2nd Million for TU Media - 2nd country for SK Telecom - Citi JV

June 25, 2009 ? Apparently a good day for SK Telecom PR :
- subsidiary TU Media signs its 2,000,000 th customer
- JV with Citigroup launches mobile banking services in the Philippines, a few months after Hong Kong

The SK Telecom - Citibank Philippines JV (Mobile Money Ventures LLC) is definitely good news : in Hong-Kong, services were more about portfolio management than actual personal banking and transactions - what Citi Mobile Banking (CMB) is all about in the Philippines. These browser-based services shall soon be implemented in other countries, and confirm the operator's international ambitions in mobile finance (see recently "
SK Telecom's Wild Hana Card").

But is TU Media really a success ?

Many European players would love to boast 2 M mobile TV paid users, but 2 M is not even equivalent to 10% of SK Telecom's customer base and for this operator, a 10% penetration after 4 years doesn't seem very impressive.

Besides, to claim its second million customers, SKT's S-DMB unit took more time than it did for the first : TU Media was launched in May 2005 and reached the 1 M mark in December 2006.

Indeed, TU Media was in a very poor condition last year, both financially (mounting debts) and commercially (it claimed only 1.3 M subs in June 2008, a gain of 300,000 in 1.5 years). The 700k customers gained over the past 12 months are the result of what appears to be a make or break move by the owner : SKT went up in the company, injected KRW 55 bn more, and offered massive discounts to its own mobile subscribers... to the point that an undisclosed proportion of its "paid subscribers" don't have to pay to enjoy the service* !

As a consequence :

=> TU Media becomes more competitive with terrestrial accesses (T-DMB), which have been free since the beginning (launched in December 2005) : as we saw ("
3M DMB subs - SBSM on its way"), that's the reason why they are much more popular. T-DMB claims the bulk of Korea's 20M+ DMB-enabled devices (every other handset is OK for mobile TV).

=> At the corporate level, TU Media is now more a MNO's Business Unit than the initial stand alone operator. The very few people who didn't use SKT as their mobile phone operator are encouraged to join the leader, and for the rest, TU Media looks almost like an option among others.

=> TU Media has been burning a lot of cash, and a sustainable TU Media requires more differenciation, and even greater efforts :

- Technological differenciation is not necessarily positive : in covered areas, terrestrial has theoretically an edge over satellite for indoor. SKT does enjoy a truly nationwide coverage, and propose an in-car access offer (TU Rideon - KRW 11,000 / mo - 3 yrs offered for Basic) as well as a real time traffic service (TU TPEG - KRW 3,000 / mo), but T-DMB is very popular for buses and coaches.

- Content and added value services remain key, and SKT will not always surf on such events as the Beijing Olympics, a major boost for subscriptions last year (the whole population was hooked and literally always on one way / media or another)... but not very differentiating since several broadcasters offered the same images (
SBS clinched the exclusive TV rights for the next Olympic Games). The only "paid service" operator could try and lock some key rights to pimp up its own premium channels TU Entertainment and TU Sports (both available through the TU Select service : 1 channel for KRW 2,000 / mo, 2 for 3,000, 3 for 4,000). Other premium services feature TUBOX (movies PPV for krw 1,000 or 1,500 apiece) and PREMIUM 19+ (adult for krw 3,000 / mo or 1,200 for 2 days).

Still now, SKT seems to be as much pushing the service as trying to pull it out of a ditch. The technological landscape keeps evolving and in 2012, fixed and mobile broadband will reach respectly 1 Gbps and 10 Mbps. Typically, SKT is investing massively in optic cabling (from 5,000 km to 88,000 km) through SK Networks.

But mobile TV has found a public anyway, and SK Telecom is not the kind of player to abandon leadership easily. Particularily in such a key vertical.

So it brought along TU Media in its trials in Thailand, so...

... not to be discontinued yet.

But stay tuned.

* With TU Media, you pay only for subscription charges. Neither for traffic nor for content, except for movies on demand (NB: these days, KRW 1,000 is about USD 0.78) :
- Basic rates are KRW 6,000 for TU Slim (9 TV channels + 16 audio), idem for TU English (10 TV + 16), and KRW 11,000 for TU Basic (unlimited 21 TV + 16 audio)
- SKT customers enjoy a 6,000 discount on basic rates, which sets Basic at 5,000... and Slim and English services at zero


Google Streetview : Beijing and Tehran want the Groningen killer app

Dutch twins stole a 14-year-old boy's mobile phone and 165 euros in cash last September in Groningen. The victim recognized himself and his assailants on a Google Streetview* taken seconds before the crime, which led to their arrest.

A Minority Report - style Precog / postcog crime unit ? Not yet, but a not so positive piece of news for this already controversial service (images taken and broadcasted without propper authorisations).

Lately, such social networking services as Facebook or Twitter have been censored in Iran following
rigged presidential elections.

Tehran remains in damage control, but
as we recently saw, Beijing is already one step ahead in the control of web usages. And Google already contributed to arrestations there... but not the kind to be proud of.

