Is it the sky falling over MySpace and Ruppert Chicken Little Murdoch or just acorns from his new Korean partner in the mobile arena* ? A few weeks after Helio, SK Telecom are about to launch Cyworld in the US.
Right now, the beta version** only hosts 364 clubs but totoris are already up for grabs and unlike in Korea, there is a clear focus on the younger generations. Besides, there is more (Mini)room for actual pictures and actual goods for your totoris vs the usual virtual Minimes and virtual goods... which should mean a more direct broadband war to News Corp's podcasting giant. The question is : how long before cyworld gets mobile in the US too ?
Next stops for the cyworld train : Europe, South America and India.
* about the Helio-MySpace deal, see "MySpace Mobile On Helio with Hero and Kickflip" (20060220)
There was a gap in Microsoft's anticompetitive maze and its name was iPod. The Zune project is supposed to fill the gap and strenghten Redmond's portable multimedia player / game console front. Just like origami, Zune 1.0 will be a useless thing to please avid analysts and not so avid developpers. Just like origami, Zune is not even a brand. Since it's pronounced the same way as June, a reference in mobile multimedia, SK Telecom could even sue them. Besides, Zune.com doesn't belong to Gates yet but to Gate Market Research Limited*. So the teaser website is comingzune.com, which could mean we won't have a device for Christmaz but at earliest coming Zune or maybe Zuly 2009 because this is the way we work up in Washington.
The least one could say is that one could see this iPod killer coming. iPod has been doomed for a while** and Microsoft has nothing to do with it : once again, apple have to become a more open community and to reach and federate far beyond their own customers. But they're back at ruining their best efforts - at least, this time, the iPod as a device is far from being the best looking multimedia player so I won't be crying a iRiver over it.
Microsoft also tends to bore me. They're not even as good at being evil as they used to be since Paul Allen focuses on rock'n roll, Bill Gates on non virtual viruses, and Steve Ballmer on retirement plans. The company itself is focusing on self destruction : giving more dividends for shareholders, purchasing more stocks, being defensive even when it attacks. Of course Microsoft will lose money with Zune, just like with Origami, the XBox, Windows Mobile, MSN... any innovative thing money alone can't buy.
* you can't fool me lads : of the 20 significant changes in zune.com's whois in the past 5 years, 90% happened in the last 2 months !
** see "Apple - something rotten beyond the Kingdom of France" (20060322)
Remember when 3 snatched the mobile rights for the 2006 World Cup ? HWL's unit certainly didn't get all its money back but its PR teams make sure they made the most of it, even where they didn't pay. Some feed back from 3 World Cup participants : England, Italy and Australia.
- 3 UK claimed 3.6M viewings for its World Cup mobile TV channels during the competition. That's a 61% increase vs May and an average 106,000 per day but also, less impressively, the equivalent of one viewing per customer (3.5M overall). According to the operator, two programs proved quite successful : World Cup Highlights lured enough people everyday to fill Highbury (38,500 seats - make that one third of the total) and Berlin or Bust did 17.5% of the traffic.
In order to keep the show rolling and do better than the English team (no Berlin, just bust and crack some nuts), 3 offered through its Pilot Pitch unit a prize for the best mobile TV concept : TV producers can earn up to £50k for the funding of a pilot.
Note that during the competition, 3 knotted a partnership with Yahoo!, who happens to be the FIFA's top internet partner.
Flat screens didn't wait for the World Cup to defeat old cathodic tubes, but the clear winner of the competition could be the Giant Screen.
TV operators now enjoy new channels and propose an extreme customer experience : as the main public media, TV follows the event down to the streets and stadia and while couch potatoes remain stuck on their sofas, masses now stand up in public places like French Fries in cornets. The phenomenon even overshadowed such traditional semi-private diffusion sites as restaurants and bars.
Giant screens really became mainstream during the 2002 World Cup in Korea, when millions would hit the streets to follow the great campaign of the Taeguk Warriors. Back in 1998, public events would just gather a few thousands souls (ie in front of Paris' city hall). For the 2006 edition, which took place over 1,000 kms away, Parisians would flock by tens of thousands in the Parc des Princes, Jean-Bouin and Charlety stadia. Simultaneously. In a city where organizers traditionally avoid cannibalization among sportive / cultural events. And Germany itself enjoyed a new phenomenon : hundreds of thousands of ticketless foreign supporters took their cars, trains and planes just to join these giant screen parties (and that beer, too, maybe...).
Under such conditions, the battle between smaller screens (PC vs TV) looks almost trivial... and the very little screens have to position themselves a new way. Handsets can help the TVless supporter following games live or goal by goal, but they also remain the personal tool of individuals as well as small group of users for coping with a mass of supporters located either on the same spot or accross the globe. I guess by 2010 cellcos will package some solutions for such public game sessions the way they do now for music concerts.
During this World Cup, they noticed a very weak traffic during the games, but incredibly hot flashes during the breaks and at the end of the games, for voice as well as for data. For them, here lies the dilemma : if I get the rights for the event I have to invest heavily in order to cope with time and space peaks, and if I don't get them my network is as good as dead during one month...
