The seemingly unstoppable rise of Google and Apple's mobile platforms will prove to be a double-edged for European operators. While they welcome the huge volumes of data traffic these devices generate, they fear that Google and Apple will increasingly set the agenda for how consumers interact with the Internet, leaving operators facing (again) the possibility of becoming a dumb pipe--albeit a fast pipe.
The meeting in late summer 2010 of the CEOs of Europe's largest operators to review this subject gave some indication that they have at least recognised the issue. The unanswered question is whether they should build their own platforms or accept that the Internet and OS players will dominate?
The possibility of these top-5 operators agreeing and implementing a strategy to combat Google and Apple in the Internet and smartphone arena looks remote, and for these competing companies to decide on and develop a viable alternative--with time being a critical success factor--is difficult to imagine.
The top-5 operators' combined expertise and marketing ability does not stand comparison with either of Google's or Apple's large and hungry ambitions to become the global smartphone OS vendor and provider of Internet services.
Likely outcome: As smartphones become increasingly commonplace by invading the mid-tier in 2011, and thereby adopting the status of mass market devices, operators will need to find a route to accommodate Google as a partner for its world-beating Internet capabilities.
While this will involve accepting Android as the key OS, it could help operators break the love/hate stranglehold imposed by Apple's iPhone on their business models.
During 2011 operators will need to accept Internet players as critically important colleagues to their future well being as wireless service providers.