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Carriers? brand and position in value chain at risk

By Merav Bahat

The mobile Internet is expanding exponentially with the rapid adoption of Internet-centric devices used to consume multimedia content and services. 

According to a Forrester Research report released earlier this year, more than one- third of consumers in Western Europe will access the Internet from their mobile phones by 2014.

However, with all the advantages of the richer user experience of smartphones, simply copying the desktop user interface to the smaller device does not realize the full potential of mobile browsing. 

Unique location-based capabilities and user insight present wireless carriers with an opportunity to create a personalized user experience tailor-made for the mobile.   

By offering subscribers a highly customized mobile Internet environment, operators now have the opportunity to provide a differentiating service that can create new revenue-generating opportunities, build brand image and boost customer loyalty.

Race to rule mobile Web
The carrier portal is losing ground as established and new entrants to the mobile market are competing to define the mobile user experience. 

Application stores from Apple, Google, Research In Motion, Palm and Windows have become the new address for mobile applications, content, and services, putting the carrier brand and position in the value chain at risk.

Furthermore, carriers no longer have a monopoly on the mobile device market and retailers are becoming an increasing popular channel. 

By 2013, In-Stat anticipates that only approximately 60 percent of all the Internet-connected mobile devices sold will be through carrier channels.

A personalized mobile Internet environment including customized services can be a strong differentiator for carriers.

With integrated social network capabilities, content and promotions selected based on interest, opt-in ads for subsidized services and a fast and secure purchasing channel provided by the carrier, consumers can benefit from a wide range of services with unique added value. 

The first place to start is in the carrier?s own backyard. 

By opening a new communication channel with their subscribers, carriers can enable users to manage their service packages and quotas and even pay their bills using a mobile Internet application. 

Self-service account management is already deployed at Russia's CDMA carrier, Skylink, where subscribers in Moscow can select pricing plans based on the applications they use and the time of day. 

For example, subscribers can choose access to unlimited social networks, email only at night or receive news in the morning and mobile video after work hours.

Differentiated pricing reduces overall subscriber prices, thereby increasing user adoption while resulting in more fair usage.

This self-service application enables subscribers to pay for the bandwidth they want when they need it.

In addition to choosing which content is accessed and when, consumers who have immediate visibility to their expenses can avoid bill shock and can decide to add quotas on-the-fly based on their financial limits, providing maximum flexibility.

The subscriber has more control over the mobile Internet service, and network resources are more efficiently allocated based on need and a consumer?s willingness and ability to pay.

Advise, don?t advertise
By enabling subscribers to opt-in for personalized content and services, carriers can advise and not advertise, making targeted promotions a welcomed service.

For example, consumers who are browsing for information on their favorite band can receive recommendations to download the band?s latest music video or buy the latest wallpaper from the carrier?s portal at a better price, using convenient payment methods.

Content providers also benefit since personalized content is more likely to be shared with friends, especially when subscribers are also using social media on the mobile device.

The key to delivering mobile content is to make the content discovery least intrusive.

By providing an application that appears only when the consumer chooses to invoke it, carriers can avoid the practice of sending unsolicited SMS or MMS messages that can be considered disruptive or even annoying, and can result in automatic deletion.

Dividends for carriers
There are obvious benefits for carriers to stake a claim on the mobile Internet. 

By providing a differentiated, unified and sticky user experience across multiple devices, carriers can increase their value and brand visibility. They can attract users, generate revenues and increase adoption of mobile data services by promoting their own and their partners? content and services.

In addition, with the ability to push information and notifications, carriers can maintain a closer relationship with subscribers. 

In addition, subscribers also benefit by taking full advantage of personalized and location-based services that make browsing on-the-go a unique experience that is more than a mere duplication of the desktop.

Merav Bahat is vice president of marketing at Flash Networks, Herzlia, Israel.  Reach her at .