I'm beginning to think that sanity is breaking out in some corners of EuroTelcoland. T-Mobile today unveiled a new initiative in mobile data known as “web’n’walk,” which will be targeted at 18 – 35 year-olds and initially launched in July 2005 in Germany and Austria, followed by the rest of the T-Mobile footprint (excluding the US for now). The interesting thing here is that the default homepage for these optimized devices will be a modified version of the Google homepage (T-Zones and partner links will still be present, but pride of place goes to Google). Additionally, the homepage can be reset by the user, something my Orange SPV won't allow. This is a pretty clear admission of defeat for the walled garden content approach, and I think it may send a few shockwaves through the industry, i.e., "consumers want control over their experience - whaddawedonow?".
The other important admission coming out of this announcement is that mobile data pricing has stifled growth. T-Mobile is effectively cutting the price of data by two-thirds, by increasing the data limit on its €10 data package to 30MB from 10MB previously. For new customers on the Sidekick II device, there will be no data cap until the end of the year.
There's some other fun stuff going on here, such as a full XHTML browser, push technology for email on the Sidekick device (and apparently later on the Microsoft OS-based devices), and faster webpage rendering due to compression. By early 2006, the company expects to have ten web’n’walk handsets throughout each price range, accounting for 25% of the total handset portfolio. The company expects several hundred thousand “web’n’walk” users by the end of 2006, with an ARPU uplift for those users of €10 per month. All in all, this is fairly negligible at an aggregate level, but at least the change in thinking is commendable.
The conference call contained a couple of interesting tidbits. Firstly, asked about any revenue share agreements with Google, CEO Rene Obermann deferred to Google, which I think strongly suggests that there is something fairly sensitive in place. Also, one analyst asked how long it would be before VoIP on mobile became an issue for operators, and here the T-Mobile CTO delivered a bit of FUD relating to Skype: suggesting that beyond the initial setup there might be some complexities in configuration (?) which might discourage mainstream users, citing the lack of interconnectivity between VoIP applications, and claiming that the "monthly charges" associated with SkypeOut and SkypeIn would be an unattractive proposition for consumers. This was pretty weak, I have to say. I think consumers would jump at the chance to pay €3.33 per month for a foreign phone number (so relatives and friends could avoid the termination extortion), keep a small SkypeOut balance as a discretionary reserve, and make use of a helluva lot of Skype minutes within a 30MB bundle priced at €10 per month.