Archive for April, 2011

“Improving the Customer Experience”

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

This week, I participated in the VentureBeat Mobile Summit. The tagline for the event was “30 hours. 180 executives. 5 key issues in mobile.” The concept was to bring together the most influential people from across the mobile ecosystem to wrestle with some specific issues that will need to be resolved for all of us to enjoy the full potential growth of the associated opportunities. A worthy goal and an interesting approach. VentureBeat plans on publishing a manifesto at their MobileBeat event in July to capture the outcome of these discussions and debates.

In between working sessions on the topics, VB’s Matt Marshall played MC and moderator for a collection of short keynotes and fireside chats. Although counter to the event concept of working alongside others from the ecosystem, it provided a more comfortable format for large incumbents who are more adept at talking at the ecosystem than talking with the ecosystem. Verizon Wireless and AT&T each had one of these fireside chats with Matt.

Matt kicked off the event acknowledging that we’re in the midst of a revolution and referred to the event participants as the revolutionaries who are reinventing how the world works. Based on the comments from Verizon and AT&T, I’m not sure these companies are all that interested in revolutions that challenge the status quo. Of course, they’re perfectly happy with evolutionary steps that increase their power over the ecosystem.

On Monday evening, Nicola Palmer, VP of Network Operations for Verizon, spoke mostly about Verizon’s impressive nationwide launch of LTE last fall and their continuing work to strengthen and expand that network.

She talked about the massive data growth that is happening and predicted that video would drive 68% of mobile traffic by 2014. (I’m not sure if these are Verizon numbers, or from Cisco’s model, or another source – there was no credit given on the slide she used.) She mentioned that when advanced smartphones moved onto the networks, all carriers saw big jumps in data traffic. For Verizon, that was Android, while for AT&T, it was the iPhone. And now that “everyone” has “everything” (referencing Android and the iPhone), we’ll continue to see this growth in data traffic. (Apparently, in Verizon’s eyes, the U.S. market has already shrunk to the two carriers that carry the iPhone.)

Matt asked her if openness is a differentiator for Verizon. Nicola said that the differentiator for Verizon is network reliability, but said that the fact she’s speaking at this event is an indicator that Verizon sees value in enabling the ecosystem. “We wouldn’t have bothered coming to an event like this two years ago.”

Someone asked her about Verizon’s use of femtocells. She said that Verizon’s use of femtocells is focused on the home and that they are using other technologies and approaches to manage data growth, including data optimization and data management in the network. “When we move to metered billing – I think everyone recognizes that the era of unlimited data is over – users will welcome data management. Metered billing will turn everything on its head. Users will need to think differently. App developers will need to develop differently.” So, in other words, Verizon subscribers will welcome data management with open arms because it will improve their customer experience (I assume by hopefully reducing the incidents of huge data overage bills).

I know from her comments that Verizon doesn’t see Sprint as worthy of notice, but if she would care to listen, we actually don’t think the unlimited era is over. We’re going to do everything we

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can to be able to profitably offer unlimited data plans for our smartphone customers. We believe that “unlimited” is the experience customers really want.

It’s just a hypothesis, but my guess is that Verizon (and AT&T, who is actually leading this charge) see metered billing as a lever to return to the Big Bell Dogma heyday when carriers kept a stranglehold on innovation in the mobile ecosystem. Metered billing is a barrier to folks using mobility for everything. It forces people to stop and ask “Should I do that now, on my mobile device, or should I wait until I get home or to the office where I can use my (monopoly profit for the Bells) wireline service?” It puts the carriers in the strong negotiating position with app developers and service providers. If providers want to stand out by making it easy and affordable for mobile users to use their apps and services, they’ll need to come to the carriers for help. The euphoria that permeates events like this Mobile Summit because of the unfettered growth in the mobile ecosystem, and the opportunity to earn attractive returns across the ecosystem, may be threatened as the Big Bells try to roll back the clock to the pre-iPhone era. This should be interesting to watch.

On Day 2, AT&T had their fireside moment, with John Donovan, the carrier’s CTO, jokingly wary of Matt Marshall’s questions. Donovan focused his prepared remarks on the very remarkable progress that AT&T has made in opening up to developers. But Matt quickly turned the focus of his questions to AT&T’s planned acquisition of T-Mobile.

