Business & Industry

Most of my career as a journalist has been spent writing about business and industry: from financials to CEO interviews, chasing analysts for quotes to visiting mills and factories in all parts of the world.

The bulk of this period was spent as a trade journalist covering the pulp and paper industry (see the separate section ‘Pulp & Paper’ for more details). Prior to joining Pulp & Paper International magazine as features editor in 2002, I spent three years as a reporter, then associate editor, for the Informa Media and Telecoms group in London, working on a number of different b2b newsletters covering the Internet and telecoms industries, including Internet Markets, Mobile Internet, Telecom Markets, TV International Daily and Satellite International. 

I have also written about “the greening of business” and eco-innovations in industry for the European Commission (see the ‘Environment’ section of this site) and about e-commerce for the WWD International Beauty Report.

Below are a few examples of my work in this area.

RINGTONES AND LOGOS TO FORM PART OF BIGGER PERSONALISATION PIE

Ringtones and logos (R&L) have been one of the major success stories of the mobile data sector. Estimates for the size of the European market in 2001 range from EUR560 million (Jupiter MMXi) to EUR1.66 billion (Durlacher Research). Sonera Zed says 50% of its revenues for 2001 came from ringtones and logos, while one of the leading R&L providers, France’s Kiwee has achieved the rare distinction of reaching breakeven. But what does the future hold for the market?

Recent weeks have seen a spate of activity in the ringtone space, including a partnership between Finnish content provider Akumiiti and cellco Orange UK and the release of Ringo, a free application from UK developer Electric Pocket that allows Handspring Treo users to compose and share custom ringtones or download new ones from the Net. But the buzz word of the moment is polyphony. Available in Asian markets such as Japan, Korea and Singapore for some time, handsets with polyphonic sound are starting to appear in Europe. CeBit saw the launch of offerings from Toshiba and Nokia, following hard on the heels of the likes of Sagem and Ericcson.

UK-based apps outfit Beatnik has developed the audio software being implemented by Nokia in its 3510 and 7210 polyphonic devices. Jeremy Copp, the firm’s senior vice president, sales and marketing told MI, its Beatnik Audio Engine (BAE) can be used to create enhanced sounds for gaming and to add an audio component to MMS, as well as to generate polyphonic ringtones. Copp says the cost to vendors is much lower than integrating enhanced sound quality into the hardware. Manufacturers can implement the software across different devices and upgrade as and when improvements are made, he says. “[Going forward]. what you’ll see is a steady increase in the quality and fidelity of ringtones,” reckons Copp. He believes polyphony enhances the whole user experience and will boost revenues.

Shum Singh, mobile industry analyst with Durlacher Research, is also optimistic, although “[while] the level of usage will continue, there will be pricing pressure,” he cautions. However, polyphony “is going to be a feature that to some extent will demand a premium, at least initially,” he says.

Julian Harris, marketing manager for UK apps developer 3GLab,  also believes users would be willing to pay a little more for higher-quality sound and images. He says the price of a CD single is a good benchmark for ringtone pricing. In the UK, for instance, a CD single costs around £4 ($5), while ringtones come in at around £3.50, suggesting there is some room for a price increase.

Illka Raiskinen, Nokia’s vice president, mobile applications and services, agrees that high-quality ringtones may initially cost a little extra. But, he says, “eventually pricing will be at the same level [as for standard ringtones].”

Brian Baglow, spokesman for gaming outfit Digital Bridges, which recently bought UK ringtone and logo firm GR8 for an undisclosed sum, believes “[polyphony] will move the market forward. …We see the [R&L] market continuing to grow,” he says. “It’s [still] huge in Japan,” a country where polyphonic ringtones have been around since 1H01, he points out.

The rights stuff

The ARC Group forecasts by 2006 551.2 million people worldwide will be downloading ringtones. The research outfit reckons record company endorsement will become increasingly important as rights holders team up with mobile outfits to claw back some of the revenues lost to unauthorised ringtone providers. An early sign of this was the deal between EMI and Nokia, inked 3Q00, to provide exclusive ringtones to Club Nokia members.

