Mobile email and back up for the masses

Carsten Brinkschulte offers his opinions on what will be hot for mobile in 2008

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By  Carsten Brinkschulte Published  January 8, 2008

2008 will be the year when both mobile email and ‘back-up and restore' for mobile devices takes off in the mass market. We will see massive growth in mobile email in the consumer space, due to the successful adoption of industry standards that bring high value services to low cost devices.

Additionally, as mobile phones come down in price, data will increase in value. As a result we will see an increase in operators offering consumers back up and restore services to insure their mobile phone's address book against loss or theft.

For years, mobile operators have been striving to increase ARPU from mobile data services: MMS, mobile TV, user created content, mobile social networking. We are now seeing signs that the market for consumer mobile Email is set to grow exponentially from 8.0 million accounts this year to a massive 184 million consumer mobile Email accounts by 2011 (Source: Visiongain Mobile Email Market report).

Until recently, mobile email has been mainly limited to the subscribers who can afford to buy an expensive device and are willing to accept a costly data plan. But there have been strong signs over the course of 2007 that the age of mobile email for the masses is upon us. The combination of industry standard adoption, lower cost devices and affordable service plans is set to make mobile email for the mass market a reality. Evidence of this shift is being seen in emerging markets where the mobile device is rapidly becoming the primary method of accessing the internet and email because traditional landline infrastructure is limited and consumer PC ownership is low.

It is my belief that mobile email consumption in emerging markets will leapfrog Western Europe and US and new business models adopted by operators in the Middle East, Africa, India and Eastern Europe will begin to be replicated by Western operators in the race to capture the consumer dollar.

However, to make this happen, it is important to use middleware that can support the majority of the standard mobile phones that are already out there in the market. Communication only works if it can be received and reciprocated, so by using methods such as ‘email to SMS' conversion, we will see email services extended to every single mobile phone on the planet.

While we are all drawn to sexy new devices such as the new i-Phone, the fact is that SmartPhones represent only a tiny portion of the addressable market for mobile email. The vast majority of phones in use today are mass-market feature phones. Therefore, it is essential for service providers to offer push email solutions that work well on the phones that are actually used by most people in the world. In 2008, the time is right for mobile email pricing plans to fall and as customer numbers increase, we will start to see mobile email becoming the next generation SMS.

The problem today is that most mobile email solutions are based on proprietary protocols, requiring users to download additional client software. This approach is set to fail in the consumer market, where the overwhelming majority are using feature phones that cannot use proprietary clients. Time and again it has been proven that consumers won't adopt services that are hard to set up or difficult to use. They want to be able to use mobile email services on standard mobile phones, right out of the box. No software installation, no fiddly configuration, no expensive proprietary devices.

The only viable option is for service providers to use open standards to interface with the built-in Email applications that are shipping pre-installed with the vast majority of devices today, enabling both SmartPhone and mass-market feature phones to receive Push Email, or converting email to text so that the message can be received on every single phone in use today. Once they have got that part sorted, operators need to ensure a seamless setup by adding automatic client provisioning of the built-in Email application.

We also expect to see a surge in demand from consumers for a ‘back-up and restore' facility for their mobile devices in 2008. This is because consumers depend increasingly on their mobile devices as the primary repository for vital information such as phone numbers and addresses. If a person's phone is lost or stolen, or if data is stored on the phone rather than the SIM prior to an upgrade, then all his or her contact details disappear with it. For most users today, it is the information on the phone, rather than the device itself, which is of highest value.

We will therefore see an increase in demand for a low-cost facility from service providers - a kind of insurance policy for your contact information - which will allow consumers to back-up and restore their contacts information over-the-air. As well as providing a safety net for consumers who lose their phones, a back-up and restore service also makes upgrading to a new phone easier. Customers simply use the back-up and restore facility to transfer their contact information and saved SMS messages over-the-air to their new phone.

In summary, 2008 will see the mass market benefiting from recent advances in data synchronisation and messaging facilitated by middleware based on open industry standards. Mobile email will start to replace some of the billions of SMS messages that get sent every month by consumers and more service providers will begin to offer their subscribers a robust over-the-air back-up and restore facility for their contacts information.

Carsten Brinkschulte is CEO of Synchronica, a developer of synchronization and device management solutions for mobile solutions

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