Opening up Mobile Phone Platform
Walter Mossberg asks the cellphone carriers to stop acting like Soviet ministries:
In the U.S., the wireless phone carriers have used their ownership of networks to sharply restrict what technologies can actually reach users.
I call these cellphone companies the new Soviet ministries, because they are reminiscent of the Communist bureaucracies in Russia that stood athwart the free market for decades. Like the real Soviet ministries, these technology middlemen too often believe they can decide better than the market what goods consumers need.
Of course, the cellphone carriers aren’t Communists, and they aren’t evil. They spent billions of dollars to acquire and build their networks. They have every right to want to manage these networks carefully and to earn a fair return on their investments on behalf of their shareholders.
Also, these companies often subsidize the cost of the phones consumers buy, so they feel they have a right to decide what products reach consumers.
However, I believe that, in the name of valid business goals, the U.S. carriers are exercising far too much control over the flow of new technologies into users’ hands. In an ideal world, any tech company with a new cellphone, or with software to run on cellphones, should be able to sell it directly to users. These customers would then separately buy plans from the cellphone companies allowing those devices to work on the networks.
While it is a lot less so in India because of the use of GSM and the separation between cellphone purchase and service selection, Indian cellphone companies would do well to imbibe the positive lessons from i-mode a few years ago to build an open platform on which service providers can ride.