carriers

Nuance [Finally] Sounds its Zi

The prospects for more convenient entry of text messages around the world became more real as Nuance Communications and Canada’s Zi Technologies finally agreed to terms whereby Nuance will acquire Zi for a combination of $17 million in cash and another $18 million worth of Nuance common stock. The price represents a 73% premium over Zi’s Friday closing share price on the Toronto Stock Exchange. However, it is $5 million less than Nuance had offered for the company roughly a month ago.

The deal is the result of protracted discussions, during which Nuance threatened to sue Zi for patent infringement and Zi’s board of directors continued to hold out against Nuance’s acquisition offers. Indeed, Zi aggressively pursued licensing agreements with carriers, device makers and content providers to incorporate its predictive text input and other technologies into solutions that support mobile search, messaging and advertising delivery.

Like Nuance, the company has impressive topline results and gross profits, but has yet to see its revenues deliver profits to bottom line (Net Income). To Nuance, Zi brings predictive text entry to multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Japanese as part of a roster of 60 languages overall. That will bring the total number of languages and dialects supported by Nuance-enabled advanced text-based user input solutions to 80.

Most important will be the incorporation of speedy, more convenient ways to enter text both as commands and content over mobile phones among high-growth wireless markets in the Asia/Pacific markets and in the Middle East.

Sprint Asserts 'Stability' but Shows More Subscriber Losses

US carrier Sprint asserted in its earnings report and presentation that the carrier had stabilized and cited a number of areas of improved performance. However, it also reported these numbers:

  • The company served 49.3 million customers at the end of 2008, compared to 53.8 million at the end of 2007. The credit quality of our customer base improved every quarter in 2008, and prime customers represent almost 84% of the post-paid base, compared to 79% a year ago.
  • For the quarter, total wireless customers declined by a net 1.3 million, including losses of 1.1 million post-paid customers and 314,000 prepaid users, which was slightly offset by a 146,000 increase in the number of wholesale and affiliate subscribers.

Sprint has the best 3G network (though people may not believe that) and is the most competitive when it comes to pricing. However Sprint continues to lose a million wireless customers a quarter, for a total of 4.5 million customers lost last year. The chief beneficiaries of Sprint's defections appear to be AT&T and Verizon.   

Sprint faces challenges on a number of fronts and no single factor can be blamed for these defections. Sprint's brand as a whole is wounded. A history of poor customer service (though that's changing) and the absence of competitive handsets are all contributing. Sprint may say the Instinct is competitive or claim the HTC Touch Pro is compelling -- not so. 

The Palm Pre is supposed to make its appearance relatively soon and Samsung is supposed to come out with an Android phone for Sprint at some point this year. Sprint needs these handsets pretty desperately to return some "sizzle" to its relatively unimpressive handset lineup (although BlackBerry fans can find plenty of offerings). It may also need to cut prices (again) to get attention and/or retain customers. 

In my particular case only the promise of one of these new handsets -- Windows 6.5 won't be out until later this year --  is holding me back from an AT&T defection.

T-Mobile Offers $50 Unlimited Calling Plan -- with a Curious Catch

Rumors were circulating earlier today but now have been confirmed that T-Mobile will be offering a $50 unlimited calling plan. Sprint's Boost Mobile pre-paid unit has an even more aggressive $50 unlimited plan that includes data and SMS, but it operates on the inferior Nextel network.

T-Mobile's plan is aimed at post-paid customers. Now the qualifiers:

  • Data isn't included
  • It's only available in San Francisco (though later across the US)
  • It's only available to customers who've been with the carrier for 22 months or more (there's a $135 cash incentive to switch for others)

When data is included it comes out cheaper than any of the other major post-paid carriers. The 22-month qualification makes this seem like a retention play. It won't likely have much of an affect on switching. Accordingly it's not likely to ignite a price war among rival carriers. Still, this is the second carrier to go to a $50 per month unlimited calling plan. 

Had the plan been available to anyone who switched to T-Mobile it would have motivated many customers to come over from other carriers for the savings. But perhaps when the carrier fully recognizes how limited the benefit of this offering will be it will throw open the gates to all users.

