With all the talk of mCommerce and contactless (NFC in particular), a war between the operators and handset manufacturers was always on the cards. It looks like it’s beginning to kick off. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that RIM (BlackBerry) was ‘locking horns’ with operators over who controlled the NFC customer data. The issue is about where ‘credentials’ (the encrypted personal payment information) will be stored. Will it be on the SIM card (operator) or the phone memory (handset manufacturer). This is much more than a row over a technical function, as the customer will be tied either to their network or handset depending on how this data is stored. Whilst RIM talked about their close relationship with operators at the Mobile World Congress, one senior figure at Bell Canada recently stated “we expect some closed operating-system vendors will probably try to build into the handset. RIM and Apple fall into that category”.
The problem from an operator perspective is that whilst revenues are being squeezed, customers are demanding much more for their money, in particular they want more data. How do the operators make more money in already saturated markets? The answer is through providing mCommerce. In order to do that they will need to invest in expensive security infrastructures, making it even more critical to keep their customers with SIM-based credentials. On the other hand, we have increasingly seen handset manufacturers and handset operating systems define the mobile market and mobile content. The two that have done most to drivfe this change are Apple’s iPhone (and appstore) and Google’s Android.
My money is on the handset/operating systems winning out. Apart from their obvious success in defining the mobile content channel, they seem to have the revenue model right. Operators tend to charge consumers or merchants/content producers high transaction charges – look at app stores before Apple (£1000 + to get your game listed) and the low payouts on premium SMS. On the other hand, Apple and Google are past masters at the freemium model – get something for free and pay if you like it. And there’s no question about which model consumers prefer.