Again, the answer to all questions is “improving the customer experience.” John said that the merger will “improve the customer experience” by addressing AT&T’s network quality issues, extending the network, increasing grid density and network capacity. When Matt asked him about whether the deal would stifle innovation, John said “the deal won’t stifle innovation, in fact innovation benefits will expand, not contract.” I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind that claim.

An audience member asked about AT&T’s strategy for mobile payments. Donovan confirmed that Isis is AT&T’s primary strategy for mobile payments. Of course, Isis is the perfect example of how the Big Bells want to put a stranglehold on innovation and return to the good old pre-iPhone days. In fact, in a separate discussion, a different AT&T participant refuted someone’s expectation that dozens of mobile wallets would start appearing on smartphones, by saying “We won’t allow that. We learned our lesson from the iPhone, which opened it up way too much. It was good for the users. It was good for the ecosystem. It was good for Apple. But it was bad for the carrier. We left a lot of money on the table, and we won’t let that happen again.”

So much for “improving the customer experience”…

Alarmed?

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Last week I had the chance to chat with Steve Trundle, founder and CEO of Alarm.com.

Here’s the description of Alarm.com from their website:

Alarm.com was founded in 2000, and since then, has been dedicated to the pursuit of convenience and control for home and business security systems using wireless, web and mobile technology. We set out to build a platform based on wireless technology that provides solid security. In 2003 we were the first company to launch a secure, all-digital wireless alarm system with novel features like always-on activity reporting and a web-based control panel.

Alarm.com’s proven technology platform enables consumers to monitor everything that happens in their homes or businesses, not just alarms; they can keep track of activity on entry doors, windows, liquor and medicine cabinets, safes, drawers, and more. Unlike traditional security systems, Alarm.com does not require a phone line or broadband connection; Alarm.com services work wirelessly through a secure GSM network to maintain a dedicated connection that will continue to work for 24+ hours after a power failure. Alarm.com also offers Video Monitoring, emPower™ home automation, Crash & Smash Protection and mobile apps that let consumers enjoy anytime, anywhere access to their property. With Alarm.com, home and business owners can be in 2 places @ once. Simple, flexible and powerful, Alarm.com is designed to fit your lifestyle.

I became an Alarm.com customer 4 years ago when we moved into a new home. Since we’d cut the cord on AT&T, I was thrilled when our local alarm company proposed a sophisticated wireless solution. Not only would it be safe from getting the line cut, but we also wouldn’t have to wait for the alarm system to finish dialing before calling the monitoring center to explain we’d accidentally tripped the alarm (as we had too often had to do with our previous systems) – and it demonstrated the power of mobility!

Steve shared that

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a similar experience led to him starting the company. When they had a system installed in his home, he asked the contractor why a burglar wouldn’t just cut the telephone line. The answer he heard wasn’t convincing. Steve was CTO for MicroStrategy at the time and he also immediately began considering all the possibilities for the data that could flow over an always-available wireless connection to the home.

I asked Steve if wireless

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had redefined the alarm industry and he said it definitely has. Especially these days, folks just assume that wireless connectivity will be built in. As consumers adopt smartphones, they simply expect there to be an app to control every aspect of their lives.

A year ago, we were awakened in the middle of the night by an alarm telling us of flooding in the basement. Being able to respond quickly enabled us to save many precious possessions and minimize our loss. Now, imagine getting that same type of alert even when you’re out and about, during the workday or when running errands around town.

Thanks for listening. After talking to Steve, it was clear to me that Alarm.com’s experience is yet another great example of how mobility is changing how each of us interact with our world and changing the rules of competition across industries, and I wanted to share it with you.

My favorite lunch

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Yesterday I attended Sprint’s annual Patent Luncheon. This is my favorite lunch event of the year!

In 2010, Sprint was awarded 357 patents. At this luncheon, all the individuals across the company who either received a patent in 2010 or submitted an application for one during the year, are recognized and honored.

What I love about this event isn’t the food (although it’s always good). What I love is that it’s a rare opportunity in the spotlight for the folks behind the Sprint innovation that has made this company great for more than 100 years. The folks walking up on stage and getting their photo taken with the company’s top executives (4 members of Dan Hesse’s senior team were at the event) spend most of their days being brilliant in hidden labs and obscure cubicles across the Sprint campus.

Throughout the year, as I have meeting after meeting in Sprint’s boardrooms, or in high level partnership meetings, these aren’t the folks I see. But when Sprint wins awards for innovation in systems, devices (and here), networks, or even customer service, it’s often the

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innovation coming from this group of folks that’s behind it.

Go Sprint! Power up!