Deploying customized, carrier-branded handsets and portals is the key to increasing subscriber revenue and driving wireless data usage. Wireless carriers from Europe to Asia have been successful with this strategy, indicating that for now, the burden continues to be on carriers and content providers to lure customers to value-added content and services beyond voice and short message service (SMS). Recent research from the technology market research firm ABI indicates that about 50 percent of the carriers worldwide have deployed networks capable of services beyond voice and SMS.

Out-pacing most earlier expectations, handset sales have been incredibly brisk. With an increased number of enhanced, data-ready handsets complete with color screens, cameras and powerful processors, the opportunity to tap the data potential of cellular networks is greater than ever. SK Telecom's June service and Vodafone live!, for example, have thus far lured over four million subscribers. Additionally, average revenue per user (ARPU) on such operator-centric handsets and portals has been much higher when compared to data-only services. This clearly indicates that there is a large value addition on the part of operators in boosting data services, instead of merely providing access to the Internet.

"Carriers recognize that they need to deploy these services in order to meet their customers' needs, which boosts ARPU," states ABI analyst Kenil Vora. According to ABI, the vast majority of contract wins it tracked for the 3Q2003 were for networks that included higher data capabilities, beyond GSM-only or cdmaOne. With these contracts awarded mainly in emerging markets, most developed regions already have access to GPRS or CDMA2000 networks.