Operators can still have control in open access environment
This whole open access debate when it comes to the 700 MHz band has some people wondering what it means for the mobile operator value chain. It looks like Chairman Kevin Martin will stipulate open access on some of the spectrum for any device and application, stopping short from requiring the winning bidder to open its network up on a wholesale basis.
Such a proposal leaves many wondering if anyone will bid at all. (Google isn't getting the open access rules it wants so it likely won't bid the $4.6 billion it pledged.) But operators should take a hard look at the prospect. Mobile operators can have some subtle ways of still controlling what their customers see.
Take Sprint. It has teamed up with Google to develop a co-branded mobile Internet portal that will allow users to access services such as email and Web searching via the WiMAX network. By offering its own optimized services for the network, Sprint is effectively working to make content providers more successful on its network vs. its competitor's networks or those applications on the WiMAX network that aren't developed by Sprint.
In the U.K., mobile operator 3, which embarked on an open Internet model last November, offers Internet services that are already embedded on the device, in effect controlling the services its customers can access.
What likely Sprint will learn as 3 already has is that it's possible for operators to partner with some big Internet names such as Google to enhance their own brands. According to 3, its Skype and Windows Live Messenger services actually grow usage rather than cannibalizing revenues from existing services such as SMS.
Whether the open access requirement happens in the 700 MHz band, operators should begin looking at how to monetize their services in an open access environment. Open access may not be here today, but there is plenty of momentum pushing it that way tomorrow.--Lynnette