UK shoppers to get zapped

Peter Keenan hails the upcoming arrival of Zapp as the biggest change in UK payments since the introduction of the Switch card in the mid-1980s. Mr Keenan is hardly neutral – he’s the Zapp chief executive after all – but the service he enthuses about may indeed rank alongside Switch (which ushered in the debit card revolution) as one of the major retail breakthroughs in recent decades.

Unlike other mobile payment services that have struggled to take off, Zapp has managed to get a number of big-name retailers on board. Two of the UK’s biggest grocers – Asda and Sainsbury’s – were unveiled as Zapp partners last month, as were other well-known brands, including House of Fraser, Thomas Cook and Shop Direct. They join a slew of other outlets that have committed to accepting payments from smartphones carrying the Zapp app, which is slated to go live next year. Mr Keenan says it’s the largest coalition of retailer support for a new payment method ever announced in the UK. (more…)

Who’s afraid of free mobile data?

Mark Zuckerberg, in his MWC 2014 keynote, said he wanted to prove the business model of free mobile internet access in emerging markets. Yet a growing number of operators seem already persuaded that giving away mobile data can reap financial rewards in the long run. The Facebook CEO may well be pushing against an open door.

Avea, the third-largest mobile operator in Turkey, announced only last month it would give away a free week of internet access to 100,000 subscribers, but it’s hardly the first to hand out freebies.

DiGi (Malaysia), Globe (Philippines), Idea Cellular (India), Mobilink (Pakistan), RCom (India), Tigo (Paraguay) and VimpelCom (in Russia and developing markets) are among those that have either zero-rated certain applications, given away ‘full’ internet access for limited periods, or charged nominal sums for special promotions. (more…)

VoLTE farce? No, not really

A recent spate of VoLTE launches has put the technology under the spotlight, but its lengthy absence on any meaningful scale – with the possible exception of South Korea – may seem troubling to some industry watchers.

When the original LTE specifications were drawn up, the circuit-switched (CS) domain used in 2G and 3G was dispensed with in favour of an all-IP environment. All well and good, but no provision was made as to how voice and texting – still the two mainstays of a mobile operator’s business – would be delivered over a spanking new all-IP data network.

Circuit-switched fallback (CSFB) is a possible ‘interim’ solution that WCDMA operators can deploy, but it’s hardly ideal. Lengthier call set-up times of around 1-2 seconds probably won’t upset high-spending LTE customers, but call-set up times may be longer if there’s no 3G signal and the call is then directed onto 2G. The 4G voice experience, in such scenarios, is worse than 3G. (more…)

Connection problems

The mobile industry will pass a momentous milestone by the end of 2014. According to projections from GSMA Intelligence, the number of mobile connections will exceed the number of people on the planet.

But it won’t be a time for governments and regulators – particularly in developing markets – to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. (more…)

Indian hope trick

I have some sympathy for Telenor’s plight in India. After the decision of the country’s supreme court to cancel the 122 2G licences that were illegally awarded in 2008, the Norwegian telco, along with some other foreign players, has been left high and dry.

Of course, some might say it serves them right. Overlooking the obvious risks, foreign firms rushed into joint venture agreements with local companies that had acquired their 2G licences through the shady practice of first-come-first-served. Huge sums of money exchanged hands. The thinking seems to have been that, with growth prospects so high in India’s mobile market, the gamble was well worth it. (more…)