I've been waiting for this for years. Many of our readers know my active interest in the 3G business case from the publishing of my second book, M-Profits (how to make money with 3G) in 2002. That was of course the world's first business book for 3G and mobile telecoms in general and still is the only complete business book for telecoms, whether a major network provider, or an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) like Virgin Mobile, or a content provider like a publisher, TV broadcaster or advertiser wanting to enter the mobile business.
But actually I've been professionally involved in this 3G business since my Nokia time, when I was the Global Head of 3G Business Consultancy for Nokia, and our 3G business case was the second most widely quoted 3G case, behind only that of the UMTS Forum's base case (which of course also had considerable Nokia input). Still this year, 2006, I find miscellaneous consultants showing the old Nokia 3G business case slides and I feel a sense of pride in what the brilliant people in my department achieved back then, such as two weeks ago when an unfamiliar Mercer consultant showed an old Nokia slide of mine at the Telco 2.0 conference in London to my considerable delight and surprise (I was the expert-in-residence at the event).
Those early 3G business cases from 2000 and 2001 can be boiled down to five significant elements. That (1) mobile phone subscriber numbers will continue to grow, and (2) by 2010 about half of all subscribers will migrate to 3G. Also that (3) even by 2010 about half (between 40% and 60%, depending on whose forecast and which regional market) of revenues will be derived from voice. This often surprises the casual analysts of the 3G business. No, even during the big dot-com hype, we in the 3G industry did not expect wild data usage on 3G networks, and everybody madly videocalling each other. All major forecasts from that period (by the major players, by which I mean Nokia, Ericsson, Nortel, Lucent, Siemens, Alcatel, NEC, Vodafone, Orange, Telefonica, Sonera, T-Mobile; etc - and the industry consensus, the UMTS Forum report) - had voice generating about half of 3G revenues still in 3G.
And then the two remaining points. (4) That total revenues from 3G would grow above the revenue levels of 2G, anywhere from 20% above to 100% above those of the 2G levels (current 3G operators average about 50%-70% above their national rival 2G revenue levels). Not all of that money in 3G would come out of the pockets of the average consumer - as part would be business/enterprise use, and a significant new revenue stream would be advertising spending on mobile.
And finally, (5) - we found no killer applications for 3G. For 1G, the first analogue mobile telecoms networks such as NMT and AMPS, the killer app was voice calls. For 2G (ie GSM, CDMA, TDMA etc digital networks) the partial killer app - certainly the must-have feature for the under 25 year old users, and our Generation-C (for Community) as Alan and I describe in our book Communities Dominate Brands - is SMS text messaging. But in all of the studies and forecasts for 3G, there was no single killer app. Various experts talked about "killer coctails" and that "variety or choice" was the killer app, but none of the major service types - music, video, messaging, mobile commerce, advertising, telematics, location-based services, etc - were considered a killer application. And notice, voice and SMS could not be a killer app for 3G, as they existed already in 2G.
Tomi has been hunting for it
Personally, obviously my professional career has been irrevocably linked to the 3G service portfolio, and the money in 3G. I have been the global "poster boy" for 3G services since my first bestseller, Services for UMTS subtitled - "creating killer applications in 3G". Most of my customer workshops, executive seminars and business case calculations, with global giant players in telecoms, from the very top with Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens; to the leading operators NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Telenor, TeliaSonera and Vodafone - have been involved with "how to make money in 3G". My regular press comments from the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Economist etc have also almost all been related to mobile services and business. I have heard the question "Tomi, are there any killer apps for 3G?" literally more than one thousand times. And up to now I have said, no, not a killer app for the mass market (obviously there are dozens already for niche markets).
But also, the one thing I believe in, almost in a "religious" way - believing with blind faith - is that the 3G mobile telecoms environment is so rich and fertile in enabling innovation, that a new killer application will emerge, like we had in SMS text messaging in the 2G world. But the 3G killer app would need to be invented. I could not tell you in 2002 what that would be. Only that I believed some day, someone with a better brain than mine, would discover the cool new service that could do it. And a killer app would eventually be found for 3G.
Lets talk SMS
So a few words about our simple data friend, SMS. SMS text messaging was not intended to be a mass market data application. It is a signalling technology needed for operating a mobile network. It was almost an after-thought for the GSM world, at the standardization level. Nobody in their right mind dared to suggest anyone would want to use such a clumsy - and limited - text messaging function for interpersonal communication.
