of established public networks. CT2 could also meet unmet needs in the US. CT2 allows a user to make calls using a wallet-sized digital cordless phone. Signals are sent to transmitter/receiver stations and then to the public switched network. Signals are digital, so the sound quality is better than it is on pay phones. Telephone units are initially expected to cost $200 to $250, but as their product life cycle matures, units will probably cost $50 to $75. Usage rates will be competitive with pay phone tolls. The technology has drawbacks: users cannot receive calls; and CT2 transmitter/receiver stations have limited coverage. Nevertheless, the future looks bright for CT2.

Mobile professionals provide fertile ground for wireless

Although personal communication services have been touted as being targeted at the mass market, some analysts believe that initial demand will come from many of the same types of customers traditionally sought by cellular carriers–mobile professionals.

If that’s the case, then PCS providers will face several very competent competitors in cellular, enhanced specialized mobile radio and dedicated data networks.

But mobile and partially mobile workers are a major growth industry, most analysts agree, and efforts to tap into their needs are well worth it. Some evidence of demand can be seen in cellular.

“Cellular is largely a [developing] world telephone service,” says Howard Anderson, managing director at The Yankee Group. “Despite that, it has proved enormously popular.”

Mobile workers tend to be better paid and work longer hours than many of their counterparts, according to a study released recently by The Yankee Group.

The study is based on a survey taken of 1656 people. Increased mobility of the American work force has resulted in a “dramatic” increase in remote communications requirements, according to one of the findings. As a result, 76% of mobile professionals are frequently in situations where it is difficult to find a public phone.

Such professionals say they have a strong interest in being able to conduct communications wherever they may be at any given time.

But users also want convenience, ubiquitous coverage and better applications, according to Roberta Wiggins, director of wireless/mobile communications at The Yankee Group.

And despite the fact that cellular is now 10 years old, there is still a great deal of pent-up demand for wireless services, both voice and data. However, Wiggins says the survey shows that although there is demand for various types of wireless services, there is a reticence on the part of many that carriers must overcome if they are to fully take advantage of the needs of end users.

The hesitation is based on a number of factors, including the fact that networks are still limited, there is a low awareness of solutions, and software is often far behind hardware offerings.

Among the study’s findings are that wireless data communications services should include some form of facsimile capability because of the indicated high demand for that service found in the survey, Wiggins adds.

In addition to receiving and sending faxes, workers are interested in being able to access their companies’ computer-based information, as well as being able to send and receive electronic mail.

Although many of today’s mobile professionals use cellular service and many agree the service is valuable, there remain complaints regarding coverage and prices, especially for roaming. Only about 43% agree that the prices charged for roaming are reasonable.

Paging is also a growth area and demand, including demand for alphanumeric paging services, is likely to increase, according to the survey.

The high usage of paging among mobile professionals, with 57% reporting using the devices, means that such capabilities should be included in future wireless devices and services, Wiggins says.

And the high overlap between paging, cellular and portable computer users means there should be further integration of the equipment. Paging today is used by 30% of cellular phone users and a third of portable computer users, the survey found.


A survey conducted among 1,656 people showed that remote communications has become a much demanded service. Likewise, majority of mobile professionals find themselves in situations where public phones are nowhere to be found. Thus, mobile communications users could be among the most enthusiastic customers of innovative personal communications services that would allow them to communicate with others anywhere and anytime.

Our councils are failing to capitalise on mobile technology

It is easy to become resentful when you work in the local authority sector.

Despite being the engine room of public services, it often feels a bit like Cinderella looking on as the ugly sisters of central government grab all the glamour and status. Mobile technology appears to be a case in point. The potential for applying the technology in local authorities is huge and presents the private sector with a significant opportunity. But as yet there has been no co-ordinated effort to realise it.

  • The reason for the potential lies in one extraordinary fact: 80 per cent of transactions between members of the public and government are carried out via the local authority. And a significant number of these transactions occur face to face, whether it be through a social worker paying a visit, a builder repairing a roof or a planner inspecting a building. In all such instances, council officers can use mobile devices, there and then, to provide information, to update that information and to enable the citizen to book appointments, buy permits and so on. Not only are officers enabled to provide a far better service, but they can save time by not having to report back to base after every visit to collect or dump paper files.
  • But what makes local authorities real candidates for mobile technology is that there are so many interactions for so many different things. In any given week, some customers come into contact with different council officers in a number of ways. Imagine if, instead, the social worker who visits an elderly lady is able to check on her council tax payments, complain about her meals on wheels order and book a repair for her leaky roof, all via one mobile device in one visit.


This is not going to happen overnight. For a start, central government has been slow to recognise the role that mobile technology could play in delivering services. Although there is now talk of investing centrally inmobile technology for local authorities, many other projects have taken priority in areas such as digital TV, smart cards and even bereavement services. The lack of investment by central government does not encourage the private sector to get involved.

  • Less obvious, but arguably more significant, is the impact of a target set by the prime minister. By 2005, all local authorities must have e-enabled 100 per cent of their significant public-facing services. This does not encourage local authorities to invest in the back-office systems that would allow officers to work efficiently with mobile technology in the field. Instead, the mobile service most likely to receive attention is text-messaging direct to customers. No bad thing in itself, but really just the cherry on top of the cake minus the icing and sponge.

The other constraint is the local authorities themselves. For good reasons and bad, there is a resistance to change when it comes to technology–and mobile is no exception. One good reason for this resistance is that technological change can happen too quickly and have a disruptive impact on the way that services are delivered. A classic symptom of this is the introduction of new systems without adequately training staff to use them. This would be particularly significant if officers who previously dealt with just one service area were suddenly expected to deal with multiple queries using mobile technology. There are also significant data protection issues that need to be considered–you can’t give a council tax officer access to social services information without putting some fairly stringent controls in place.


The bad reasons stem from fear: fear of losing status; fear of having a more boring job; fear of acquiring new skills, and not having the ability to acquire them; fear of increasing demands; fear of losing jobs. All these fears are completely understandable but are not legitimate reasons for preventing the improvement of public services.

Despite all this, many local authorities are already experimenting with some form of mobile technology and appear to be making good progress. Trading Standards officers in Walsall are using hand-held devices that enable them to call up the history of a trader and the latest legislation at the touch of a button, as well as file their reports on the move. In Glasgow, building services managers can log necessary repairs into the scheduling system while still on site. And in Lewisham, in south London, social workers are using tablet PCs to go out and conduct assessment interviews.

None of this obscures the central fact that mobile technology is not as high as it should be on anybody’s agenda: central government, private sector suppliers and even the local authorities themselves. Unless the fairy godmother turns up pretty soon, it is extremely unlikely that Cinderella will make it on time to the mobile technology ball.

Alexander Stevenson is a partner at RSe Consulting, which advises local authorities on e-government strategy and implementation