Venture Beat Mobile Summit Insults AT&T

Written by on April 2, 2013 in BillingViews, Opinion with 0 Comments

When I read things like this article from Venture Beat it makes me wonder whether all of us in the OSS/BSS sector are speaking loudly in a crowded room where no one is listening. It also gets me entertainingly irritated.

If you just scan the article, you’ll notice an overt plug at the bottom for Venture Beat’s Mobile Summit, running April 1 and 2 in – of course – San Francisco. The group pats itself on the back for ostensibly coining a phrase when it says “…what we’re calling ‘The Mobile Experience.'”

Um…what? Sorry guys, I’ve got news for you – everyone already calls it that, or something like that, and has for about a decade. So, I ask our audience – are we failing to communicate to the outside world, are these guys really that naive, or is this just event marketing gone terribly wrong?

The article’s lead paragraph is a puzzler…It’s written in English, but I’m not sure we’re actually speaking the same language. It reads:

“As wireless networks become more focused on delivering web services, rather than nickel-and-diming customers for mobile minutes and bandwdith, they’re in danger of becoming so-called ‘dumb pipes.'”

See what I mean? Kind of tough to unravel this one, but here’s a shot. First of all, the “dumb pipes” issue isn’t exactly new. I think I’ve read this lead about 1700 times in the past nine years or so. Plus, if you’re offering “web services” – maybe better known as network-as-a-service or just network APIs – then that’s a direct attempt on an operators’ part not to be just a dumb pipe. See, a dump pipe is dumb. It doesn’t offer any API-based services that let application developers leverage network intelligence related to things like location, resource consumption, QoS, connection management, and so forth. So, as operators offer “web services” (c’mon man, get out of the oughts) theoretically they are in less danger of being nothing more than the dumb pipes they’ve been for much of the past decade (hence the whole OTT and “what the heck happened to IMS??” things we keep whining about).

Next – are operators nickle-and-diming customers for mobile minutes and bandwidth? In a word, no. Operators make billing errors not infrequently (no surprise when you crank out several hundred millions bills per month, collectively). And they’ve historically done a lousy job of right sizing plans to actual usage. But if you look, for example, at data share plans – they bundle in unlimited voice and text. And is mobile data really that outrageously priced when you consider the billions operators spend on spectrum and infrastructure to roll out 4G-LTE services as fast as they have? The costs are actually pretty reasonable. I pay AT&T every month about as much as I pay ADT and I know for certain I’m getting a heck of lot more for it month over month.

The author’s comment is glib and an inappropriate misconception that signals either ignorance or assumptive arrogance (yeah, yeah, I know, insert pot & kettle comment here). And think about this – you know why Netflix can get away with charging $8 per month for its service? Because network operators take on 99 percent or more of the capital intensive risks and expenses required to build and maintain the infrastructure that allows its service to flourish. So, with all due respect, the next time you’re YouTube surfing while cruising down the PCH in your banking buddy’s Maserati, ask yourself if your operator is really nickle-and-diming you for the privilege.

Here’s the next paragraph that may set your blood to boiling:

“Indeed, it makes sense for AT&T to embrace its potential as a data pipe. The widespread availability of fast wireless networks isn’t just a boon for phones, tablets, and computers — they will also be an essential part of a future in which practically everything around us is connected.”

It “makes sense for AT&T to embrace its potential as a data pipe?” Really? AT&T generated about $102.4 billion in revenue in 2012 from wireline data and wireless offerings and it has “potential as a data pipe?” This is a company whose mobile subscribers outnumber the entire population of the Philippines (the world’s 12th most populous country).  And, as for the future where “practically everything around us is connected”…it’s already here, especially in the United States. Unless you spend an awful lot of time in extremely remote and rural areas, when was the last time you went somewhere and couldn’t find an ATM, a POS terminal, a cafe with free WiFi, or – for that matter – a 3G data signal? If you live in a major city, like San Francisco or Chicago, you take it for granted that the places you frequent, from the gym to the grocery, will have accessible public WiFi.

Ok, so, I’m ranting for a reason here. First, I want to understand why we spend so much time talking about these key industry issues in the OSS/BSS space and yet fail to communicate them in places like Silicon Valley (or do we?). Second, I want to understand how “the mobile industry” has been hijacked by geeks who know almost nothing of the actual industry and yet consider themselves experts because they play with apps and phones that my 4 year old has mastered. Third, when AT&T network SVP Kris Rinne was asked whatever question it was to which she responded, “‘I leave the dumb part off,’ she said, noting that there’s a lot of intelligence that goes into providing a solid data network that others can build on,” why can’t we live in a world where she’s free to grab the moderator by the throat and shout, “Did you deliberately bring me to your smug little conference so you could insult my intelligence, or are you just too ignorant to understand your own ridiculous question?”

Honestly folks, we should not have to put up with this kind of nonsense. The folks in the venture world should be thanking companies like AT&T and its engineers. Their ability to drive mobile technology implementation at an unbelievable and accelerating rate has made it possible for the PE folks to become outrageously wealthy by funding the Internet equivalents of things like lightboxes, the Sunday coupon circular, and the paperback section of the public library.

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Finegold is CSO for Validas, a company that specializes in personalized user experiences that leverage analytics-as-a-service to simplify mobile buying, selling, pricing & billing. Ed has been a regular contributor to BillingViews. .

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