It could also be that T-Mobile hopes to retain users but also raise the ARPU of voice only customers by encouraging them to add data plans after switching to the $50 voice plan. We'll see what the customer reaction is. 

AdMob's January Mobile Metrics Report

The following are some highlights from AdMob's January Mobile Metrics report.

The company exposes some data on growing WiFi usage among device owners accessing sites in AdMob's network:

  • The states that generated the most WiFi traffic are California with 18 percent, New York with 14 percent, and Texas with eight percent.
  • 8% of total US requests are generated over WiFi , with the iPhone and iPod touch responsible for a majority of the traffic

These data may reflect that these states/locations have the most developed infrastructure, combined with early adopters.

European highlights:

  • Traffic from Western Europe increased 132% in the last 12 months to 550 million requests in January 2009. 
  • As new publishers have entered the AdMob network, requests have become more evenly distributed throughout Western Europe.  The UK is now responsible for 46% of requests, down from 64% a year ago.
  • In the UK, Sony Ericsson is the top manufacturer with 26% share of requests and five handsets in the Top 10. 
  • The iPhone is now the number one device by usage in Western Europe with 21% share of total requests.  This strong share reflects dramatically higher mobile Web and application usage by consumers and AdMob's strength on this device.

Here are selected graphics and charts that I pulled from the report:

AdMob Jan Metrics 3
Consistent with the text above, AdMob data show that the iPhone and iPod Touch over index on their network vs. their penetration in the European market. This is entirely consistent with the other data in the market showing much greater usage of the mobile Internet among iPhone owners.

Interestingly, in the chart below global iPhone requests are somewhat flat while iPod Touch requests have grown. This reflects the rise in iPod Touch ownership:

AdMob Jan Metrics 4

There are probably two "constituencies" out there that own the iPod Touch. There are those who have it primarily as an iPod and for whom the mobile Internet and applications represent a secondary emphasis; then there are those who purchased it as an iPhone equivalent because they didn't want to switch to AT&T. 

The following shows mobile OS representation in AdMob's US network:

AdMob Jan Metrics 5
In terms of changes vs. December the above chart reflects 2% growth in Apple OS share and a single point loss by Windows Mobile and Palm. Everything else is flat.

The tiny Nokia/Symbian US market share, as well as the EU OS numbers above, have got to be a continuing worry to the company. By contrast, Nokia sold over a million units of its new "Tube" Xpress Music 5800 phones in Europe last month. The phone is Nokia's first touch-screen device but carries a price tag of $400 (unclear if there will be a subsidy when it enters the US later this month). It's popuarity is partly the result of a free year of music. 

However, as Wired points out, at a price that exceeds the iPhone, iPod Touch, Android phones and probably the Pre, it's very unlikely to gain much traction in the US market. Meanwhile the Palm Pre (also potentially a $400 phone) may well be heavily subsidized by Sprint to jumpstart sales. Sprint has roughly six months (according to speculation) as the exclusive distributor of the device. 

Smartphones that cost more than about $300 are going to have difficulty competing in the US market. If subsidized handsets will need to come in at around $200 to compete -- the pricing established by iPhone 3G and matched by the Android G1. 

There are again rumors of a $99 "entry level" iPhone. While there may be some version of the truth hidden within the rumors, it's unlikely that they're true as presented. Apple has jealously guarded its brand and has repeatedly refused to make low-cost products for fear of reduced quality. In addition, its relatively inexpensive Mini has had only mixed success. 

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Note: AdMob's data are not necessarily representative of the entire market (they are drawn from publishers and usage of sites in the AdMob network). However, the AdMob data are directionally representative.

Google Syndicating Search Box and Ads in Mobile

Few people probably remember the very early days of Google when it was just one of many search engines. In those days Google aggressively syndicated its search box to third party sites -- that was one of the ways it built its brand. Now Google is arguably the top brand in the world.

In mobile Google leads Yahoo! and Microsoft in search market share, both in the US and in Europe. But search is not as central to the mobile experience as it is online. Google has invested very heavily in mobile across multiple products and platforms.

Expanding on its mobile AdSense program, Google is seeking to put more search boxes on more sites and the carrot is AdSense. In the same way that online publishers gained revenue from this -- Google had a very generous revenue sharing program early on -- it's seeking to broaden the visibility and use of mobile search (and corresponding ad clicks). 

