Sonopia Reinvents the MVNOby Aaron Huslage
Sonopia launched on April 2 to much fanfare, and ETel recently sat down with the founder of the company. Sonopia is attempting to fundamentally shift the value proposition in the mobile phone market from the carriers to an affinity model where all parties involved share revenue. We will have a comprehensive review of the service in the next few weeks, but suffice it to say, the prospects for Sonopia are very interesting.
The team at Sonopia is headed by Juha Christensen, a seasoned mobile veteran who helped to found Symbian and was the president of Macromedia prior to starting this latest venture. Christensen told ETel that the impetus for starting Sonopia was to increase differentiation in the U.S. mobile market. "It's hard to actually tell the various carrier stores from each other. You walk into a Cingular store and it looks exactly like a T-Mobile store. People buy the same phones and plans regardless of age, gender, or affinity," said Christensen. The team quickly realized that providing a service for anyone to create his or her own affinity-branded mobile proposition could be a killer app in the growing MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) space.
Sonopia has launched with ten large partner organizations to help prove its affinity model. These organizations range from nonprofits like the National Wildlife Federation to sports teams like the Long Island Ducks. It has built a sales force that is geared toward creating services for these larger organizations. Additionally, Sonopia has opened up the platform for people to create "Sonopias" of their own. If you have your own affinity group you can make your own mobile phone company in about 20 minutes. The process is remarkably easy and costs nothing upfront. Christensen said that they already have subscribers and that there has been an overwhelming response to the launch.
Having worked with Verizon in the past, the company worked out an agreement to resell its services. Christensen says that Sonopia chose Verizon because of its high-speed EVDO network. "We have a flash-lite-based mobile client on the device that enables offline content. So basically content trickles into the device so you have a very low latency experience when you use the data." He says that Verizon "realizes that because they have a marketing budget of over a billion dollars that it's hard to micro-segment markets like [Sonopia does]...so they see our service as complimentary to theirs."
For the geek set, Sonopia has several things in store. "We are going to have a developer program and allow people to write code that can sit side-by-side with the Sonopia platform," said Christensen. In addition, it is developing what it calls "Experience Generators" to allow its partners and clients to expand the platform without any code whatsoever. These are akin to web widgets, but they're more for direct user action. Christensen says, "for instance, one of these is an appeals function so that a charity or environmental organization can push out an appeal to people that will allow the users to push a button and have a letter sent to [their] congressman."
Sonopia is a platform that allows for user-generated content and community building among affinity groups. It is very different from the MVNOs that we have seen to date, most of which appeal to the MTV crowd or value-conscious prepaid customers. The ETel blog will be tracking the progress of Sonopia and will have a comprehensive review of the service in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we are interested in hearing what you think of Sonopia and how you might use it.
Aaron Huslage has been hacking on Internet technologies since 1987.
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