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« Celebrating 30 Years of Mobile Phones, Thank You NTT of Japan | Main | News and commentary from GSMA Asia Mobile Congress/Hong Kong »

November 16, 2009



I would be nice if all of us who are innovators on the side of mobile could kickstart developers into thinking better about mobile being more than web. Hoping that the latest post on my personal site helps, but this piece (Tomi) should be an even better kick in the pants.

Henry Sinn

I've been reading your blogs for a few years now.
One comment and one question.
Comment: Best blog of the year. Fantastic. Covers more-or-less everything succinctly. [ps Read it on my phone :-) whilst waiting for someone in a car]
Question: Why do SO many people NOT get it / see it coming? I'm yet to meet someone [here in Australia] who understands the potential and is focusing on any sort of real delivery with all [or any] of this in mind.

Paul Jardine

I'm not going to argue very hard this time, as we more or less agree on the high level stuff, but I don't agree that we should be thinking about 2 (or more) separate 'internets'.
Sure there are applications that open up due to the mobility aspect, and there are limitations that have to be addressed in the devices that are accessing the internet; it's also VERY true that the mobile phone is an excellent payment method (if anyone bothers to build a decent interface). So, there are extensions to the web that are purely mobile, there are parts of the web that are purely non-mobile (though less), but the rest of the internet is relevant to mobile as well as fixed access.
I agree that access will become more and more focussed on a personal, portable device; I agree that applications will take mobility into account much more, i.e. the location etc. It's also possible that the identity aspect of a mobile phone might become the de-facto identity that is used universally (jury still out on that one! btw, what's my known identity on a data-only connection? )
But overall, I still think we have one internet, with content tailored for the target audience, whether that be mobile or kitchen or any other kind of users.
Your vision may come true, if the operators are able to adapt quickly enough to become the defacto standards in these areas - I doubt it - but regardless, the one internet will be predominantly populated by mobile devices, maybe that makes the one internet the Mobile Internet....


(Just as a disclaimer, I agree with Paul there that we shouldn't be talking about a mobile and a legacy internet - there is just one Internet, some portions are just closed from some users as has always been the case. The below answer talks about mobile & legacy internets just for the sake of the argument.)

Tomi, that was one long post. Thanks for the thought-provoking stuff again! Like you pointed out, I wouldn't want to read that on my mobile - and I bet you didn't write that with an iPhone, so already there you have something that even you inherently prefer to do on the legacy Internet ;)

Seriously though, I wholeheartedly agree that the mobile Internet is different than the PC Internet. But is it better? That's a much harder question and one that depends on who you ask from. If you ask from an Indian farmer who has only used the mobile Internet, yes, it is better. If you ask from an American teenager who plays WoW, absolutely not. And it depends on the context; is the mobile Internet better for banking? If I have to send money somewhere _right now_, yes, absolutely. For day-to-day banking needs, no way - they're way more convenient to take care of with a PC at home with a fast connection.

They're different and they're both constantly changing. You just can't say one is categorically "better" than the other. As your position is that mobile is better, I will give some counter-examples; for many people, the operators' ability to track everything you do and contact is reason enough to consider the mobile Internet worse. For businesses running critical applications that must rely on guaranteed bandwidth, the legacy Internet by far trumps the mobile Internet. For researchers having to shift terabytes of data around, the fixed Internet wins hands down - try having a 10-gigabit link over the air anytime in the next 20 years. For the gamers, fixed networks' lower latency means better gaming experience. For shopping on Amazon, regardless of the initial payment hassle, the user experience is way better on a PC than on a mobile.

Things will continue to shift from being used on the legacy Internet to being used over the mobile Internet, but the legacy Internet will keep swallowing stuff from the physical world. There will be convergence but also divergence of services.

Finally, you put a lot of emphasis on how big the mobile industry is financially. Yes, it's huge. But from the consumers' perspective, the fact that something is expensive hardly means it's inherently better - despite consumer psychological research saying that we enjoy products that are expensive more than similar cheap products. One has to remember that value destruction is not necessarily a bad thing; optimization of the economy is good.

The attitude towas the mobile Internet also depends on ones background; coming from a background of fixed Internet, I myself loathe the extortionate pricing of many things on the mobile side (and not just the consumer prices but the cuts various players take, just because they can). I want my mobile operator to be an efficient bit-pipe, not an entity that's looking to analyze my every move and slap on a charge whenever they can. I will pay for services I need, using the most suitable payment methods for the given situation. YMMV and I fully realize this.

Am I dissing the mobile Internet? By no means. The Internets complement each other. Thanks to the mobile Internet, I get to catch up on NY Times and other news during my commute instead of having sit at a PC. But thanks to the legacy Internet, I won't have to pay extortionate prices for stuff like ringtones. Mobile broadband recently rescued me when getting a fixed connection to our home took forever; but man was I happy when I eventually got it - and immediately dumped the mobile broadband.

