Doubleplus ungood! Big Brother's designs on mobile

The carriers announced their visions at CTIA and Mobile World Congress -- here's how to interpret their real goals

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Here are two examples of new ways the carriers will look to extract more money from you:

First, Verizon Wireless announced plans for a mobile payment system that will let you charge up to $25 per month to your mobile bill if you purchase via your smartphone from approved sellers. It's a great idea, though Verizon will of course get a cut of the sales, as the credit card processors, PayPal, and the banks do when they process a payment.

But here's the ungood Big Brother part: Verizon is also relying on a text-messaging approach to confirm payments. That will add a fee of 10 to 30 cents per transaction to anyone who doesn't pay for unlimited texting and thus drive many users to pay $5 to $10 per month for a text-messaging plan. Never mind that text messages costs the carriers practically nothing to deliver.

Second, AT&T Wireless announced the iPhone client for its Mobile Enterprise Applications Platform, which is a service that lets you deploy Web apps -- not real apps -- to Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and now iPhone users.

Like many mobile management offerings, there's much less to this service than meets the eye: It's for salesforce, field force, and IT ticketing apps, and it is focused on provisioning access to Web-based apps -- something you could do more comprehensively using other means. Plus, it adds more proprietary applications to your IT mix (and anyhow, shouldn't your enterprise app vendors be responsible for "mobilizing" their apps?).

Many vendors see IT concerns over the invasion of mobile devices in their companies as a great excuse to sell warmed-over management tools to fearful IT and security execs. Beware: Many of these tools duplicate native capabilities in Microsoft Exchange, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility. They may add some incremental convenience or value, but they're just as likely to add yet another management layer to your organization, with the extra costs and complexity that brings. And they usually do much less than you're initially led to believe. They're a prime opportunity for profiteering through FUD, so be careful if you go down that road.

The only good news: While continuing to blame everyone else for the problems that AT&T has had in supporting iPhone users, AT&T mobility chief Ralph de la Vega did suggest that the carriers themselves might do something to relieve congestion. For example, the carrier is relying more on Wi-Fi networks (that may explain the greater number of AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots that now offer free access) and cellular devices called femtocells that essentially add a small-range cellular network in your home or office that uses your landline broadband connection to divert traffic away from the carriers' overwhelmed cell towers. But behind that good news is bad news: AT&T is happy to sell you the femtocells for $150, and of course you're paying for the wired broadband service you connect them to -- so you get to foot the bill to reduce AT&T's cellular bandwidth woes.

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