April 5, 2006 12:00 PM PDT
Mobile communities could fill 3G pipes
For years, mobile operators, which have spent billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to 3G wireless technologies, have tried to get customers to do more than talk on their cell phones. Despite their efforts, the vast majority of revenue still comes from voice calling.
But that could change in the next few years. A lot of fuss has already been made about people watching TV on their cell phones and downloading music over the mobile Net, but there's another application that could also generate significant 3G data usage--social networking.
"Carriers have invested a lot of money in their networks," said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. "And at this point it's a lot like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see which applications will stick. I doubt there will be any single killer application, but social networking on mobile phones could certainly be one that generates usage."
Within the last year social networking and community Web sites on the fixed-line Internet have really taken off, especially among teens and twentysomethings, who spend hours online creating profiles and sharing photos, videos and blogs.
MySpace, the most popular of the social networking sites, has more than 67 million members, and it adds roughly 250,000 members every day. MySpace is ranked as the second-most visited Web site on the Internet in terms of unique users, after Yahoo, according to ComScore Media Metrix. Last year Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought the company for $580 million.
Though MySpace may be among the most famous of these sites, it's certainly not the only one on the Net. There are dozens of them, including Facebook.com, which is geared toward college students. There are also photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr, that have created popular online communities.
In the past, people using these services could access them only from their desktops or laptops. But now social networking is going mobile, allowing people to use their cell phones to upload pictures or send updates to blogs.
In March, MySpace announced a deal with the soon-to-be-launched wireless reseller Helio. And earlier this week, Facebook announced deals with Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless to enable users to post messages to their Facebook profiles via SMS text messaging. Flickr also lets people post photos from their cell phones and view them from handsets as well. Sprint Nextel has created its own photo-sharing site, called PCS Picture mail. It's expected to launch this spring.
There also are new companies in the game, such as San Diego-based Intercasting, which is offering a service called Rabble. Like MySpace and Facebook, Rabble lets users create profiles so they can share photos, videos and blogs with other members of the Rabble group. Cingular and Verizon Wireless have already signed up to offer the service, charging customers $2.99 per month for access to the community.
Ubiquitous and wireless
In many ways, cell phones are the ideal tools for social networking and building online communities. Not only are people rarely without their phones, but today's handsets come equipped with sophisticated tools as well, such as cameras and digital music and video players and recorders, that can be used for documenting life. Mobile-handset makers Nokia and Sony Ericsson are even embedding technology into some of their phones that's designed to make it easier for users to upload pictures and text to blogs. These phones are solid tools for people wanting to share photos, video clips or songs with their online communities.
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