RFID interactivity starts showing in various shops across Korea. Your mobile phone remains quiet but that shouldn't last long. Major retailers prefer developping their own screens to enhance customer experience : as soon as the shopper picks a product on the shelf, a screen nearby displays more information about it. Just a few items enjoy this feature for the moment but that could be a blessing - you don't want everybody around hearing about the performance of the hemorrhoid treatment you just discretely dropped in your caddy.
Can things possibly go worse for LG Telecom Inc ? The Korean cellco will lose its 3G cdma2000 license, about $300M (the part of the license fee they already paid) + $100 M in fines, and finally its CEO. From the start, LGT was doomed for being Korea's only non-W-CDMA 3G license holder*. More bad news for Doc Jacobs in Qualcomm's former Kingdom...
Things can definitely go bad in Korea : VK loses everything and one should expect more bankrupcies among Korea's small to medium sized handset manufacturers. Samsung looks untouchable as it becomes China's most recognized foreign brand, but profits start shrinking, and not only because of a stronger Korean Won.
* by the way, while launching 3G+, SKT started talking about HSUPA and released their Q1 2006 key figures... starting with a T1 figure : TU Media claimed 534,000 S-DMB subs end of April 2006 (1.2M expected end of year). We'd like to see the end of Q2 stats and the impact of subsidies... Note that GXG joined MelOn and cyworld as a key PR tool for the new King of Content... who doesn't deliver any data yet for his 3D game portal though... MelOn's 5M subs and mobile cyworld 286,000 active users brought respectively KRW 16 bn and 13 bn in revenues over Q106 ; the equivalent of 0.63% and 0.51% of SKT's overall revenues. But the recent deal between SK Communications and T-Online should boost cyworld across Europe... soon on a T-Mobile phone near you ?
NTT DoCoMo keep pushing LTE, 3GPP's new label for Super3G (beyond HSDPA and HSUPA - the last step before 4G), and sets an aggressive calendar : specs completed by the end of next year, TTM by the year of 2009.
Not far from DoCoMo's home turf, both KTF and SKT launched HSDPA and WiBro. The former techno is meant to become nationwide and the latter devoted to dense urban areas only... which means pretty much the same both sides of the Han river. But for the moment, WiBro is only a laptop thing (over 300 bucks per PC card plus a 30 per month plan). Since the Korean netiquette prevents people from using their handsets in the subway (definitely a change for the better for passengers), I'm not so sure everyone will connect everywhere that soon. I'd bet a few more bucks on mini mobile TV players for short sessions. At home, even HSDPA cannot beat FTTH in the appateu areas.
Did you know Korea still represented 37% of all license fees collected by Qualcomm last year ? No wonder their armies of lobbyists keep redeeming their Morning Calm miles to and from Incheon these days. Microsoft also remain under the Korean regulator's fire as well but still have more to lose in Europe, where Viviane Reding could furthermore help broadband multiservice providers catch up financially with MNOs (international roaming charges definitely cannot remain that high that long).
Born again AT&T introduced its U-verse concept at the 2005 CES, with the ambition of covering 18M homes by the end of 2008. FTTH IPTV services only started late last month in 5,000 homes in San Antonio, TX with the help of Verizon's FiOS network.
This offer would look rather disappointing to Korean eyes and wallets : no more than 6 megs, up to $120 per month for a wireless bundle... but hey that's a start and ain't that much competition in SBC's 13-state-wide kingdom, so let early adopters finance innovation.
AT&T already rules in SBCland with 7.4M ADSL lines, but they intend to reach 100% in broadband coverage thanks to various fibers in urban areas, satellite broadband in rural areas (Project Lightspeed is supposed to reach 5.5M low-income households by the end of 2009), and fixed wireless (WiMAX a top pick) to fill the blanks.
The first 13 states before the whole country... this state of the AT&T-SBC union address should resonate as a warning to competing superpowers : we're not only focusing on homeland security ; we're also preparing preemptive strikes everywhere. But the old Texan way : we don't want to make it sound like an aggression, so no need to add "bring it on".
I also find rather clever their partnership with Yahoo! and Verizon Wireless "for a generation of tech-savvy consumers who rely on the Internet and wireless phones as their primary communications tools" (to wit : the smart ones who are leaving the incumbent - a speechless and voiceless carrier). AT&T position themselves as a central integrator of services : we help you subscribe to AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet, and to Verizon Wireless as well if you need a wireless service, but you can still chose AT&T for voice services at home. Beyond the usual "free" LLO services (Call Waiting, Three-Way Calling, Call Forwarding...), the AT&T CallVantage package proposes well marketed bonuses :
- Call Logs (with "click to dial")
- Do Not Disturb (only emergency calls pass through)
- Personal Conferencing (10 people overall)
- Locate Me (when you're away from home, incoming calls track you by ringing up to five phones all at once or one right after the other)
- Web-Based Voice Mail (AT&T just couldn't not include it in such an offer)
Why is it so interesting ? I'm not sure it will work, but it's neither some double-stage VoIP thing like Skype, nor an ugly plug-in like Vonage's latest USB gizmo. It's a truly operated service from a genuine operator or better, a Virtual Network Operator on its own network. It's both a win-back and a win-period approach, an attempt to sublimate voice services and fully give them their value back. I wish it weren't that expensive and I wish it could go beyond fixed and mobile, and even beyond the now traditional homezone concept.