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Reader Forum: 4G to the rescue; challenge for app stores

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reader Forum section. In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but maintain some editorial control so as to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: [email protected] or [email protected]

Will 4G truly solve mobile broadband problems?
Randy Cavaiani, VP of Marketing, Novarra Inc.
The explosive growth of Web usage on mobile devices is one of the defining industry trends of the past 12 months. Web 2.0 migration to the mobile platform, rapid uptake of smartphones and proliferation of mobile Internet service offerings, have largely driven the increase.
Mobile social networking and micro-blogging are regularly cited as key drivers of the Web on mobile, with an estimated one-third of 16-35 year olds accessing Facebook and Twitter regularly via their phones (CSS Insight, Report on Mobile Internet Usage 2009). While Facebook and similar services will continue to drive growth, Cisco claims that mobile video will exhibit the highest growth rate of any application category accounting for over 64% of the world’s mobile traffic by 2013. Statistics like these suggest that the growing problem of network congestion already being experienced by operators will not abate, as bandwidth-intensive services become increasingly popular and intrinsic to the mobile Web experience.
4G: Revolution or temporary reprieve?
The roll-out of 4G and the prospect of an infrastructure more capable of processing the increasingly sophisticated fabric of the Internet holds promise for operators but will not be a panacea.
The experience of 3G should be a lesson that data consumption will grow to fill the capacity of the pipe. Second-generation networks struggled to cope with consumer demand for basic search and e-mail. When 3G arrived, demand for such services was replaced by a desire to access even richer ones, such as social networking and content-sharing Web sites. Similarly, rising consumer expectations for rich services and the expanding user base suggests that 4G will alleviate the pressure of network congestion for a period of time, rather than serve as a definitive solution to the problem.
The rise of application store offerings from both handset manufacturers and operators poses another challenge to network capacity. Apple recently announced that more than 2 billion applications have been downloaded from its store over the course of eighteen months – almost 20 per user per quarter. This begs the question of how the infrastructure will be able to cope as application stores flood the market and it underscores how the technology of the Internet will always outpace that of mobile networks and devices.
The future of the mobile Internet proxy
Since the first browsers were installed on mobile phones, proxy servers have served to optimize and enhance the mobile Web experience. Initially WAP gateways, they evolved to transformation and network acceleration servers, most recently migrating to distributed browsing solutions like Novarra’s Vision Platform. The distributed architecture delivers a desktop-equivalent experience with mobile context, increasing the speed of page loads and reducing over-the-air payload. While 4G will relieve some of the pressure, there are three primary reasons the mobile Internet proxy will become increasingly important:
The Web continues to grow in complexity: The need for in-network intelligence to bridge the gap between handset capabilities and Web content technologies is ever more important. Next-generation approaches require an intelligent, broader array of processing that creates additional functionality and understand the way a user wants to interact with the Web via mobile. Ajax, Silverlight, Flash and others as yet undeveloped technologies will enhance the user experience and create challenges for processing and delivery to mobile. And because operators are offering inexpensive unlimited data plans to stay competitive, there will always be a need to improve network efficiencies.
Cloud-based computing will be the norm: The need for in-network proxy technology will be crucial for the successful provision of new services and cloud-based “mobility.” Consumers will expect services to follow them whereby they can seamlessly transition to and from the PC, TV and mobile with “always on” connectivity and real-time presence, status and alerts. A device centric-architecture will not suffice. Networks are the logical place to manage this integration of location data, profile and mobile-context information and services. Over time, applications will migrate to the Web and the browser will be the central access point for consumers’ favourite services.
Mobile devices capabilities will lag the PC: Even today’s best smartphones are unable to deliver all the richness of the Web or multimedia and commonly take close to a minute to load pages designed for a PC. Moreover, two-thirds of all mobile devices today are being sold in emerging markets where economic conditions require a very different class of device. While these devices will eventually take advantage of the wider 4G pipe, they will still require the assistance of a server or proxy browser to be able to access the Internet and handle the demands of rich content and services. Regardless of the cost and capability of these devices, consumers will expect access to the same level of services as those available on high-end devices.
Fourth-generation networks will accelerate the migration of the full, rich Internet to the mobile environment. The distributed mobile Internet architecture that offers in-network intelligence and device-side micro-clients will enable service providers, Internet brands, and handset OEMs to deliver compelling mobile Internet services while leveraging the new infrastructure with maximum efficiency.

