Telcos need partners for m-commerce: Telstra

Telstra's decision to "bale out" of the content provider game, before it has already begun, will leave the door open for other telcos to reap the benefits of the new era of 3G (third-generation wireless) and m-commerce, according to analysts IDC.

Peter Lemon, senior analyst, Internet services and communications for IDC Australia, said Telstra's move to partner with banks, rather than go it alone, may not be a "smart move" because "if m-commerce is done properly it could be quite profitable".

David Thodey, group managing director for Telstra OnAir, speaking at the Mobile Commerce World Australasia 2001 in Sydney yesterday, said he did not want Telstra to become a "clearing house" and has "no desire" for the telco to become a content provider.

"There is an opportunity available, but we should stick with what we do best whilst partnering with other people. We are happy being a provider of infrastructure. We have enough challenges with collections [as it is]."

However, Thodey conceded Telstra would be happy to be a content provider in a "marginal way".

The company has recently trialed a 'dial a Coke' service where people use their mobile phones to buy a Coke from modified vending machines. It is now looking at the possibly of using the same technology with parking meters and road toll systems.

"There is a fundamental change [on the way] to the role of telco operators. They can become a channel for buying, but they have to be careful since the Internet was supposed to be that. It has since become a complement," Thodey said.

Lemon said the issue of m-commerce is muddier around 3G as the licences were overpriced, especially in Europe. "Telcos have to recoup the money spent on licences and that has to come from somewhere."

Paul O'Sullivan, managing director Optus Mobile, said Australian carriers were lucky in this regard as they do not have the "European overcharge of the 3G [licence] cost." Per head of population the UK and Germany spent about $US1000 on 3G licences, while Australia's worked out to about $US60.

In Australia, Optus, Telstra, Vodafone, Hutchison Telecommunications, ArrayComm and Qualcomm spent $1.168 billion for 15-year 3G licences earlier this year. The licences will come into effect from October 2002.

Optus and Hutchison have already announced their plans for the rollout of 3G infrastructure, but Vodafone and Telstra still have their plans under wraps.

Thodey said Telstra's approach will be "incremental" and the network will be built "as the demand is there".

"However, we have no intention of being a follower."

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