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Deconstructing the Killer App for Mobile

I don’t think I could have stuffed more buzzwords into this subject line, but so be it. This will be a very short post. I am on spring break and have been talking to a lot of business people I know about what’s new in the world of mobile. Without getting into the nitty gritty of what they said, I am getting more and more convinced that whatever the next great application is for mobile phones will make great use of SMS.

To many, I am sure this is a painful restatement of the obvious. But I am not sure that it is obvious to a lot of folks out in the market today. Aside from mobile search, which does make use of SMS, most of the search for the next big thing in mobile is focused on rich media, content, and other 3G-enabled service offerings. This reminds me a lot about the old narrowband vs. broadband business model debate in the Web 1.0 world. Back then, there were lots of people whose pitches started with “assume a high level of broadband penetration in the US” and then our product/service will be a big hit. Well, it took a lot longer and cost a lot more than anyone expected to get where we are today and broadband is still not ubiquitous. In the meantime, a lot of businessess that did not need to wait on broadband (Yahoo!, for example) got to work and took advantage of what was already present.

I get the sense that the same thing will happen in mobile. Yes, carriers want to get more high bandwidth (and high cost) content available for download on their networks. Handsets are getting better at handling everything from pictures to television. At some point in the near future, all of these things will converge and the conditions will be right to have real broadband-like services available on mobile phones. And in another 5 years, they will all work with 50% of the reliability that you would expect from wired services.

In the meantime, why not deal with what you have? You have SMS as a ubiquitous transport that works on almost any carrier in any country. You don’t need to negotiate with Big Wireless Telco to get the right to offer the service to their subscribers — you can just go direct. All you have to do (and this is not trivial) is figure out how you are going to get paid in the process.

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