Up Front - The Bumpy Road Ahead & Other Cheesy Metaphors

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 1:30pm
Monica Alleven, Editor-in-Chief

Just when you thought it was safe to hit the highway, the highway changes direction.

In preparing this particular issue of Wireless Week, I got a little sidetracked with the theme of our cover story. It struck me as metaphorical of what’s going on in the entire industry, not just navigation.

All roads lead to apps. Apps lead, we follow. Apple leads, we follow.

Monica AllevenOf course, that’s not entirely the case. There wouldn’t be an iPhone as we know it today if it weren’t for the many pioneers in this industry who built the networks in the first place. If Marty Cooper & Co. had not dreamed big. If Irwin Jacobs & Co. had not insisted that the world seriously consider CDMA as an alternative to GSM. If someone hadn’t thought to design something like the first Nokia Communicator released in 1996.

I got sidetracked on these ideas after mulling over the state of the industry. The biggest fight of all time is raging among operators and the Department of Justice, consumers and consumer watchdog groups. Big tech companies, Silicon Valley thought leaders and various politicians are backing AT&T in its bid to bring T-Mobile USA into its fold. Sprint and smaller carriers like Cellular South (make that C Spire Wireless) are pursuing their own agendas to block the deal. Verizon Wireless isn’t taking sides but will be affected either way it goes.

Pretty much everyone in the wireless industry – and everyone outside of it – has an opinion about the proposed tie-up, as well they should. Prognostications are made on both sides as to what will happen if it does or doesn’t go through. But I’ve veered off course.

Apps intersect, just like roads. Many in the industry have their eggs in the apps basket, and that’s a good thing. Yet the debate over apps vs. mobile Web is still in play. Apps are great, but there are a lot of them, and finding the right app can be daunting. Of course, brainiacs are busy creating better ways to search for apps, organize them and present them to consumers.

There’s much to be said for the mobile Web, too. I use Google on the desktop a lot; that pattern transfers to my smartphone. I’d rather access Facebook via the app on my phone, but I’ll look for details about the river in “Deliverance” using Google search on my phone.

The safe, non-political answer to the apps vs. Web debate is both are going to co-exist. I’ll go with that, at least for now. As Yogi Berra once said, “If there’s a fork in the road, take it.”

Navigating this industry never has been easy, although I see carriers and established vendors making efforts to ease the process for developers, broadening their efforts and opening dedicated centers in Silicon Valley. But for smaller, lesser known companies hawking their wares to carriers, it might be especially difficult these days when they’re not sure where T-Mobile will be a year from now.

One big question is: How do we keep this industry competitive when it’s constantly consolidating? The answers for the industry’s long-term sustainability do not come easy, not when so much consolidation already has taken place and more is sure to come in many facets of the business, not just carriers or OEMs.

That said, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. Cars and grids are getting smarter thanks to wireless. Enterprises are improving efficiencies and productivity. MVNOs continue to try new business models, including those focused solely on data. Mobile ad spending is growing by leaps and bounds. More consumers can afford wireless phone service – and get smartphones – thanks to the evolution of prepaid. Remote healthcare applications are helping to improve the way people live. New entrants constantly introduce new, disruptive technologies and strategies to keep everyone on their toes.

Take the wrong turn, crash and burn. Forge a new path, you might get lucky and find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For now, we’ll just follow the Yellow Brick Road and see where it leads.

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