I wasn't just short of blog fodder when I phoned Verizon Wireless customer service earlier this week. I had accidentally deleted one of my favorite games (Zuma) while driving and trying to manage my personal profiles. I was trying to stop my subscription to Running of the Bulls now that it's August, and I hit the wrong button. As much as I like Glu, I wasn't ready to pony up a second time for the game. I also wanted to get web service so that I could check out some location services and some photo/mobile blogging services.
I dial Verizon Customer service. (one of two programmed speed dials on my phone.)
Customer Service "How can I help you?"
Julie "Well, I have a list ..."
CS (Still in a friendly voice) "What can I help you with?"
Julie "First, I deleted one of my favorite games. Can you give me a credit on my bill so that I can buy it again without having to pay twice?"
You've probably seen the news coming out of Boston that Massport is asking Continental Airlines to stop offering free Wi-Fi at its airport lounge. Ironic given that unlicensed spectrum is meant to be "available" provided that the users follow a set of guidelines.
Massport doesn't have much reason to worry yet. Our research shows that the majority of Wi-Fi users will only use the service if it is free. It is true that airports and hotels have a higher percentage of traffic willing to pay. (See research) If too many travelers freeload from Continental's network, they are likely to take action themselves to prevent the service from being degraded to the point that their customers are actually willing to go somewhere else and pay for the service. The industry is still new. Allowing travelers to trial the service for free is likely to driver longer term demand - even for the paid service.
My friends tired of the "Friends" theme song a while back. Moreover, they didn't think it "fit" me - whatever that means. Perhaps they know that I had never seen a Friends episode until it was in its final season, and then watched only one or two.
Not wanting to "rent" a new ringback tone, I switched back to Green Day's Blvd of Broken Dreams at the end of last week. I received two voicemail messages from friends expressing concern for me and asking if I were "ok" and what they should be reading into my ringback tone. My answer is "nothing." I've haven't yet adopted the ring tone as a statement about my self.
I'll shop for something new when I get the chance.
A consumer group in San Diego has filed a complaint against Sprint and Cingular in San Diego accusing each of these wireless carriers of charging consumers for services they are not using. I have yet to be charged for applications that I haven't purchased, but then again, I am on Verizon's network which they haven't opened up yet to third party providers to the extent that Cingular has.
I can sympathize with the pain of paying for SMS messages, however, that I didn't want. Back in March of 2005, I did a series of blogs on SMS.ac. I signed up to be a member of their network. Almost immediately I started receiving requests for dates - which in my mind is spam when they come from 21-year-olds living in San Diego. Worse, I had to pay 25 cents for each of the messages that I was receiving. The only way to stop the messages was to log into my SMS.ac account and block everyone from contacting me.
Philadelphia narrowed its choices for development and management of its city-wide wireless project to three finalists - AT&T, HP, and Earthlink this week. It's good to see them exporting the management of this project to seasoned vendors and service providers. I think it greatly increases their liklihood of success on all accounts if these heavy-hitters can meet their budget expectations.
Vodafone announced a pre-paid data access plan earlier this week - one of the first of it's kind I believe that does not force the subscriber to commit to monthly payments or annual subscriptions. I like this idea. Adoption of EV-DO, 1xRTT, etc. cards has been in the low single digits as a percentage of wireless subscribers. Our data show that a small percentage of mobile professionals are "frequent travelers" defined as at least weekly business trips. One would typically need to be a frequent traveler to justify $60 to $80 per month in data access fees. Per usage (on a byte meter) charges gives the carrier a more direct means of competing with hotspot services, opens up the market to a larger audience, and provides a better means for employees to bill their employers for travel expenses.
The service does seem to be on the expensive side - I, at least, would not use the service to download a lot of music, photos or video at more than 3 British pounds per Mbyte (and more than 9 British pounds when roaming internationally). It does offer an alternative though.
These hypothetical situations have been articulated by start-up's for years, and it looks like they are inching closer to reality here in 2005. Fox has signed a deal with WideRay to allow them to distribute mobile content associated with the movie via bluetooth kiosks in a handful of theaters worldwide. See story.
This marketing initiative is a good first step by Fox to promote the mobile content that has been developed in association with the movie. If consumers have free ring tone and wallpaper trials, they are more likely to purchase games and ring tones.
The effort falls short, however, in terms of driving traffic into the theater. Movie posters, TV adds, magazine ads, web sites, etc. should have short codes that enable mobile phone users to download trailers and content teasers before they hit the theaters. Yes, it won't be free - they'll have to pay for the data download, but it offers an excellent marketing opportunity.
Moreover, I think they are smart in limiting the initiative to a handful of cities at the start. Most handsets do not have bluetooth capability, and many consumers with bluetooth capable devices do not understand how to use the technology.
Consumer education and a simplified user experience will be a key to success in this market.
Folks have been talking about location-based services on cell phones since the late nineties. Despite the fact that it never really seems to emerge as the killer application - and we have no data from consumers to suggest that they are interested, it seems to be one of the hottest topics year after year in the mobile space.
I received my first location-based targeted SMS (that I DID NOT opt in for) on my vacation that took me through Vienna, Austria. When I landed at the airport and turned on my cell phone with a prepaid SwissCom card, I immediately received an SMS welcoming me to Austria and providing me with phone numbers for tourist information.
My report on mobile marketing and what I think will work was just posted on our site yesterday. Has a lot of information re consumer attitudes especially towards SMS messaging. The report also takes a look at other formats.
Some of the first press around the realities of free Wi-Fi was online today. The city of Orlando decided to shut down their free service because they didn't feel that the level of use justified the cost.
This should neither come as a surprise nor as bad news for the public hotspot industry. Only a handful of online consumers are using the service at all today, and the majority are not willing to pay. That said, we've seen consumer interest nearly double from 2004 to 2005. Paid models such as that of T-mobile have experienced a similar uptake. Anyone or any municipality deploying public Wi-Fi should have realistic expectations around adoption and willingness to pay.