Once SMS was in the standard, the network suppliers (Ericsson, Nokia, Nortel, Siemens, Lucent, Alcatel, NEC etc) started to offer a technology element, an "SMS gateway", to enable SMS data traffic in the mobile network. The original business case to justify SMS investment was not person-to-person traffic. No. The original use of SMS was to give us alerts of when we had voicemail. That was the justification for the business case of SMS. Because the network and the handset allowed this technology, SMS could be used for the network to alert you, when you had received a voicemail. Simple, elegant, non-obtrusive way to deliver very inexpensively a message to the owner of the GSM mobile phone. Nobody expected this to become a person-to-person service.
But, we humans are unpredictable.
In July 1991 Radiolinja in Finland (now part of the Elisa Group - and yes, this is the same Elisa that was my employer prior to my Nokia career) launched the world's first GSM network. And as part of it, to be fully compliant with the standard, Radiolinja also introduced SMS text messaging. Since that fateful moment, Finland has been at the forefront of SMS innovations and evolutions. By 1995 Finnish banks had introduced SMS alerts to their banking systems, That year the first newmedia introduced SMS based news alerts. By 1998 the world's first value-add service was launched on mobile: literally the start of the mobile internet, and this was of course the ringing tone - by today a five billion dollar global industry.
1998 also saw the first "mobile commerce" application, using the phone in place of cash or a credit card. Two Coca Cola vending machines in Finland were SMS-enabled, so if you didn't have cash, you could just send a text to the vending machine, and out popped a can of coke. By 2000 we saw the first mobile advertising - on SMS of course - and in 2001 Finland introduced the world's first SMS-based check-in for airlines. And on and on and on. In 2004 the Finnish industry awarded the best mobile application to a dentist service, which alerts patients of cancelled appointments - via SMS.
I do need to point out, that while I am Finnish, and of course take great pride in the accomplishments in Finland and in particular those related to my former employer Elisa, certainly the SMS explosion - and indeed mobile telecoms innovation - needs to cover all of Scandinavia. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and yes, even Iceland - have all contributed very extensively to the mobile industry. Norway invented SMS parking. Sweden launched the world's first polling via SMS. Denmark offered the first SMS operated banking cash machines. Iceland introduced SMS payments for WiFi wireless internet access, etc. There are dozens upon dozens of inventions in the other Scandinavian countries, so please, in your thinking, please substitute "Scandinavia" to where I say Finland, ha-ha...
But lets forget about the commerce and data applications of so-called "premium SMS". Basic Person-to-person SMS is even more impressive. Since its launch in 1991, person-to-person SMS has grown to become the largest data application on the planet. With 1.8 Billion active users of SMS text messaging already today, there are almost twice as many users of SMS, as there are users of the internet (at 1.05 billion), and five times more people actively send SMS than use any form of IM Instant Messaging.
SMS text messaging is addictive - as proven in university studies from that first one at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium to as far as the Queensland University in Australia - so there is no going back, once you start texting, you never stop.
SMS is the fastest form of telecommunications - faster than e-mail, faster than voicemail, faster than a voice call, faster than using a Blackberry, faster than IM instant messaging. And SMS is the most private form of communication.
There is no geographic deviance in SMS use. All regions follow the identical patterns first observed in Scandinavia. Even the most laggard of mobile telecoms, America, is following in lock-step the European adoption, with the lag of four years. Already today 40% of Americans use SMS regularly, according to September figures by the CTIA. For contrast, 92% of Scandinavians use SMS daily and 75% of the British. And yes, I have been tracking this statistic since I presented to the first wireless internet conference held in North America in 2000 - and yes, American numbers on SMS usage match EXACTLY those of European use, with a four year lag. This is absolute certainty, SMS will be as huge in America as it is in Scandinavia, Korea, Singapore etc. Yes, business executives and yes grandparents too.
The amount of SMS traffic is also bewildering. The world leaders are the Philippines averaging 15 and Singapore at 12 text messages sent daily, across the whole user base. Koreans are near 10, and the top Europeans in Norway and Ireland send about 3 messages per day across the whole population. The heavy users - Generation-C or Community Generation - are a totally different beast. 10% of the under 20 year olds in the UK average 100 text messages per day. In South Korea that number is 30%. Yes, almost one in three Korean teenagers thumbs out 100 text messages every day. Talk about repetitive strain injuries...