According to the Google Mobile blog:

[W]e're happy to announce a new AdSense product for both mobile network operators and mobile website owners across the globe. AdSense for mobile search is a quick and easy way for carriers and mobile publishers to embed a Google search box on their mobile portals and web sites. Whether they are day-dreaming of Hawaii or trying to find the perfect Valentine's day gift, mobile phone users will get instant access to Google search including comprehensive web search, local, image, and news results -- all formatted for their phones. Mobile operators and website owners share in the ad revenue generated by searches originating from their sites.

Lots of operators already have search relationships (many around the world with Yahoo!). Some will undoubtedly go for this. More likely however Google will have success with mobile publishers, which will be attracted by the prospect of Google's large advertiser base and potential revenues. The mobile search/AdSense program is largely complementary to what the various mobile ad networks offer. 

However, in addition to Yahoo! and Microsoft, Google mobile search has competition from JumpTap and Medio, which both offer carrier/publisher search and corresponding monetization. 

iPod Touch vs. the iPhone and did Pre 'Steal' IP?

CNET is running a piece that echoes my theory that an undetermined number of people are buying iPod Touches instead of iPhones. It's difficult to know how pervasive that phenomenon is but it's what I did.

Apple reported earnings results yesterday showing big sales of iPods/Touches (22.7M) and slightly lower-than-expected sales of iPhones (4.3M vs. 6.9 in the previous quarter). In my view, two things are holding people back where the iPhone is concerned:

  • The general inertia that comes with an existing US carrier relationship for most people
  • The perceived cost of iPhone ownership (especially the ongoing cost of the dataplan, much more than the phone). 

One test of the iPhone's $199+ cost-as-barrier would be to see how quickly the $99 refurbished AT&T phones sold. I'm not aware of whether they sold out. It's also worth noting that the cheapest iPod Touch is $229, more than the $199 for the iPhone (w/AT&T contract). So I would argue again it's not the device it's the dataplan. 

Compared to the iPhone, the iPod Touch doesn't have an input mic so it can't utilize the voice apps (although you can buy headphones with a mic for $80). It also doesn't have a camera. But, otherwise, it's an iPhone. And now, with Truphone, I've converted my iPod Touch into a phone, although it's got the hermetically sealed bathroom sound one often finds with VoIP calling

In general, I didn't want to leave my carrier Sprint but wanted the apps and iPhone experience. I suspect that there are lots of people in some version of this camp. And while it's annoying to have to negotiate the world of hotspots and pay for access at airports, the experience of using an iPod Touch on WiFi is generally superior to using the iPhone on AT&T's 3G network (as currently constituted). 

In addition, when Sprint announced that it would offer a Samsung Android phone -- but even more the Pre later this year -- I was convinced to wait before making the iPhone leap to AT&T.

Speaking of the Pre, there's the suggestion in Apple COO Tim Cook's remarks from the earning's call yesterday that Apple believes the Pre may have stolen some of Apple's IP in the design and functionality of the phone:

"We like competition as long as they don't off our IP. And we're going to go after anybody that does."

Q: Is that about Palm?

Cook: "I'm making a general statement...We will not stand for having our IP ripped off" and will use any "weapons at our disposal."

It will be widely perceived as "sour grapes" or heavy handed if Apple sues Palm. But Cook may in fact have a point with the multi-touch functionality, which offers a substantial user experience difference vs. other touch-screen phones. Palm is the only other touch-screen phone in the market, or coming to market, that offers it. 

Sprint's Boost Launches $50 Unlimited Plan

BoostMobile is Sprint's pre-paid/youth brand. It competes chiefly with budget carriers such as MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless. Now (beginning 1/22) in an aggressive move to capture budget-conscious consumers during the recession, the company is introducing a $50 monthly unlimited nationwide calling plan, which includes SMS and mobile Web. This is roughly half Sprint's $99 unlimited plan.

I immediately thought: I'll get the Pre and use it with Boost. Not so fast. 

