If every Japanese mobile phone subscriber moved to the UK, our population would more than double. Even in such a technology-aware country, it is astounding how rapidly mobile communication has been embraced.
Japan has more mobile subscribers than any other country, with a significant 25 per cent already using 3G. This critical mass lets Japanese operators drive revenue from content delivery and new mobile services.
Their problem has traditionally been deciding where to focus service delivery. Over the past few years, Location Based Services (LBS), those reliant on knowing a person’s location to deliver an appropriate service, have been the focus of attention. Today Japanese mobile operator KDDI offers over 130 different LBSs while another, NTT DoCoMo, receives over half a million hits per day on its ‘i-area’ service.
These are exciting times for Japan’s LBS industry and it’s not alone in the pursuit of success. The UK is also poised for bold moves into the LBS market, and braced for equally big challenges. We are at a critical turning point. Mobile operators need to identify the best way to deliver a variety of services to a range of customers with different expectations and requirements — but they cannot do so alone. They need the support of an integrated industry; an area in which our technology sector has traditionally under-achieved.
A recent DTI GlobalWatch Mission to study Japan’s experiences, led by Pinpoint, demonstrates why the UK needs to encourage a collaborative approach to win with LBS.
Japan’s technology industry, although innovative, is working in silos rather than as a unit. It has experienced growing pains which have led to a slower growth rate for new services. While the strong line of innovation in Japan’s software development community has filtered into the mobile space, many Japanese operators are actually stifling growth by dictating requirements and business models, rather than encouraging collaboration. Their support of open architectures, which allow content developers easy access to location platforms, does increase innovation but their control over the sector highlights a lesson we need to learn.
Rapid uptake of LBS in the UK requiring us to encourage more interaction must be encouraged within the market. Japan’s experience highlights the need to progress LBS in a way which opens up the market to the wider industry quickly and brings more players into the mix. By doing so the industry as a whole, promotes the innovation required.
There are many lessons to learn from Japan, but one fundamental requirement stands out. There is no substitute for an integrated approach, and it must happen now. Success may depend upon how well we can work together.
This is a blind spot for the UK IT industry which is why there needs to be forums like Pinpoint which shines a light on the gaps and induces more collaboration. Signal engineers, chipset manufacturers, academics, operators, aggregators, software and content developers all need to work as one to make LBS a success.
But while organisations such as Pinpoint are here to facilitate, the market must be ready willing and able to take on this responsibility together.
Francis Tuffy is director of Pinpoint Faraday, the body promoting the wider use of positioning technology in the UK.