Since I travel around the world quite a bit, I am frequently asked what the differences are in mobile value-added services in the different regions. First of all, there are many, many services and every time I go someplace, I find out about a new one. Sometimes I write about them in this blog.
There are also differences based on prepaid vs. postpaid plans, and differences based on smartphone use vs. non-smartphone use. Many years ago, the differences regionally in Mobile VAS were far easier to discern, but due to app stores and the internet / over the top access, the differences are less. However, there still are differences because culturally, people use their mobile phones in different ways.
Let’s start with the similarities. Clearly, SMS is the most popular one worldwide by far, whether you are on prepaid or postpaid plans. And we are seeing an increase in MMS as well. Accessing social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter or in China, Weibo, (potentially soon in English) are becoming more prevalent everywhere. Additionally, gaming is huge. Where you have Smartphones, you can download games like Angry Birds, for a fee onto your device and play them. But playing against someone, where you utilize the network, such as Words with Friends, is also increasing in popularity worldwide. Many of these games don’t cost money since you see ads as you play them. But I notice the “Freemium” model creeping in since you can get rid of the ads if you buy the game. I haven’t done that yet, but I know the “Freemium” lexicon has made its way to APAC.
Speaking of which, in APAC, music is still big. This is where Color Ring Back Tones and Mobile Radio on your phone first materialized. In India, anything to do with Bollywood can sell J. So ring tones, video ring tones and listening to a daily message are services that sell. The CALA region is also big with music to the mobile devices. In part of APAC, there are also daily horoscopes, daily jokes, and fortune telling apps that can be accessed via SMS. I am also seeing video-enabled apps where there are 3G networks.
Where pre-paid plans are utilized, mobile commerce apps such as top-up apps or apps that send “minutes” from one phone to another, or even mobile banking where the phone is a bank/payment method are popular and growing. In some of these more remote regions, mobile health and mobile education is also growing since the phone is the main way to “connect.”
In countries with a predominance of Smartphones such as iPhones or Android devices, internet access plays a major role in the service. SMS and potentially rich SMS like MMS are utilized, but the device is used more to access the internet and the services that come from the internet. Voice is kind of an adjunct in this use case – it’s just something the device can do as opposed to the main function of the device. This is where video streaming services play a large role.
In short, even though over time I’m seeing a homogenization of regional mobile VAS, there will always be very regional-specific successful services.