Boost uses the inferior and slower Nextel Network (vs. the Sprint Network). There are also fewer phones to choose from and they're not subsidized. But this plan should nonetheless prove very popular when the word gets out. It will also motivate some people to give up their landlines in a bid to save money. Mobile phone trumps landline if it's one or the other. (Right now we're near 18% mobile-only homes in the US; that number should jump to at least 25% by the end of 2009.)

Here's how Sprint/Boost describes the new pricing in the press release that went out:

By switching to the new Boost 'Monthly Unlimited,' MetroPCS and Cricket customers can take advantage of unlimited nationwide service in 15,800 cities throughout the United States on the Nextel National Network -- all with no additional Telecom Taxes, or activation, roaming, traveling or long distance fees. Also, wireless customers seeking a flat-rate calling plan shouldn't have to sacrifice network quality for a good price. Cricket has more than four times dropped calls than Boost and MetroPCS has twice as many dropped calls than Boost*.

No hidden charges; everything's included for one low monthly fee

My secret hope is that this sets of a price war among the Tier One, A-List carriers. The WSJ article suggests that T-Mobile's post-paid business may be vulnerable -- or that Sprint thinks it is: 

"We certainly believe this [new offering] will be appealing to a certain segment of the post-paid customer base," said Matt Carter, president of Boost. He believes T-Mobile USA subscribers are particularly vulnerable. T-Mobile is a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG.

I would agree with the sentiment that many post-paid consumers will be interested and may adopt this plan. 

iPhone vs. Pre vs. Android vs. Storm: Mobile Web the Winner

The new Palm Pre is getting some very favorable early pseudo reviews, including when compared to the iPhone. But is it "better" than the iPhone?

Every wireless journalist or tech blogger, it seems, wants to crown this or that handset an "iPhone killer" or a "BlackBerry Killer" and so on. As one example, here's an article citing a Teletra exec. who claims the company's forthcoming Android phone  is "better than Pre." 

Which smartphone is the one to "beat"? Is it the iPhone, the G1, the Storm or, now, the Pre? While it's fun to compare all these handsets, we should step back for a moment and look at how fast the market is evolving.

Smartphones currently represent about 15% of the market. The thing that holds them back is price and the related cost of data plans. However, the price of these new smartphone handsets is now generally under $200. (The Pre hasn't been priced yet.) Phones like the HTC Touch/Pro that maintain higher price points will lose sales to other phones that are "sexier" and cheaper.

While we're probably never going to see smartphones achieve market dominance, we will likely 50% penetration (at least in the US) in a reasonable period of time. Why? Because "culturally" it will be important to have one of these phones to access the mobile Internet. And the people who buy these phones will indeed be going "online" with them, because that's the whole point. 

Over the next 10 years, in the US and EU, we're going to see a shift from the "desktop" to mobile devices as the primary access platform for the Internet. It's already happened in some developing countries without an installed base of PCs. In our research, we've already seen very striking levels of mobile search in the US. Search volumes on mobile devices will eventually overtake the desktop, with corresponding implications for paid search advertising.

Indeed, there are some profound implications for publishers and marketers in this shift. However most are still dealing with the transition from traditional to online media and haven't really considered mobile. That's why we're holding Internet2Go -- to help provide a "crash course" for marketers, agencies and other "mobile curious" folks. 

Discount US Carrier MetroPCS Gains in Recession

Prepaid wireless carrier MetroPCS says it now has 5.4 million subscribers across the US. Just over 500,000 of them were added in Q4. Actually MetroPCS reported gross additions of 1.3 million new subscribers. Of that number 520,000 were net additions; churn was 5.1%:

In the fourth quarter of 2008, on a consolidated basis, MetroPCS reported gross additions of approximately 1.3 million subscribers, which represents an increase of 55% over the fourth quarter of 2007. Churn for the fourth quarter of 2008 was 5.1% compared to 4.8% in the fourth quarter of 2007. MetroPCS ended the fourth quarter of 2008 with approximately 5.4 million subscribers, which includes net additions during the quarter of approximately 520 thousand subscribers, representing an increase of 74% over the fourth quarter of 2007. MetroPCS added over 1.4 million subscribers during the year ended December 31, 2008, which is an increase of approximately 37% over the subscriber additions during the year ended December 31, 2007, and has continued to achieve incremental penetration in every Core and Expansion Market. 

