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Car kits

1/2/10

The first snow of the season in London and thoughts turn to snowmen and road accidents. If you think of the typical snowman he has a carrot for a nose and sticks for arms. It's a metaphor for  the mobile phone user behind the wheel.

We've always known that car kits drive ARPU. There is nothing more productive for a businessman than a full install car kit. Something with a great dialling system: I'm not sure how something as business orientated as a Blackberry can have failed to have a SIM Access phonebook Bluetooth profile. Indeed there is an opportunity for a Blackberry dedicated car kit that uses the device phonebook but I digress.

Since the days when Carphone Warehouse had a name associated with what it sold, the we've seen more money from drivers than walkers. You can't even use a phone on the tube.
So why is it so rare for people to fit car kits? Headsets maybe, but full install car kits are still unusual. Perhaps more so than in the analogue days. It's amazing that professional drivers, those in haulage and taxis don't regard a car kit as an essential item.

Even the stick legislation hasn't worked. Apparently just as many people drive with phones clamed to their ear as they did before you got fined £60 and three points for doing it. The sixty quid isn't too much, it's less than you pay in tax for a couple of tankfulls of petrol. The British government hates cars and motorists. But the three points should be enough to scare people off. The increase in insurance premiums alone would pay for a full install car kit.

At least it will for a third party one. Tick the options box for any new car and it'll add a huge amount to the price. BMW charge £500. Looking at the bill of materials, a basic Bluetooth chip is under £3. There  can't be more than £20 of screen, memory, control buttons and CPU. Throw in some additional wiring and £50 seems generous. So charging ten times that is outrageous.

There is a way to make the roads safer and get more people using car kits.

It's to stop using the stick against the motorist and look elsewhere. Governments like compulsion so mandating that every car comes with a Bluetooth car kit would be an excellent. There would be no proprietary benefit for this as the vast majority of phones support Bluetooth and the Bluetooth SIG has ensured a pretty good degree of compatibility.

Then there is the carrot. An aftermarket car kit should be regarded as essential as food or newspapers and be zero rated for VAT.  Losing the tax revenue for hardware might seem as though the government is worse off but think back to the second paragraph of this column.  We've always known that car kits drive ARPU. There will be more than enough revenue generated from the additional call traffic for the government to come out ahead. And just as canals, rail and roads were the infrastructure which drove prosperity in earlier years, communication is the highway of today.

What it needs is government support. Perhaps Harriet Harman will get behind it, although I rather suspect that by now she's learnt her lesson and bought a car kit of her own. Snow chance of that then.

Appeal: The tech industry owes Guy Kewney, pioneer IT journalist a lot. Alas he has cancer. If you would like to help make he and Mary Kewney's lives a bit easier then you'll want to know a virtual whip-round is up and running. Guy Kewney is not Guy Goma.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com. Follow me on Twitter here.

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