“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
It’s one of my favorite moments in Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol” from one of my favorite stories. It is a moment of sheer terror in the dread of what can come, but also one of hope in knowing that the future can be altered. In the U.S. wireless world, it often seems like the future is already set in stone and impossible to change. It is a course that leading cellular carriers here have been following for a while but soon they might be met by a spirit in the night that will force change in the way they deliver things.
It seems as though business as usual will not be the path to follow in the next year for cellular wireless carriers. Now that over 80% of people the United States have a cellular phone and rely on the cellular phone for more services than ever, they are also demanding more. And the U.S. government is looking to back them up. A recent report from the Government Accounting Office is putting pressure on the FCC to provide more oversight in the cellular services area. Even though over 200 million people are using cellular phones today in United States, not much has changed in the practices of the wireless business when it comes to pricing and contracts. That will soon change either through self-regulation or by government intervention.
So what will those changes be? This is usually the time of year when analysts are asked to gaze into the future, well at least 12 months in the future, and put out some predictions for the coming year. Although there generally might be some interesting things that are said I usually find it’s more worthwhile to look at the critical issues of the next year and so I wanted to leave some thoughts of what I want for 2010:
- Simplicity — customers are looking for more simplicity in their cellular services. Plans for consumers, like family plans, have driven adoption, but the way services are priced by the minute is generally the same as when cellular carriers first launched. Standard overage rates still apply and early termination fee are still in force, even if you bring your own phone. Now there’s certainly a reason for these things but the market is changing. Carriers will need to adapt to the changes in the market, and the type of devices that people want, and how they want to pay for them. Customers, consumers and enterprises, what more simplicity in the way that they are billed for voice and data services and in their terms and conditions.
- Clarity — as users invest in more sophisticated applications, they want better insight into what they’re buying. Carriers have not been very forthcoming in the actual details of their network coverage, quality and capability. They like to talk in more general terms and very rarely provide insight into individual markets. Also contracts are full of obfuscating conditions, that may be the legal, but are not often clear and fair. For example, carriers will advertise new data service speeds with maximum throughput but don’t guarantee that even 10% of that speed would be reached, using words like “up to” to limit liability.
- Customized Experiences –all users are not the same. It’s time that the industry work better at customizing experiences both on the network and off, with individual users. A good first step in this direction would be the ability to push down a customized experience on the mobile device. It’s a great opportunity that no one has really taken advantage of yet and if carriers don’t someone else will.
The industry is come a long way, there’s no doubt about that, but there is still you a long way to go. With the mounting pressure on carriers by both the government and its own customers, I expect we’ll see some changes in the next year. But I’m guessing these will only be incremental and just enough to relieve some pressure. As the next-generation of network technology is launched over the next few years my hope is that carriers will rethink the model they are working in today and one that’s been used for the past 15 years in this country, and put together one that will move the services forward into the future.