Will mobile and payments play nicely together?

Originally published on Total Payments.

Every day there’s at least one announcement about something new and exciting happening in the mobile payments space. But what really interests me is what happens out there in the real world where consumers are going to use these exciting new products.

Recently I was in the Bluewater shopping mall. First stop was Starbucks for a coffee paid for with the Passbook based Starbucks Card. Nothing new here except that spending £10 via American Express, combined with a Foursquare check-in, gave me £5 cashback on my American Express account. A nice example of combining social and payments. Even better, £50 spent in House of Fraser results in £25 cashback. Does this prove the future of high street shopping is social? Possibly and it’s certainly excellent value for little effort!
I frequently use my handset to check prices in store to compare with online. However 3G coverage in the area was taking a battering on the first Saturday after payday. No problem; I can use the extensive WiFi in the mall, mostly provided by BT Wi-fi. Unfortunately, whether trying to use BT Wi-fi via their store partnerships with John Lewis and Starbucks or via Boingo, it was seriously broken. I did manage one brief connection but the rest of the time just connection errors. Shocking that one of the UK’s prime shopping malls still suffers from poor wireless coverage, both cellular and WiFi.
When I started out my battery was around 90% full. After five hours I was down to 10% which necessitated a quick visit to the Apple Store to give the battery a boost via one of the chargers for the display handsets. Normally I carry a Mophie battery charger with me but on this occasion I’d left it at home – mea culpa! Constant WiFi connection attempts plus poor 3G had taken its toll on the battery.
What struck me about the whole experience is that if we are to put the handset at the heart of the payments experience there are some real challenges to overcome. You might not need wireless coverage for NFC payments but you do need it for checking prices! And to pay with your mobile you certainly need a handset with enough power to turn on!

It’s time for Apple to fix the iPhone WiFi login process

Every device has the odd feature that frustrates and for me it’s WiFi on the iPhone. At home WiFi works fine after the initial setup to connect for the first time because no additional login credentials are needed. However using public WiFi hotspots is an annoying experience involving a trip to Safari each time to enter ID and password. 

My favourite public WiFi is The Cloud and I regularly use it in coffee shops. However because of the success of The Cloud in adding hotspots I often find when I’m out and about my iPhone has automatically connected to The Cloud and because I haven’t entered my ID and password the iPhone can’t make a data connection. I then have to either stop and login or turn off WiFi – neither of which is satisfactory for a quick data connection. 

Apple needs to allow users to save their login credentials for recognised hotspots so the whole login process is automated and seamless. From a consumer experience perspective the existing process is very ‘un-Apple’. 

Guardian Mobile Business Summit 2011 #mbs2011

Yesterday I attended the Guardian Mobile Business Summit in London. As usual the Guardian events team were able to attract some excellent speakers including Ed Vaizey, the culture and communications minister, and Olaf Swantee, CEO of EverythingEverywhere. I’ve picked out a few highlights which caught my attention.

One recurrent theme during the day was around the need for next generation wireless spectrum – the 4G auction. Both Ed Vaizey and Olaf Swantee talked about their commitment to the auction and the subsequent delivery of 4G service, which is of course good to hear. Ed made a plea to the operators to put their differences aside and support the Ofcom auction process and Olaf stated that the UK is at risk of being left behind in the move to 4G. Olaf also made the point that the 200-300,000 not-spots in the UK could probably be fixed with 4G. However with the auction not scheduled until the latter part of next year and the inevitable time lapse before the mobile operators start to deliver service, the increasing use of mobile data means the UK faces a real risk of 3G capacity running out before 4G arrives. Only time will tell.

Warren East, CEO of ARM, discussed the next set of challenges for mobile devices; energy efficiency, security, higher bandwidth and seamless cloud experience. Energy efficiency is a massive challenge as improvements get eaten up by more demand. The ambition is to be as efficient at storing energy as nature! Cloud computing will help energy efficiency by moving processing & storage off the mobile device.

Rob Grimshaw, MD at FT.com, outlined the FT’s digital strategy and showed how successful the FT has been online, especially since the move from iOS app to HTML5. Having a unique position in the news market, as well as a top brand, must help the FT considerably with their strategy. He explained how the shift to mobile is happening faster than from print to digital and mobile users will overtake desktop users by 2014. 90% of FT users are already accessing the Internet on a mobile device and 45% of users are consuming the FT on a mobile device. The FT.com HTML5 web app now delivers more traffic than their iTunes app did. And why would the FT give 30% of revenue to iTunes when they can do subscriptions themselves?

