The managing director of Vodafone's data services division has. admitted the emergence of the mobile data business has been overhyped and the promised increase in demand has not materialised after all.
Richard Jarvis, managing director of Vodafone's value-added services division, whose customers include British Gas, said the current level of growth has turned out to be a fraction of the original market projections.
'The industry thought between 20 and 30 per cent of GSM subscribers would be data subscribers,' he said. 'The fact is, today, on Vodafone as well as other networks, the figure is three per cent. This is not for want of trying.'
Jarvis was speaking last week as the company launched the Vodafone Manufacturers' Programme to test and accredit tools for its GSM network. Vodafone claims it is the first such initiative in the UK and is supported by 40 mobile device vendors, including Motorola, Panasonic and Psion-Dacom.
The programme forms part of Vodafone's Counts (customer-oriented universal network test service) initiative, which aims to make 10 million data and short messaging service (SMS) test calls a year.
Jarvis believed growth in SMS (short messaging service) was more satisfactory than mobile data. 'But it's not stupendous,' he added.
'Sadly, manufacturers and network operators are pushing demand rather than customers pulling it,' he said.
'Mobile data is a means to an end and it needs applications. Internet access is not an application.'
Supplier obsession with mobile Internet access, at the expense of other uses, was one factor to blame, Jarvis thought.
Other reasons were the lack of solid industry standards, the absence of product testing standards and user confusion between marketing trials and full-blown services.
However, Jarvis did commend the industry for recognising weaknesses in tools for the PCMCIA communications interface and for developing integrated devices.
He said he believed the main target group should be blue collar workers and called for service providers to improve quality of service and develop 'proper' tariffs, rather than superficial marketing based pricing.
Vodafone also called for operators to ensure SMS messages could be sent between different networks. Taking a sideswipe at rival Orange, which is promoting the use of mobile networks to zap graphics, Tony Riley, Vodafone's SMS unit's sales and marketing director, said: 'We should not worry about transmitting video and graphics, but concentrate on today's applications.'
Currently, four phones are placed around the Vodafone exchange to make SMS calls every five minutes. The performance of third-party mobile data devices as well as the network are monitored and analysed. The company claims some vendors have adjusted their products as a result.
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