Jeremy Copp says protecting against piracy and file-sharing is of prime importance to Beatnik. The firm’s audio engine includes encryption features and the ability to ‘lock’ downloads to an individual user or range of devices. “We’re really addressing [rights holders’] concerns,” he says. But Shum Singh thinks the record companies “can’t cry over split milk. …[They] have no understanding of the mobile phone market, let alone the mobile data market,” he says. They should work with operators and third party apps developers. “If they try to work with these people the opportunities are vast,” he reckons.

One early mover in this regard is U.S. performing rights organisation, BMI. The body has signed licensing agreements in the past six months with mobile outfits including Sprint PCS, Your Mobile, Zingy.com and Sonera Zed.

Personalisation and integration

Raiskinen says aside from polyphonic sound, Nokia’s latest handsets include other advanced personalisation features such as active covers. “We see that the personalisation market will continue to grow,” he says.

Integration of ringtone and logo downloads with other mobile entertainment services will also increase, reckons Digital Bridges. Spokesman Brian Baglow told MI its acquisition of GR8 enables it to offer brand owners a much wider variety of content.

In terms of integration, “so many possibilities haven’t been explored,” reckons Baglow. He says a likely near-future scenario could be to reward high-scores in a mobile game with a free ringtone or logo.

New services such as MMS will increase the opportunities for personalisation, many believe. Logos, which, though popular, trail some way behind ringtones in terms of revenue generation, will become much more sophisticated. Some operators are already implementing solutions enabling users to download full-color pictures onto handsets. Australian cellco Optus last week launched a website application which lets users download photographs onto Ericsson’s T68 mobile. After a free introductory period, Optus will charge AUS$1.99 ($2) per download, plus airtime costs.

Julian Harris of 3GLab believes the next stage on from photo downloads will be customisable user interfaces. Cambridge, England-based 3GLab is developing Trigenix, a user interface engine for next-generation mobile devices. CEO Steve Ives believes this will take personalisation to its logical conclusion. “If you think a Mission Impossible ringtone on your mobile is cool, take a look at our snowboarding user interface skin built on Trigenix,” he states.

Launched last November, the initial version of Trigenix runs on Linux and is designed for porting to all major mobile operating systems. Last month 3GLab announced the user interface engine will be ported to Texas Instruments’ OMAP platform for 2.5 and 3G devices.

Harris says it will be at least 12 months before Trigenix is commercially available. 3GLabs’ marketing message to cellcos and vendors is that user interfaces can “brand, promote, connect and personalise.” An operator can improve its branding, while also promoting, says Harris. For instance, user interfaces can be periodically updated to flag new services, he says.

Pricing is still somewhat speculative. Harris says it may be the case that some operators will give away ‘skins’ (user interfaces) for free in order to promote other revenue-generating services. But, he warns, “one thing that 3GLab believes very strongly is exercise extreme caution when giving things away for free.”

In today’s market, The majority of users pay for downloads via premium rate phone lines. Seventy percent of Kiwee’s transactions come from this source, with credit card payments accounting for 30%. But premium rate lines (charged at EUR1.34 per connection, plus EUR0.33/min), represent only 40% of the firm’s ringtone and logo-derived revenues.

Jupiter MMXi analyst Olivier Beauvillain believes, however, “the company’s use of a premium-rate line to charge for its services is absolutely necessary to attract the user initially -before they migrate to credit card payments.”

But, says Baskerville’s Georgina Hooper, in her Mobile Messaging report, cellcos may inadvertently put a brake on the market if they begin allowing users to access premium-rate lines in order to pay for downloads. Anecdotal evidence suggests many users buy ringtones and logos via calls made at work, therefore, effectively for free. It remains to be seen whether they will be willing to shell out in other circumstances, she notes.