While MetroPCS won the J.D. Power Prepaid Customer Satisfaction Study, the churn rate is more than double that of the major carriers. However, MetroPCS's discount pricing and image have helped the carrier gain customers the a recession.

JD power prepaid customer satisfaction

Portland to Be First City for WiMax from ClearWire

PC World (and others) are reporting that Sprint's WiMax subsidiary, ClearWire, has decided that Portland, OR, will be the second city in the U.S. to enjoy the wide area wireless broadband service called WiMax on a commercial basis. Sprint's WiMax service has been available to Portland residents, at $25 per month. That is $20 per month less expensive than Sprint's WiMax offering in Baltimore, MD. (There are a range of pricing options and associated services.) The service, which is said to "harmonize" Clearwire's offering with that of Sprint's other WiMax subsidiary, Xohm, will be the platform for 4G wireless services as well as wireless delivery of DSL speeds to portable and desktop computers.

The low entry price should attract a significant number of new subscribers and should make Portland a showcase for services that seamlessly extend desktop services to wireless subscribers.

Here Comes the Android G2?

The BGR is reporting on a rumor that by April we'll see a T-Mobile G2. The HTC device would have no physical keyboard, which is somewhat ironic given that this is the main differentiator between the G1 and the iPhone (aside from the open Android market). The G1 is also from HTC.

Remember this is a rumor but if it's true it signals a growing bias against physical keyboards in favor of thinner and sleeker smartphones. The BlackBerry Storm is indicative of that trend. The forthcoming Samsung Android device (T-Mobile, Sprint) may or may not have one; it's not yet clear.

The Agora Android devices in Australia have phyical keypads but they don't slide out.  

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Related: Here's a video of the forthcoming virtual keyboard for the G1. And here's a (probably fake) image of a rumored iPhone Nano. There were previously false rumors of a $99 iPhone to be sold at Wal-Mart.

Google also reportedly replaced cash bonuses with Android mobile phones for many of its employees. 

Samsung to Bring Android Phone to Sprint in Q2

Samsung, maker of the Omnia and Instinct, among other touch-screen phones, said it will offer an Android-based phone in the second quarter of 2009. T-Mobile (which has the current G1) and Sprint will be the US operators carrying the phone.

This comes on the heels of a quasi/informal Sprint statement that the company would in fact be bringing out an Android phone in 2009. AT&T has also suggested that it may release one in 2009 as well. 

Officially there are two Android phones today: the HTC G1 and the Kogan Agora/Agora Pro (Australia). Motorola is reportedly working on one or more handsets based on Android and now comes the Samsung announcement. 

As a Sprint customer I'm likely to wait and stay with the carrier now to get the phone rather than switch to AT&T. 

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Related: Google optimizes results pages for iPhone and Android. Google announced this several weeks ago but only for selected "entry points" on the iPhone. Now it's true across the board and for Android as well.

Verizon May Be Easing Up on Restrictions Against Sharing Subscriber Location

Yesterday Greg Sterling wrote about Sprint/Nextel making subscriber location available to third-party application providers uLocate and WaveMarket. Today, in a report in RCR Wireless, Colin Gibb noted that there's evidence that the owners of certain wireless handsets from Verizon Wireless will be able to use services that take their location into account:

Per the article: "New devices running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile operating system including the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Omia, Samsung Saga and HTC Corp. Touch Pro are slated to add open, stand-alone GPS in the first half of 2009, according to an e-mail obtained by Brighthand.com and confirmed by the operator.

The move could allow customers to use third-party location applications like Google Inc.’s Maps for Mobile."

As for an acknowledgment from the service provider, Gibb says that a "Verizon Wireless representative" said "Nothing has changed".

That assessment is not entirely accurate since owners of the Omnia, Saga or Touch Pro will be able to avail themselves of services that are aware of their location. Such capability paves the way for better local search ("Find the nearest") and navigation services as well as a family of social networking services that take into account "who's nearby."

Vodafone Buys its own GPS firm, Wayfinder

In an effort to control the costs of making mobile applications that are "geo-aware" Vodafone acquired Wayfinder, a Swedish developer of location-based services. The two companies have a history of working together to offer GPS services in some of the countries in Western Europe. But Vodafone's services in Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal have been offered in conjunction with TomTom, which acquired digital map specialist Tele Atlas earlier this year.

