Dial M for Money

DQI Bureau
New Update

Ten minutes out in Singapore rain, and no cab. I call 6522-2222.

"Welcome, passenger from Caribbean Apartments, press 7 to confirm

location." Oops. How'd they know where I was? I press 7. "Car number

7265 will reach you in five minutes, thank you for using Comfort Cabs." And

it does.

An hour later I stop by a McDonald's, pick up a burger. MRT, I say, and

they wirelessly debit the subway RFID card in my pocket. At the Expo ground, at

a Coke machine, I SMS the code to SingTel. A Coke can drops out, and my phone

bill gets a dollar charge.

Our world is spawning m-apps. For everyone's mobile: workforce, customers,

partners. They need info on the go. And the business that gives it has the edge.


Just as Fedex's package tracking raised the bar: 'overnight' wasn't

good enough any more. Customers wanted to know where their package was, when it

reached, who signed for it.

SMS is de rigueur for banks. It's convenient, and cheaper for the bank than

calling customers to an ATM. Yes, m-banking took its time, and m-users are still

the minority. But they're the higher net-worth folks, who don't have time;

the ones the bank needs to retain.

Among the mobile platforms, SMS is king. The 'terminal' is common-everyone

has a cellphone. They all SMS: from drivers to vegetable sellers...I even know a

few Americans who can 'text' now!


Mobility has a long way to go, though. First, penetration, and reliability.

Banks could do a lot more to promote m-banking, and reduce their own costs. Jet

Airways could try making their SMS system actually work, instead of saying

"please try after some time.." whenever you send "Jet 812"

to 500 on Airtel. Ditto for Railways PNR info. I could go on. If I can't trust

a service to work, I won't use it.

And then, the wide open spaces in the market. M-data was one big gap. No GSM

provider had data offerings for the first ten years, saying "there's no

market...we're busy with voice." And then Reliance launched its data

service for laptop users, POS card terminals, ATMs... A year later, Airtel was

scrambling to follow with its Blackberry and data cards and GPRS.

Location-based services, as in my Singapore taxi experience, is the other big

open area. CIOs I've spoken to have yearned for simple, cheap LBS service

without expensive GPS. They want to see, on a screen, roughly where their sales

people are, now, in the city. One CIO said he had to build a truck fleet app

using an SMS gateway: his truck drivers SMS their location every few hours. This

is silly: the network already knows their locations. Airtel et al use that info

only to tell the truck driver himself. "There is no market".

There's an m-world of opportunity out there, for those who venture out to

explore it.