Helio and Koreans

I saw the buzz yesterday about T-Mobile, Tom Cruise and Helio, but I didn't piece it all together. My first thoughts were "Good idea to give a celebrity a handset, but why Tom Cruise? He seems too old for their target market. His wife isn't though." Then I looked at the photos on Yahoo! Yeah, they're better than nothing, but I still took my SLR to AT&T ballpark last night to see if Bonds was going to break Babe Ruth's record. You wouldn't believe how many were trying to capture the picture (ok, and it didn't happen last night) with camera phones.

Then my colleague, Joe Laszlo offered me a clue. He sent me a link in the Korean Times. It reports unconfirmed rumors that T-Mobile is pressuring its dealers not to sell Helio. Was easy to understand at first - comparable target market. There's a lot of overlap in target audience though T-mobile handsets are cheaper, and there's obviously a huge selection of them. But, Helio has video and music. T-Mobile suffers a bit from not having a 3G network yet.

Then he filled me in a bit more. Sky Dayton and Tom Cruise are good friends. (Now I see how Tom got a handset). I would be really impressed if there were product placement in MI3. He also told me that T-Mobile has 35 percent share of S. Korean mobile subscribers in the US. That, I didn't know.

With that, the rumors could be true, but I have a different hypothesis. Helio is targeting Koreans living in the US, but their main focus is young, heavy data users more broadly. With their current pricing, they are not going for the lower end of the market. Anyone buying on handset selection and pricing - handsets or service - will go with T-Mobile. Those two criteria are 2nd and 3rd on the list for consumers. Top of the list though is quality of coverage at home. Helio is on an excellent network. I haven't had a chance to try a handset, but if they can hold up their half of the connection, Helio could beat T-Mobile on quality of service.

On the other hand, reason why the rumor wouldn't be true ... T-Mobile has more than 20 million subscribers in the US, and they are one of the largest mobile operators globally. How worried can they be about a company looking to hit a million subs a few years out even if they are heavy data users?

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