Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

CCA 2014: Is Wireless a Commodity?

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This week I participated in a panel at CCA on “The Evolving Operator: 2014 & Beyond” that was moderated by Sue Marek, Editor in Chief of Fierce Wireless. My co-panelists were Rob Riordan, EVP of Corporate Development for Cellcom, and Mauricio Sastre, Vice President of Product for FreedomPop.

For those that aren’t familiar, CCA is the Competitive Carriers Association and basically includes all of the wireless carriers smaller than Verizon and AT&T. Until Sprint and T-Mobile joined, it had been the Rural Carriers Association. So everyone at the show really cares about the success of small operators.

Early in the discussion, I answered a question by saying that I believed that we need to make three critical strategic shifts:

  1. We must recognize that we’re operating in a commodity market. Today, we don’t operate our businesses in a way that supports a commodity market.
  2. But, we can’t be satisfied with being a commodity, we need to find ways to differentiate.
  3. Finally, we need to act like an Internet company. (Move faster, focus on the customer experience, eliminate bureaucracy, do less and partner more, etc.)

That sparked a follow-on question from Sue for all three panelists. I was sitting in the middle at the table, and I’d say I was also sitting in the middle relative to this question. She asked “is wireless really a commodity?”

Rob is convinced it’s not. He passionately described how many competitors Cellcom faces in Wisconsin, and yet they take the largest share of subscribers. They do it by being part of the community and caring about the people they serve. They don’t operate an IVR – when you call them a live person answers. I don’t disagree with him. For operators like Cellcom, there is an opportunity to be seen as special by those in your community. You aren’t just another provider in a competitive matrix, you’re a neighbor who cares.

My position was that wireless is becoming a commodity. Especially if we look beyond the traditional mobile operators and recognize that we’re really competing against the Facebook and Google’s of the world, who provide over the top services using our own bandwidth against us, we have to realize that our traditional operating model must be challenged.

Mauricio kind of shrugged and said, yeah, of course it’s a commodity. FreedomPop wouldn’t be here and growing as fast as we are if it weren’t already a commodity.

What do you think?

Four Drivers of the Mobility Revolution

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Just over a week ago, I presented “Seismic Shifts in the Mobile Ecosystem” at Sprint’s Open Solutions Conference. The session was well attended and seemed to be well received, so I’d like to share some of the content here. I’ll set up the topic in this post, and then dive deeper in additional posts over the coming weeks.

The basic premise of the session was that there are four key drivers of change that have resulted in ten seismic shifts in the mobile ecosystem. These changes reflect the Mobility Revolution and create opportunity for businesses that can understand and capitalize on these shifts.

So, what are the four drivers?

The first one is

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mass market adoption of smartphones.

The second is mobile bandwidth being built into all kinds of products.

The third is ubiquitous broadband (wired and wireless).

The final driver is the emergence of real world interfaces between mobile devices and the real world, including NFC, compass, gyroscope, cameras, and other sensors.

Steve Jobs: The Innovation Paradox

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

I’m already very late in writing an homage to Steve Jobs, so let me take a different angle…

Steve Jobs may represent the most successful example of a man and his company being able to maximize the profit from innovation. He and Apple have done this by taking an approach to innovation that appears to be a paradox: Steve Jobs was extremely innovative and extremely anti-innovation.

That Jobs was innovative hardly needs to be explained. He truly invented and reinvented industries over and over again. Years

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ago, I observed that Apple was great at introducing products that had great design, were first of their kind to truly appeal to the mass market, and that broke down traditional barriers. Over the years, I think the company has proven those points time and again. However, what I missed then was the nature of the boundary breaking… Jobs created and reinvented industries by breaking down the barriers between the digital and analog worlds.

Look at the industries that have been completely redefined by Jobs and his companies: personal computers (Apple II, the first mass market personal computer and the foundation of everything that followed), publishing (the shift to desktop publishing ushered in by the Mac), music (mass market adoption of digital music thanks to iPod/iTunes), movies (broad adoption of CGI-animation, led by Pixar), photography (Apple was a bit later to the party on this one, but the iPhone helped cement the role of the cameraphone), and telephony (or whatever you want to call this industry that connects the devices that are now central to our lives).

Bottom line, Jobs was a master at leveraging incredible design instincts to turn nascent ideas into mass market hits, and in the process completely redefining industries. That’s why I believe he was extremely innovative.

However, Steve and Apple have also been extremely anti-innovation. Not long ago I observed that Apple suffers from Big Bell Dogma. I summarized it this way:

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They want to put constraints on how innovation can happen so that they dominate the ecosystem and extract the most value.”

