Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Mobile Impact Obvious

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

As my recent set of posts imply, I’m thinking quite a bit beyond the “mobility revolution.” A fascinating article at Wired makes it clear that the impact of mobile has become obvious, and when something is obvious, it’s much less interesting to me. (That doesn’t mean that execution and operations minded folks should ignore mobile – now is the time when the real money is obviously being made…)

Reading this article took me back to early 2012. Facebook’s IPO was the big story and the biggest knock on the company was that it lacked a mobile strategy. Today, more than half its revenue comes from mobile and they are being lauded as one of the few to have figured out mobile. Back then, Facebook wasn’t alone. Perhaps setting the tone for the year to come, in late 2011, the world’s largest technology company at the time, HP, ousted their CEO, at least in part, for a failed mobile strategy (the company doesn’t show up in the Wired piece because they haven’t been able to recover to a leadership spot in tech). Later in 2012, Intel’s CEO was forced to resign because of a failed mobile strategy. (Like HP, Intel rarely gets mentioned these days when folks talk about the companies leading the technology industry.)

2012 was the wakeup call. 2015 is showing which companies jumped and which hit snooze.

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?

Hmmm….

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Years ago I drafted a post for this blog. After seeking the counsel of wise co-workers, I decided not to post it and it stayed in my drafts folder. For some unknown reason, WordPress autonomously decided to post it yesterday.

I apologize for any confusion it may have caused. The report and analysis referenced are years old.

For complete transparency, there were a couple of reasons folks recommended I not post it originally. The first was that the vast majority of my readers wouldn’t be able to access the report. In respect to Craig Moffett’s and Bernstein’s intellectual property, I couldn’t share enough of the report to do it justice and yet my readers couldn’t access the rest of it. That didn’t seem fair to my readers. The second reason was that, while I liked Mr. Moffett’s analysis in this report, there are many other reports that he’s written that I don’t agree with. By strongly commending his thought process and analysis on this one report I may lead people to believe that I was endorsing (or worse yet, that Sprint was endorsing – even though everything that’s posted here is my own and doesn’t necessarily reflect Sprint’s positions or opinions) Mr. Moffett’s entire body of work.

I do think Craig Moffett is a very intelligent man, that he deeply understands the industry, and that he often provides incisive perspectives on various players in the industry – whether or not I think he’s right or wrong. I also think this particular analysis was very interesting. I don’t have time now to go back and see how right or wrong he was (using 20/20 hindsight). But anyway, for those reasons, I’m not going to take down this post (unless Craig or Bernstein ask me to).

Is the Mobility Revolution Deadly for Big Bells?

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Please see my follow-up note on this post here.

Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research recently published a very informative report titled

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“The Long View: U.S. Telecom – The End of the Line(s).” In it, he shares his learnings from very detailed analysis of the cost and revenue models of wireline businesses.

Mr. Moffett is a very smart guy. I can’t possibly fairly represent the depth of analysis he has provided in this 40+ page report. I recommend you consider becoming a Bernstein client so that you can read this full report and to follow what he has to say about the industry. He won’t always be right, but his analysis is always worth considering.

And after considering this report, I think it’s clear that the Mobility Revolution, and the resulting displacement of wireline services by wireless services, may prove deadly for the Big Bells.

To give you a sense for the challenges they face, here are some quotes from the report:

