3 Group, the mobile telephony arm of Hong Kong-based conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, has announced an alliance with Yahoo! Inc whereby subscribers will get full Web access via Yahoo, instead of being restricted to the carrier’s walled garden.
While increasing numbers of carriers are deploying 3G networks that enable access to the internet, many of them limit customers to sites that are available from their portal, which in turn guarantees them revenue from those websites.
This is the walled garden concept, whereas with full internet access, subscribers can go to any URL, with the carrier becoming the provider of the bitpipe, just as fixed-line ISPs have become.
In the case of some heavy-hitters such as Vodafone, website operators pay hefty commissions for the right to appear on the carrier’s portal (market sources suggest it is anywhere between 30% and 40%).
Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, on the other hand, sought to maximize the size of the walled garden for its proprietary i-Mode mobile internet platform, charging around 8% commission to put up a site, and even then only to the so-called official sites, of which there are around 4,000 in Japan.
Another 76,000 unofficial sites in that country pay no commission and make their own arrangements for payments, whereas the official ones use DoCoMo as their collection agent.
While the more restricted offering from operators running a walled garden may constitute higher revenue from the individual sites on their portals, but it is open to a marketing challenge from competitors who boast full internet access.
The first to offer such service in the UK was T-Mobile last year and now 3 Group has followed suit, initially in the same country, but with plans to roll out the offering to all the countries in which it has a license over the course of this year.
3 has 3G licenses in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, while its sibling Hutchison Telecommunications International holds them in Hong Kong and India. They will all offer Yahoo’s Mobile Web, Search, Messenger, Address Book, Calendar, Mail, Photos and Go for Mobile services.
The alliance is obviously a consumer-focused one, though Yahoo’s Web-based PIM capabilities (email, calendar and contacts) will obviously be of interest to the self-employed, as well as providing a back-up to corporate users when out of reach from their intranets.