We have seen it time and again. They limit how their innovation can be leveraged. No one but Apple can make a device running iOS. Only a select few carriers can sell it, and then under far more stringent parameters than any other phone OEM imposes. Apple regularly tweaks the rules under which developers can operate – each time shutting down one or more areas of innovation that are threatening to the company. Apple sues competitors seemingly to keep their products out of the market. All of these actions put constraints on innovation. Without these constraints, there would be much more innovation in the ecosystem, but not necessarily to Apple’s benefit.

Which brings me back to my original point. Apple, perhaps uniquely, does an excellent job of monetizing innovation precisely because of this innovation paradox. The company focuses (i.e. actually deselects distractions) on innovating to create insanely great products (usually building on the innovations of those that went before them), and then protects their financial benefit from that innovation using every possible means (great marketing, carefully constructed legal agreements with complimentary partners, full legal enforcement of intellectual property, etc.).

Who knows if Apple, the company, has so fully integrated the nuances of this model to continue to enjoy its fruits for years to come, and who knows if the strategy will actually pay off with the current spate of patent

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disputes and developer decisions, but part of Steve Job’s legacy will undoubtedly be his mastery of this innovation paradox.

“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”…

Glorious Failure

Monday, December 13th, 2010

You may think this post is about the fact that I’ve been ignoring this blog lately. If it were, it wouldn’t be a bad title. I’ve been too busy to blog and Sprint has been busy launching major announcements that are the culmination of lots of good smart work by lots of folks across the company, all of which I can track back to initial analysis done by my strategy team months or years ago. That includes Network Vision, the M2M Collaboration Center, and Sprint ID. Glorious stuff. But the problem is its months or years between the busy-ness that makes me a blogging failure and the glorious stuff that makes Sprint a hero to many. Ah, the challenges of living in the strategy world…

But no, this post is actually about the panel I participated in on Thursday in Seattle. Chetan Sharma invited me to join a handful of other smart folks from across the mobile ecosystem for a discussion about the future at one of his quarterly Mobile Breakfast Series sessions.

The title of this post is a quote by co-panelist Jim Ryan of Motricity, who the other panelists dubbed “the soundbite king.” Jim was adding his comments to a discussion that flowed from my normal “Big Bell Dogma” ramblings. As usual, I had banged the drum about how the typical telco approach tries to control all aspects of the ecosystem, causing innovation to crawl along at “carrier speed”, while Sprint’s approach is “open enablement” which encourages innovation at “silicon valley speed.”

Frank Barbieri challenged my claim by pointing to Isis, the joint venture formed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to create a mobile payments network. Frank said that Sprint not participating in Isis was an example of how we weren’t enabling innovation.

I responded by explaining that Isis is a perfect example of Big Bell Dogma. Carriers think they can do a better job than Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and others in the payments ecosystem, so they invest billions to try to replicate capabilities and compete with existing players rather than focusing on what carriers actually do well and enabling the existing players and nimble startups to leverage the carrier’s infrastructure to bring real value to consumers. Carriers have been trying to do that for over a hundred years in different industries. Sometimes they get lucky and succeed, but most of the time it’s a miserable failure.

That’s when Jim corrected me and said “it’s not a miserable failure, it’s a glorious failure.” The billions they invest may not actually generate financial returns for the participating carriers, but it will help put in place (either directly or by spurring competition) infrastructure (e.g. near field communications point of sale terminals) and standards (cross-carrier NFC standards) that Sprint and the payments ecosystem will benefit from.

I’ve got to admit – he’s got a point there.

Maybe I shouldn’t be trying so hard to put an end to Big Bell Dogma. Instead, in the short term, Sprint can enjoy the benefits of being the best partner for everyone else in the ecosystem, and in the long term, we all can enjoy the fruits of Big Bell Dogma’s glorious failures.

Apple suffers from Big Bell Dogma

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

On Tuesday, I participated in the Connected Planet 4G Salon. My first slide showed two paths the mobile operators could pursue. The starting point was 2006 (specifically chosen as the end of the pre-iPhone era).

One option is what I refer to as the “Big Bell Dogma” path. This path involves making every decision with one goal in mind – maximize control over the ecosystem which allows the operator to maximize its share of the revenues in the ecosystem. This path forces innovation to happen at “carrier speed” and the result is constrained ecosystem growth. As I’ve described before, Big Bell Dogma is named to represent the mindset that telcos have held onto ever since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 and was really at its prime in the old monopoly AT&T days. However, all carriers suffer from Big Bell Dogma to some extent – some more than others.

The second option is the one I referred to as the “Open Enablement” path. This is the path that Sprint has chosen, perhaps as best represented by our hosting of our 10th annual developers conference this week in Northern California. On this path, every decision is considered with the goal of maxmizing ecosystem growth. Operators must ensure that they’re adding value, both to accelerate growth but also to make sure that our added value translates into an earned share of the revenue in the ecosystem. Along this path, innovation happens at “Silicon Valley speed.”