  • “The Wireline business – encompassing both the TelCo and Enterprise segments – still accounts for more than half of Verizon’s revenues (after adjusting for Vodafone’s 45% ownership of Verizon Wireless), and a similar amount of AT&T’s. Similarly, Wireline accounts for a majority of assets – at Verizon, about 69%. And Wireline accounts for an even larger portion of costs – the best measure of activity, or what these companies actually do – at about 65%. Indeed, if one were to also include the in-region wired portion of the wireless network as part of the broader wired picture then these companies’ still-overwhelming dependence on their wired franchises becomes even more striking, with what is almost certainly three quarters or more of the revenues and assets depending on the wired infrastructure.”
  • “The TelCo (or regional Wireline segment) represents a larger share of profitability than it does of revenue within the Wireline business. Although not disclosed in Verizon’s and AT&T’s published financial reports, both companies are quick to concede that the TelCo segment is significantly more profitable than Enterprise, even if the TelCos’ trends are deteriorating. At both AT&T and Verizon, we estimate that TelCo accounts for approximately 40% of total EBITDA.”
  • “The combination of competitition, technology, and regulation is a potent brew, and fifteen years after “Being Digital,” the world of the TelCos is a far different place. Consider that, at the time of the ’96 Act, local residential phone service was essentially ubiquitous, with 97% of households connected to the wired ‘grid.’ Nearly 30% of those homes had a second line, either for their AOL dial-up connection, their fax machine, or perhaps for their chatty teenage daughter. That’s an ‘effective’ penetration rate of ~125%. Fifteen years later, more than a quarter of all homes have ‘cut the cord,’ and a quarter of those remaining have left for cable voice. Second lines have dropped to 11%. That’s an effective penetration rate of ~60%; effective residential penetration has been cut in half. And if we look forward just five years from now, we are on a trajectory for more than 40% of homes to have gone wireless-only, for cable to have 40% of what’s left, and for second lines to be a thing of the past. Do the math. Five years from now, in the residential market the TelCos will preside over 60% share of just 60% of homes… an effective penetration rate of just 36%. That’s close to another halving, but this time in five years. That decline rivals that of the film business at Kodak.”
  • “The rate of margin compression appears to be accelerating. Two things have happened in the two years since the end of our ARMIS data set (ARMIS reporting was discontinued afer 2007). First, the rate of access line losses has dramatically accelerated; the country is no longer averaging -4.8% total access line losses as it was from 2000 to 2007. This year, the average has been north (or south?) of a -10% annual decline. Second, broadband growth has slowed dramatically. Indeed, DSL growth tipped slightly negative for the first time ever in Q3. As a result, operators can no longer count on offsetting gains in ARPU to lessen the impact of a declining access line base.”
  • “There is a troubling tendency to dismiss this progression as ‘yesterday’s news,’ to view the big TelCos as wireless operators, or to assume that the wired phone business will decline gracefully. It won’t. The Wireline phone business is a quintessentially fixed cost business. When fixed cost businesses decline – and especially when they decline rapidly – they leave huge and intractable costs in their wake.”
  • “…Intuition suggest, however, that Wireline costs are primarily fixed, and this intuition can be empirically confirmed by the steep slope of correlations between access line losses and cost per access line – drawn from our extensive analysis of state-level FCC ARMIS data through 2007. The correlation suggest an overwhelmingly fixed cost structure for the Wireline business (in a ratio of roughly 50 to 75% fixed and 25 to 50% variable).”
  • “Importantly, it is the nature of fixed cost businesses like telecommunications that ‘threshold effects’ become increasingly pronounced over time. As volumes decline, variable costs are shed. The remaining cost structure is therefore, by definition, more fixed and less variable than it was before. In any high-fixed-cost business, it is always the case that initial unit cost escalation yields even greater sensitivity to further unit cost escalation; as the margin ‘cushion’ gets smaller and smaller, it requires a smaller and smaller subsequent change to volumes to trigger a larger and larger subsequent change in profitability. If this ‘negative operating leverage’ dynamic is at work – as it appear to be – then it is plausible to expect that Wireline margin compression will not lessen; it will accelerate.”
  • “The combination of falling revenues and falling margins is a noxious combination; the dollar amount of EBITDA generated by the U.S. Wireline industry has dropped from an annualized run rate of $52B seven years ago to an annualized run rate of just $38B in the just reported Q3.”
  • “The implications of our analysis of the Wireline segment are troubling for the industry going forward. That access lines will continue to decline from here is a foregone conclusion. That Wireline margins will decline with access lines is more controversial, at least to judge by consensus estimates.”
  • “Our AT&T model projects a decline from 31.8% in 2009 to 26.3% in 2013 in overall Wireline margins. … As a context, each 100 basis
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    point decline amounts to about $650M in reduced Wireline EBITDA or operating income. Our 550 basis point variance from today’s margins amounts to a $3.6B gap by 2013, equal to 17% of ‘consensus’ EBITDA and 54% of ‘consensus’ operating income.”

  • “Our Verizon model projects an even steeper decline, as Verizon’s costs appear somewhat more fixed and less variable than AT&T’s. We project a decline in Wireline margins from 24.2% 2009 to 17.0% in 2013. … Every 100 basis points of margin contraction at Verizon translates to about $460M in EBITDA or operating income. Our 720 basis point variance from implied consensus amounts to a $3.1B gap by 2013, equal to 30% of ‘consensus’ EBITDA and 153% of ‘consensus’ operating income, putting income firmly in negative territory.”

