Mobile networks can transform the most basic of phones into mobile email devices similar to the hugely popular Blackberry, through a new service launched today in Dubai. Synchronica, a UK-based company listed on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM), said that emerging market operators such as Etisalat were the prime targets for the new service.
"There's a reason the Blackberry is known as the Crackberry - mobile email is very addictive," said the company's chief executive, Carsten Brinkschulte, in Dubai today. "What we have is a Crackberry for the mass market. For network operators, this means we have a tool that can make subscribers dependent on them." Synchronica's service uses industry standards such as text and multimedia messaging, mobile internet systems and the standard email software installed on middle and upmarket devices to let users send and receive email on their phones.
While a number of mobile email companies operate in a similar space, Synchronica's system will work on almost any device in the world and requires no new software to be installed. In emerging markets such as the Middle East and Africa, PC and internet penetration remains low while mobile ownership is becoming universal. This means network operators could make the phone even more central to their customers lives, Mr Brinkschulte said.
"In the developed world, mobile email is nice, it is geeky," he said. "But it's not going to change your whole life. In emerging markets, the mobile phone can become your primary window to email and the internet." The company may have another advantage when looking to develop its business in the Middle East. One of its largest investors is Saudi Arabia's Prince Hussam bin Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who acquired a 10 per cent stake in February. A son of the late King Saud, Prince Hussam is the chairman of the Saudi Arabian affiliate of Zain, the Kuwait-based regional operator.
Zain's Sudanese network is already a customer, as is the Nigerian affiliate of MTN, Africa's largest mobile company. Mobile operators across the region are searching for ways to boost customer spending, as voice calls and text messages become a commodity service and prices drop. At the same time, with the majority of customers in the region using prepaid accounts, keeping these subscribers loyal to the network in a time of growing competition is a strategic necessity.
"It is an incredibly compelling opportunity for an operator," said Paul Cornelius, an equity analyst at FinnCap, a UK-based stockbroker. "People will get their email and create a social network based on their operator - it's another decision to make before changing networks, another barrier for a customer to switch." Dr Cornelius rates the company as a buy for investors, and expects it to demonstrate "exceptionally high" growth in the coming years. "Their main differentiation from the competition is the standards-based architecture, everyone else is trying to sell proprietary systems. If you look at history, standards-based technology always wins out in the end."