October 24, 2001 04:33am
Mobile Pornography Coming to Europe
by: Elisa Batista
The U.S. wireless industry raised a collective eyebrow over news that a European phone company plans to offer wireless pornography over third-generation mobile phones. Hutchison 3G [http://www.Hutchison-Whampoa.com], a new entrant to Britain's overcrowded mobile phone sector, recently appointed an executive to oversee mobile porn.
The executive is charged with developing ways of offering "soft-core pornography" over 3G mobile phones, which will support multimedia and are expected to be in people's hands next fall. A Hutchison employee told the Financial Times [http://FT.com] that a member of its "entertainment" team had been asked to explore the potential benefits and disadvantages of such a service.
The source said Hutchison is unlikely to produce or edit porn, but may form partnerships with porn producers and take a cut of revenue. "We have looked long and hard at this, but have still not decided what sort of services we will be offering," the employee told the Times. The company also plans to develop filtering software to prevent children from viewing wireless smut, the employee said. Hutchison couldn't be reached for comment.
Verizon Wireless [http://VerizonWireless.com], the United States' largest mobile carrier, immediately ruled itself out as a potential provider of wireless porn. "It's not a service we are pursuing at this time," said Brenda Raney, a Verizon spokeswoman. "We're in the business of providing quality services for our customers and that doesn't sound like it would fit the needs of our customers."
Daniel Miller, an analyst with market research firm Kelsey Group [http://KelseyGroup.com], questioned whether people would want to access porn all the time, which would be possible on a mobile phone. "It crosses lines between public and private," he said. "You probably wouldn't want someone next to you in the subway car reading Playboy. There are boundaries that are crossed having mobile versions of pornography." However, Miller said he isn't surprised that a carrier is mulling such services. "Phone sex is as old as the pay-per-call marketplace and it thrived," Miller said. "There is a history." And future phone sex is expected to be even more appealing than traditional phone-sex.
Next-generation, or 3G, wireless phones will enable users to download full color photographs from the Internet at speeds of up to 2 Mbps, which is four times as fast as a 56K modem. And as the phones become faster and the screens larger, users will be able to stream short video clips. 3G phones have already been launched in Japan.
Wireless smut may be lucrative, and mobile carriers are keen to recoup the billions they paid for spectrum licenses. The Internet porn industry is already worth about a billion dollars a year, according to Forrester Research [http://www.Forrester.com]. "It's conceivable that whatever content people are interested in accessing on the fixed-line Internet, can potentially be accessed on the wireless Internet as well," said Keith Nowak, a spokesman for Nokia [http://Nokia.com].
Hutchison, which is 20 percent owned by Japan's NTT DoCoMo [http://www.NTTDoCoMo.com], apparently views pornography as a lucrative market. But the Kelsey Group's Miller said "moralistic" opposition to pornography in the United States will kill wireless porn before it even hits the market. "If it has to use telco infrastructure or wireless carrier infrastructure this may never see the light of day," he said.