Hooper believes “logos and ringtones will continue to generate revenues, particularly with the launch of EMS, but it will be other content services that show real growth. Logos and ringtones are a luxury service lacking real utility,” she states.

A survey by Jupiter MMXi and market research outfit IPSOS indicates that only a small percentage of mobile users download ringtones and logos (see chart). But Shum Singh points to figures from the Mobile Data Association, which projects growth in the number of subscribers that have downloaded ringtones and logos in the UK from 4% at end-01 to 25% by end-02, as a reason for optimism.

The youth segment is the major driver of the market, however, and, with any youth phenomenon, there is a danger that it may be a passing fad.

Illka Raikinen says Nokia is looking to develop personalisation services that attract segments of the market other than youth. “We have some ideas, but it remains to be seen what personalisation means for those users,” he says.

(Originally published in Mobile Internet newsletter (copyright Informa Media and Telecoms), March 2002).

THE NETHERLANDS: IMPROVING WASTEWATER TREATMENT IN LINE WITH THE WFD

This Dutch LIFE project investigated advanced treatment technologies for wastewater. The WET (Wastewater & Effluent Treatment) project has led to the installation of a full-scale version of the trial technology at the Leiden-Noord sewage plant in South Holland.

The LIFE Environment WET project was a collaborative venture between the Rijnland District Water Control Board (Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland), which is responsible for surface water quality in mid-west Holland, and STOWA (The Foundation for Applied Water Research), under the supervision of engineering consultants, Witteveen + Bos. The inspiration for the project came from the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which provides targets for the protection of surface water, coastal water and groundwater that are due to come into force in 2015.

Among the substances targeted by the WFD are the nutrients nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P), which can cause excessive algal growth when present in extremely high concentrations in surface water, potentially leading to severe oxygen shortages and fish mortalities. A national screening exercise in the Netherlands indicated that modern wastewater treatment plants were only able to remove some 80% of N and P loads. Furthermore, as the water board’s Jeffrey den Elzen indicates, “They are not designed at all to remove priority substances such as heavy metals, pesticides, medicines and endocrine disruptors.”

Thus, the aim of the LIFE project was to investigate the further removal of nutrients and other pollutants from wastewater by adding subsequent treatment stages to existing wastewater treatment plants.

Testing the technology

The project took place in a specially constructed covered test area at the Leiden Zuid-West sewage treatment plant in Leiden, South Holland. Trials started in early 2007 and consisted of two phases:

Phase 1 looked at the possibilities for further removal of N (to below 2.2 mg N/l) and P (to below 0.15 mg P/l) using various sand filtration systems.

Phase 2 investigated the use of carbon filtration and oxidation techniques for removing heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, medicine residues and endocrine disruptors.

During Phase 1, two test lanes were built in the test area and connected to the output of the existing treatment plant. Lane A used a single continuous sand filter aided by additives: a source of carbon for biologically removing nitrogen and a flocculant for chemically removing phosphorous. Lane B used two sand-filtration stages: the first stage was a continuous sand filter to remove N; the second stage employed a double-layer fixed bed sand filter to remove P.

The results of Phase 1 were very encouraging, indicating that further systematic removal of N and P to below the limit values is feasible, even at higher filtration speeds (up to 20 m/h). The single-filter concept was found to perform as well as the two-filter approach, whilst costing some 50% less.

Phase 2 of the project tested three different technologies for removing the remaining pollutants: activated carbon filtration; and two oxidation techniques – ozonisation; and hydrogen peroxide with UV light.

With ozonisation, an ozone generator uses and electrical discharge to convert oxygen molecules (O2) into ozone molecules (O3). The ozone gas is then fed into the bottom of the columns so that gas bubbles can move upwards through the water, oxidising (i.e. cutting into smaller pieces) substances that they come in to contact with.

