Last week we posted about the recent announcement by Vodafone that it would be utilizing a transcoding application from Novarra for better viewing of traditional Web sites on mobile phones. Since that time, there have been numerous responses that “this transcoding process reduces every Web site to the lowest common denominator.”
And more importantly some industry watchers have suggested that Vodafone UK subscribers would no longer be able to use traditional mobile Web offerings including mCommerce. Kevin McCloskey, CEO of MobileAware, offered his opinion on what carriers such Vodafone are doing to mobile Web browsing.
Mobile Crunch: What is the main issue of the partnership between Vodafone and Novarra, and how does the transcoding affect Web sites?
Kevin McCloskey: On June 6th, Vodafone UK unveiled its new Vodafone Mobile Internet which includes Novarra’s auto-transcoding technology to make regular Web pages (HTML) available on mobile browsers (WML or xHTMLmp). While this new service offering succeeds in expanding the amount of content generally available to mobile subscribers, the vast majority of this “new” content is actually irrelevant to mobile users. The world does not need access to the Web’s 15 billion pages from their mobile phones. For mobile content to be useful to the end user, there needs to be some level of relevancy and immediacy to the information provided. Users need to be able to access and exchange key information such as account details and perform transactions (e.g. mTicketing, mobile betting) as they would from their PC. Obviously a basic level of security applies to these services, but unfortunately auto-transcoding technology does not facilitate log-in authentication and security functionality.
Additionally, auto-transcoding applies “one size fits all” rules to render Web pages to mobile devices. This interferes with and often destroys the look and feel of a company’s website, thereby diminishing their corporate brand and identity.
Mobile Crunch: What are the options for existing “mobile” and “multi-channel” Web sites designed for mCommerce and optimized mobile browsing?
Kevin McCloskey: Leading companies across industries have already implemented their own mobile strategies and launched “mobile” or “multi-channel” websites (mobile.willhill.com, wap.nationalrail.co.uk, cnnmobile.com, even live.vodafone.com). While these sites were initially destroyed, Vodafone has acted fast to ensure that such “off portal” sites pass through the Novarra engine without any transcoding. This seems to support the notion that Vodafone’s auto-transcoding technology is only relevant to businesses that don’t care about their mobile presence, but is clearly insufficient for enterprises with a well-designed mobile strategy. In essence, this is another attempt to perpetuate the ‘operator portal’ concept, yet actually moves Vodafone closer to becoming a ‘bit pipe’. A sad realization when you consider how much value mobile network operators have to offer businesses in developing and executing their mobile strategies.
Rather than interfere in business-customer relations, Vodafone and other carriers should leverage their general domain expertise and provide corporate customers with a broad offering of tools and consultation services needed to maximize the unique business benefits of the Mobile Web.