Chinese authorities don't need Google Streetview : the police already monitor unrests by systematically and openly filming people who dare demonstrate any kind of defiance to the regime.

But would be certainly interested in digging any large image database exposing "unhealthy" activities at home or abroad.

But mining can be dangerous, even in China, and particularily in China : when you go too far, things tend to collapse on you.

* "
Dutch muggers caught on Google street view camera" (Reuters 20090619)


Samsung's power grip

I haven't been very kind to Samsung Electronics Co. recently for their "Samsung Crest Solar" : to me, solar panels are not necessarily the best solution for devices which may suffer from excessive heat.

But the same company announced today a new metallic material, easy to produce, which can turn temperature differences into electricity, improving efficiency by 80%.

Now this could be a disruptive technology for small devices as well as for construction and all industries. Provided it works at a relatively low temperature, naturally.

Find My iPhone for Apple MobileMe

Let's face it : for many people, losing one's mobile phone sounds scarier than say losing a kid. Heck - they may even have just found the NY toddler disappeared back in 1955!

iPhone 3.0 MobileMe subscribers can activate new features : Find My Phone to locate the missing treasure and activate the hunt, Remote Wipe to delete the content (previously secured in Apple vaults) in case it fell into the wrong hands. The culprit will then deal with an amnesic device unable to tell him his name, where his parents leave, nor their bank account numbers.

Who knows, you may recover your personal time capsule in the year 2063. Even in unchanged shape, a total stranger with a strange look, a strange brand, and probably an even stranger OS.

Now. We'll soon be able to tell if the application is a popular success : will Iranian authorities ban it ?



Welcome to my Personal Area Network - here are a few useful links (thank you for your suggestions or for reporting broken links) :



Virgin Media Universal Music Unlimited

UGC certainly boosted movie theater frequentation in France with their unlimited movie service. Back then, preventing piracy was less the issue but somehow, it hooked a new generation to the going-out-for-a-movie experience... and broadcasters to the idea that the movie industry was still able to produce blockbusters.

This time, mother company Vivendi is more directly coping with illegal music download. The answer : legal but unlimited music download for Virgin Media customers (for GBP 10 to 15 per month according to Reuters).

The innovation in the concept comes from the pledge made by the ISP : Virgin will fight piracy and even suspend temporarily the lines of offenders.

The partners can expect positive peer pressure : UMG rivals to join the Virgin initiative, and Virgin competitors to follow the scheme.

A win-win proposition which could - at last - help legal streams become mainstream.


The Green Damned of China - Learning Censorship The Hardware

Beijing's idea of fighting porn is to launch a "youth escort".

Announced last month, the Green Dam-Youth Escort system will be implemented starting July 1st, 2009.

Basically, all computers will come with a software preventing web surfers from coming across unhealthy content as defined by the regime. Potentially : pornography, violence, democracy, human rights, resistance against State propaganda and revisionism...

Theoretically, you can switch it off. But the moment this Government plants a troyan horse in every computer, all your own dams break loose.

This pushes the Golden Shield Project (A.K.A. the Great Firewall of China) up one notch on the totalitarian scale. Instead of just controlling the access to specific sites, Beijing may monitor all the traffic and beyond, all usages and every individual from every computer. It would just take a few transparent updates in the "service".

This is about tracking minds, preventing "negative" buzz from spreading, spotting "rebel" patterns, and anticipating potential disruptions. Zombie computers for a zombie people.

US manufacturers see the trap : they would join Google or Yahoo!, regularily blamed as collaborators by human rights groups.

I presume Chinese Authorities consider this as an inoffensive technology transfer from regular NSA partners...

Addendum 20090613
I mentioned "technology transfer" and it seems to be the entry point for a US counter attack : "Solid Oak Software Inc said it found pieces of its CyberSitter Internet-filtering software in the Chinese program, including a list of terms to be blocked and instructions for updating the software" (see "U.S. company accuses China of stealing software" - Reuters 20090613).
initially published on blogules (also in VF)


SK Telecom's Wild Hana Card

Since their coming out as an item on May 22, SK Telecom and Hana Bank have been advancing on their JV project (Korea's leading MNO taking 49% of Hana Card, the credit card unit of Korea's #4 financial group).

SKT seems to be seizing a great opportunity : Hana is lagging in the card business, and regulations were eased after the crash last autumn : big non financial groups, previously forced out, were ripe with cash. But even without Hana, SKT is not a small player in cards and financial services.

SKT's mother company, SK Group, boasts 30M OK Cashbag card members. The operator's own loyalty card is used by 40% of its 23M customers, and Moneta, its mobile finance / mobile payment platform, is already one of the most advanced on earth : wired and wireless, Mifare contactless payments for subway, hundreds of thousands of dongles across the country, 3G USIM / EMV Over-The-Air, T Cash / Mobile T-money - a partnership with T money... SK Telecom is the closest thing to a bank you can get in the MNO world.