Mr. Moffett is a very smart guy. I can’t possibly fairly represent with this tiny sample from his report the depth of analysis he has provided. I recommend you find a way to read this full report and to follow what he has to say about the industry. He won’t always be right, but his analysis is always worth considering.

Although Verizon and AT&T are clearly being very successful in benefitting from the growth in mobility, they are undoubtedly also carefully weighing how to slow the impact of mobility on their core wireline economic engine.

Some of us, however, would rather mash the accelerator to the floor and say – bring on that Mobility Revolution – full steam ahead!

Smartphone Adoption

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted the initial piece on the four drivers of change in the industry. I didn’t intend to take this long to post the second piece, but I guess I’ve been pretty busy…

As I indicated in my first post, one of the key drivers of change has been smartphone adoption. Obviously, smartphones have been around for a long time. The Handspring and then Palm Treo’s were great early smartphone products for Sprint starting almost a decade ago. Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM also have had smartphone platforms for many years.

But, it wasn’t until Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 that the smartphone became a mass market phenomenon.

I believe the iPhone also introduced a fundamental shift in approach to the smartphone. I’m most familiar with Palm, Microsoft, and RIM, so my apologies for not representing Nokia well. Both Palm and Microsoft focused on creating miniature computer environments. The experience had much more to do with running applications on the computer and also using the computer to make phone calls. Yes, there was an e-mail client and a browser, but these were application-centric models in the traditional PC mold. RIM always has been very messaging centric. Yes, there was a browser and yes you could run applications, but the model was very much about messaging.

The iPhone was the first smartphone that truly was Internet-centric. You may recall that for the first year, Apple didn’t even support native apps on the iPhone – they expected developers to create services/apps that were browser based. Of course, the iPhone had the first beautiful browser that ignored any concept of carrier walled gardens and gave users access to the full Internet. A year in, the App Store similarly ignored the concept of a carrier deck and created a win-win-win opportunity for developers to develop/market/sell/deliver applications and for customers to enjoy a rapidly growing array of available apps.

Of course, this invited competition and Google introduced Android at the end of 2007, with the first handset available late in 2008. And today, patents and intellectual property are the weapons of choice in this competitive battleground.

IDC estimates that US smartphone sales have increased from about 5 million in 2005 to over 100 million in 2011. Not bad growth…

Stay tuned…

The iPhone: the power and the danger

Monday, November 21st, 2011

My latest article for Christian Computing magazine is on the power and the danger of the iPhone. It can

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be read here: http://www.ccmag.com/2011_11/ccmag2011_11mcguire.pdf

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.

Whither Isis? Is Big Bell Dogma a dead dog strategy?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Today’s news is hardly surprising. I think Fierce’s Mobile’s Sue Marek describes the news better than I could:

Less than six months after AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA announced their mobile commerce initiative, called Isis, it appears that these major players are already starting to rethink their ambitious plans.

Today the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the operators are scaling back Isis, which they had originally hoped would compete with Visa and MasterCard and instead have decided to set up a mobile wallet.

Interestingly, this new mobile wallet plan sounds very similar to what Sprint Nextel has been doing. If you recall, Sprint was noticeably absent from the Isis joint venture. The operator said at the time that it was not interested in competing with the credit card companies and didn’t want to be part of a proprietary system. Instead, the company unveiled a mobile wallet solution in November that enables customers to use buy physical and digital products directly from their phones, entering a universal PIN code and billing purchases to their existing Visa, MasterCard and Amazon Payments accounts. Sprint’s Mobile Wallet is not a carrier billing mechanism, instead the company calls it a “container” for on-the-go customers to leverage traditional payment methods.

It appears that AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are taking a cue from Sprint. The WSJ article says that Isis is in talks with Visa and MasterCard and others to see if they will participate in this mobile wallet initiative.

Here’s what I had to say about Isis back in December:

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.

Does this Isis abandonment point to the death of the Bell’s “Big Bell Dogma” strategies?

I hope not. As I concluded in that December post:

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.

So, as the Big Bells continue to compete with their customers/partners in home security and social coupons, all I have to say to everyone in the ecosystem is: if you want to move at carrier speed, go talk to the big bells and wait for them to enter your market and compete with you. If you want to move at silicon valley speed with a true partner focused on mutual success, come talk to Sprint.

“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”…