News From Telecom World

WAP portals- a futuristic look

Posted on: October 28, 2008

WAP services haven’t received the same kind of coverage as Apple’s iPhone and other browsing platforms recently. But WAP proponents say it is gaining momentum.

It took almost nine years to resolve WAP’s usability issues and shortcomings. Then along came the iPhone and Web browser-based companies such as Opera and Access to deliver a Web-based experience on mobile devices similar to the fixed Internet.

These latest developments have cast doubt over WAP’s role within the context of the mobile Internet, and have raised questions about future investment in the technology. But the WAP community continues to grow.

Mobile operators still dominate traffic through their own portals, but off-portal proponents are playing an increasing role as more companies launch WAP sites. Furthermore, as more users browse off-portal, the expanded choice of sites is creating the perception that usage is declining as page impressions per WAP site is fewer.

“The traffic to mobile sites is not declining, it’s actually exploding,” says Paul Nerger, vice president of advanced services and applications at mobile Internet services company dotMobi. “ESPN, for example, routinely will drive more traffic from ESPN.mobi than ESPN.com.”

For example, ESPN says that for one 24-hour period earlier this year its wireless NFL section had 4.9 million visits, compared with 4.5 million visits on its PC equivalent. At the start of 2008, ESPN said it had over 9 million unique users on its mobile site and was experiencing year-on-year usage growth of 200%.

According to analysts and telcos, mobile subscribers on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly using mobile Internet services. Latest figures from Nielsen Mobile claim that 15.6% of mobile users—approximately 40 million—browse the Internet in the US. And Geraldine Wilson, vice president of Yahoo!’s Connected Life division in Europe, claims that 16% of mobile subscribers are browsing on their mobile in the UK. “Operators are starting to get excited now because they are seeing mobile Internet traffic growing,” she says, although she says the mobile Internet has yet to experience explosive growth.

“We’ve seen in the last few months a 50% increase in the number of accesses to sites [globally],” says Anil Malhorta, co-founder and senior vice president of alliances and marketing at mobile Web technology company Bango, although he did not give further figures.

The fact that the cost to develop a WAP site has lowered means there are more sites. Rich Holdsworth, chief technology officer of Wapple, says WAP site development historically cost upwards of £7,000 (E8,900) per site and that this was prohibitive. When Vodafone Live! launched back in 2002, it is believed to have cost in excess of €50 million, according to one source, including the platform and product development. Today, Wapple charges a base rate of £200 for the development and launch of a simple commercial site.

WAP site providers now range from established players such as Mobile IQ or Trust5 to the media/technology buyer-planners like Yahoo!, AKQA and Publicis, to do-it-yourself companies like Wapple.

“People are spending less now per site because they don’t have to spend as much,” says Holdsworth. “But on the whole, the amount of spend is going up because more companies want WAP sites.”

Holdsworth highlights MTV as a pioneering force in the mobile Internet world. “They are continuously changing and adding new content, which generates a continued flow of traffic.”

But not everyone is wholly upbeat. The challenge now for the mobile industry, and mobile Internet in particular, is how to grow the browser base. Fran Heeran, chief technical officer at digital commerce solutions company Valista, claims WAP has hit what he describes as a “stagnant period” in terms of growth. “WAP still has an important role to play,” he says, “but WAP’s role is more about the pull-discovery model, interesting content attracting users, that takes the user through a very defined user experience.”

Jayanthi Rangarajan, president and CEO of Novarra, says previous incarnations of WAP sites were designed for the lowest denominator of handset to ensure mass-market availability. Despite the rise in mid- to high-end devices, mobile Internet solutions providers like Novarra can now automatically “dumb down” a page—that is, transcode the site to suit the requirements of the device.

Rangarajan believes that major content providers such as the BBC must cater to a global audience and consider the handset capability of users outside the UK where 2G/2.5G could be the foremost mode of access. “The BBC creates a great WAP site for the UK market, but it has a massive following in India and is not designed for the Indian market,” she says.

Although some of the leading mobile operators have international brands, each of their mobile portals is focused domestically. Nevertheless, they have long seen the potential of having a mobile portal, even if they have largely failed to exploit its direct link to the consumer to generate revenue.

“The portal story largely started when operators thought they should make it easier to access certain content,” says Mike Short, vice president of research and development for O2 and chairman of the Mobile Data Association. “But the need to do that has been seen to be less relevant over time.” The rise of off-portal spaces in the UK, in particular, has allowed users to access content via SMS shortcodes and WAP push links and eased the burden on operators’ portals.
Yahoo!’s Wilson says mobile operator portals continue to attract significant traffic, but the rising tide is undoubtedly with chat services and communities.

