Monday, October 25, 2010

Cloud Computing for Mobile Value Added Services

Following the rapid development of cloud-hosted services, there has been a sharp focus on building internet-based solutions that cater for today's active internet user. Solutions ranging from social networks, communication services, commerce are all being integrated within the confines of a web browser. This shift is an indication that the internet has evolved from being a communication enabler to a computing platform, and if we take a close look at the nature of today's use of a computer, we realize that we spend more time on the internet. Applications like facebook take up so much of our time chatting away, communicating with friends, etc.

With the recent drop of internet connectivity costs in Uganda and Africa in general, more people are getting connected to the rest of the world. As the prices drop further, the internet speeds are surprisingly getting faster too (Courtesy of the undersea cable).

What we don't see is the impact of these fast changing trends on the mobile communications sector. It is evident that: As internet services become more affordable and the speeds increase in Africa to match the rest of the world, mobile carriers will continue to lose a bigger share of their “voice” market to the “data” market. What our mobile carriers are not understanding is that the internet provides far more communication and information services than the services they develop for the mobile user to access.
This shift from voice to data has now been the emphasis of the mobile carriers in Africa, and many of them are now investing enormously in data infrastructure. Again, they don't seem to understand the direction of the market. What the consumer wants is a service that gives them their money's worth. If I buy a 350MB data package at 10 dollars for my internet-enabled phone, what will I use the internet for ? I will use it for accessing my facebook and reading my emails. Usually, the websites we can easily access on our mobile handsets are the ones that are optimized for our browser-supported phones ie the high end feature phones and smart phones. These phones are many on our market today, and more are being shipped to Africa. The manufacturers of these phones, ie Nokia, Blackberry, Samsung, Motorolla, Huawei, etc are releasing new features and models at a speed that is not being embraced by the mobile carriers. Today's smart phone has support for GPS, WiFi, Flash, HTML, extended data storage, faster processing and memory(some of them now come with 1GHZ processors and upto 512MB of RAM) to mention a few. All these features are not being exploited at full potential in Africa.

The only way we can embrace these new developments in technology is through innovation. However, we need to innovate new products and services at a speed that is even faster than the technology advancements in both hardware and mobile device specs, and this can only be achieved if we open up our mobile carrier platforms to developers that can build new competitive value added services for the mobile user. The current business arrangement caters for only those companies and businesses that register for SMS short codes and develop only SMS solutions. With the advent of cloud computing, SMS is bound to become an obsolete technology in providing rich content for today's tech-savvy mobile user. Sharing revenue between the mobile carrier and VAS provider will definitely not be a viable business solution in the near future as long as smarter and better phones continue to flood our market. Mobile carriers should therefore focus on building stable data infrastructure and open up the VAS market to developers by building an internet-based platform for hosting VAS products . With this kind of business model, they will definitely make much more money from data charges than what they have been making from SMS-based services.


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