Research Notes

Virtual Machines is the road to higher data revenue for the mobile operators

as seen in Korea.
Although little known or spoke of today, Virtual Machines (VM) in mobile phones will change the way mobile consumers use their phones and thereby how much money they spend on mobile data services.

This is not wishful thinking, but reality in Korea – where there are now over 3 million VM mobile phones in the hands of consumers.

To understand why VM is so important and will play such an important role, you have to understand what VM actually is. Put simply, VM is a middleware platform, in between the mobile operator’s server and the consumers mobile phone. It allows mobile consumers to download services, games and applications to their mobile phone, which they then can use in principal for as long as they like or have paid for, without having to go online again. For example, a mobile user with a VM phone can buy and download a game to his mobile phone and then play that game for days or weeks, without having to go online again.

This is almost the exact opposite of WAP on a GSM platform, where you only could access WAP by being online the whole time, paying by the minute and once you went offline, you had nothing on your screen – your WAP session was finished.

In Korea, there are two main VM platforms – Java (J2ME) and BREW from Qualcomm. VM was originally intended for games on mobiles phones, but was quickly found to be very suitable for a great number of applications, that then can reside on the mobile phone and are always accessible.

In Korea, mobile phones are actually sold preconfigured with a number of VM applications already resident in the phone. Mobile users can try the applications either for free, or for a limited time, thereby getting used to the functionality and benefits from VM. For example a VM email application can reside in the mobile phone and be set to send and receive mails at given times. That way the user can read and answer his emails at any time, without having to connect to the mobile operator.

The paradox is, that although VM actually means that the mobile users can connect much fewer times and for shorter periods of time – thereby creating less data traffic – the usage of VM applications and the fact that there are so many VM applications in Korea, means that the total data traffic pr. mobile user increases dramatically. But this time, compared to WAP, the users are really getting value for money.

As with most new technologies, the technology in itself is not interesting for the consumers, most of whom are unaware that there is a VM platform handling the services and applications the mobile users are downloading. What is important to the mobile users are the great number and variation of mobile services available on the VM platform – a very strong signal to the European mobile operators to announce their business and revenue models for 2.5G, so the content providers and service creators can get on with offering new, innovative mobile services that the mobile users can spend their money on.

If the European operators want to increase revenue, they will need new mobile services – services that in Korea have meant a dramatic rise in revenue pr. user. In Korea, a mobile 2.5G user without a VM mobile phone spends on average 2.9 EURO pr. month on data traffic, but with a VM enabled phone that figure is 5.1 EURO!

Strand Consult has just published the most comprehensive report ever about the little known Korean mobile market – “The Korean Mobile market, a window to 3G”. Today, Korea is somewhere between 3 and 5 years ahead of the European mobile markets and the lessons that can be learned from what the Koreans have achieved are simply amazing and a gift to the hard pressed European mobile industry.

Strand Consult spent almost 9 months analysing the worlds most advanced mobile market. We met with all the players in the mobile value chain and been honoured to have access to information not previously disclosed. We describe what the operators, the content owners and the technology companies business case actually looks like for real. With key figures and information we give a detailed description of a mobile market with over 30 million mobile customers – of which 9 million are “3G” users and over 3 million of them have VM enabled mobile phones.
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