This morning I attended an interesting panel discussion on the mobile marketplace. It was sponsored by Potomac Tech Wire and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
I was particularly interested in this event because I knew two of the panelists. I worked for Tom Wheeler at CTIA when he led that organization, and I worked with Paul Palmieri when we were both at Advertising.com. Tom is now a Partner at Core Capital, and Paul is CEO of Millennial Media. More background information about the entire panel and the event here.
Paul Sherman of PTW moderated. He kept things moving by asking each panelist for three interesting trends, and one issue they felt was currently overhyped. This led to some debate since some thought mobile video was overhyped, and others disagreed.
Overall it was an interesting, high level discussion. By and large the panelists made points that demonstrated where their company played in the mobile ecosystem — aggregator, ad network, investor, mobile publisher, mobile commerce. The most animated discussions were driven by the above mentioned opinions on mobile TV — is the business model there, what kind of experience customers want? — and open access — what does it mean, hasn’t been defined, does the spectrum auction really suggest a new day in North American telecom?
Some selected nuggets:
Tom Wheeler — telecom business in this country currently has three distinct areas — the network, retail stores and the billing relationship with the customer. The last one is the relationship that has real value — look to share networks as in other countries, streamline and trim retail locations. Look to free up capital and speed time to market.
Pragnesh Shah, Mobilians International — iPhone success has woken up every OEM and carrier, the big carrier slept on the threat of VOIP in the 90’s and now they realize the “collision of computing and telecom,” incumbents will fight real open access, work to just open their networks a crack.
Paul Palmieri — for video to take off the business model needs to move from paying monthly tariff to free/ad supported model, part of the problem is you can’t market it as “TV on your phone” because it isn’t, but telecom marketing doesn’t do subtle messaging, they carpet bomb. On the other hand Paul is an old Verizon guy, and defended the carriers when the abuse was starting to pile high.
Kevin Bertram, Distributive Networks — shared how painful and lengthy is was negotiating with multiple carriers so his company could handle text messaging for the Obama campaign, made the point that mobile isn’t just a new platform for advertising it can be used as a call to action directed at offline ads, and interestingly noted his company has a “no blackberry” rule, to preserve quality of life. Refreshing!
Something interesting happened during the Q&A. Paul Sherman has asked the panel about Google’s goals in the FCC C Block auction, and it seemed like the consensus was Google did not want to actually win the spectrum and have to build a wireless business. So I had a question to ask, and luckily I know Paul and I got to ask it, since there were probably 250+ people in the room. I asked whether anyone felt another reason Google didn’t actually want the spectrum was because they can help finance the WiMax network to be built by Sprint and Clearwire. Any panelist have any thoughts on that?
Total silence. No one would touch it, it was radioactive for some reason. I asked another question, but thought this was very strange. I emailed Paul S. afterwards and he thought so as well.
So if any big news goes down on that front, you heard it here first! And finally, there is a major survey coming out early next week on mobile video use in Europe and the States. The survey size is 34,000 users, and some of the findings directly relate to the debate this morning about user uptake, expectations and so forth. Watch this space — I’ll be able to share the results Tuesday morning.
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