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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Convergence confusion

Still at Telco 2.0, I've just seen a scarily wrong presentation from someone involved in mobile banking & payments. It really shows up how long-lasting some of the more egregious memes can be away from the coalface of mobile technology development.

He gave a 2003-era view of convergence, postulating that a handset would subsume the functions of someone's PC, wallet and even keys. He gave various spurious "solution in search of a problem" mobile applications as alleged proof-points - such as the useless Westminster pay-by-SMS parking meters, or equally pointless handset-based boarding cards for aircraft. And he talked about the likelihood of using videotelephony on a mobile phone to talk to banks' customer service staff about arranging loans or mortgages.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that mobile myths and soundbites endure. I also heard an interesting anecdote today from someone who'd personally tracked down the iconic and oft-repeated "African fisherman + SMS for pricing" service and discovered that it was largely rubbish.

On the other hand, on the topic of mobile payments, I was much more convinced by a representative from the GSMA talking about mobile-based overseas money transmission. Apart from anything else, they're working with Western Union, who have a pretty good view of how this actually works in the hands of end-users. The speaker didn't blather on about phones replacing your wallet - he made the reasonable point that if some form of mobile wallet technology becomes more pervasive in handsets, then there may be some new and interesting usage cases.


Vijay Nagarajan said...


I read your blog regularly and find it very interesting and insightful.

I had a question for you. My perspective of 'convergence' comes from a technology standpoint. When I say, 'convergence devices', I talk about the unification of the mobile platform with say, WLAN, GPS, Bluetooth and FM among others. Your thought process focuses on 'application-based convergence.' What would you say is the 'right' way to look at mobile convergence? Why? Does this add more to the convergence confusion?

On a separate note, I maintain a wireless industry analyst blog from which you may get a different perspective of the wireless eco system, more from the vendor perspective. Currently, I am focusing my attention on the mobile chipset vendor matrix. You can access my blog from http://wirelessanalyst.blogspot.com

Vijay Nagarajan

Russ McGuire said...


Thanks for your notes from Telco 2.0.

I'm curious why you consider handset-based boarding passes to be "pointless."

Maybe it's just here in the states, but I find obtaining a boarding pass to often be a point of stress while I'm traveling. More than once I've wished I could get mine on my mobile.

At least here in the states, you can print your boarding pass up to 24 hours in advance. For some airlines, this is important if you want to get the seat you want. For all airlines, that allows you to avoid one queue at the airport, which at some airports is the difference in catching your flight or not.

Perhaps you have personal experience that can help me understand why my longing for mobile-based boarding passes is pointless?

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Russ

Maybe I should have said "impractical" rather than pointless.

Increasingly, airlines operate to incredibly tight turn-around schedules, in some cases getting one set of passengers off, and boarding the next set in as little as 20 minutes.

Any friction in that process will be viewed extremely negatively. So anyone needing to reboot their switched-off phone at the door of the plane for the last boarding-pas check, anyone hunting through menus and inboxes, anyone accidentally deleting messages, dealing with low batteries, anyone needing the slightest amount of technical support from untrained cabin crew would cause significant pain.

Add to this the risks of people having multiple devices / numbers, smartphones with applications (eg corporate UC software) that might handle inbound messages weirdly, delays due to international roaming issues....

Then there's the testing processes to make sure all barcode scanners work with all phones from round the world (or implementing a totally new tech like NFC)

Maybe you can use the phone to get an e-ticket from the kiosk at check in. But I think later down the boarding / security process it would be a nightmare.



Dean Bubley said...

.... so the bottom line is that I'm sticking with paper

(Yes, printed in advance is good if you have a printer handy, or from a kiosk in the terminal otherwise)

alex said...

Hi Dean,

I agree with your post overall, but support Russ regarding SMS boarding pass.

I've been using this for an "eternity" (>1, maybe 2 years) and find its convenience value overwhelming. No need to remember to do an online check-in (you receive automatically an SMS asking you to check in by SMS), print a boarding pass myself, forget or loose it somewhere, searching through all my pockets to find etc.. My mobile is always with me and I know where it is.

Yes sometimes there are delays at the gate when somebody fumbles with their mobile. Then the staff just types the name from the passport (which they check anyway) into their IT system, and that's it.

I must admit that even after using this service for so long time, I still feel a bit akward of handing over my mobile to the border control officer so they can check my boarding pass. But I wouldn't want to miss the convenience of SMS boarding pass.

This is with Finnair, and the back-end system providing the transactional SMS dialogues is BookIt (I am not affiliated with either company.)

You have a good point with turn around times.
Since the service is available already for so long time, I would expect Finnair to have stopped it if it would increase costs. (One would hope so, at least.)


Frances said...

"I also heard an interesting anecdote today from someone who'd personally tracked down the iconic and oft-repeated "African fisherman + SMS for pricing" service and discovered that it was largely rubbish."

Obviously they haven't been off the fishing coasts of India where I have seen this very technology being used !!

Anonymous said...

Fishermen in Kerala is most definitely not a myth. I suppose its too much to ask of some analysts to do any research, when then can just talk to people at conferences.


Dean Bubley said...

Last time I looked at the map, Kerala was in India, not Africa.

In any case - as I clearly wrote, it was a personal anecdote.

Given that you're commenting on a post almost 9 months after I made it, I'm guessing you're not a regular reader of my blog.

If you do your own research on my work, you'll see that I write based on a mix of "hard" research and personal anecdotes. You'll also note that I don't give everything away for free.