MWC – Pre-show News Round-up

We usually try not to work at the weekend, but with Mobile World Congress kicking off tomorrow, we were inundated with news, so here’s a brief round-up from Mobile Marketing’s Martin Conway, before the madness of MWC is on us…

US mobile brand advertising network Greystripe is expanding to Europe, courtesy of high-profile partnerships with European ad networks such as Hi-media Advertising, madvertise and Mobile Ventures. Greystripe will offer its entire product suite, including its rich media Immersion and Flash ad units, to European advertisers. According to Greystripe CEO, Michael Chang: “The [European] market is about a year behind the US, but the gap is closing fast. We estimate that we will run over 300 rich media campaigns this year in Europe alone.” Greystripe’s proprietary advertising platform currently serves ads into more than 2,500 apps and mobile sites, supporting a global tally of over 1,400 handset models.

Livewire Mobile and Adfortel are set to jointly introduce a revamped version of the former group’s Ringspot service, with the new version enabling mobile callers to opt in to receive short, targeted marketing messages while they wait for their calls to connect. The companies claim that users who opt in to receive the marketing updates, which will replace  the standard ringing tone, also stand to win various incentive prizes from their carriers, when the service is officially launched in Q2 2011. The service will largely be powered by Adfortel’s VoiceAds Engine technology. The move coincides with a report published recently by Juniper Research, which suggests that mobile advertising in the ringback space is predicted to top $780m (£487m) annually by 2015.

Car manufacturer Buick has teamed up with mobile ad firnm Millennium Media  to promote its ‘Buick Achievers Scholarship Program’ over the iPhone, following Verizon Wireless’ launch of the Apple device. Over the course of two weeks, the Buick Achievers promotion will run across Millennium’s network of mobile websites and applications on the Verizon iPhone, raising awareness of the GM Foundation-funded scholarship programme, which seeks to recognise and reward 1,100 science, technology, maths, business and admin students deemed to have displayed excellence in both the classroom and the community, by paying out US$25,000 on a four-year basis to 100 top flight winners, and providing US$2,000-per-year scholarships for the remaining 1,000. Marcus Startzvel, senior VP of sales at Millennium, comments: “This strategic campaign will enable Buick to connect with more members of the community and tap into the social and viral aspects of mobile, as the highly engaged subscribers are introduced to the long-awaited Verizon iPhone.”  Verizon is expected to shift approximately 11m units this year.

Reference book publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK), a subsidiary of media group Pearson PLC and part of the Penguin Group, has appointed UK web and mobile content consultancy AKQA as its lead mobile development partner. The agreement will see AKQA help DK to transfer a number of its best-selling titles into content-rich iPhone and iPad apps, starting with the Human Body Book app later this year.  Daniel Rosen, head of AKQA Mobile, says: “DK is a mine of content and information which can be brought to life through apps…we are delighted to be transforming them into genre-defining experiences.”

Valentine’s Day is going mobile this year, as SOA Networks and UK greetings card retailer Clinton Cards rolling out a scheme whereby mobile users can send anonymous flirty messages to loved ones and unsuspecting victims, via the website. The service is currently being advertised in 200 Clinton Card stores across the UK, and is hosted on the OpenMarket SMS billing platform. OpenMarket’s general manager for Europe, Alex Moir, says of the scheme: “It’s another example of the wide variety of ways in which SMS can be used in innovative marketing campaigns. It fits perfectly with the tradition of sending anonymous Valentine’s cards and shows just how flexible SMS can be.”

Dutch operator KPN has confirmed that it will launch a new mobile portal, KPN Vandaag, in March, which will incorporate Momac’s cloud-based portal and app management interface, mvolve. Features of mvolve include comprehensive support of HTML5;  end user profiling for targeted marketing;  options for subscribers to view and managed their accounts;  integration with social networks such as Facebook Connect and Twitter; and hybrid application functionality, including iTunes, Android Market, Windows Marketplace, BADA, OVI and BlackBerry App World. The mvolve solution will be profiled at Mobile World Congress in Hall 7, as part of the ‘Cloud Pavilion’.

Tel Aviv-based integrated mobile platform provider Silent Communication will shortly address members of the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) to promote its serverless Device and Network Agnostic (DANA) technology for mobile clients, enabling operators to roll out services across any VAS (value added services) provider network infrastructure, with support for operating systems including iPhone, Android, Java, Symbian, BlackBerry, BREW and Windows Mobile. In an open letter to the WAC, intended for distribution on 14 February, Silent Communication CEO Max Bluvband writes: “The continued proliferation of mobile devices and operating systems presents a daunting challenge to the mobile ecosystem…though it may take the WAC years to realise its goal of overcoming mobile fragmentation, mobile network operators needn’t wait another day to embrace technology that enables them to roll out high-value services to their subscribers across all devices and operating systems.”

