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Cellular Carriers Inching Toward Mobile Ads

Industry watchers expect the mobile ad market to explode later this year and embark on an ever-upward trend for years to come. Two main watchdogs see advertising spending in the mobile market perhaps increasing fourfold in the next three years—all despite the reticence of the major U.S. carriers to embrace the idea.

The technology is certainly there, but the interest has so far been half-hearted. One main concern has been the idea of the mobile phone as an ad-free zone. These devices—even if they allow us to take and swap photos, get and send email, and serve the Web—are, in the minds of a great many users, an extension of their personal space, in a way much more personal than a laptop or PDA. The possibility of ads for fast food and, more to the point, Viagra blaring on mobile screens, in voicemail boxes, and along SMS Inboxes scares the wits out of many mobile phone users.

Still, the big providers are gradually getting onboard the mobile ad express. AT&T is working on a 12-month plan. Sprint and Verizon are on record as having signed ad deals with major companies. Vodafone is in as well. None of these deals has resulted in anything of substance—yet. But the writing seems to be on the wall.

The spur that prods the big carriers into action just might be emerging technology, specifically mobile TV. MobiTV is already under way with its interactive ad platform, expecting a second-quarter launch. And where TV goes, mobile phones will be sure to follow.

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