October 07, 2008


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)


The economic headlines only seem to get worse – the US credit crunch is leading employers to layoff workers, Europe is bailing out banks and stock market indices across the globe are in retreat. However, as Kok Fung wrote in his last entry, the mood in our industry is still upbeat. In my column today, I'd like to suggest two reasons why this is the case:

1. Mobile services already went through a downturn three years ago. In 2005, poor content was too often matched with high prices. In 2006-2007, industry executives adjusted their business models. Subscription-based fees were largely abandoned, prices were lowered and new avenues for distribution developed.

2. New services and new content that are relevant to consumers are continually being rolled out. Relevance is the key here.

Let's take a look at some examples . . .

Italian Guide to Lower Food Prices 

A government ministry in Italy has launched a free service to help consumers compare food prices. SMS Consumatori sources information from over 2000 stores and sorts the price data by region. Consumers send a text message with the name of the item they wish to buy. SMS Consumatori returns a message with wholesale and retail prices. The government website also tracks pricing trends and lists the stores with the highest and lowest prices.


Mobile Marketplace in Bangladesh

University students post ads to tutour secondary school students. Farmers buy and sell cattle and produce. There are postings for computer parts, flats for rent, used cars, you name it. CellBazaar has been used by more than a million Bangladeshis since its launch in August 2007. A quarter-million use the service on a regular basis. Some observers call it Bangladesh's "Craig's List". There's a website and a WAP site. But users must have a contract with GrameenPhone, which earns revenue from users who text messages to the site. To find an item to buy, just text "buy" to the short code 3838 and then browse the categories or view individual postings. In percentage terms, the service's penetration isn't that high (less than 1 percent), but it's greater than the percent who use PCs and is growing. For the farmers, fisherman, shopkeepers and students who use it, CellBazaar is revolutionising their opportunities.

Mobile Banking in The Maldives
It's not unusual for a Maldivian to travel four hours by boat to collect a salary or make bank deposits. Internet penetration and PC ownership is low, so the Maldives government is turning to m-banking to improve the lives of its citizens. In fact, the country hopes to become the first nation where mobile phones are the primary vehicle for banking.

M-commerce in Mexico
Japanese have long been accustomed to using their mobile phones to buy train tickets or food and other items from a vending machine. But m-commerce has been slow to catch on in other parts of the world. Now, Mexican banks and telecom companies (Iusacell and Telefonica SA) are teaming up to enable consumers to pay restaurant bills and taxis via mobile. Cell phone users simply need to tell their banker to link their bank and phone accounts.

Property Search

Services like Trulia and Terabitz allow consumers to search homes for sale, see photos and property details. They started out online but subsequently launched mobile services. Terabitz focuses on the iPhone market, but Trulia is available on many platforms. Both services map property locations, which looks pretty cool and makes it easier to chart a course and find them. Given the current state of property and credit markets, these services aren't as relevant now as they were a year ago.

So what's next?
Like everyone else, mobile industry players are keeping a close eye on trends (and shocks) in the broader economy. But content producers are providing services that enable users to make money more easily or cut costs. User costs are always a factor. Fortunately data rates have dropped pretty much everywhere (with the exception of a few notable cases like Zimbabwe, where it can cost as much as US$7 to send a SMS).

The bottom line is that the mobile economy is developing well and that mobile services continue to improve people's lives, good economy or not. If you're going to build something, make it useful, make it relevant, make it affordable . . . and consumers will still come.
BUZZCITY CEO TO SPEAK IN JAKARTAInterest in the Indonesian market continues to offer more opportunities for mobile players. If you are in Jakarta on 4th & 5th November, be sure to catch Kok Fung as he shares insights into developing new mobile content services at the

Indonesia Telecom International Summit
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Kuningan District

Kok Fung will share ideas on the potential in Indonesia for user generated content, mobile social networking and the different models for profitable partnerships. He will also share our experience from overseas emerging and developed markets.