Vodafone has launched Vodafone Webbox, a device developed to grant access to the internet by simply plugging a keyboard into a television set, as a cost-friendly alternative to desktops/laptops and long-term internet contracts, especially in emerging markets. Comprising a 14x25cm QWERTY keyboard, the Webbox is integrated into the TV set via standard RCA connectors, in ‘plug and play’ fashion. Web access is available to users through Opera’s Mini 5.1 browser, which runs over the 2.5G and EDGE mobile networks, with data compressed by about 90 per cent to ensure fast-loading web pages. Other core features of Webbox include SMS and email, internet search, FM radio, a photo gallery tool, and a music player. Vodafone subsidiary Vodacom says it will begin selling the Webbox in S. Africa this coming week, with further countries to be announced later in the year. The Webbox will be on display on the Vodafone stand at Mobile World Congress.

Mobile users are increasingly demanding more location-based offers, according to a report issued by mobile media specialist JiWire. The group’s latest Mobile Audience Insights Report, compiled in Q4 2010, claims that 20 per cent of on-the-go mobile users are  likely to visit physical store locations after seeing them advertised, and that 17 per cent would make a purchase from said store as a result.  Significant discounts and promotions at particular locations are also likely to drive users to travel further to claim them. Of the users surveyed for the report, 78 per cent confirmed that they use location-based apps on their phone, with 29 per cent accessing these apps multiple times a day, and 34 per cent agreed that they would click on an ad in response to a location-specific message. A further 42 per cent of respondents said that they would use location-based apps to find store locations.

The report also highlights the fact that the iPad is becoming a popular device for on-the-go users, clawing market share away from the iPhone and iPod touch, and leading to a 26% decrease in the use of laptops as primary devices for connecting to public wi-fi in the second half of 2010. The report’s regional focus confirms that the LG Optimus and the HTC Evo have become the leading Android devices in the US, concurrent with the market-leading Apple iOS system dropping below 90 per cent for the first time. Meanwhile, in the UK, Apple iOS maintains an 83.7 per cent of market share, compared to Android’s 12.3 per cent.  China is also reported to have overtaken the US in volume of wi-fi hotspots, following a 43.1 per cent increase in numbers between 2009 and 2010. There are now more than 414,000 hotspots in the country.
Filipino operator Globe Telecom has assisted Bubble Motion in the roll out of its voice-based social networking service, Bubbly, to the Philippines, identified by Bubble Motion as “Asia’s most socially engaged country”. Already established in India, Japan and Indonesia, with over 6m ‘Bubblers’ signed up to the service in these countries, the Philippines version of Bubbly, Voice Blog, enables users to record voice status updates for fans and followers by entering **1 on any Globe mobile. In turn, to follow individuals or groups, any Globe subscriber can dial **, followed by the phone number of the person they wish to follow. Following Voice Blog users is free, while standard charges apply for dialling in to listen to status updates. Rina Azcuna-Siongco, head of VAS at Globe Telecom, comments: “We believe voice blogging will bring a new level of emotional energy to social media in the Philippines. The authenticity of voice coupled with the Twitter-like ability to follow friends, family and celebs make Voice Blog a perfect fit for our consumers.” As well as attracting national celebrities like Anton Diaz, of Our Awesome Planet, and motivational speaker Francis Kong, both of whom have signed up to Voice Blog, Globe Telecom anticipates that the service will appeal to business owners, community groups and religious leaders.

Flowd, the location-based mobile app developed to connect musical artists to their audiences by providing fans with exclusive news and views, gossip and pictures, says it has  increased its user base by 500 per cent since the app’s launch in December 2010, with the number of artists signed to the service having grown by 1,000 per cent in this period. DJs Armin van Buuren and Markus Schulz are currently using Flowd to run a global loyalty programme for their fans, whereby those who check-in to their gigs in Flowd are automatically entered into a competition to win fan merchandise. Flowd is available for free download via iTunes and Android Market. Other user features include the ability to share photos and connect with friends on Facebook and Twitter, and to customise their own Flowd skins with artists’ themes.

The US is currently the leading market for mobile barcode usage, according to figures released by mobile barcode reading solutions provider 3GVision. According to the group, the US tops the 10 most active countries, followed by Italy, Germany and Canada. The Netherlands and UK occupy fifth and sixth place respectively, while France, Hong Kong, S. Korea and Thailand bring up occupy the remaining top 10 places.

