The most striking exchange at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was the give and take of jabs between Sol Trujillo , CEO of Telestra and Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype.
Sol represents the mobile business of the present and the past. Josh is the future.
The rate of innovation and fundamental change in the mobile industry is out pacing the oligopoly based businesses ability to react or perhaps even acknowledge what is happening on multiple levels.
The basic argument was about whether that phones with Skype capability would grow the market with low cost, data application, voice calling services.
Sol Trujillo was less than enthusiastic about voice as a data service and as much said that he would use his monopolistic power to prevent that in Australia. (Those are my words, not his)
This is the classic industry transition that has been taught in every business school of merit. The existing entrenched companies reaction to a shifting structure is predictable, since their company’s enterprise value, their careers and their personal fortunes have been created with an old, but soon to be outdated industry structure.
The interesting aspect of the interchange in Barcelona was that the market shift is even greater than either of them hyped (Skype) or condemned (Telestra). This is much bigger than arguing whether making voice calls is a voice service (Mobile Carrier) or a data service (Skype).
There are five technologies and business models coming into play that will change the way the world utilizes mobile phones in the near future. These colluding forces are: Mobile Application Stores, Powerful Smartphone Devices, Advanced Mobile Data Networks, Social Networks, and Voice Over IP.
Here is my prediction for the mobile environment of 2015.
You purchase your sleek, touch screen, mobile communications device in an electronic retail store (or online). It is likely that some devices will have applications pre-loaded. Any subsidy or rebate that you receive for your device will come from the application providers who want you to use their specific services, not from the mobile data provider as it is today.
Once you have your mobile communicator you will then purchase data access, similar to the way you subscribe to your home or business Internet Service Provider. Your data provider might provide full roaming services (VZW, AT&T, T-Mobile), and/or fixed WiFi access. Your device will work with your home or business WiFi network in a seamless manner.
With your device and data access you can shop over the mobile IP network to download applications for you mobile communicator. Two of the must have applications will be your social network application(s) and your VOIP application.
It would make logical business and technical sense for the VOIP software to come bundled with your social networking package.
You will be able to aggregate your “friends” from several Social Networks and load them on your phone. Your VOIP provider (Skype) will be able to place calls to your friends directly. The use of phone numbers will diminish and be used for the 5% of calls you make to people outside of your friends group. Businesses will advertise to become your social network “friend”, so that you can communicate and call them with ease.
This model is not that far off from today’s reality. The Iphone application has several available Facebook applications and Skype applications, and can switch between mobile broadband service and WiFi.
The issue is that this new model strips the mobile carriers of their service model and relegates them to wireless roaming Data IP providers. You can understand why an executive of a Wireless Service Provider would take an aggressive stance against this thinking. The problem is that he is on the wrong side of the technology curve. This will happen. The issue is how long it will be stalled by politics. By politics I mean both company politics and governmental politics.
The fact is that it takes billions of dollars and Euros to license the spectrum and build out mobile data networks. The service model that these investments were predicated upon is quickly becoming invalid, and must evolve and is replaced to reflect the coming reality. There will not be a “free lunch” for the Facebook’s and Skype’s of the world to reap (or rape?) the investment of the world’s mobile carriers.
Rather then ignore, deny or fight an inevitable technology tsunami, the carriers would be better served by creating a business model that fairly compensates then for their considerable investments going forward. The new application providers such as Skype and Facebook will need to acknowledge the value of these mobile networks and work on creating the proper framework for all to move forward.