Later, during the Q&A, someone from the audience asked how Big Bell Dogma was different from Apple’s approach to managing the ecosystem.

That’s an excellent question and the reality is that Apple suffers from Big Bell Dogma. They want to put constraints on how innovation can happen so that they dominate the ecosystem and extract the most value.

The difference is the starting point. Unlike mobile operators, Apple really is an innovative company. They understand the “hits-based” nature of the software industry and therefore the need to enable lots of apps to enter the market so that a few can really make a difference, so they gave application developers the basic capabilities that had previously been missing to allow the app ecosystem to explode. However, on every other dimension, Apple has kept the clamps on, constraining innovation to happen at “carrier speed.”

Unlike Apple, Google has allowed the Android ecosystem to innovate in all dimensions, and even in the app ecosystem, Google’s lack of constraints is winning over developers.

Think about it – Apple makes great handsets. But they introduce one new iPhone handset a year. How much real innovation is represented in that one handset? Only as much as one company can imagine and productize. Now think about all the different Android handsets you’ve seen and the level of innovation that handset OEMs are bringing to market. Consider just the HTC Evo: kickstand, front and rear facing high resolution cameras, HDMI output, 4G network connectivity… Now multiply that by the innovation that Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sanyo, and all the other innovative handset manufacturers that are out there can bring to the table.

Think about it – here in the U.S. Apple has limited the iPhone to one carrier. How much innovation has that operator delivered to customers since 2007? In that time Sprint alone has rolled out 4G nationwide (in 2 months, Sprint 4G will cover 120M people), introduced the first all inclusive unlimited plan (Simply Everything), Ready Now to help customers actually make full use of their advanced devices, Any Mobile, Anytime, and the Sprint Free Guarantee, just to name a few. I imagine T-Mobile and Verizon have each had some innovations as well. The Android ecosystem benefits from these innovations, but the iPhone ecosystem doesn’t.

And even within the application segment, the Android ecosystem can enjoy growth-accelerating innovations, like Sprint ID, which would never be allowed by Apple as they seek to rule the app ecosystem with an iron fist…

Apple makes great products and back in 2007 they gave the entire ecosystem a fast start with the (previously unmatched) enablement they provided to application developers, but they are definitely playing the Big Bell Dogma game.

Connected Planet

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

I’ll be participating in a pretty cool event next Tuesday. It’s called “Building the New Telco Network” and it’s put on by Connected Planet. The full event runs from 10am Eastern to 5pm Eastern (that’s 9-4 for those of us in the middle of the country). My section is the “4G Salon” which starts at noon eastern.

It’s a free event and you don’t need to travel to enjoy it!

The description for the 4G Salon is “An interactive event to discuss and learn about the mobile revolution, its opportunities and its pitfalls, from the service providers, vendors and developers building tomorrow’s 4G networks and services.” I’m in the “Business” section of the agenda, which is described this way: “How will mobile data be monetized as traffic skyrockets and applications become more sophisticated and bandwidth hungry. Will operators work with their Internet peers to create mutually beneficial business models, and if so how?”

Other participants include:

  • Ed Chao, Senior Vice President,
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    Corporate Engineering & Network Operations, MetroPCS

  • Scott Levine, Vice President of Digital, Blockbuster
  • Harald Braun, Industry Consultant, former CEO of Siemens Networks and Aviat
  • Bob DiFazio, Fellow, InterDigital
  • Susan Schramm, Head of Marketing & Corporate Affairs, North America, Nokia Siemens Networks
  • Chris Ebert, Director LTE Strategy, Nokia Siemens Networks
  • Christopher Guttman-McCabe, Vice President Regulatory Affairs, CTIA

I hope to “see” you there!

What I Meant to Say…

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Last weekend I wrote a couple of posts about what we talked about on my panel at Mobile 2.0 and specifically my responses to questions from Tony Fish.

But I didn’t say what I had meant to say…

You see, before I speak at any event, I always prepare my “platform”, a messaging pyramid that represents the key points I want folks to walk away understanding about Sprint’s position. Tony was such a good provocateur that I didn’t stick to my platform.

Anyway, my messaging pyramid always has a top level message – the one thing that I want folks to walk away remembering. For this event, that message was “The mobility revolution requires operators to actively enable innovation by others.”

I always have three second level messages that further explain and prove the top level message. For each of these, I try to have three proof points or examples ready to use in the discussion.

