Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Opening the packet

Today I had my second meeting with the nice folks from Packetmobile, the first being about three weeks ago, when the company was still in quasi-stealth mode. Now the wraps are off, and I have been given a handset which I am looking forward to playing around with.

As a bit of background, I can't help thinking back to the OFCOM meeting last week, where Arun Sarin was asked about the threat from mobile VoIP, and responded by saying that the cellular world is going to flat rate pricing, which limits the appeal of VoIP - end of story. That sort of thinking is rooted in the "VoIP as price arbitrage" mindset, and frankly I think a lot of people have moved on from that now. Packetmobile seems to be another validation of this shift.

The proposition here includes VoIP, of course, but I think the value to the end user is really built around group context and presence. There is some very clever stuff going on here around user location, motion and velocity, handset status, network connection, and signal strength - all of which remove a lot of the frustrating lack of transparency inherent in mobile services currently.

From the operator's perspective, these same features also open up a lot of possibilities for revenue streams which have very little to do with voice itself. The client has the added advantage of being very small and bearer-agnostic, and that goes down as far as GPRS - so let's not sneeze at the voice angle either. There is also an intriguing social stealth marketing potential here, wherein a user on a Packetmobile-powered service can invite an off-net user to download a Java midlet, so they can share presence information and IM, the operator opportunity being, "Like what you see? Churn to us and enjoy the full service." What I expect operators might like most is that Packetmobile has positioned itself as an enabler/managed services partner, with no aspirations of creating a presence in the consumer space - i.e., the spec and branding are controlled by the carrier.

It's going to be very interesting to see what sort of interest this combination of elements generates from carriers desperately in need of differentiation, particularly in the wake of 3's wake-up call to the mobile world.

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