The winds of change are blowing for mobile operators. The comfortable oligopolies enjoyed by most mobile operators around the are being challenged by the very thing that enabled them in the first place, technology. The growth of availability and drop in price of mobile broadband mean that there is less and less reason to have anything but a “bits-in” and “bits-out” charge for mobile services. That includes voice, messaging, and the host of new services being developed for mobiles from locative social networking to streaming TV. To get a flavour of just how much money mobile operators are making out of voice and messaging services, see the BillShrink website which has an interesting blog post comparing mobile charges to equivalent data charges from an Internet Service Provider.
The recent decision by Nokia to start shipping Skype with their N-series mobile phones combined with the recent trend towards affordable mobile broadband data packages point to the inevitable future where mobile operators are faced with the possibility of becoming dumb pipes. In some cases, operators are fighting back but those that do are missing the point. Mobile operators should be embracing the change and spinning off new services that can compete in the new landscape.
In his recent essay, Why TV Lost, Paul Graham points out the reasons why the Internet taking over as the default communication media. He says:
One predictable cause of victory is that the Internet is an open platform. Anyone can build whatever they want on it, and the market picks the winners. So innovation happens at hacker speeds instead of big company speeds.
I think the same message is true in the mobile world. Hacker speed is a lot faster than any of the mobile operators have been at delivering services. The mobile operators are going to have to get down in the trenches with everyone else and start innovating. Then as mobile networks move toward Open Access frameworks for service delivery, people will stop talking about “mobile or the Internet” in developing countries and mobile networks will work the way they were originally intended to.