August 2002

Playing a Team Game: Can they pass the ball?

A team game...What does it take to develop a mobile application, such as the football prediction application we launched for the World Cup and the UK Premiership season, or the text response systems we are developing for commercial radio stations?
It takes a number of very different organisations working together to achieve a common result. For our recent World Cup/Premiership application, eight organisations played a major part, together with others in a subsidiary role - not to mention additional marketing partners who promoted the game in return for a share of income.

Just as in football, different players, with different skills and experience, are needed to play different roles. A striker needs entirely different skills from a midfielder or a defender. In company terms, an entirely different set of expertise and experience, financial structure, business model and company culture are needed for each role. Infrastructure needs huge investment with a payback of years or even decades, and absolutely reliable delivery against a range of different quality measures.
Applications, on the other hand, need detailed understanding of user needs - including needs which users don’t yet know they have – together with rapid development, creative flair and fast and imaginative marketing. It is unlikely that an individual or a company that is good at one thing will also be good at the other. In business, as in sport, it usually pays to specialise.
But - the 64 Billion dollar question - can the mobile industry pass the ball? If a midfielder or a defender, for example, hangs on to possession - perhaps in the belief that they can hit the net from the back quarter - then not many goals will be scored.

Giving it up

Giving up possession is probably hardest for the mobile operators, who have invested massive sums (worldwide, rather more than 64 Billion dollars) to buy the licences and install the infrastructure for next generation mobile. Yet they need to pass the ball to midfielders and strikers - and pass on a reasonable share of the revenue only they are in a position to collect - if the team is ever to win any games.

The result

So what is the experience of actually playing the game? Naturally there are many problems to be sorted out when a team first starts playing together, particularly if they are playing a game - as with mobile applications - that no-one has ever played before. Anyone who read last month’s View from the Fen will know the frustrations of doing it for the first time.
Yet progress from this point has been rapid, and we see hopeful signs. We were encouraged by a personal response from the CEO of T-Mobile to the problems we experienced with their network, an assurance that they take quality of service seriously, and a statement that they intend to co-ordinate their policy on shortcodes (one area where their approach has been unique and different) with the other operators.
Operators are now sharing revenue with application and content providers through premium text services, though initial outpayment rates (the sums paid by operators to third parties) have been low. O2 has recently announced that it is willing to increase outpayment rates, moving them closer to the point where the income can support a wide range of services and applications. This is a policy that has been extremely successful in Japan, and has led to more than 30 million subscribers to NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode service (see Learning from i-mode ). We trust that other operators will follow this lead.

Getting it together

The result is that, slowly but surely, the industry is getting it together, and learning to play a team game. In our view, mobile applications will only develop through a partnership approach. This is not so much a value chain - the traditional view of industry economics - but a ‘virtuous circle’ in which all parties, including especially users, benefit from the services and applications offered, and help to drive the partnership to the next stage of development.

Report card

At a recent presentation to, the industry association for text messaging (, we presented a Report Card on the mobile industry:



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