In the advanced oxidation process using hydrogen peroxide and UV light, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is added to the water. The water is led along two UV lamps, the light from which ‘activates’ the H2O2, which then forms radicals (H2O2 becomes 2OH). These radicals oxidise substances in the water, thereby cleaning it.

Activated carbon filtration requires a filter bed of activated carbon, a substance with a very porous surface. Substances that come into contact with it are often caught in its pores, meaning that when water is forced through the filter it comes out clean the other side.

Results of Phase 2

The three technologies tested in Phase 2 were all found to have certain benefits and drawbacks. Activated carbon filtration was shown to be effective at removing some heavy metals, but less effective with herbicides, pesticides, medicines and endocrine disruptors. Initial investment costs for a plant for 100 000 residents are high (\5.6 million), but running costs are comparatively low, giving a cost per resident of \8.4. The two oxidation techniques were both found to be very effective at removing pesticides, herbicides, medicines and endocrine disruptors, with the added benefit that they can be used for disinfection. However, it is not possible to remove heavy metals by oxidation. Of the two oxidation techniques, ozonisation offers considerably better value for money, with a treatment plant for 100 000 residents estimated to cost EUR 4.2 per resident, compared with EUR 21.9 per resident for one using hydrogen peroxide/UV.

Putting the results into practice

Following the successful trials of the LIFE WET project, The Rijnland District Water Control Board has implemented a full-scale single-filter continuous sand filtration process at its Leiden-Noord sewage plant. This facility, which treats wastewater for some 100 000 residents, was built in the mid-1980s and uses standard activated sludge treatment as well as biological phosphorous removal. Jeffrey den Elzen, who was involved in designing both the trial and full-scale technologies, explains that Leiden-Noord was chosen in preference to Leiden Zuid-West because it was not possible to extend the conventional water treatment plant at the former, and the effect on surface water from continuous sand filtration was calculated to be greater. “A very positive point of the trial was that we were already using full-size units. We just added more of them for a working plant – it was very easy to scale up,” says Mr. den Elzen.

The sand filtration section, which uses iron chloride as a flocculant and ascetic acid as a carbon source,became operational in March 2010. Leiden-Noord is one of two treatment plants under the aegis of the Rijnland District Water Control Board that has implemented a sand filtration system, although the only one with a single-filter concept (Alphen-Noord is using a two-step process to remove nitrogen). “We were planning to add sand filtration to 12 wastewater treatment plants, but are now only doing two, because we saw we could optimise existing effluent treatment processes (e.g. through online sensors),” explains Mr. den Elzen. “Measurement technology has improved a lot in the last few years.”

Nonetheless, he believes that the research carried out by the LIFE project is highly transferable, having generated a lot of new information and experience with regard to the further removal of nitrogen, phosphorous and other relevant contaminants. “Another water board has built a double sand filter at one of its plants. I’m sure this (single-filter concept) will have spinoffs within the Netherlands as well,” says Mr. den Elzen.

Award brings mixed emotions

Collecting the LIFE Environment ‘Best of the Best’ award in Brussels was a time of mixed emotions for Mr. den Elzen: “When I heard that we would get this award I was of course very proud of the project. On the other hand, there were also a lot of mixed feelings, because I was doing this project with my colleague and friend Wouter Dijksma. Sadly, at the end of the project he got ill and in December 2009 he passed away. As project manager, Wouter played a very significant role in making the project a success. It’s a shame he could not be in Brussels with us to receive the award.”

  • Project number: LIFE06 ENV/NL/000167
  • Title: Wastewater & Effluent Treatment
  • Beneficiary: Rijnland District Water Control Board (Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland – HHR)
  • Contact: Jeffrey den Elzen
  • Email: jeffrey.elzen@rijnland.net
  • Website: www.rijnland.net/wet-project
  • Period: 01-DEC-2005 to 30-JUN-2009
  • Total budget: EUR 2 815 000
  • LIFE contribution: EUR 1 176 000

(Originally published in Best LIFE-Environment Projects 2009, European Commission, DG Environment, August 2010).