No end in sight for multimedia phones
If you're just looking for a "basic" cell phone or you're an IT / telecom manager hoping to give employees a basic device without all those bells and whistles, the trends aren't in your favor of getting any better. Not only are multimedia phones here to stay, but they're getting more features.
A new report by MultiMedia Intelligence says worldwide shipments of feature-rich multimedia mobile phones will exceed 300 million units this year, outnumbering shipments of TV sets. To qualify as a "multimedia handset," a phone must have an image sensor (camera), enhanced audio support (MP3 audio player) and video playback. The research firm says that in 2004, only 24% of handsets met this definition. Last year, about 60% of handsets have basic functionality, and by 2011, the firm says almost 9 out of 10 handsets will be multimedia handsets.
Companies looking for handsets that don't have these features (for example, those that want to ban camera phones from their workplaces) won't get much help from carriers either. According to MultiMedia Intelligence, voice commoditization and falling average revenue per user (ARPU) numbers are driving the carriers to focus on increasing revenue through data services, including mobile premium content such as mobile music, video, TV and games.
"The [mobile] 'phone' has expanded into a multi-use device that changes its utility based on use," says Frank Dickson of MultiMedia Intelligence. "The change is driven by the desire for handsets to not only deliver a communication experience, but also provide an optimal entertainment experience."
This isn't a good trend for IT and telecom managers trying to control their wireless phone costs. While they can negotiate lower per-minute costs for voice, the temptations for end users (supported by the carriers looking for additional revenue) to blow money on multimedia services can be hard to fight off by the IT / telecom group. While some vendors / carriers allow for multimedia services to be disabled, that can be tricky to configure and manage. For many managers, it's easier to just give an employee a phone that doesn't have these features.
Unfortunately, their handset choices are getting fewer and fewer.
There's also no easy answer. Policies for employees on the proper use of "company property" can help (especially if the policies are agreed to and signed by the employee), as well as software that can monitor and manage usage of multimedia phones for abuse. But these systems and processes can add additional cost and work for the mobile device management team.
The only way to turn this around for IT and telecom managers would be for them to complain loudly to the device-makers and carriers. If enough of them complained, the vendors might be moved to provide basic handsets – but this would probably be done as a premium offering (premium services for a basic phone? Who'da thunk it?), or only for very large companies that buy a lot of handsets. For everyone else, other alternatives are needed for IT/telecom managers looking to avoid the multimedia phone onslaught.