Accenture: 4G not just about technology

What is 4G? That question has been bantered about for some time, with some saying there is no such thing because the International Telecommunications Union hasn't officially created any 4G standards. Consulting juggernaut Accenture, however, is advising its global carrier clients to move away from any strict technology definitions of 4G and embrace the term as an entirely new business model revolving around open access.

Shahid Ahmed, partner with Accenture's Technology Consulting Group and the lead for the firm's Network Technologies Wireless practice, argues that opening up the network voluntarily in this new high-speed data environment allows third-party developers and other ecosystem players to flourish because they are free to build wireless applications that will truly take advantage of mobility's unique attributes, such as location and presence.

Open access sounds like fighting words to many an operator, but Ahmed says U.S. operators in particular have a unique opportunity to leapfrog Europe and Asia by offering open access in the 4G world.

"If you look at the investments happening in the Web 2.0 world, there is no place in the world like California, where investments in Web 2.0 companies is greater than any sector," Ahmed said. "Look at Flickr and Facebook. There is tremendous movement and transformation happening in the Internet. The wireless industry has a golden opportunity to take advantage of all of these things happening on the Web and translate them into new services."

We've heard these arguments before from the Googles and other content folks, but this view from Accenture, which advises some of the world's largest mobile operators, means there has to be some lucrative ways to monetize open access--the main concern of operators. After all, the firm's primary concern is helping operators generate revenue.

Ahmed says operators can monetize open access by encouraging third-party developers to use their created APIs (application program interfaces) and SDKs (software development kits), which enhances the value chain and adds stickiness since then the applications can only be used on that carrier's particular network.

For sure, there are many growing pains in transitioning from a telco to an Internet-like company: new stakeholders, new types of customers, new marketing strategies and different sales channels. However, the industry can already look to two companies as examples. 3 in the U.K. has decided to open its network to third-party developers and of course Sprint will trail blaze this concept through its WiMAX deployment in the U.S.

Ahmed said this transition to open access is inevitable. "The writing is on the wall," he said. "Regulatory-wise and policy-wise, everyone is endorsing open access. Times have changed since the biggest Internet debacle in the early 2000s. The cost of IT is now significantly less than it was then. All of this bodes well for wireless world. It's the next frontier, and I think for that reason, 4G is going to excite the industry."--Lynnette

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