Open Wireless Dawns at Last: Or why the 700MHz auction matters to everyone

Your cellular service - phone or BlackBerry - is one of the last "closed" technologies and this month that combination of device and network is finally on the road to opening up.  Who cares?  Everyone should because the personal, portable, wireless device is fast becoming the primary global tool for access to information, and will become central to getting your message to market.  Today, the number of cell phone users already swamps those who have access to TV and internet.  By 2010 half of the world's population will use a portable, personal, wireless device, with more to come.  We are somewhat blind to this revolution because the USA, with its closed approach has one of the least innovative device markets.  More fundamentally, that cell phone in your pocket is morphing to be general and open, which always trumps closed and specific.  Openness will enable radical innovations to solve known needs, such as faster downloads and screens that are readable in direct sunlight (which are just now available), and entirely new services yet to be invented.

This openness will change how you take your story to customers.  US firms spend about one trillion dollars on ads, promotion, and sales.  If any firm, large or small can put the right offer to the right person at the right location - it will drive demand!  WalMart claims that its in-store television network (which is one of the largest networks in the country) can increase sales by 10-20% when they run in-aisle product promotions.  Imagine when location sensitive content can be put on your portable device so you can make price comparisons and gather product information across the internet, while you are standing in the aisle deciding whether or not to grab the new Weber grill! 

Why this month?  Well, the FCC has required that anyone who wins the coveted 700MHz C Block, must allow open devices (e.g. people can connect any compatible device to the network) and open applications (e.g. users can download any software or content they desire for use on those devices).  This spectrum has been called "beachfront" property because signals in this range easily penetrate buildings and carry long distances, making network build-out cheaper and effective even in cities.   

Google instigated the new wave of openness by asking for the four types of open platforms - devices and applications along with open services (the ability for anyone to buy services from a 700MHz licensee), and open networks (the ability for anyone to connect to the 700MHz network).  If Google steps up and bids the expected $5 Billion needed to win the C Block auctions (plus $10B to build it out), they claim they will implement all four open platforms.  Even Verizon, the conservative market leader in the US, who first sued the FCC to stop the requirements for openness, reversed itself, dropped the suit, and embraced open devices and open applications for its own network!  In addition, Google spearheaded the Open Handset Alliance-which includes the likes of Nokia, China Telecom, eBay, Qualcomm and thirty others-- to begin to define a new, open set of standards for the wireless personal device on a worldwide basis; in the words of Lou Gerstner's bestselling book, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?". 

To prepare your company for the new "openness", you must ask yourself the following questions:

Can you take advantage of the emerging Open Wireless capabilities?

Are you aware of the new possibilities to promote your product or service?

Do you have the talented individuals who understand what is going on, and what to do about it? 

This post is also available at conversationstarter.hbsp.org

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