Rather than defaulting to the argument that the operator is just providing the "pipe," I think the operators will inject themselves more centrally in the content and applications market, signing deals to deliver unique, or exclusive, content or applications. Sprint's highly successful relationship with the NFL is an early example here. This template will be expanded to a variety of content, such as books, games, and TV or movie programming, with the added benefit of being able to command premium advertising dollars. This jockeying for content deals will favor the larger operators, as they battle with Apple, Amazon and other distribution platforms, and try to leverage content across their multiple screens and networks.
4. Unlocking additional assets
The shifting competitive landscape, and the growing influence of Apple, Google and other non-"operator" entities is causing the operators to think about what core assets they might be able to leverage. While this topic alone could be the subject of numerous columns, let me throw a few teaser thoughts out here:
- Billing platform. Already part of their app store efforts, billing could be part of a much deeper dive into m-commerce and micro-transactions, as has been successfully demonstrated in Japan and South Korea.
- Data warehouse. Operators are understandably cautious here, but analytics is going to be a critical element of the delivery of more contextually relevant content, targeted advertising, and so on. Why cede this to Google, Microsoft, and Amazon?
- Customer service. Wireless operators have huge call center assets. Why not turn this into a revenue opportunity, a la Apple Care? Operators have an opportunity to excel in an area where the Internet and consumer electronics world has failed miserably. See my January column, "Who ya gonna call," for more thinking on this topic.
- Wireless and the cloud. Network. Storage. Hundreds of millions of devices under management. Huge direct and national account sales force. Hundreds of thousands of BES servers. Data Warehouse. Call centers galore. Doesn't this all spell a next gen opportunity in the enterprise?
- Retail Distribution. Wireless operators in the U.S., run, collectively, some 10,000 of their own retail "doors"--a phenomenon unique to this geography in terms of percentage of sales. Yet the wireless store "experience"--mediocre look and feel, and high percentage of non-revenue generating transactions--has allowed Best Buy, Apple and others to become a more important part of the mobile retail landscape. As wireless becomes an integral component of the consumer electronics and digital media framework, that physical space could be used much more effectively.