Something about the purchase price (roughly $29 million in cash) has led shares in TomTom to surge on European exchanges. One explanation is that Vodafone, which had acquired the Danish social networking specialist ZYB in May of this year, is taking more control of local social networking offers through its affiliates. In that case, it regards Wayfinder as a component for a robust set of home-grown (more accurately 'recently acquired') mobile services. Such a strategy points to more opportunities to knit TomTom's resources into the mix, at the expense of alternative mobile content and service providers, specifically Nokia.

The role of wireless carriers in providing innovative services remains a matter of great uncertainty. The "AppStore" model for publicizing and distributing a constant stream of new applications from third parties is certainly gaining traction with iPhone users and is certain to become the model for the new generation of "open platforms" for mobile services. This approach makes it less and less likely that wireless subscribers will turn to their carriers as the sole source of mobile applications.

If anything, the $29 million sale price is a testimony to the fact that "there's no better time to buy!" innovative technology firms. ZYB cost Vodafone $50 million just four months ago. By contrast, TomTom spent 2 billion Euros (more than $4 billion-with a "b") for TeleAtlas and its resources for generating and maintaining digital maps and navigational services around the world. Spending mere millions to take control of resources for integrating geo-awareness into local, social networking services is a small price to pay.

Sprint to Offer an Android Phone 'Within a Year'

Bloomberg is reporting comments from Sprint executives that basically confirm the carrier will be introducing an Android-based phone "within a year":

“We believe in the vision for Android, so we want to see it get bigger and get healthy,” Kevin Packingham, Sprint’s vice president of products and devices, said yesterday in an interview. “We can, when the timing’s right, pull the trigger.”

Sprint and Google are partners in mobile search and in Sprint's 4G initiative. The US carrier would become the largest to date to offer the phone (T-Mobile is number four after Sprint), though number two AT&T has implied it will offer one in 2009 as well.

I wrote a lengthy diatribe the other day about how I wanted to stay with Sprint myself but was frustrated by the failure of its available phone (Instinct, HTC Touch, Palm Devices) to measure up to the iPhone. A Sprint Android phone would prevent my defection, as well as by others no doubt, by introducing a more credible Internet phone. The public statement may also be a tacit admission that the Instinct has failed to stop the subscriber bleeding (almost four million subs lost over the course of a year). 

One of Sprint's major handset partners is HTC, the maker of the T-Mobile Android G1. But Motorola could be the provider of a Sprint Android model as well. From my perspective that phone can't come out fast enough. In one way, then, Android becomes a defensive play for carriers who don't have the iPhone, as a way to retain subscribers who might otherwise switch, but who would be satisfied with an Android model.

Sprint Courts Developers with New Open Platform

Recognizing the need to build a developer and software ecosystem, Sprint announced a new open platform for third parties:

Continuing its leadership in employing an open application model, Sprint today is introducing the latest version of its developer toolkit, relaunching its Professional Developer Program and preparing to deliver new Sprint devices and a new Java platform that will open the door to millions of developers who have traditionally designed for a desktop environment.

As a pioneering user of the Java mobile platform, Sprint is participating in JavaOne for the eighth consecutive year, offering its latest tools for developers to create wireless applications that customers can run on Sprint phones. At the Sprint exhibit during the 2008 conference, Sprint will launch its latest Wireless Toolkit, demonstrate the capabilities of its latest technology, including the new Titan platform, and launch its revised Professional Developer Program.

Sprint arguably has the best mobile broadband network and is ahead of rivals with the new Clearwire/Sprint 4G initiative. But it lags in terms of "sexy" hardware and mobile software applications vs. Apple, Android, RIM and WinMo. 

AT&T: Smartphones Will Dominate by 2014

Speaking at a Symbian Partner Event AT&T executive Roger Smith said that he saw smartphones as being the dominant kind of mobile device connecting to AT&T's network by 2014. He also said that AT&T may use a single OS for "AT&T branded" smartphones (as opposed to the iPhone or RIM devices) in the coming years. He added that Symbian may be that OS, according to a report from IDG News.

