I think that if you’re looking for opportunities in tough times, the telecoms market is a really good place to look. [This is part of the Tough Times series.]

First of all, telephone service is, by and large, pretty cheap. On top of which we are all of us irremediably addicted to mobile phones: we’ll give up our HDTVs and SUVs and sunny vacations and lots of other things before we’ll let them go.

The Opportunity · It’s not just in that; it’s in that the current downturn coincides with the sea-change in the market. This year, with the advent of the iPhone and now Android, there is a large and rapidly-increasing number of highly-programmable devices out there, which (and this is new) don’t have moronic, blinkered, old-school mobile network operators erecting barbed-wire fences between developers and the people who actually buy phones.

The great thing about mobile apps is that everyone already expects them to be cheap, which is tolerable for vendors because the potential market is so large. Even in tough times, people will pick up a mobile app if it costs them less than a beer at the pub. So why don’t you get out there and start building one?

Declining? · Here are a couple more data points. A couple of weeks ago, there was a much-ballyhooed slide deck from Sequoia Capital going around the Net, about how awful things are going to be. Some of it’s worth looking at, but for the moment skip ahead and have a glance at slide 34. Gosh, isn’t it awful how mobile subscribers and handset sales are declining? But hold on a moment, this depicts growth rates, not numbers. As regards subscribers, that awful-looking graph shows that the headcount is increasing by a mere 6% a year, as opposed to 10%. Not so bad.

And yes, handset sales are declining a bit, but huge numbers are still being sold, and the number of truly programmable devices entering the marketplace every month is very large.

Symbian? · For another interesting sidelight, check out David Wood’s Serious advice to developers in tough times, which is mostly a write-up of my FOWA talk which provided the raw material for this series. He’s from Symbian, and judging by what he says and the fact that he appears in a suit, is likely fairly influential. He reacts, interestingly and from a Symbian perspective, to these points about the opening-up of the mobile-device market. Is it too late for Symbian to get into the open-phone ecosystem?


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Longmont (Oct 23 2008, at 23:11)

Good call. IEEE Spectrum just reported that the world spent US $100B on text messages last year. This is more than Hollywood's box office sales + all global music sales + all USA video and PC games sales combined.

USA SMS has finally caught on and is on a 4X increase the last two years. In the Phillipines, 155B text messages were sent.

This is indeed a good place to look for opportunities.


From: Andrew Savory (Oct 24 2008, at 04:36)

You're right in that the mobile market is a good place to look for opportunities - especially with the rise of the smart phone and the mobile always-on all you can eat internet. But it's misguided to suggest the iPhone and Android alleviate the barriers to development erected by network operators: many of these barriers still exist (as exemplified by the fact that neither of the phones you cite will let you any nearer the "bare metal" than you can get with all the other platforms).

Beware, also, where you seek your opportunities in the telecoms market. The previous commenter suggests SMS, but with the always-on network this is going to decline rapidly in favour of email, mobile instant messaging clients, and social networks, all of which have significantly less cost and far greater functionality.


From: Eddie (Oct 29 2008, at 15:12)

Glad you also mentioned Symbian. The iPhone and Android get a lot of hype and sometimes for good reason, and mostly in a U.S. context. But Nokia isn't going away tomorrow. Granted Nokia != Symbian but isn't it great to live in a world where we will have choices of open source mobile phone platforms (Android and Symbian down the line) as well as a closed source (iPhone) platform? Its wonderful. This is opposite of the MS Windows monopoly we saw in the 80s and 90s. I don't work for Nokia or Symbian, but I personally very carefully decided on a Nokia E71 instead of an iPhone because Nokia makes some dang good hardware (the E71 is a much-overlooked, in the U.S., smart phone ... I had dinner with a lovely woman from Japan who was visiting me here in the U.S. a few weeks ago and when I asked her type in a note on my E71 she smiled and said, "wow, is that a Blackberry? Its very easy to type on!" Symbian going open source might be a little bit messier than what Google has started out with regarding Android, but the problem as I see it is that Google doesn't make the "whole package" (its not in the hardware business) whereas Apple packages the entire deal in iPhone, and Nokia essentially does the same thing (Nokia makes great hardware and the reality is that they are very central and influential with Symbian). Remember what Steve Jobs said when the iPhone launched, when he quoted Alan Kay -- something about "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware." Nokia / Symbian is essentially operating in this vein but taking Symbian into the open systems world. Its lovely to have options, its just a lovely world to live in (especially after living in the "jails" of Microsoft monopoly).


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