I've been thinking about the accelerating convergence of the Internet and mobile and the risks it poses to mobile operators. A recent post from FON founder Martin Varsavsky triggered the debate.
Nokia has just released into beta an application called Widsets, which is like a cross between an RSS feedreader and a personalisable home page like Netvibes, but for mobile phones. If this works it will be a leap forward in the usability of the Internet from a mobile phone - you'll be able to subscribe with a single click to your favourite news services, blogs, and community sites like Flickr, and have their content pushed directly to your phone screen.
Nokia is playing it very "Web 2.0" by making the Widsets API open, encouraging users to build their own "widgets" which are being collected in a public library. Already people have posted widgets that deliver the BBC news, weather info, Flickr photos, Dilbert cartoons, etc, to your mobile.
I don't think there is any great technical innovation here, but note that the impetus had to come from Nokia, not from an enteprising operator, or from a content aggregator. If you think about it, any decent mobile phone browser should have an RSS subscription feature and other ways of sucking standards-based content from the cloud. So this development was just a matter of time.
But I can imagine that mobile operators are suspicious of where an easy-to-configure, open data channel to the phone browser might lead. Who needs SMS when you can use any Instant Messaging (IM) client in your phone browser to continue chatting with your friends? Who needs SMS-based news or weather alerts when you can stream the feeds directly to your phone? Come to think of it, who needs voice telephony when you can make free Skype calls from your phone across the data channel?
Of course, you can already use Skype on your PocketPC over the 3G network. But once this becomes easy to do on mass-market mobile phones, operators will be tempted to interfere with those data services (messaging, voice) that directly cannibalise their existing voice, WAP and SMS services. Or they will seek to price up their unlimited data plans to prevent excessive useage. But it's hard to see how they will avoid ending up as providers of a near-ubiquitous, low-margin commodity -- broadband Internet access. Vodafone in 2010 - the world's largest ISP?