Here were my three second level messages:

#1: Developers: Make it easy for developers to innovate with the full capabilities of Sprint assets.
Proof points:
– Over a decade of leadership through Sprint’s application developer’s program (see
– Our upcoming 10th annual Developer’s Conference (October 26-28 in Santa Clara)
– Our recently launched Sprint Services Framework and Developer Sandbox

#2: Enablers: Nimble partners enable innovation at Valley speed, not Carrier speed.
Solution Enablers
App Stores

#3: Platforms: Don’t lock innovation into a single device, OS, or even form factor.
– Cloud-based Sprint Services Framework
Emerging Solutions/M2M
Sprint Virtual Developer Lab

Even though I didn’t stick to my “platform”, hopefully the audience still walked away with a clear idea that Sprint is focused on enabling innovation across the ecosystem.

Next time I’ll try harder, I promise.

Mobile 2.0: Are Mobile Operators like IBM?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Another interesting discussion Tuesday on the Mobile 2.0 Fireside Chat panel was the one that Tony Fish used to lead off the discussion. Tony asked “If Apple is the new Microsoft, and Google is the new Apple, where do Mobile Operators fit?”

My answer was that Mobile Operators are the new IBM.

I assume Tony’s references to Microsoft and Apple were referencing the PC Revolution of the mid-1980s. For decades, IBM had dominated the industry, dictating to the rest of the ecosystem the rules under which they could play. Apple was birthed in innovation that showed the world what was possible in a personal computer world, but it was the open architecture introduced by IBM’s PC group, with Microsoft and Intel at the core, that redefined the entire industry.

The question is whether Mobile Operators will be the IBM that focused on using OS/2 to try to put Microsoft back in their subservient box. Or, will Mobile Operators be the IBM that became a champion of open source, enabling tremendous innovation that only sometimes directly benefited Big Blue.

Unfortunately, most Mobile Operators, by definition, suffer from Big Bell Dogma, thinking they can and should dominate the ecosystem, strong-arming upstarts like Google into staying in a constrained box.

A few operators though, including Sprint and my co-panelist from Telefonica O2, believe that operators have their value-creating role, but we are all best served when we enable innovation that accelerates growth for the entire ecosystem.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you which strategy worked best for IBM…

Mobile 2.0: What Drives Growth in Mobility?

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Tuesday I participated in the Mobile 2.0Business Day” in San Francisco. Thanks to Gregory, Mike, Daniel, Peter, and Rudy for putting on another great event.

The industry has come a long way since the first Mobile 2.0 event in 2006 – in fact, it has grown into the vision that was being explored way back then. In 2007, I participated in a “fireside chat” panel moderated by Tony Fish, and on Tuesday, I found myself back on the same panel, moderated again by Tony.

My co-panelists this year were James Parton of Telefonica O2, Fabio Sisinni of Paypal, and David Katz of Yahoo. Tony did a good job of leading us through a broad array of topics. I’ll probably touch on a couple of the other topics in other posts, but for now, I think I’ll focus on the discussion towards the end of the panel that was most thought provoking for me.

Tony provoked us with a statement along the lines of: “I don’t believe that there’s really any innovation in mobile. If the best we have to offer is location check-in apps, we don’t have much to be proud of.”

I responded by identifying four drivers of innovation and growth in mobility. Having had more time to think about it, I’ll add a fifth.

1. The Mobile Internet. Much of the innovation we’ve seen so far is simply derived from mobility catching up with the desktop in terms of processing power, graphics, and of course, broadband with 4G. Much of what we see in the App Stores are simply things we’ve traditionally done on a desktop, perhaps tweaked a bit to work well in a mobile environment. There’s nothing wrong with that and we’ve certainly seen tremendous growth driven by this simple catching up.

2. Context. What sets mobility apart from the Internet is the rich contextual information that has never before been available. Where I am. Who I’m with/near. What I’m doing. All of this context made possible in large part because the mobile experience is intensely personal. So far, the contextual aspects of mobility have mostly played out in location-based apps including navigation and check-in services. But again, nothing wrong with that, and as additional contextual data becomes available, we should expect to continue to see innovation and growth.

3. The Internet of Things, Machine to Machine, Connected Devices, Bandwidth Built In, whatever you want to call it… I believe that every product that today has a microprocessor, in the future will have wireless connectivity. We’ve already seen the impact of the Kindle and other eReaders on the publishing industry. Over the next few years we will see tremendous innovation and growth driven by more and more products having wireless built in.

4. Synchronization/Coordination. As more and more devices around us have wireless connectivity and different pieces of the context, those objects will start communicating with each other to create tremendous new value for the end user.

5. Business Integration. The one I forgot about on Tuesday is the one I’ve probably focused on more than any other the past few years. I believe that mobility will be integrated into every product, every service, and every process by businesses across industries. This will enable tremendous innovation in how businesses compete and will result in significant industry growth.

Thanks Tony! These are the kinds of things I like to think about!