Mobile backup services that store consumers’ phone contact information have been around for years, but some North American carriers are just now offering them to their customers.
Who would have thought cell phones would replace the little black books that held all of those personal names and phone numbers?
That’s exactly what’s happening, prompting carriers to offer services that allow their customers to back up those exhaustive lists of names and numbers using over-the-air (OTA) technology. Such services have existed for a long time, but vendors that offer the solutions, usually without end-users knowing they’re behind them, say they’ve seen increased interest in their solutions in just the past 12 months.
Onyon: Backup could
become as popular
as voice mail.
Several trends are driving that demand. Handset technology has advanced to enable solutions to better work with more phones. The size of address books is growing, and more information is stored on devices. Consumers replace their handsets more often, so getting the data onto a new phone is more important. And for the generation that uses mobile phones more than PCs, their phones are the only place they store contacts.
FusionOne’s first deployment with a U.S. carrier – Verizon Wireless – was back in 2004, but the company has seen an explosion of interest in the past year. “We’re very, very busy now,” working through relationships with various carriers, says founder and CEO Rick Onyon, adding he imagines a day when backup will be as pervasive as voice mail.
Walls are coming down, both in the handsets and the industry’s emphasis on more open access, which means “we’re going to have a thousand competitors fly at us,” he says. For now, however, FusionOne’s main U.S. competitor is Asurion, as both seek to strike deals directly with carriers.
Pretre: Started out with
Asurion got into the contact backup space as an extension of the handset insurance it offers through carriers. Even before it offered its OTA backup service, people making insurance claims were posing questions about the data lost on their devices and what to do about that. “We view it as being tightly tied to the insurance,” says Steve Pretre, vice president of mobile applications at Asurion.
Last month, Canada’s Bell Mobility announced it was rolling out a service using the FusionOne technology. The service now comes preloaded on the Samsung R610 and the LG Muziq, and the hope is to add it to more phones. “It’s a great service,” says Bell Mobility spokesman Jeff Meerman. “We see this being a demand for both business users and consumers.” For business users, it offers peace of mind if a device is lost or otherwise goes missing. For consumers, the advantage often comes when they upgrade their phones.
The service is branded as Backup Manager, and it represents several firsts for FusionOne. It’s the first Canadian deployment of its backup service, the first commercial rollout of its solution on the Java platform and the first with multilanguage support (English and French.) Bell Mobility sells the service for $3 Canadian per month, which is typical of most carriers, Onyon says.
Both FusionOne and Asurion expect to see more interest in backing up material other than phone numbers as more people invest in ringtones and other content that they don’t want to lose. FusionOne is partnering with content providers AccuWeather.com, Exclaim and I-play to give subscribers the ability to migrate their licensed content from one mobile device to another. Last year, Rogers Wireless began offering Asurion’s CellBackup program, which automatically protects contacts, ringtones, pictures, wallpapers and other content. Rogers charges $2 monthly for basic contact backup and $5 a month for backing up contacts and personally created content. Users can go to a dedicated Website to interact and manage their content.
Increasing demand for backup services also means new competitors. The reason a lot competitors weren’t around a few years ago doesn’t mean it’s any easier to build a successful product, just that it’s easier to go to market, Onyon says. For example, many games are available for phones, but not every consumer has purchased a game or even several of them. Of those that are successful, it’s a short list. “That will be true in the apps space,” he says, with tons of applications but only a few that become market leaders.
Pretre acknowledges that some companies with backup solutions have come and gone over the years. The ones that require users to set up something – tasks they’re either unfamiliar with or consider a hassle – aren’t successful. “Obviously, the big thing is making it as easy and seamless as possible,” he says. And going through carriers is the preferred route for Asurion as it is a more seamless experience for the end-user and carriers can promote it as their own product.
Industry analysts are bullish on backup services, noting that every time a subscriber wants to upgrade to a new phone, the carrier can offer the backup service and make a few more dollars. Who knows? Over time, customers might forget they’re paying the monthly fee – until they lose their phone or it’s time for another upgrade.
|A Different Take on Backup|
Backing up data on cell phones is one thing. But how about accessing the data on your home computer from your cell phone, even when the computer is turned off? That’s what SoonR is doing, primarily in Europe, with plans to bring its solution to the North American market, possibly later this year.
Founded a little over two years ago, SoonR offers the ability to find, view, print, fax and share documents from any browser-based device. Last year, SoonR announced customized services for TeliaSonera small and medium mobile enterprise customers in Denmark. Called the Easy Box Live Backup, the solution provides automated, continuous backup of users’ computer files while also making them available on mobile devices. As files are revised throughout the day, the solution continuously backs them up on secure servers.
For now, SoonR is focusing on markets outside the United States. That’s in part because many carriers in Europe already have budgets for such services; that’s not the case in the United States, according to SoonR CEO Patrick McVeigh, former CEO of PalmSource and the founder of OmniSky. SoonR’s core engineering primarily is in Denmark.
SoonR also has been working with Cisco, which was the lead investor in a strategic $9.5 million Series B investment in SoonR that closed last month. Both companies say crucial business documents need to be accessible from the “cloud,” or the layer of network intelligence, through myriad Internet-connected devices.