Fabio Sergio, from Frog Design, discussed how we are awash in a sea of personal data, with so much more to come. He explained the four pillars that drive users’ behaviour in relation to personal data; trust, transparency, control and value. One interesting point Fabio made is that facial recognition software will make digital anonymity a thing of the past!  He also posed the question, what will be the new data cultures in the future and how will they impact trust, transparency & control?

My favourite comment of the day (from Ed Vaizey) – your mobile phone is your digital identity. This will become increasingly true, especially as we start to use our phone for more and more payments. Ed also discussed the government’s view on traffic shaping, with principles around not blocking for commercial purposes, consumer transparency and must not be detrimental to investment. His view on regulation is that it must not get in the way of mobile business and be technology and service neutral.

Rich Holdsworth, CEO of Wapple, put forward a robust case for HTML5 web apps instead of iOS apps. He made the point that the mobile web gives developers more control and reaches every device, with no app store between the developer and the consumer. Not sure I altogether agree with his view that apps are going the way of CD-ROMs!

One other point; top marks to the Guardian events team for picking a venue, not just with free WiFi but WiFi that actually works and doesn’t require navigating landing pages and logins.

With special thanks to Emily Dickson in the team for inviting me.

O2 WiFi launches a free hotspot network for all

O2 has launched O2 WiFi offering free WiFi to anyone, regardless of whether or not they are an O2 customer. Rather than focus on their existing customer base or charge non O2 customers for access, O2 has taken the view that their revenue stream will come from the venue partners. O2’s aim is to make life easier for WiFi users and build a network of strategic venue partnerships to benefit the brand. The service will be attractive to venue partners because everyone can use it.

Free WiFi from O2

This quarter O2 is rolling out 450 free hotspots and by 2013 they aim to have approximately 15,000 hotspots (double the number currently offered through existing partnerships). Venues will include shops, restaurants and other indoor and outdoor locations across the UK. To ensure high quality service, O2 will not be using residential connections with limited bandwidth.

O2 aims to deliver a simple, fast and secure user experience with a simple sign-up process. O2 customers with WiFi devices will also benefit from auto-provisioning by the end of the year.

According to O2, only 20% of people who have access to free public WiFi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being WiFi enabled. They believe that customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where WiFi is free and the variable quality of the current experience.

The launch of O2 WiFi looks like great news for WiFi users everywhere. It will be interesting to see how many venues switch from their existing providers because high quality, free WiFi, from a recognised brand, will be very attractive to their customers. Whether you’re using a laptop or mobile phone, fast WiFi will often deliver a better experience than 3G and if it’s free as well then it’s the obvious choice.

iPass launches their Open Mobile Platform

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

One of the challenges when travelling abroad on business is finding the best connectivity solution to get online. Your regular WiFi service may provide roaming access to local WiFi hotspots, alternatively paying for access to a local network may be a cost effective option. If all else fails, using 3G data roaming is an option, provided you or your employer has deep pockets!
Deciding which option to try involves some understanding of technology and the associated costs, or ignoring cost considerations and hoping for the best! The costs to enterprises of data roaming on 3G networks can be huge and apart from education, it’s very hard for enterprises to ensure their users use the most cost effective option for going online when abroad.ipass
Yesterday I spoke to Matt Cooke from iPass who explained what iPass is doing to help enterprises address these issues. iPass has launched their Open Mobile Platform which allows enterprises to simplify and manage mobile connectivity across both laptops and mobiles in both their home country and when travelling. Plus crucially, iPass helps enterprises understand how users are connecting and the associated costs. The Open Mobile Platform comprises four components.
  1. Mobile Connect provides connectivity management to ensure that the most appropriate or cost effective connectivity option is seamlessly used with no user intervention. The user no longer has to decide which option to use, the software will identify what’s available & automatically connect. Users have access to their existing WiFi and 3G services plus they can also access the iPass network of WiFi hotspots.
  2. Mobile Insight provides analysis of usage to allow enterprises to identify where expenditure is going and how connectivity should be managed.
  3. Mobile Control provides policy management and allows system administrators to push the appropriate policies out to all users across all devices.
  4. Mobile Network delivers access to the iPass WiFi network, in addition to an enterprises existing networks.
From conversations I’ve had about both the administrative burden and connectivity costs of enterprise mobility, iPass should find an enthusiastic response to their proposition.

Freerunner – an evolving WiFi business

Earlier today I had a chat with Owen Geddes, CEO of WiFi hotspot provider Freerunner. 2010 is going to be a big year for Freerunner with the the launch of a number of new products and services. Freerunner is aiming to continue to drive the agenda of free WiFi access for consumers in a growing number of locations.

