Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/03/vodaphone_ctia_keynote/

Vodafone chief tells mobile users he knows where they live

Brings WiMAX attack stateside

By Cade Metz

Posted in Mobile, 3rd April 2008 07:02 GMT

CTIA Wireless Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin believes that wireless users will happily opt-in to mobile advertising. And he plans to reward them by reducing their monthly bill.

Either that or he's found a diplomatic way of saying that users won't opt-in unless they get their money up front. We can't quite tell.

"In a few years, mobile advertising will account for a substantial portion of the revenues of our business, and we as operators have to be prepared to share some of the advertising revenues, who will by-in-large want to opt-in to these offerings," he told mobile industry insiders during his morning keynote at he annual CTIA wireless trade show in Las Vegas.

Echoing a keynote he made earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sarin also told the mobile industry it needs to simplify itself, calling for fewer mobile operating systems and consolidated high-speed network standards.

The Vodafone boss began his speech by informing show attendees that Richard Branson was lying to them when he said that Google and Virgin were sending them to Mars in a solar-powered Noah's Ark. "I understand that, yesterday, Richard Branson regaled you with ideas about Mars and travels to far-off places," he said. "I would remind you that today is April 2nd."

Then he said that this mobile internet thing could be big. "In the last twelve months, there has been something quite different and not the norm - a change that I believe will shape the future development of the [wireless] industry. It will change who the successful companies are going to be. And it will determine success versus failure for the whole industry. And that development is the mobile internet. Internet on the mobile phone is the New Thing."

That may seem obvious. But remember: Sarin was speaking to an American industry that spent years doing their best to fend-off the openness of the internet. They also believed that Google was going to Mars by 2016.

Sarin even went so far as to say that the mobile internet could eclipse the stationary internet. This will happen, he explained, because the mobile internet is mobile. "Mobility is our key differentiator," he told the mobile industry. "If we can deliver an excellent mobile internet experience, mobile can become the main method of accessing the internet in society over a period of time."

According to Sarin, an excellent mobile experience requires three things: fewer mobile OSes, fewer 4G standards, and more advertisements.

The mobile internet won't reach its potential, he said, unless phones deliver "world-class user experience." And this won't happen with "dozens" of mobile operating systems competing for phones.

"We have to find, as an industry, a way of bringing the number of mobile operating systems down from the dozens to maybe three, four, five. I didn't say one. Because we've seen that movie before. But three, four, five, so we can actually achieve economies of scale when developing applications. Whether it's [Google] Android or Microsoft [Windows Mobile] or Symbian or Linux or others."

The Vodafone chief also believes that the mobile internet won't happen unless the industry "invests in wireless broadband networks," arguing that these networks must be "high-speed and widely available."

"Mobile operators around the world must invest in their wireless networks today," he said, "to realize the potential of tomorrow."

We would argue that every single person on the planet agrees with him. But then he brought up the standards driving these networks of tomorrow. As he argued at Mobile World Congress, Sarin insisted that the fledgling WiMAX standard should be rolled into the competing LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard.

"We need to think about LTE as a broad and encompassing standard," he said. "I was around back in the 80s and 90s, when the CDMA-TDMA wars were going on, when the GSM-WCDMA wars were going on. These wars produced very little. What we need to learn from those decades of experience is that we need a common encompassing standard. WiMAX is sitting out there. It would be good to find a home for it in the LTE standard."

Meanwhile, during a keynote delivered yesterday, Sprint president and CEO Dan Hesse bragged that his company's WiMAX network - which is already being deployed - will have at least a "two-year head start on the competition."

Indeed, LTE won't arrive until 2010 - at the earliest. But during a wireless infrastructure discussion that followed Arun Sarin's keynote, the CEOs of Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Nortel argued that LTE is better positioned to win the day, because it had much broader support among the industry's big names.

It should also be noted that when Nokia raised El Reg hack Bill Ray 180 feet above the Las Vegas pavement yesterday afternoon in an attempt to demonstrate WiMAX, the technology didn't work. At all.

We know who you are

After his WiMAX-LTE rant, Arun Sarin told the mobile industry that it better get going on mobile advertising. The phone, he said, is greatest advertising platform ever invented.

"When advertisers reach people through television, they're casting a wide net. When advertisers reach their customers through fixed line internet, they don't always know who's sitting on the other side of the computer. It could be a 42-year-old man pretending to be a 16-year-old girl. Or a 7-year-old girl pretending to be a 22-year-old woman.

"But on a mobile phone, we know who you are. We know what your age is. We know where you live. We know a lot of things about you."

He did say that operators must "use this information responsibly." But he also seems to indicate that customers won't embrace his idea of responsibility unless their bills go down. "If advertisers can find a channel into a group of customers out there in this new fashion, we will be able to target customers needs and usage and give our customers what they want - and, frankly, share some of the economic benefit with them."

He might be saying that he plans to share some of the economic benefit out of the goodness of his heart. But we doubt it. ®

Bootnote

For all the news on the CTIA Wireless trade show see our CTIA roundup.