Financially, the partnership could secure the MNO's business model in the long term at the national level, and facilitate the internationalization of its platforms.*

Hana doesn't bring much of a customer base, nor even disruptive solutions, but certainly new marketing opportunities. A more comprehensive understanding of customers would come handily for a mobile leader who tended to loose his fabled mojo.**

* see "SK Telecom's Semestrus Horribilis"
** see "KT-NTT Venture Forum". Well. The integration of Hanaro Telecom by SKT and KTF by KT didn't inspire much both leaders : triple and quad-play promotions badly lack imagination and appeal.

Samsung Crest Solar

If you leave your Samsung E1107 Crest Solar, turned off, under a sunlight of 80,000 Lux for one hour, the solar panel covering its back will charge it for the equivalent of a 5 to 10 minute conversation.

Much less if you use the torch light or FM radio features...

... or if the said phone is baked after a severe sunburn. There's a reason why $100 laptop projects chose the low-tech, man-powered, hand-crank system...

You may also use the airtime for a Fake Call. That's a killer no-killer application : say you are in a cab, and the driver gently caresses a necklace of human ears while staring a lunatic stare at you in the mirror... you can pretend to receive a call, forge a rescue, and live to see another sunrise.

You can even pretend to receive a call from God. That's probably the reason why they dubbed the device "Samsung Crest Guru" in India.

This dual band 900/1800 MHz GSM handset sells for INR 2,799 (about $60). A more advanced European version is expected later this year : touch screen and Bluetooth enabled, the gently curved Blue Earth is made with recycled plastic.


iPhone, Pre-Price War

From iPhone 3G to iPhone 3G S you get a yawn, from $199 iPhone to $99 iPhone more buzz.

When the main innovations come from pricing, you know commoditization is under way.

And commodities is not what Apple is into.

Apple is hurting Palm because this competitor will never reach the same volumes with its Tre. Apple is hurting Samsung and LG. Apple is hurting Nokia. Apple is hurting the iPod Touch but who cares.

Apple targets the feature phone market : Apple wants to smarten it up because that's the only way to increase volumes.

Smartphone penetration is bound to accelerate, and it's always better to start first in the race. Provided you're profiled to thrive in this kind of environment.

The industrial challenge requires the ability to deliver much bigger volumes (no problemo), but furthermore to become even more reactive, to cope with shorter product cycles and wider ranges, to innovate constantly...

You want to see how competition fares in the app stores arena.


Sony Aino, Satio, Yari : PlayNow, twist, tilt, turn, smash... buzz ?

May 28, 2009 : Sony Ericsson decides to wake up, launch a new campaign, and issue a series of emphatic press clips announcing 3 new devices and one proprietary movie download platform. The message : believe it or not, we've got some Sony in our DNA and we ain't gonna let competitors claim the entertainment arena for themselves.

PlayNow™ arena intends to do with movies what iTunes did for iPod and iPhone with music. The user experience does seem as un-seamless as with the Apple platform in its early stage... but with a very small and short-lived catalogue :

"- Download movies to your computer from www.playnow-arena.com/movies
- Transfer them to your Sony Ericsson phone by ‘side loading’ them from your computer to your phone using your USB device
- Watch them as often as you like for up to 90 days. The specially formatted movies are not playable on any other device
- Choose from a selection of around 15 movies at any one time, with approximately four additional titles being added to the catalogue each month to replace outgoing content
- A total of up to 60 movies can be downloaded during a twelve month period
- The available movie catalogue will be a country-specific mix of classics and newer titles"
("PlayNow™ arena with movies brings feature films to mobile phones" - SonyEricsson PR 20090528)

Kick off : this June across Europe (UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands) with the W995 Walkman™. Besides, two of the tree devices introduced the same day support the new platform : the Aino and the Satio.

The Sony Ericsson Satio replaces the Sony Ericsson Idou exposed in Barcelona (a doomed brand if I ever saw one). It focuses on image : a 12 M pixel camera and a big fat memory.("Visual communication like never before with the Sony Ericsson Satio" - SonyEricsson PR 20090528)

The Sony Ericsson Aino focuses on "sound and vision". Don't misinterpret the "Remote Play for PLAYSTATION®3" feature as a Nintendo Wii remote copycat : you can mostly pair it with your console. PSP next gen becomes PSP Go, and Media Go™ / Media Home "helps you transfer, play and organise all your music, photos, videos and podcasts from your PC simply and effortlessly to enjoy directly on Aino via Wi-Fi™. No more wires, no more searching – always the latest fun." ("Sound and vision set free with the Sony Ericsson Aino" - SonyEricsson PR 20090528)

The Sony Ericsson Yari goes beyond the Aino, more into Wii territory : "Yari debuts Gesture gaming – forget about pushing buttons, with Gesture gaming you make the moves in front of the screen to get right in the middle of the action!" ("Twist, tilt, turn, smash - gesture gaming is here with the Sony Ericsson Yari" - SonyEricsson PR 20090528)

I can't see much disruption there. Except maybe for my eardrums.

Tetris turning 25... now that's distressing.

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