How Wireless Carriers are Obstacles to Innovation

I won’t be getting any fan mail from the wireless carriers on this one but I feel it’s my duty to share what I think is the truth about wireless product innovation today.  It’s too hard and doesn’t have to be.

Carriers are in the networking business – that is, connecting things together.  And more and more today they’re recognizing they need to offer more than just that if they hope to keep their customers, and Wall St., happy.  No one wants to become the proverbial “dumb pipe”.

What am I talking about?  Ask yourself this question.  When was the last time you went into any wireless carrier’s retail or web store, and were simply blown away by the variety of new devices you had no idea existed?   I’m not talking about new versions of existing categories – smart phones, tablets, etc.  I’m talking about the devices that seriously surprise and delight you.

Now compare this to say, the Apple AppStore, with over 700,000 applications available for download.  Hmmm.  See the difference?  You’ll say I’m comparing Apples and oranges and it’s true to an extent.  But here’s where the analogy applies perfectly.  Apple bends over backwards to provide literally everything necessary to make application development and distribution a complete no-brainer for the innovator.  They invest MILLIONS of dollars in their developer ecosystem – tools, education, documentation, networking, events, the list goes on.  Before Apple, Microsoft did the same thing, and still does, putting the independent software developer at the center of their existence.  The results, in both cases, speak for themselves.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both companies are now among the most valuable on the planet.  The model works.

To be fair, the top wireless carriers of the world are starting to make the right moves.  But they are baby steps.  They need to recognize that their future is tightly bound to the growing population of hardware and software innovators of the world.  For example, why do they continue to believe that only the largest OEMs can provide products that their customers want and need?  Great innovations lay in wait in communities everywhere.  They spend the vast majority of their resources on their network infrastructure, which makes sense – if you’re a carrier.  But Apple and Microsoft also have massive investments in operating systems (their infrastructure) and STILL invest heavily in encouraging 3rd party innovation on that infrastructure.

These are my top FIVE recommendations to any network owner:

1 – Create MUCH more comprehensive developer programs around encouraging and supporting innovation on your networks – software AND hardware.

2 – Set a GOAL of tripling the size of your developer community by the end of 2012.

2 – STOP TAXING innovators with your absurd certification processes.  Make it easy to use your network in way that’s affordable, reliable and safe for your network’s performance (yes – I do understand that you need to protect it).  Right now, just this part alone stops many (most?) innovators in their tracks.

- RECOGNIZE that your future depends on not finding THE next Steve Jobs but finding the next 2,000.

- LOVE your developer communities and be respectful of what you receive in return.

The wireless carriers have everything they need to pull this off.  Let’s hope they have the will too.

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