It's time to get on the phone

It's time to get on the phone

While some retailers may feel they have missed the boat as far as mobile communications are concerned, it seems there are still plenty of opportunities to jump on the bandwagon. One industry insider says this is best demonstrated by the rapid turnover of technology and the fact that data transfer over the three major mobile networks is so far being adopted by a small number of users.

According to Gary Maddern, assistant general manager, marketing and sales, at NEC's integrated communications products group, "expert dealers" and computer retailers are in the best position to converge mobile phones and computing.

"Data penetration is still only at around 5 per cent of Australia's six million mobile phone users," Maddern said. "Naturally, we'd like to improve that ratio dramatically."

What NEC and most other vendors are waiting for are the data-capable networks and the real-life applications that will drive up usage.

Maddern feels there is a real opportunity for retailers to "come to the party" with a mobile data device (that may be a notebook or palm pilot, for example) that is "bundled with a phone and with one of the carrier's subsidies attached.

"What we need is a competitive package in the marketplace with a genuine application," he said. "It needs a lot more exposure and visibility from retailers before that will occur."

Speaking after the launch of NEC's new Origon Mercury mobile phones, Maddern said the product is clearly aimed at the business buyer and will be NEC's platform from which it launches future products with increased data transfer capabilities. It boasts unprecedented battery life, flexibility and potential to migrate to data functions.

Maddern indicated that while the margins are slim at the moment on mobile hardware, nobody to his knowledge has "stuck their neck out and said they will bundle mobile phones, a computer or some device and add value for the customer", therefore increasing their margins.

"But the market is available, we have the technology and it is open to being done," he said, adding that all three major carriers are currently boosting bandwidth which has been the major drawback to date.

Genuine opportunities

Maddern especially feels "there is a genuine opportunity" from this category for "the smaller guys" looking to expand their businesses and get into more of a services model.

"Expert dealers have different levels of knowledge and are in a prime position to bundle products," he said. "They certainly already have intimate knowledge of the computer. The mobile phone doesn't require a lot of knowledge to sell."

This technology is rapidly evolving, with many new generations of innovation still to come, Maddern added. Even if you are not selling this technology now, it is never too late to jump on a bandwagon showing no signs of slowing down, he said.

"The technology is here to stay. There will always be mobile voice and with 35 per cent market penetration so far, we still have yet to reach the 50 per cent that is being achieved in some Scandinavian countries."

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