Orange in July announced a deal to enable its users to view their profile updates—such as emails, comments and recently uploaded pictures—to social networking services such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Skyrock, Pikeo and Flirtomatic on the Orange World portal. The service has already launched in France and will be rolled out in the UK, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal shortly.

“Lots of our customers are members of multiple communities, so we have built a service that combines that functionality,” says Gerard Grech, Orange Group’s head of strategy and business development. “We are providing a service that gives an aggregated view of all your sites.”

3 UK says it provides customers with access to a range of services. “We are focusing on Internet communications as a whole and how to meet the consumer demand,” says Charlotte Blanchard, head of growth products and services marketing at 3 UK. “On top of voice and messaging we include VoIP using Skype, instant messenger and social networking, such as Facebook, as tools for certain people to communicate.” It sees the growth of the fixed Internet as the natural progression for its customers to use Internet-based communications services on their terms, and that includes mobile. “We are tapping into that group of consumers that are high communicators,” Blanchard adds.

But some suggest operators could find it hard to expand beyond a captive but limited audience. “The challenge with social networks is that they have a concrete set of users and attract the ones that would use the mobile Internet anyway,” says Oren Glanz, CEO of mobile service adoption solutions company Olista. “So the challenge is making the mobile Internet a mass-market service. At present, mobile operators are using mobile Internet to create an extension of the social networks.”

Signs of growth
Opera Software says Opera Mini users viewed more than 3.2 billion pages in June (see graph above). Each person using Opera Mini viewed 223 pages on average.

And Visiongain forecasts revenues from mobile social networking and user generated content will grow to US$70 billion globally in 2012. It says that growth will be driven by developments such as Facebook’s recent launch of a platform for operators designed to make its social networking application work better on portable devices. Vodafone is the first operator to use the platform, Facebook for Mobile Operators, and has started services in the UK and Germany.

In the UK, social networking sites Facebook, MySpace and Bebo lead the way when it comes to mobile traffic, with mobile-only WAP dating site Flirtomatic one of the leaders in the chasing pack. Flirtomatic says it amassed around 130 million page impressions per month in 2008 in the UK and is still growing.

The downside from a mobile operator’s traffic perspective is that links to social networking sites are directing traffic off-portal. Novarra, which determines the browsing experience on Vodafone Live!, as well as for T-Mobile, Telefonica and Turkcell, claims that 70% of the operator’s off-portal traffic goes to the long tail, where a user’s behaviour cannot be monitored. The user’s movements can only be tracked if they remain on-portal, or off-portal with the operator’s partners, such as Facebook.

But despite off-portal growth, operator portals continue to be the starting point for mobile Internet users’ browsing experience. As long as operators can drive unique users to their mobile homepages—Orange World has 2.64 million unique visitors in the UK each month according to the operator—they stand to create significant revenues through data traffic and advertising.

TeliaSonera’s experienced mobile surfers go off-portal, says Bengt Olsson, director of communication, but they frequently start or finish their browsing session on the operator’s portal. “That’s why we think the portal is extremely important,” he says. “The portal is about educating the consumer about the mobile Internet, and when that is complete they can then go off-portal.”

TeliaSonera says it is paying off: the operator says it has experienced an increase in surfing time when users go off-portal, although the company is unable to provide figures.

Olsson also says that marketing has an immediate impact on TeliaSonera’s portal traffic, provided it is combined with either an initiative or event with which the operator is associated. In TeliaSonera’s case, the most recent example was the Eurovision Song Contest in May.

Wapple’s Holdsworth is also an advocate of investing in marketing. “This isn’t a field of dreams, and ‘if you build it they will come’ does not hold true as mobile search just isn’t there yet,” he says. “A portal provider can do SEO [search engine optimisation] to assist to a degree, and the sites can be spidered OK in a Google organic search. But the best way to grow the site is to market it ‘off mobile’. Using Admob or similar companies is only marketing to people that already use mobile [Internet services].”

Source: Total Telecom

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2 Responses to "WAP portals- a futuristic look"

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For several years now, there has been commercially available optimization technology which supports the monitoring of user behavior for all portal and off-portal traffic. When integrated with content adaptation technology for web browsing on feature phones and smartphones, optimization provides core network intelligence which enables the personalization of the user experience and the monetization of that experience with targeted mobile advertising. The ‘invisibility’ of 70% of off-portal traffic that is cited here is an entirely unnecessary limitation for network operators.

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