Network Owners Face Daunting Choice

If you own a network today, of any kind, wireless or wired, you have some important choices to make.  We’ve all heard the proverbial “we don’t want to be just a dumb pipe”.  It’s the party line.  But ask yourself, when was the last time your phone or cable provider did something truly innovative and valuable for you?  If you’re like most people, you’re still just staring blankly at this blog post.  To be fair, there have been some exceptions (visual voicemail was cool, and there are some creative new pricing plans…), but for the most part, if asked, just about 100% of us would never put our network providers on the list of Top Innovators who materially help us live better lives.

So what’s the choice I’m talking about in the title?  It’s this.  If you are a network owner, what you care about most is monetizing your network investments.  The ONLY way to do this is to get people to USE it.  To make matters worse, your worlds are moving inexorably to pure IP-based architectures leveling playing fields and causing even further dumb-pipe-itis.  What do you do to inspire usage?  Real usage.  Sustainable, growing and profitable usage?

Up till now it’s looked like this – go ask the big OEMs what they have in their product pipeline, stick it in your store and hope+pray customers like it.  You cringe when even thinking about this process because historically customers have been completely underwhelmed by what you’ve proffered.  Some companies have tried their hand at designing and building their own products.  But these have also been, for the most part, flops.

What’s the answer?  Open up your network to innovators. Give developers – ALL developers, hardware and software – a reason to love you.  A reason to talk about you at cocktail parties and spread the word.  And I don’t mean just putting up a fancy website saying you “love innovators”.  I’m saying provide them with the all tools they need to surprise, inspire and delight you.  Create a home for them that’s equipped with a fully stocked kitchen, foosball table and cool t-shirts.  Invite them to help.  Prove you are sincere.  Let THEM figure out how to best use your network.  Let THEM shine the light on the path forward.  In fact, it might not be ONE path.  It may be hundreds.  But the fact that you provide the best, most awesome, ecosystem for building, supporting and deploying new things adds immeasurable value to your investments.  And your community of innovators won’t hold it against you.  You’re a business for goodness sake.  Apple did not write the applications in their AppStore.  Their community did.  And they’ve benefitted to the tune of over 7 BILLION downloads and a sky high stock price.

So, to me, it’s open up or fizzle out.  I know it sounds like a threat but it’s not.  It’s just a prediction.  The world is not moving towards monolithic, one-size-fits-all solutions.  It’s moving in the exact opposite direction.  Gone are the days where you can dictate just about anything your customers.  They will leave you.  You need to either embrace that or perish.  You only need to look at what’s happened to the media world over the past 10 years to understand what’s coming.

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