Marketing, comms and PR agency Amaze is conducting a five-year study into how children and young teenagers engage with digital media and the internet. Dubbed ‘Amaze Generation’, the project will see Amaze follow a group of 10-15 year olds and the ways in which they interact with digital technology, including the internet, social media, video games and mobile, to detect trends and patterns, and to assess how this affects the ways in which the subjects interact socially and at school. Natalie Gross, Amaze managing partner, says: “The study will trigger statistical research from emerging behavioural trends, but most importantly, it’s an ethnographic study from which we can glean deep, genuine insights…putting us a step ahead in creating the very best solutions for our clients.” So far, Amaze says it has noted that Facebook and YouTube remain the most popular sites for the trial group, while, healthily perhaps, the majority of the participants value their family pets more than their mobile phones, and two-thirds claimed to believe that it is better to dump a boy/girlfriend in the flesh, rather than over an IM or a tweet.

OnMobile Global
has teamed up with Brazilian mobile operator VIVO Telecom to provide ring back tones (RBTs) for the latter’s 60m-strong subscriber base. OnMobile has deployed an RBT platform for VIVO that enables a user to set a song to replace the standard ringing tone usually heard by callers when waiting for an answer. The platform is available for both postpaid and prepaid subscribers and accessible across all handset types. According to OnMobile, music is the best-selling genre in mobile-based content in Brazil. CEO Arvind Rao says: “The combination of Brazilians’ love for music in all forms, any time and everywhere, coupled with our cutting-edge music products, should result in huge market innovation and service revenues.” Meanwhile, OnMobile has also launched Karaophone, a service that allows users to play karaoke with their social networks, either via mobile or landline. Users can access social networks and choose a song, then share the music they create, challenge their friends and share it all through their preferred social network platform. Karaophone also enables users to rank their performance against fellow players. The service features speech recognition for nearly 30 different languages; high recognition levels in noisy environments, multi-dimensional scoring based on melody and rhythm; and regular content updates.

FancyFon has released a remote access console for iPads, which will be incorporated into FancyFon Mobility Center (FAMOC), a mobile device management platform that enables users to centrally manage a fleet of smartphones and tablet devices, in real time, from a single control point, over the air, without the need for a desktop or laptop. Effectively, this would allow company IT managers to troubleshoot end user problems while on the move, instead of having to return to the office or access a laptop. Bartosz Leoszewski, FancyFon chief technology officer, said: “Tablets are becoming increasingly popular in the world of commerce, especially among IT staff. FancyFon saw it as essential to develop a console so that the FAMOC suite of products can be accessed via the iPad, to enable businesses to be even more productive in the management of their fleets of smartphones.” The console will be made commercially available in Apple AppStore within the next two months.

CommuniGate Systems has bolstered its Pronto! version 4.0 suite of apps with the launch of Pronto! Mobile. Aimed at business and residential users, Pronto! Mobile is a secure, white-label mobile Voice over IP (mVoIP) app that includes a network address book, instant messaging (IM), group chat, file transfer and conference calling capabilities. As with all Pronto! products, Pronto! Mobile is branded and controlled by the operator, allowing for a personalised appearance. CommuniGate states: “Recent research by Allot Communications shows that demand for global mobile data bandwidth soared by 200 per cent in 2010. With VoIP and IM the second-fastest growing services, up by 87 per cent, operators need to take advantage of this huge demand.” Scott Stonham, VP for marketing at CommuniGate, adds: “The operators I speak to are trying to find ways to successfully deliver applications that their customers want in order to stop customer and revenue erosion from the ‘over the top’ providers like Google and Skype. The Pronto! suite gives them what they need to succeed.” Pronto! Mobile will be on display at Mobile World Congress.

Bytemobile has announced that 15 of its largest Tier 1  customers, responsible for more than 350m subscribers in N. America, Europe and Asia, are using the company’s Unison Smart Capacity Platform with IBM’s BladeCenter network servers. These operators’ networks account for a daily data traffic flow of approximately 13 petabytes (pb), or the data equivalent of 175 years of HDTV video. The Unison Smart Capacity Platform, which will be on display at Mobile World Congress, was developed to help operators to better manage existing network capacity and increasing consumer demand for multimedia content, by reducing mobile data traffic by 40-50 per cent, courtesy of the platform’s video optimisation capabilities. Adrian Hall, Bytemobile COO, says: “Our partnership with IBM has helped us broaden and deepen our installed base across all geographic regions.”