Feel The Openness
By Carlo Longino, Fri Mar 25 00:30:00 GMT 2005

Operators continue to talk open, but stay closed. Vodafone UK is the latest to be accused of blocking outside content.

"Open" is a lovely word. So lovely, in fact, many mobile companies can't help but drop it in their product names and press releases and taglines as often as they can, regardless of what they're really up to. Operators are no different: some of the world's biggest have aligned themselves behind the "Open Mobile Terminal Platform" aliiance, which sounds great, but is a misnomer at best. They continue to come up with ways to frustrate users and direct traffic -- and spending -- towards their own portals, be it through the traditional walled gardens, or newer, but no less frustrating approaches.

Vodafone takes a less aggressive position to keep people on its Live! portal by making browsing inside the portal free, but charging users for any browsing outside the portal. But reports this week say the operator's UK unit is now blocking streaming video from outside its portal, with a spokesman giving two pretty equally lame reasons for the move. The company says most of the offending sites don't adhere to 3GPP standards (um, ok), and then trots out the ever-popular customer protection card, saying since it bills data for the content by the megabyte, it wants to avoid "bill shock".

How noble, but few and far between are operators that truly care about this --after all, they're happy to let content providers set high prices as long as they get their cut. But most entertaining is a Vodafone spokesman's claim that it's looking at a different way to charge for the content since "circuit-switched charging is easier for customers to understand because it's per minute rather than per megabyte."

Who, if not the carriers, is to blame for the confusing data tariffs and high costs? Content providers supplying compelling free content should be encouraged -- after all, operators are still on the prowl for the ever-elusive "killer app" of mobile data. As Russell Buckley pointed out a few weeks back, who does it help to charge roughly $10,000 an hour to listen to a "free" mobile streaming radio station?