27 April 2010

Apple, Google, AT&T and Verizon

This article over at Seeking Alpha is interesting. It describes the "small numbers bargaining problem" in telecom. Quoting the article:

Verizon has already shown resistance to putting the Apple iPhone on its platform for fear that it will use tremendous amounts of data without sharing any of the third party application profits with the carrier. Now VZ is beginning to play games with Google saying that they won’t pick up the Nexus One, planned to be released spring of 2010. Google loses access to the carrier’s more than 90 million users, and seems to have stumbled for the time being in becoming a major player in the mobile handset market.

AT&T has not picked up the phone either. But AT&T has more problems than just Google, they are trapped in a mutually hated relationship with Apple now, where neither party can get rid of the other. It really is the marriage from hell. Apple doesn’t have another carrier, and AT&T can’t throw Apple off for fear that its massive amount of iPhone users will defect from its completely inferior network. So AT&T is trapped having to provide Apple with more and more bandwidth, towers and other infrastructure, as the public and media scream at AT&T to get their network up to Verizon’s standards, not to even mention how well Sprint (S) works. AT&T is for sure frustrated that they have to make these capital expenditures and see no increased profit from them, it’s like bailing out the water from a ship with a 20 foot hole in the bottom. You’re just spending energy trying to stay afloat.

Something has to give here, this can’t go on forever, and I think we are soon to see a resolution to the issue of the telecom giants paying for the network on which Apple and Google make tremendous amounts of money. Maybe the telecoms chose the nuclear option and just stop building their networks holding Apple’s feet to the fire. Steve Jobs can’t revolutionize the content distribution market without a network to do it on, and believe me, the stuff that he wants to do is going to take a lot more bandwidth than is available today. Do we really think the carriers are going to pay for that to happen? Maybe Apple will buy a carrier, or perhaps even build its own network with a next generation technology they have been developing.

I wonder to what extent the independent LTE network proposed by Harbinger (see this) will be the event that shakes things up? In many ways, the situation described above seems to be an analog of the drama being played out over network neutrality in that we have infrastructure investments required for applications that are not easily monetized by the infrastructure owners.

No comments: