The Sounds of Mobile Silence at a Music Fest

Last weekend, I was left totally and utterly alone — among 200,000 people. How might you ask could that possibly happen? It’s simple, really, and an explanation I hope my mother reads because I didn’t appreciate her 6 a.m. Monday wake-up call checking to see if I’m still alive.

For three days each summer, the Lollapalooza music festival takes over one-mile plus stretch of the Chicago lakefront with multiple stages north and south of Buckingham Fountain. For me, each year the lineup contains a bit of personal surprise and delight as the three-day pass requires advance purchase before the full lineup has been released. The event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, is packed full of local and emerging artists plus big name headliners. Essentially, it’s an exercise in logistics and speed walking. It’s also a venue and event ripe for mobile integration — integration that AT&T has locked-up with its blue room and mindfield sponsorship.

While we all know the days of turning a profit off of mobile voice services alone are long gone, experiences like this past weekend indicate how far the industry still has to go in providing consistent advanced network services. It’s true that some mobile subscribers will remain faithful voice-only users, but the mobile industry has experienced a monumental shift in consumer behavior over the last 12 months. Behavior that clearly indicates more and more mobile subscribers will take advantage of the ability to use a handset to navigate their physical environments.

Industry resources are already foreshadowing the resulting potential in market growth. A recent report by SNL Kagan states that the stage for mobile data to dominate the U.S. wireless industry has been set. The firm anticipates mobile data revenue to increase by a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent from $24 billion in 2007 to over $100 billion in 2017. These numbers translate to roughly 77 percent of the total mobile subscriber base by 2017 being comprised of wireless data users.

Let’s step back for a minute and reconnect on the real topic at hand. Today, media and event sponsorships by wireless operators are an important element in the overall profitability strategy of any wireless service provider. While those sponsorships can at times seem disenfranchising to some, I fully realize the powerful role they play in an overall marketing strategy. Additionally, I don’t discount the role that they play in consumer education (around advanced mobile features) and awareness.

However, if I slip out of work mode and put myself in the mindset of an average mobile consumer, I should right now be walking into an AT&T store demanding the provider release me from its contract. This is coming from the person who knows that her monthly wireless phone bill averages right around $200 despite being on a corporate account and having much of the cost defrayed. My voice charges add up to $35 a month with data charge coming in double that at $65. Add on top of that an SMS and text messaging charge that comes out close to $30 a month. And every month like clock work that bill is charged straight through to my Amex.

So, one can only imagine my total disbelief at finding myself at an AT&T-sponsored event with AT&T service to my trusty and oh-so-loved BlackBerry Curve but with no connection of any kind. I was left utterly alone with no mobile Web access, delays in send and receipt of texts that would make latency seem like a positive word, and missed phone calls left and right. As a consumer I’ve been taught that sponsorships should equate to a value or benefit for me. As an advertising professional, it’s my job to pay attention to how other brands are engaging consumers and marketing their services. Plus, marketers and media companies today need to provide access, participation, and empowerment to remain relevant and successful — they need to resonate with consumer needs and desires.

This past weekend my needs and desires weren’t met. I didn’t want to participate in the AT&T mindfield scavenger hunt because I was too busy trying to hunt down an elusive mobile Web connection so I could update my Facebook status. I was also less than empowered by the missed text message alerting me to the Perry Ferrell and Slash duet at the Kidpollooza stage. But most importantly, I was left without basic access to my basic voice services, leaving me at the mercy of a somewhat frantic mother demanding to know why the “mobile expert who knows how to do everything on her phone” couldn’t seem to be reached for three days straight?

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