2006 Predictions 3 and 4

3. 3G won’t kill Wi-Fi, WiMAX won’t kill 3G. There will be no killing of rival radio technologies.

4. Operators will still struggle to find the key selling points of 3G.

Mobile operators are still struggling to figure out what to say when customers ask why they should switch to 3G. Video calling failed miserably as a USP, and cheap voice and text remains the lure of choice for some operators’ 3G offerings. They think that music and video will do the trick — but they’re wrong, there, too (we’ll explain why in a couple later posts). What else have they got — mobile turkey shoots?

Operators will have some success getting people onto 3G networks through a sort of soft forced handset upgrade. While they won’t stop selling 2G handsets, the only  cool ones available will be 3G ones. So if you want something new and something hot, at some point on many carriers, you’ll have to go 3G. That may be more successful, really, than trying to sell people on any sort of application they’ve currently got.

The underlying problem here is how carriers approach this sort of thing, and their insistence they be at the middle of everything. If they haven’t yet come up with something — a few things — to convince people that 3G can add some value to their life, they’re not going to without changing how they go about it. The concern is that they’ll be relegated to bit pipes, doing nothing but selling network access. There’s two sides to this: first, there are plenty of successful ISPs out there that make money. Second, if they’re smart, they can be more than just a bit pipe, if they’re smart.

Operators need to be additive — their role should be to add value, and if they’re successful, people will pay. They need to facilitate communication, entertainment and whatever else people want to do, and make it as easy and fulfilling as they can. Typically, they take the opposite approach, limiting what people can do. Want to moblog? Use their blog site, with their rules and their charges, and lose your content if you change operators. Want to watch TV? You can watch anything, as long as it’s something the operator sells you. Then, look at the flip side. Want to send something to your own blog? You’re on your own. Want to watch your own video? Have fun getting everything set up. The whole attitude is "it we don’t sell it, we don’t want you to do it."

If carriers are going to insist on taking an active role in everything people do on their phones, they’ve got to take an active interest in making sure that people can do whatever they want. A total reversal of their attitude is needed, changing from explicitly telling people what they can do to letting them do whatever they want to do. Embrace this mentality, and people will figure out on their own what the value of 3G is.

So this is supposed to be a prediction — well, that part’s simple enough. Carriers won’t figure this out in 2006. Expect more of the same old locked down networks and applications, and expect 3G to stutter because of it. This is one prediction I’d be happy to see not come true.

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