Almost every user of SMS text messaging has access to internet based e-mail. Yet survey after survey prove that young people don't like e-mail, they prefer SMS. Since first discovered by Orange in the UK and France in 2001, similar findings from Asia to America. Korean youth say they never use e-mail except in contacts with their elders like a boss at work. And the latest survey from the USA this June by ComScore Metrix found the same results, with American youth preferring SMS, and saying "e-mail is, like so yesterday."
And yes, while every e-mail session is free (or seems free), and each SMS text message is separately charged - even if bundled - at a global average of near 10 cents per message, the use of SMS has exploded beyond the wildest dreams of any SMS product managers of any equipment vendors and operators. Today, SMS traffic is worth over 70 Billion dollars. That is over 30 times more than total e-mail revenues worldwide.
SMS text messaging revenues alone, are a larger industry than Hollywood box office, global music sales, and videogaming software revenues - combined. SMS accounts from between 10% and 25% of mobile operator revenues, and it is that profitable, that SMS delivers from 35% to 55% of all mobile operator profits.
An SMS for the 3G world?
So, now with this long prologue out of the way. 3G is looking for a killer application. It is hoping to discover the surprise hit, the kind of totally unpredictable upside surprise, that SMS text messaging was in the 2G world. Even with some of the world's best talent and experts at my disposal, and access to literally the best professional expertise that money could buy, when we built the Nokia 3G business cases, we could not discover one killer app for 3G. I have been on the hunt ever since. Now I finally have it.
Mobile Community Services will be the killer app for 3G. Call it Mobile Social Networks (some like our friend Steven Jones who lectures with me at Oxford's 3G business/services courses abbreviate that as MoSoSo). Call it Digital Communities on 3G. Call it mobile blogging, moblogging. Call it user generated content on mobile. But trust me, Communities Dominate. We now have found our first true killer application for the 3G space. And it is the digital community services.
So where did it come from?
We had no such examples in the latest evolution of our 3G business case in 2001 when I left Nokia. "Chat" on mobile was the nearest thing, as one small part of messaging, together with mobile IM ie Mobile Instant Messaging. In my book m-Profits from 2002, I discuss "community" in about one page of the book in the chapter on "Me" and the industry service creation theory, the Five M's.
As I collect and evangelize mobile service innovations - through my world-famous "Pearls" ie real mobile services described on one page each, that I have shown now over 1,000 at over 150 conferences on six continents, and which are a perennial favourite of my presentations - I have of course seen the evolution of mobile services towards this mobile community world. I've seen Pearls that deal with what could be considered the "steps" that lead up to mobile digital communities, ie interactivity, user-generated content, sharing, etc. So I have shown Pearls that had these kinds of partial elements - such as TV interactivity and voting in 2001; multiplayer mobile gaming in 2002; MMS clips and images sent to TV shows in 2003; and the role of mobile phones in virtual worlds like Habbo Hotel in 2004. But I had not "discovered" a true "Mobile Social Networking" service until September 2004.
My Pearl of the Month (which I publish monthly at my website www.tomiahonen.com) for September 2004 was Kwickee Guides, a user-generated mobile "encyclopedia" - like Wikipedia if you will - but one where each view will cost the viewer 1.50 UKP (2.75 Euro, 3.25 USD) and the original creator is rewarded up to 40p every time the page is viewed.
Now honestly, I have not seen much about Kwickee Guides since 2004, I do think their model was perhaps priced too high. Yet to me, this was the start as it was the first case that I had found, of user-generated content that would be generated AND consumed on mobile. Since then we've seen a vast explosion of similar business models at more reasonable rates, from the wildly popular SeeMeTV to services such as MyNuMo.
So for me, that September 2004 can be set as the launch date of real, commercial services around mobile social networking; of digital communities built for the mobile. Yes, actually Cyworld in South Korea had been live for three years at this point, so the real launch date is 2001, and I had discussed the picture messaging explosion in Korea (without mentioning Cyworld by name) back in 2003. But for me, the whole digital communities revolution in mobile started in September 2004. That is when I mentally moved from this being an abstract concept, a potential service concept, to being an honest real commercially viable mobile application. And right from the start I did feel that digital communities would become big - I did select Kwickee as my Pearl of the Month - but honestly, I did not know how big it might become. But I was intrigued and started to track them, actively.
