I just returned from Barcelona after attending the GSM annual mobile phone conference (along with 50,000 other people, up from 35,000 last year). Having created two wireless companies and having been involved with the early days of wireless communications I have a historical view of this now red hot space. Some observations:
- Mirroring the industrial rise of China and India, mobile phone penetration in these countries has exploded, with 375M subscribers (in 8 years) and 80M subscribers in India (in 4 years).
- Now this type of growth has spread to MEA (Middle-east and Africa) with huge mobile phone infrastructure build-out in sub-Saharan countries such as Nigeria.
- Next countries that will join the high growth list are Indonesia and Vietnam
- In developed countries in North America and Europe 3G infrastructure has finally been deployed, five years after wireless operators paid large amounts in spectrum auctions. What is needed now are innovative applications and services to utilize this infrastructure and provide an ROI for this insfrastructure investment.
- I think the service to watch out for in 2006 is music downloads to phones. All major 3G operators are experimenting with this service. Sprint launched their service at the Super Bowl and claim over a million downloads so far.
With close to 2 billion mobile phone users worldwide and with the advent of fast processing and large memory, mobile phones are destined to become mobile internet terminals. I would argue though that most users will continue to use their mobile phones for voice and simple text messages. Growth of other value-added services will not match the projected hype. I believe music will be an exception, especially if Apple launches a wireless iPod this year.