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No longer grubby: Second-hand Cinderella is now the Belle of the Ball


via Flickr © Jerremy B. (CC BY 2.0)

  • Mobile device re-commerce goes mainstream
  • More than 100 million used handsets and more traded-in every year
  • Carriers now convinced of sector value as it allows them to reduce handset subsidies

Given the number of new models of smartphones and other mobile comms devices introduced by manufacturers, vendors and network operators every year it is hardly surprising that a big secondary market in used handsets has emerged as users take a variety of routes to trade-in or sell-off their old ones.

The market took off first in 2009 in the UK where prevailing competitive conditions have long-favoured the emergence and growth of the sector. However, the trade-in market in the US was slow to emerge and it wasn't until late 2010 that it gained significant traction - but when it did carriers took it up very aggressively and the resale of used handsets market has grown from US$$100 million at the beginning of 2011 to more than $17 billion today. In this increasingly important secondary market, volumes are huge and one of companies operating at the leading edge of what is the quite complicated 'mobile re-commerce' sector is Silicon Valley-headquartered FutureDial.

Second-hand kit just ain't as sexy as the new model smartphone sector and so mobile re-commerce has been a somewhat overlooked subject, but nonetheless it is an important, interesting and lucrative market. Thus in the spirit of boldly going down the byways as well as the major highways of the telecoms industry, at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, TelecomTV went walkabout.

We left those exhibition halls packed to the rafters with over-the-top multi-million dollar stands big enough to house a sizeable English village plus its idiots and went off-piste to the very much modest and minimalist (but still outrageously expensive) small company shell schemes tucked quietly away in the rather less glitzy environs of the furthest, and, literally, darkest reaches of the monstrous Fira. This is where companies that either do not have the wherewithal or (as in the case of FutureDial) the need to make a big splash and yell their lungs out in the fervid fairground atmosphere of the likes of Hall 3, are housed. There we interviewed Thomas Ryas, the senior vice president of marketing and customer success at FutureDial - and he had a good tale to tell.

FutureDial serves mobile device recyclers, so-called 'reverse logistics' companies that handle mobile devices, wireless operators and mobile handset manufacturers via device processing solutions for the corporate mobile device supply chain. As part of its suite of solutions, the company supplies asset tracking that automatically reads devices connected to its software and provides data-clearing and device sanitisation with plug-and-play refurbishment processing for multiple devices simultaneously.

The solution also allows testing of the functionality of a mobile device's hardware. It further permits the full identification of each unit, including make, model, colour, IMEI umber and so on, as well as a data content check service, verification of whether or not a device being processed has been stolen or lost, as well as activation lock and contract eligibility verifications. Other features include software and firmware updates, factory setting reset and refurbishment and reporting, analytics and audit trail capabilities.

FutureDial's primary product, the Mobile Retailer Solution, is a cloud-based software platform that greatly helps facilitate device collection, what the company is pleased to refer to as 'triage", (a very self-conscious and slightly uncomfortable use of medical terminology meaning to examine patients to decide which ones are the most seriously ill and must therefore be treated first - but in this instance applied to second-hand phones!) and trade-in and valuation processes for wireless retail operators. Once this process is complete and complete diagnostic details of the handset are known, the device then undergoes an examination of its cosmetic condition and appearance before being passed as fit for resale.

Thomas Ryas says that what is special about the FutureDial Solution Platform is its set of flexible modules that can automatically simplify what, hitherto, has been a complicated series of processes and so speed the supply chain for nearly every business model in the global industry. In this regard FutureDial had a throughput of 31 million mobile handsets and processed over $6 billion worth of smartphones across worldwide secondary markets over the course of 2016 and that figure will rise substantially this year.

What's more, as Thomas Rayas points out, FutureDial's products and process provide a valuable added value service in that the immense throughput of the solutions provide invaluable data on the trends and changes in the highly dynamic handset trade-in market - on an a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Even Apple, whose hammerlock on the iPhone market, makes the Vulcan death grip look limp-wristed by comparison, has begun to appreciate the potential value of the re-sale market and carriers have learned to like the sector because its sheer size and increasing ubiquity allows them to reduce the handset subsidies that they hate, but which have long been necessary to keep the smartphone market buoyant.

By the way, I am currently offering for sale a 5-year-old iPhone. With one careful owner from new, the phone has travelled the world several times over but remains in almost mint condition. That's because it comes complete with a trendy top-of-the range Cat Active Urban case that has protected it from depredations such as being dropped in a Jurassic mire in New Zealand, falling onto the edge of a geothermal fissure in Yellowstone Park and being unceremoniously dunked in a pint of ale in London. That was a while ago and the phone only stopped working this morning, expiring not with a bang but with a muted whimper. I have tried electro-resuscitation but to no avail. Perhaps you'll do better. Offers invited, in writing please, to be placed behind the cistern, third cubicle on the left, The Gentleman's Convenience, Waterloo Station, London. May the best man (or woman) win.

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