In my conference speakerships throughout 2005 when I discussed blogging, most in the audience did not know what blogging was (far less moblogging). Remember at the start of 2005 there were only 4 million blogsites in the world - today there are over 60 million. Still today, when I ask technology "expert" audiences, how many read technology blogs, the response is usually less than 10% of the audience. Not for readers of our Communities Dominate blog, obviously - you guys all believe in the value of blogs; but for the mainstream IT, telecoms and media world, interactive social networking - like blogging - is still a "black box" science, a voodoo mythical enigma, not really trustworthy, perhaps best left for the younger generations...
I think it is quite illuminating to view the relevance of digital communities in my Pearls shown in public since September 2004. From that time of the Kwickee Guide Pearl in September 2004 up to the 3G LTE (Long Term Evolution) conference where I presented last week, over a 2 year period I've shown 376 Pearls. In the first 12 months up to end of September 2005, Digital Community services, and the community "dimension" of digital services accounted for 30% of all of my Pearls. In the last 12 months, that proportion has grown to 51%. Yes, today over half of all the Pearls I show have a community dimension.
Suddenly everybody from gaming to music rating to mobile dating to TV broadcasting is building digital communities, and enabling them via the mobile phone. Botfighter the network robot game, Sugababes the pop trio, Flirtomatic the dating service, Pop Idol, etc. Everybody does community. Obviously those who have read all four of my books, can see the impact Alan Moore made to the fourth book, and how suddenly I've shifted from the classic 3G (voice, messaging, video, commerce etc) model to the digital communities philosophy. That understanding was all the result of intense workshops and thinking with Alan - which resulted in our book and this blogsite (and perhaps even more, stay tuned).
And the winner is
So we arrive to the numbers. I wrote yesterday in my blog, reporting on the Informa numbers, that digital community services on mobile phones are already worth 3.45 billion dollars! This year, in 2006. That is a massive number. It helps explain the power of mobile - being the world's most prevalent digital platform, nearly 2.6 billion users with mobile phones, and close to 10% of them already using the high speed 3G phones. Anyone in the media industries, or running an internet service - needs to know this is the biggest pond, if you are not on mobile, you won't be relevant soon.
Yet look at these numbers. First the context. On the internet, advertising is the largest revenue source, followed closely by gambling (which is now under threat from the recent USA legislation). Adult entertainment is the third largest revenue source for internet service income. In 2005 internet pornography delivered 2.6 billion dollars to the adult entertainment industry. That has grown from its launch in 1994 so this has been achieved in 11 years. What of videogaming on the web? Since the first sales of videogames via the web in 1993, today online gaming revenues are worth 1.9 billion dollars (in 12 years). How about music? Apple introduced the iPod in 2001. Four years later, iTunes in 2005 delivered about 400 million dollars of music sales worldwide. Television has its biggest innovation and new revenue source in SMS-to-TV internactivity (voting for Big Brother, Pop Idol etc). That was invented in 2001, and last year generated 1.2 billion dollars.
Social networking on mobile was also intrdouced in 2001, and now in five years, it has exploded to 3.45 billion dollars. This is likely to be the fastest-growing launch of a new industry ever. Zero to 3 billion in five years.
Make your move!
This is the industry to be in. Any service, product, company, brand or entity needs a mobile phone based digital community presense. If you are not there, your competitors will be, and you will be crushed. If you are there, this is the place where finally, of internet services, you can earn money. You do not need to wait for some magical level of "eyeballs" to sell advertising. The mobile internet is inherently better than the traditional web, because of that very fact - every service is billable, every time your service is used, you get paid. Not to mention its much bigger than the internet and more addictive and the clear choice of younger users. Alan and I are now inundated with requests to explain the digital communities and how to engage them, build them, deliver value to them. We run workshops and seminars all over the planet to anyone from telecoms to internet to media and to advertising.
This is still the very beginning. Imagine eBay, Google, Amazon - and their compatriots and rivals - in 1998 and 1999, that is what we are now looking at now.
It is no longer hypothesis and promise and "vaporware". Study Ohmy News. Study Habbo Hotel. Study Cyworld. Study SeeMeTV. Study Pop Idol (and in particular Finnish Idol). Study The Dozens. Study Twins Mobile. Study SuperStable. Stick any of those in our search window here and get our thoughts on them. See how enormous this opportunity is. Understand that you can be part of the growth, when the 3.45 Billion turns to over 5 billion next year, and over 8 billion in 2008. Make your millions in it NOW!
