The Coming Collision With Mobile Carriers

UPDATE: A carrier exec gives a rebuttal.

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Spend almost any time with people in the mobile (meaning mobile phone) content, advertising or applications industry, and you’ll surely hear something about how the cell phone carriers are making life more difficult for them. At the Mobile Marketing Forum in New York today:

Rene Rodriguez of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.: “We still often don’t even know who our users are ... Targeting our users in arena, our fans, and I have no access to that information” because the carriers refuse to share it.

Gene Keenan, VP, Mobile Strategies, Isobar (ad agency holding company): “In some instances we can’t target as well on the mobile phone as online [because demographic information such as age] is held pretty closely” by the carriers. And, he says, he isn’t allowed to give content away, even though many brands want to, as part of a marketing or branding campaign.

Tom Daly, Group Manager, Strategy & Planning, Global Interactive Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company: Carriers are making it tough to bring content to consumers for free (because they see it as competition to premium content. “We created 20,000 songs, 15,000 artists in Europe ... We created a great platform for everybody ... You share it with us, we’ll share with the world. The artist wins, the consumer wins. We hope some of that love wears off on Coca Cola.” But it’s not easily done.

And on and on, like at a recent iBreakfast where Randy Haldeman of Apptera says that mobile so far is about 99% spam free, because the carriers block it, but they’re responsible for whatever spam there is.

The arguments I’ve heard in favor of the carriers are:

*They can’t just enable everything on their networks, make it an Internet-like free-for-all, because they need to protect the golden goose: voice communication. They can’t let a bazillion people sending rich ads and video and pictures clog or freeze the network and endanger their biggest most important task. They’ve invested a lot to build their networks, which are not government-initiated with multiple agnostic redundancies, as is/was the Internet, and also have to recoup that investment.
* When I said content creators are complaining about the amount carriers charge for their content, one carrier exec said to me that there is no real reason content makers should be able to charge for the same content multiple times on different platforms. Not sure I understand the argument, but it is what he said.

Regardless of the arguments, though, the tide is, I think, turning away from the restrictive nature of carriers, their locked phones and their plans. Not only is Google Android coming, which will create open standards for cellphones on new network bandwidth (if I understand correctly), but the Supreme Court has allowed a case to go through that will challenge restrictions on unlocking phones. Add all the voices of the Mobile Marketing Association and friends, and you’ve got quite a clamor for more openness and fewer restrictions. Government policy here in the U.S. allowed cellphone networks to develop as competitive fiefdoms, rather than a blanket network with a single standard, and we’re paying the price for that today, with all the restrictiveness, confusion (quick, tell me the rules of your mobile plan, in detail), plethora of mismatched services and devices, and the U.S. lag in many ways behind other countries.

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