Some mobile data trends (numbers + commentary):

  • Total mobile data revenues for 2007: US$157 Bil
  • Total mobile data revenues for Q1 2008: >US$49 Bil, 42.7% y-o-y increase. Of this, non-SMS data made up approx US$17.46 Bil (35.6% of total data revenues)
  • Mobile data revenues is now almost 20% of mobile operator total revenues
  • 40% of world’s data revenues come from APAC (>US$20 Bil in Q1 2008)
  • Fastest growing is EMEA, which despite only representing 2% of world’s data revenues, is growing at 91.7% y-o-y to US$927 Mil. This acceleration is aided by the 321% y-o-y increase of HSPA subscribers
  • Operator that generated highest non-voice revenues this quarter is Japan’s NTT DoCoMo (US$3.6 Bil), overtaking China Mobile (US$3.5 Bil)
  • As a % of overall revenue, Filipino mobile operator Smart Communication is the world’s market leader, and the only carrier to depend on non-voice revenues for > 50% of its income *I wonder how much of this is attributed to microfinance and mobile payments i n that region, hmm ..

And as always, I’d like to extrapolate some meaning from raw numbers, so let’s go.

Obviously, the trend clearly indicates that your cell phone is becoming more of a general purpose computing device (like your desktop PC, as opposed to a single-purpose device that makes phone calls only), with more rich features that PCs don’t have (e.g. GPS and accelerometer), and it’s all hooked up to the wonderful internet.

Action items: First, we have to get out of the habit of thinking of cell phones as desktops, because the use-cases are completely different; treating them as such is the clearest way to die. Second, with mobile devices becoming more powerful (computationally, Moore’s law), having more storage (cost of storage trending down, Moore’s law), internet connectivity improving (coverage, speed, cost, again, Moore’s law), and throw on top of that added new hardware features (GPS, accelerometer, etc) .. this sounds to me like having richer and more powerful tools in a technologist’s problem solving warchest — so bring on the problems, bring on the opportunity.

I chuckle as I write this because this reminds me of what Stanford University’s president John Hennessy once mentioned in an interview, about his prediction of what would happen in mobile technology down the road:

  1. Information at any where, at any time, on any device
  2. A user experience that works well, independent of what that information is: Be it a Google map, stock listing, web site, email, etc. Making that convenient and natural, and seamless
  3. Imagine walking in a brick and mortar store and wanting to buy a product. I want to look up my phone and do a price comparison on the product and know what people are saying about it. I want to do that in 5 seconds. Today, I have to open a browser, visit a review site, search, etc. (too much work)

The iPhone is clearly one of the pioneers in making that happen, especially with the iPhone app store. I have previously commented on why I think the iPhone app store is very much Apple’s competitive advantage, and as much as I root for Google’s Android, it remains to be seen how the Android incarnations would address the iPhone platform threat.

With mobile carriers having trouble increasing revenues from voice, you betcha they are thinking of every single way to make money from mobile data. I have also previously written a rant about iPhone/AT&T’s data pricing strategy (there’s nothing wrong with the strategy per se, I’m just a price-sensitive geek at heart).

Now’s a good time to be a mobile app developer .. there’s money already being pledged for the BlackBerry platform (US$150 Mil) , Google Android platform (US$10 Mil), and the iPhone platform (US$100 Mil). I can see mobile carriers snapping up these mobile app startups to further bolster their mobile data revenues. Technology IPOs are almost non-existent today, much to a Silicon Valley VC’s annoyance, so exits via acquisition to a mobile operator would make sense for mobile app startups.

I’m passionate about innovation and problem solving with tech, and I can’t wait to see more new applications in mobile given these trends. The question I try to ask myself given these stats above are, “what else is possible today that wasn’t yesterday?” Think it about it.

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!
–Søren Kierkegaard

To go off on a slight tangent, it’s interesting to note that a Filipino mobile operator is the world’s market leader in depending on non-voice revenues. I wonder how much mobile payments contribute to their revenue stream, and how much of that is related to microfinance. If anything, I think that could be a classic BoP example because it would illustrate another example to bust the myth that corporations cannot make a significant and sustainable profit in selling to the poor.

If I was all the other mobile carriers looking to make more $ from mobile data, I’d be watching this Filipino carrier, Smart Communications closely to glean some lessons.

Click here for the full story of the stats above from cellular-news, and regional breakdown of revenues.

And I’ll end this blog post with vivid taste of possibilities for mobile — a very cool Android project in the making called Enkin. Do check it out!