Oh, and run, don't walk - to buy the only book that "told you so" - that explained this opportunity in deep detail. Communities Dominate Brands. It is so relevant today, and there is nothing like it - covering the full digital community space AND the mobile future - by anyone.
Those who read our blog know Alan and I believe passionately in the power of digital communities, yet I didn't have concrete numbers to validate the thesis. Not until now. Yesterday I blogged about the Informa finding that social networking on mobile is already worth 3.45 billion dollars in 2006. We have found our new killer app.
Addendum - is NOT exclusively Mobile
Finally: I need to stress again. We see a fantastic opportunity on the biggest digital media platform on the planet - at 37% of all people on the planet carrying one, the mobile phone is the widest spread mass media, and most broadly used payment mechanism, and by far the most widely used communication system on the earth.
It is the fourth screen and the seventh mass media. We love the mobile, and have repeatedly said all digital communities will migrate to mobile.
But don't misunderstand us. We write very clearly in defining the consumer of tomorrow - Generation-C (for Community Generation) - that it is an inherently multitasking generation, it will always be multiplatform (and multimedia, while I am at it). Gen-C is digitally astute, much more than you and me. And they optimize.
Do not for one moment think, that mobile will be "enough". NO. You HAVE to be multiplatform. Some of the examples we talk about, like SeeMeTV - are yes, the rare cases of a pure mobile phone offering. But most of the biggest successes, whether Cyworld, or Habbo Hotel, or TV interactivity like Pop Idol and its latest "Finnish Idol" variant - are multiplatform.
So it is not enough to "get" mobile. You need to understand broadband internet. You need to understand digital TV and IP TV. You need to understand multiplayer videogaming. You need to understand wireless sharing on bluetooth, WiFi and yes, 3G. And you need to understand digital distribution media such as DVD.
Mobile is the biggest and most powerful new media, it will not be the only media. TV did not kill cinema. Radio did not kill recordings. The internet has not (yet) killed the newspaper. Oh, and while I'm at it - if you are examining mobile from the media side, you HAVE to read Alan's blog and his company White Paper on the Pop Idol phenomenon. I think its the best writing on where media is going, today.
But equally - you MUST understand the seventh mass media. What makes the mobile phone SUPERIOR to all previous six mass media? Better than TV, yes. Better than the internet, yes. You must understand why the mobile phone is more addictive than those. So today, any digital community service, any social networking service, MUST build a mobile phone element, dimension or application to it. Else it will become irrelevant.
Because the mobile phone is the biggest communication system and the preferred media for Gen-C, if you don't offer your service on it, it is as stupid, as if you were a recording artist and released your latest album on C-Cassette, but not on CD. Or if you own the rights to a movie, and you only release it on VHS, without a version on DVD. The mobile phone is not the only mass media, nor will it eliminate the other six. But the phone is rapidly becoming the dominant mass media, in particular for digital communities, as it already generates more than half of all social networking service revenues worldwide.
So yes, mobile is the most relevant media, but please don't misunderstand us, it is not the only one. Most of the successful services will be on multiple platforms. That of course makes it even more complex. But also - readers of our blogsite will know, you are in the tiny minority who "get it" early. You can solve the complexity, and deliver excellence to your passionate community - and then with a multiplatform service, use it as your barrier to isolate you from your less-informed rivals.
Good luck. In a few years Social Networking on mobile will be bigger than such traditional media industries as hollywood or music. Get your money into it now, be part of the winners in this. This is not a hyped industry wishing to build a revenue model some day in the future. At 3.45 billion dollars, this is a VERY healthy industry today. Jump onboard!
Oh, and do tell us when you launch your clever ideas, services, applications and variations. Alan and I like to celebrate the innovation in this space. Let us know, and we will blog about your inventions and success. We are a community here at Communities Dominate. We will celebrate the success of our readers, fans, visitors and "members" if you will.
PS - there is a follow-up to this story. Alan Moore blogged a thoughtful piece on the "WHY" to this phenomenon. Why is mobile social networking growing so fast and worth 3.45 billion dollars already. Read it here Alan on Mobile Communities