I have no doubt the mobile Internet will continue to thrive. But so will the legacy Internet. If one was inherently better than the other, the other should eventually die out, but neither will. They'll just change.

Mobile Internet is different from the legacy Internet. Much more so than many people understand. No contest on that.

But is it better?

It depends ;)

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I also argue that the ‘mobile data’ opportunity is even bigger, making ‘mobile data’ a far more appealing and lucrative opportunity than the ‘legacy’ PC oriented. A mobile data service is any service on a mobile device other than voice calling. These have become highly successful, vindicating carriers and analysts who have stood firmly by their belief in the future of mobile data.

Andrew Scott


Thanks for taking the time to write and post this. I liked parts of your analysis, and I found your observations about terminology ("picture radio") etc. particularly insightful. However, while this could have been a short piece on the attractiveness of the mobile as a mass media channel, I think you've taken it too far and produced a less believable argument as a result.

Let me start of by saying that I've been in the mobile industry for a while, and I even work at a mobile operator. However, I don't speak for them at all in this reply.

Your basic argument is that the "mobile internet" is "not the same" and is in fact "far superior" to the "real internet". Unfortunately, the flaws in your argument stem from:
1. solely taking a demand (device) side view, and ignoring the supply (server) side view
2. looking at how the mobile and PC environments have been historically and ignoring future trends
3. assuming that device uniqueness implies network and service uniqueness

Let me take these one by one..

1. Focussing on demand (device) side only

In ignoring the supply (server) side view, you have not mentioned that all the content the mobile and "legacy" internet come from exactly the same type of servers. In some cases, they are from physically the same servers.

Take a look at Opera's State of the Mobile Web report ( The top sites that mobile users go to are all the top "legacy" web sites.

It is difficult to believe that the mobile and legacy internet are really completely different things if they travel over the same pipes and go to the same servers.

2. Looking backwards and not forwards

Although historically there have been very different protocols and standards for internet services to mobiles and PCs, e.g. WML/WAP, CHTML, HDML, etc. these days they have converged significantly, e.g. HTML, Javascript, CSS and HTTP are the web protocols for both mobiles and PCs. You can run standard Skype on a mobile. You can connect your phone's email with your email server using IMAP or even Exchange ActiveSync.

Additionally, there is increasing blurring between mobiles and PCs. There are no longer just "the two" ways to access the internet. There are increasing numbers of devices filling the niches between pure handset and pure desktop PC, e.g. MID, portable games device, UMPC, Netbook, Laptop, games console, TV, STB, etc.

It is hard to believe that the mobile internet will sit in its own silo when the sharp distinction of mobile handset will bleed into a continuum with many other popular internet-connected devices.

3. Assuming network/service uniqueness because of device uniqueness

I grant that there are many unique things about mobiles. However, there aren't as many as you list, and the burden is on you to prove that those unique things matter.

The main two you identify as being important were the first two you provide: unique identifiers and ability to pay instantly. These are both things that aren't unique, and it's not clear if the first one matters.

For example, the mobile phone number is not part of the internet. It does not get included in any IP packet. The operator that I work for does not send out the mobile phone number beyond its own trusted boundries - a one-way hash of the number is used instead in an HTTP header. The mobile phone number is essentially the account number that the operator uses to identify a customer. Even fixed ISPs have account numbers for their customers, so this isn't anything special.

Ironically, in your discussion on the imporance of the mobile phone number, the mobile internet service that "went live in Japan in 1999" used email rather than SMS to send messages. All of their "mobile internet" users were uniquely identified by an email address, not just a phone number.

In terms of the ability "to pay on a click", I am surprised that you used the example of PayPal. Why didn't you cover iTunes or Amazon? They both support the ability "to pay on a click" and although they do use credit cards, they also support other forms of payment such as gift cards. Even a mobile phone bill has to be paid eventually somehow, so the fact that iTunes and Amazon's single click payment is underpinned by another payment mechanism doesn't make them any weaker.

Other aspects such as accelerometers, cameras, etc. are also appearing in PCs (and other devices in the consumer electronics continuum such as the iPod Nano). I could go on.

I don't debate that there are *some* unique aspects of mobiles (number of users, always on, etc.), but this doesn't mean that they are different enough to need a different internet. Let me illustrate by analogy.

I can point out that a scooter and a taxi are both vehicles but have unique properties. This does not mean that the scooter must be on a different road network to the taxi, or that they will always visit different places.

It is easier to believe that while the mobile and PC are unique devices, and will be optimised around different applications, there are more similarities than differences and they will run over the same internet.

Now that my comment is running to almost the same length as your article, I must stop before I go too far. :)


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I agree with Paul there that we shouldn't be talking about a mobile and a legacy internet


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    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Helsinki but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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