UK mobile operator T-Mobile (UK) is to challenge the “walled-garden” approach of rival mobile operators with the launch of its open Internet access service known as the “Web’n’Walk” service.
The UK arm of Deutsche Telekom’s mobile phone division has launched the service in the UK, which it claims will offer the full Internet on your mobile, working as it does on your PC.
The service is already available in Germany, the Netherlands, and Austia, although the US market will not get this particular service due to that market’s different evolutionary process, said a T-Mobile spokesperson (the US is expected to see auctions for 3G licenses next year). Of course, American users currently enjoy a similar service with the T-Mobile Sidekick Phone.
The Web’n’Walk service is targeted at both the mass consumer market, as well as the business sector, where it is known as Office in your pocket for business customers. It is designed to access all existing websites, without the need for the sites to be modified. That said, the operator admits there will be some exceptions, but it insists that websites are presented on mobile phones as they would be presented on the PC screen.
The Web’n’Walk will be backed by a multimillion pound TV advertising campaign this month, and in essence it allows customers to access the general Internet through a portal that is headed with the Google search engine. Customers will be able to surf the web, send email, and carry out e-commerce transactions exactly as if they were sat in front of a computer.
The launch of Web’n’Walk is seen as crucial for the operator’s UK business, which has been losing market share to rivals such as O2, which launched its own mobile Internet proposition, i-mode, recently. Also in September another UK operator, 3 UK, unveiled plans to give its customers access to a limited amount of web content beyond its own walled garden.
For consumers T-Mobile offers three tariffs, starting at GBP30 ($53.14), and increasing to GBP38 ($67.31) and GBP55 ($97.43) a month for 100, 200 and 400 call minutes respectively. All these tarrifs allows for 40MB of data downloads, with additional data costing GBP1 ($1.77) per megabyte.
Speaking to ComputerWire, the T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed that according to their studies, most end-users normally use 15MB per month. This 40MB offering gives them more than enough capacity. 40MB per month roughly translates in the real world to 500 web pages per month, and over 2,000 emails.
T-Mobile imagines business users will be heavier data users, and has increased charges correspondingly. Instead of the monthly tarrifs, business users will pay approximately GBP90 ($159) for a 1GB data bundle, which can be renewed when the limit has been exceeded.
T-Mobile has five handsets available at launch, all preconfigured for Internet access and using Google as the start page. A further three handsets will be added before Christmas, and all come complete with color screens capable of displaying content in both portrait and landscape format. Google is on the start page together with T-Mobile Favorites, linking to many of the websites most popular amongst UK surfers, including Amazon, Sky, lastminute.com, BBC, Argos, Yell.com, Multimap, BAA, and the RAC.
T-Mobile will also turn on a High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network next year that will provide download rates of up to 1.8Mbps. The operator claimed that the average download speed for home fixed line broadband ranges from under 264KB to 1MB.
In the end what really makes this service so different from the traditional mobile Internet offerings from other UK mobile operators, is the fact that the service is not a walled garden approach. A walled garden means that an operator, such as Vodafone Group or Orange, presents their own version of the Internet, with their own approved websites, hence walled garden. Navigation to external websites is usually permitted, but is often clunky and similar to scaling a wall to exit the garden.
In the past, the mobile industry has sold a limited form of Internet access which has been slow, difficult and expensive to use, said Rene Obermann, group chief executive at T-Mobile.
The industry should not try to create a new type of Internet. It should give customers the same Internet they already have – but mobile – and ensure that it works in the same way as it does on their PC.
By setting reasonably priced tariffs, T-Mobile is also challenging the conventional revenue model for Internet data. With T-Mobile’s open approach, revenue mainly comes from web traffic, and not the per transaction approach of Vodafone and co, where you are charged for example between GBP3 ($5.31) and GBP5 ($8.85) to download content that is residing on their respective web portals.