Java is also losing as a platform for AT&T phones. Smith expressed disappointment in Java as having contributed to fragmentation rather than simplifying mobile development. 

What this piece reinforces is that the market will be dominated by smartphones in the next 5-7 years (more than 50%). Smartphone costs have now come down to under $200 (with subsidies) and a questionable rumor even has it that Apple may sell a $99 4GB iPhone through Wal-Mart. Whether or not the rumor is true, the more important point is that prices are coming down. Wal-Mart is selling the T-Mobile G1 for $150. 

As Americans and Europeans replace their (feature) phones, which is now happening with greater frequency, more of them will want access to the mobile Internet and will opt for smartphones, which constitute about 14% (ish) of the US handset market today. Smartphone adoption will boost mobile Internet adoption, usage frequency and mobile ad revenues. 

Indeed, Smith said that AT&T would look to advertising revenues and transaction fees in the future, rather than just voice and data revenues. According to IDG: 

But as the economy sags and subscriber growth in the U.S. slows, carriers can't keep relying on pulling more revenue out of subscribers to pay for it, [Smith] said. AT&T will push for many more advertising-based services over the next year or two, he said. Other possibilities include mobile banking and shopping services that generate transaction fees, and business-to-consumer or business-to-business applications in areas such as health care or transportation.

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Related: In the US, the Symbian OS and Nokia face a difficult, uphill battle

ChaCha Scores with AT&T Deal

One could now argue that the reinvention of ChaCha is complete with the announcement of a strategic relationship with AT&T. Here's the deal:

As part of the agreement, ChaCha will use a co-branded greeting and promote AT&T when consumers call 1-800 2ChaCha (1-800-2-242242).

The two companies also will work together to further enhance ChaCha's free mobile-answers service and explore opportunities in both text and voice ad-based services. ChaCha will continue to provide free answers to any question -- anytime, anywhere -- to and from any activated wireless phone. Questions can cover any topic, from science to culture to sports and more.

ChaCha, which began on the Internet as a human-powered alternative to Google -- and largely failed to attract usage -- found its "voice" in mobile as a search engine and a simple and free alternative to conventional directory assistance. According to our discussions with the company, ChaCha continues to gain adoption and momentum. In some outlying cases the query frequency the company has seen exceeds -- remarkably -- the Internet's 80+ queries per user month (per comScore).

Clearwire Deal Closes: The Race to 4G Begins

Last week the Clearwire deal closed the new service will be called "Clear" and the Xohm brand will disappear. US mobile carrier Sprint, which owns 51% of the company, "contributed all of its 2.5 GHz spectrum and its WiMAX-related assets, including its XOHM business, to Clearwire."

Investment partners ($3.2 billion) are Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks. The publicly traded company will be headquartered in Kirkland, Washington.

LTE (supported by Verizon and AT&T in the US) is still at least two years away so Clearwire has a shot at establishing a strong presence in the market if it can roll out fast enough. A wild card in this mobile broadband game is the "white spaces" spectrum now being made available for free by the FCC. 

Once major US cities are blanketed with mobile broadband many interesting IP-connected devices and disruptive scenarios become possible. 

Yahoo! Does UK Mobile Search Deal with Virgin

Fresh off its recent deal with the US arm of T-Mobile to become default mobile search provider, Yahoo! has just added Virgin Mobile in the UK. Virgin Mobile in the UK has roughly four million subscribers. That brings to roughly 80 the number of carrier search relationships in Yahoo!'s corner -- providing potential reach of more than 850 million customers collectively across the globe.

In the US the carrier search deals are as follows:

  • Verizon: Microsoft or Google (probably Microsoft; no announcement yet)
  • AT&T: Yahoo!
  • Sprint: Google & Microsoft (relationship favors Google)
  • T-Mobile: Yahoo!

US mobile search market share looks similar to what it is on the desktop, with Yahoo (depending on the source) enjoying a somewhat higher share than it has online. However, comScore reported that for September the “carrier’s search engine” had a greater market share than Microsoft Live or AOL search in mobile. Our August data show a smaller share for the carrier's search engine, below that of Microsoft. 

These "default relationships" are thus significant but somewhat less significant at the high end (e.g., iPhone) where people can access the "full Internet" and use their search engine of choice.