Following a week of intensive meetings in Sydney, I thought I would pull my thoughts and observations together on the differences between the UK and Australian mobile markets.  For those not familiar with my background, I am Australian and spent 11 years in Sydney working in the telco and online space.

I have spoken to so many people in just 5 days here, so I will split these posts up into readable parts over the coming weeks.

I was fortunate to speak to a great many people (nearly 30) spanning all parts of the mobile ecosystem – from mobile operators (I spoke with the mobile advertising managers at Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and 3), through to agencies, brands and key players in the mobile space.

Two of the recurring themes from everyone I spoke with was

1) Australia is probably 12 – 24 months behind Europe when it comes to mobile advertising (this was an Australian industry view)

2) mobile operators have not yet started to develop attractive and transparent mobile internet tariffs to help drive the adoption of rich mobile advertising.

Watching “Video Hits”, a Sunday morning music TV show that was on when I lived in Sydney back in 2006, it was a sense of de ja vu to see the same premium rate ads for ringtones after each song – looks like nothing much has changed in 2 1/2 years – even the price point of $A5.50 per tone was the same.

Capped plans

Back in around 2003, when 3G networks were being introduced, the Hutchison 3 network introduced the concept of “caps” where you pay say $49 and get $230 worth of “value” – ie the plan is capped at $230 – after that you pay a lot more.  The pricing model though is that the rates for text and minutes are still quite high so you can exhaust the cap quite quickly. 

It is unusual for operators to include mobile data in these caps, however while I was there Vodafone were introducing a $114 cap where you get unlimited calls and 2GB of data to use on your handset.

This is a reasonable deal – but similar offers in the UK are around the £30 ($60) price point, so you can see that with less competition in the Australian market, the offers are not as attractive.

Contrast this with the UK plans where they talk about the number of minutes and texts you get for a monthly fee (eg I pay £30/month and get 500 minutes, 500MB data and unlimited UK national landline calls) on Vodafone.

The key here is that until one of the operators decides to make the plans more transparent as in the UK, they will all mirror each other with the “caps” concept. 

I put it to a senior exec at one of the operators and their (not unexpected) comment was “we don’t have to make it easy for consumers”. Oh dear  – we have a long way to go here!

Consumer Champion – Jennie Bewes

This comment was in stark contrast with the view from Jennie Bewes – head of Online for Vodafone Australia, and one of the real consumer champions in mobile land. 

I shared a very enjoyable dinner with Jennie at the Wildfire restaurant that overlooks the Opera House during my trip where we discussed all things mobile, digital and advertising.

Jennie’s view was that we should make things easier to understand for the customer.  She is also pioneering the use of social media sites such as Twitter (she is @jbewes) to keep in touch with consumers, and solicit positive and negative feedback for the carrier.

Jennie absolutely gets social media – and uses it to excellent effect – other mobile operators in Australia and beyond could learn a lot from what she does with Twitter.

In part 2 of my Australian perspective series, we’ll look more closely at the sort of mobile advertising campaigns running in Australia and see how they compare to those in Europe and the UK.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @andrewgrill