Friday, July 19, 2013

Are "Data Only" Phones Inevitable?

For 43 percent of respondents to a U.K. survey, data allowances now have become more important than the number of minutes in a mobile service plan.

Those results are one more indication of a potential future trend, namely, service provider offering of data-only phones that do not include voice service, much as mobile broadband dongles allow only Internet access.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO, has said he believes such plans are inevitable, and that such plans could be in the market by 2014 or so.

If that happens, some might speculate it would make more sense than it has in the past for third parties to become branded service providers, the better to integrate apps and device features with the access function itself.

Channel conflict is an issue, but across the Internet ecosystem we have seen that suppliers wind up competing with their customers in at least some ways.

Booksellers and content providers become device suppliers. Operating system suppliers become device suppliers. Device suppliers have become content service suppliers.

To be sure, it is a troublesome issue for any device or operating system supplier to ponder becoming a branded mobile access provider, creating unwanted channel conflict.

On the other hand, bundling data access with devices would provide some advantages for a device supplier, possibly including the ability to package the experience in different ways. It might also be possible to subsidize the cost of access in new ways, as by using advertising support.

Google in fact, already has become an ISP in several U.S. cities, and is experimenting with novel ways of providing Internet access. Google also has bid on 4G Long Term Evolution spectrum, owned part of Clearwire and has offered municipal broadband services as well.
Google’s “moon shot” testing of balloon based Internet access might be the best example of an attempt at widespread disruption of the traditional costs of providing Internet access at the low end, the bookend to Google Fiber, the effort to disrupt the market for high-end Internet access.

In fact, rumor has it that Google submitted a big to buy T-Mobile USA. With its advertising business model, Google might be ideally placed to test the value of an ad-defrayed, ad-supported or “subscriber” relationship with mobile users.

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