The carrier app store challenge: Can carrier app stores win consumers, content publishers?
Srini Dharmaji, Founder, Chairman & CEO, GoldSpot Media

Today, app stores are riddled with fragmentation across devices and operating systems, and carriers are unfortunately the root of the problem. Diverse phone packages, device form factors, operating systems and data plans add complexity and confusion to the app store model. With the streamlined approach of the Apple, Android, RIM and Nokia App Stores, how can carriers compete for talented developers, publisher support and consumer mindshare?
Multiple app stores on the same handset?
Issue No. 1: Fragmentation. As a majority of carrier smartphone sales revolve around BlackBerry, Nokia and Android phones, what does a carrier app store mean on these platforms? What’s the user experience? Will consumers see an Android market and a VCast app store on the same phone, for example?
If carriers decide to create another walled garden around their smartphone platforms, i.e., requiring a BlackBerry app to be certified by AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, et al before it gets into each of the carrier app stores, how is it different from the zillion Java versions that have been plaguing the mobile industry for ages? The time and resources spent by developers and publishers to support multiple carrier app stores for the same handset platform will increase astronomically, denying them the economy of scale that an Apple model has successfully executed.
With the recent introduction of Samsung’s Bada, a single development platform for Samsung smartphones across all carrier networks, there’s hope for overcoming fragmentation.
Data plan debacle
Issue No. 2: Data plans. Carriers have gotten the app store strategy right
– but when we look at Verizon VCast or AT&T’s Media Mall, there’
s still no easy, intuitive way to create applications for deploying across all carrier handsets and operating systems.
The difference between open mobile app stores and carrier on-deck offerings is mobile broadband usage. It’s easy to download and purchase an application on an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android handset, since these phones are sold with data plans. That’s a huge shift from buying carrier feature phones, where consumers have the option to purchase data plans separately, or have the data plan bundled with content apps available on the deck. What about the majority of subscribers that use feature phones with no data plan?
Be open
Carriers need to be more open to “openness” to successfully execute on their app store strategies. Focusing on these areas will help carriers set the agenda for the next generation of revenue streams, as mobile voice and SMS revenues continue to dwindle with flat rate pricing wars and net neutrality issues:
1. Address fragmentation: Carriers may not realize it, but they play a large role in creating confusion among developers and publishers. There are complexities for developing apps across each carrier handset and each operating system. We’ve learned a better way from Apple: there is one Apple app store. Period. Carriers must embrace this approach, offering developers one branded carrier app store, enabling ubiquitous deployment of apps across all devices.
2. Sort out the smartphone business model: Let the smartphone device manufacturers handle the app stores on their devices, while carriers evolve into a “mediation layer” across these smartphones as well as their own feature phones. The key for carriers is the ability to generate sustainable revenue streams from open mobile app stores.
3. Simplify app creation: Joint carrier initiatives such as the Joint Innovation Labs (JIL) help to create an open API environment for developers across multiple carrier handsets. Couple that with HTML-5 based widgets, easy app creation tools and integrated billing interfaces, and carriers will go a long way towards enabling rapid app creation across handsets.
4. Entice feature phone users: Publishers and advertisers invest in the numbers, and feature phones easily surpass the number of smartphones sold. Carriers must target these subscribers with their app stores to experience an increase in data ARPU across feature phones.
5. Offer viable ad-supported business models: There is a huge opportunity to monetize carrier app stores with subscribers using non-iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices without a data plan. Carriers must examine how they are marketing their mobile apps and how to effectively bundle data plans with their app store offerings.
Bottom line: Carriers need to enable developers to create and deploy applications easily, affordably and across all their devices to reach the broadest direct to consumer audience … not just iPhone or BlackBerry handsets.

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