Next year will see the launch of a Freerunner MVNO aimed at optimising wireless data connectivity using both WiFi and 3G, based on an intriguing business model that promises to deliver great value for money. Plus, Freerunner will move into the hardware space with a couple of different Freerunner branded devices; a phone and a WiFi ready handheld device.

Meanwhile, the Freerunner community projects and UK and international hotspot expansion programmes continue to ramp up. These hotspots are supported by 3G and satellite connectivity, as well as regular broadband, depending on the location. Freerunner is also starting to install 802.11n compliant routers to provide enhanced coverage to the increasing number of users with N compatible devices.

It’s great to see not just a new entrant into the UK WiFi market but one with new and innovative ideas.

iPass exploits a WiFi opportunity

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
The increasing number of WiFi enabled smartphones in large organisations presents an opportunity for WiFi service providers to leverage that capability with products that seek to address deficiencies with 3G data, including roaming costs, poor in-building coverage and variable download speeds. iPass is one of the companies exploiting that market opportunity with their Mobile Office enterprise product. The Mobile Office client is compatible with iPhone, BlackBerry, S60 and Windows Mobile devices as well as Windows and Mac. iPass provides access to 140,000 WiFi hotspots in 83 countries and removes the need to sign up with individual WiFi providers in each location you visit.
In my experience, coverage is good in the usual places you expect to find WiFi; hotels, coffee shops, airports, railway stations etc and shows that iPass has signed extensive roaming agreements with the key WiFi providers. I’ve used the S60 client in Europe and the service worked well. I experienced occasional glitches but that seemed to be down to issues with a local hotspot. As well as regular data access I used Truphone over iPass to save money on voice calls and this combination worked exceptionally well. Knowing how much money I was saving on roaming costs did make for a very satisfying experience.
I’ve now got the iPhone client installed although the benefits are not so apparent in the UK because the iPhone already roams with The Cloud & BT Openzone. The S60 client delivers a better mobile experience because it seamlessly runs in the background whereas the iPhone client suffers from Apple’s bar on background running. I’ll be keeping the iPhone client installed for my next trip abroad to give it a thorough ‘road test’.
Since getting an iPhone I’ve become increasingly dependent on WiFi because the combination of private WiFi at home & in the office plus the bundled public WiFi provides a much better experience when available, than the O2 network with 3G, EDGE & GPRS. The big opportunity for WiFi is to increase coverage in towns and cities plus other places that suffer from poor cellular data coverage, like trains. There’s some interesting innovation appearing in this market with service providers like Freerunner emerging and I’ll be returning to this in a future article.

Reflections on mobile stuff in Amsterdam

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
Last week I spent a few days at the BSS Summit in Amsterdam and just wanted to share some thoughts on the ‘roaming experience’.
The Vodafone Passport promotion whereby calls and SMS come out of your regular price plan bundle is excellent.  For the first time you can use your mobile abroad just as you would in the UK without giving any thought to a nasty bill racking up in the background. It’s worth just signing up for a Vodafone SIM for the Summer if you’re going to be travelling where Vodafone has a partner network.
I made a lot of use of WiFi, both in my hotel and at the conference venue, however yet again the user experience was marred by the challenges of using WiFi. When WiFi works, it’s fast and cheap (cheap compared to 3G roaming), however getting connected can be a real issue. Coverage at both locations was via Swisscom and using the iPass trial on my Nokia E63 I was able to make calls via Truphone and browse the web (including Twitter, of course) … some of the time. On some occasions the handset connected instantly but at other times I got a variety of connection errors. The conference venue seemed to be better than the hotel, despite both being Swisscom – why? I also experienced variable connectivity using Swisscom on my laptop so don’t believe iPass was to blame here. I think what it shows is that however comprehensive WiFi roaming coverage is; you never know what state the local network or local hotspot is in. One neat feature with iPass is the ability to enable or disable fallback to 3G, so when roaming disabling 3G is a must to avoid nasty surprises back home. Long calls via Truphone and iPass were a very satisfying experience knowing there were no big bills at the end of it!
I’ve used a number of WiFi services and good as they are, they only deliver a part of the wireless connectivity jigsaw. Wireless connectivity must be a transparent user experience; users should not need to make choices based on price and coverage, the technology should do that. Yesterday I had a chat with the guys at Agito Networks who are doing some clever stuff in this area and I’ll be blogging about them shortly.