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China Mobile reading the future

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Mobile reading as a strategic focus

In ancient China, books came in the form of bamboo slips. Later, the written word moved to paper when the first pulp papermaking process was developed in the second century AD. Today, the reading population is gradually shifting online. With IT and Internet applications continuously improved, mobile reading is gaining ground and effecting a fundamental change in people' s reading habits.

Despite a late start in China, mobile reading has grown rapidly. According to the statistics of iResearch, the Mobile Newspaper service was China Mobile' s most popular mobile application in 2008, used by 68.3% of its total 549 million mobile subscribers, and its Mobile Novel application was the fifth largest, attracting 42.4% of its mobile subscribers.

The launch of 3G services in 2009 represented the dawn of the wireless broadband era in China and has been instrumental in creating a mature mobile reading market. As industry observers believe, mobile reading is a value-added service (VAS) offering the greatest potential, after mobile music. With its service impact and business model, it is likely to lead the mobile Internet and 3G services trend.

In this new market development, China Mobile has sensed the huge potential and strategic importance of mobile reading. First, the offering of mobile reading is another move of China Mobile to transform from a mere pipeline provider into an information service provider, and consolidate its leading position in the Internet field, especially in the mobile Internet. Second, by meeting the increasing customer demand for mobile reading, the operator can improve customer experience and loyalty to expand its customer base and minimize churn. Third, mobile reading terminals such as e-book readers can complement TD-SCDMA terminals, the shortage of which has hindered the full-fledged development of 3G services. By coupling rich services with a diverse range of terminals, China Mobile will create a new source of revenue and be better positioned in the market.

At the end of 2008, China Mobile set up its mobile reading base in Zhejiang and, in September 2009, announced plans to invest 500 million RMB (74 million USD) for the next five years in base construction and TD-SCDMA reader customization. The operator also unveiled its extensive plans to develop contents, terminals and channels.

Dive into the market

Piracy prevention effort

Piracy is a direct threat to electronic publications. To fight online piracy, mobile reading platforms must feature content protection technologies such as digital rights management (DRM) to ensure content security. To use the mainstream DRM technologies, China Mobile has to pay prohibitively high fees, which inevitably add to the cost of mobile reading and hinder its growth. With the strong support of Huawei, China Mobile has developed its proprietary IPR protection technology to decisively end this issue.

The solution reduces the OPEX incurred by mobile reading, and allows customers inexpensive access to popular e-books, laying a solid foundation for China Mobile to build "China' s largest platform for copyrighted publications".

User experience guarantee

From the inception of the mobile reading service, quality of user experience (QoE) is paramount to ensuring its initial and sustained success. In this sense, China Mobile has been highly responsive to customer requirements, and has constantly improved the user interface to maximize QoE.

To deliver support effectively, Huawei set up a rapid response R&D team to promptly handle problems raised by China Mobile' s Marketing and Customer Service people, and ensure that the service continues to run smoothly.

Since the mobile reading service was trialed on May 17, 2009, subscriber numbers and portal visits have increased drastically, though it remains a big challenge to balance response speed and mass user support. China Mobile and Huawei' s R&D team jointly worked out a plan for service network optimization, which has cut the average response speed of all mobile reading portals to an impressive one second or less.

Gearing up marketing efforts

According to a China Mobile survey, a customer spends about 15 RMB (2 USD) a year on mobile reading. Of the mobile reading customers surveyed, 52% are willing to pay about 3 RMB per book. At the stage of promoting its mobile reading service on a large scale, China Mobile began charging one RMB per book on a trial basis in several provinces and municipalities. The operator then made this standard practice on January 1, 2010. However, price sensitivity among customers slowed down subscriber growth, forcing China Mobile to "segment customers, conduct precision marketing, and reinforce user interaction" to retain and attract customers

China Mobile has two payment modes for mobile reading – per e-book and per mobile bookcase – to meet the needs of different customer segments. The operator also offers information- and traffic-based packages in which additional traffic incurs no charge when a customer accesses the reading platform through a mobile phone or a mobile e-book to browse or download books.

China Mobile has also implemented various marketing and customer interaction strategies to enable customers to instantly comment on and recommend contents on the mobile reading platform. This brings the operator and readers closer together, improves customer experience, and reveals customer trends and requirements.

Ambitious vision

Launched jointly with Huawei, China Mobile' s mobile reading service is gaining in popularity. By April 2010, it attracted 35 million subscribers, with monthly hits totaling 1 billion. Service penetration reached 10% in just half a year, and a year after its launch, China Mobile included the service in its KPIs for assessing the performance of its 24 provincial branches.

On May 5, 2010, the commercial trials in eight provinces including Zhejiang and Guangdong were successfully completed, prompting China Mobile to announce the official launch of its mobile reading service. Its mobile reading platform provides nine product categories and functions and offers about 60,000 books. 403 models of terminals including mobile phones and e-book readers support the mobile reading client, of which 91 are TD-SCDMA terminals and 8 e-book readers.

"Mobile reading will be a priority of our upcoming service promotion campaign," said Li Yue, General Manager of China Mobile. The operator plans to step up cooperation with the media, publishing houses, and professional websites to innovate a brand-new mobile reading platform with integrated content to make knowledge available to all.

China Mobile' s mobile reading service provides a new choice of lifestyle through 3G. It is a powerful rendering of the idea that "mobility changes life." Following the Mobile Market and Mobile TV, China Mobile' s mobile reading service can help enrich culture by making it more readily accessible to society.

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