CTIA Ponders “Open”

July 23, 2008 - 4 Comments

imageToday I’m in Seattle, participating in the mid-course correction meeting of the CTIA Wireless Internet Caucus Leadership Council. The topic is “Openness: Understanding Each Other’s Expectations.” In his introduction, the vice president who leads WIC, Mark Desautels, remarked that while today’s discussion might not lead to agreement among all participants about the exact meaning of “openness,” the exchange of views should help clarify different viewpoints. I’ve written previous entries about openness for the Mobile Internet.Hamilton Sekino, of Nauta Capital and formerly of Diamond Management &Technology Consultants, keynoted the discussion by presenting his work on Wireless Open Models. The model divides the value chain into five segments: Access, Device, Platform, Content and Applications, and Customer Ownership. The representative from Microsoft took exception to representing Google Android as a good example of an open platform when it’s not yet available, while Windows Mobile runs on devices from multiple manufacturers, supports hundreds of applications, and connects to multiple mobile networks. When it comes to open, Microsoft sometimes sails into a PR headwind, but he raises a fair point. From my point of view, Sekino’s model seems rather binary, with each segment black or white as either “open” or “closed,” while the real world is more often a shade of gray. Also, it seems too linear, along a value chain. Perhaps multi-dimensional molecular models would provide a better analog, to describe the relationship among customers, operators, vendors, content creators, advertisers, and so forth.Tony Lewis, Verizon vice president, described their Open Development program. He acknowledged possible tension between the traditional Verizon Wireless retail business and his clients, but if Verizon doesn’t find a way to serve their demands, competitors likely will. The representative of Warner Music asked if Verizon would take action against devices trafficking in pirated content, and Lewis promised to continue working through this ongoing concern. In response to other questions about the program, he indicated flexibility about proposals that offer mutual business benefits.Open MobileRich Miner, Google group manager for mobile platforms, spoke about their Android platform. In his opinion, merely publishing APIs, like Windows Mobile, does not qualify as fully open. In contrast, Android will be released as open source under the Apache license, as devices are released later this year. As examples of the impact of Android and its open approach, he listed the Verizon Wireless Open Development program, Nokia acquiring Symbian and taking it open source, venture capital funds specifically for mobile applications, and skyrocketing data usage. How much credit Android deserves for each of these developments is debatable, but certainly it catalyzed the openness buzz.Discussion followed among a panel of carriers:

  • Len Barlik, Sprint
  • Mark Collins, AT&T Mobility
  • Lee Daniels, Verizon Wireless
  • Dow Draper, Alltel
  • Ian McKerlch, T-Mobile
  • Rob Mechaley, Clearwire

A common theme was the importance of creating good experiences, a more immediate customer demand than openness. Some of this concern results from carriers’ frontline experience answering support calls from consumers, some of whom “can’t even set up speed dial” let alone configure a Linux-based mobile platform. Some concern also flows from the nagging worry about relegation to a commoditized “dumb pipe” role (although the market cap of oil companies suggests dealing in commodities can be lucrative). The Clearwire representative wondered whether all the customer service, operations and billing overhead is really required, given the simplicity exemplified by the fixed Internet. Are carriers “taking responsibility for protecting their customers” or “playing Big Brother”?This led to another discussion among a panel of platform providers:

  • Doug Garland, Google
  • Amit Gupta, Qualcomm (Brew)
  • Peter Koo, Ericsson
  • Bruce Stewart, Yahoo!
  • David Turner, Microsoft

A recurrent theme was the challenge that application developers face porting across fragmented mobile devices. Some suggested that the carriers should select a winner, but that seems unrealistic in the face of diverse customer demand. Others suggested that platform multiplicity will remain or even increase. What seems more likely is that positive feedback and network effects will cull a small number of winners. The Microsoft representative made clear his goal, and presumably the goal of all participants, to maximize shareholder returns. All too often, calls for openness use ostensibly philanthropic language to camouflage a self-interested drive towards an industry structure advantageous for a particular company or group. Graciously, he also spoke positively about the iPhone, despite competing with it, because its compelling experience and high price helps validate the market for the Mobile Internet. The Google representative highlighted the difference between mobile customer care (all problems prompt calls to the carrier) and Internet customer care (application problems do not generally prompt calls to the carrier). The Mobile Internet will require a shift towards more hands-off, but this pragmatic concern won’t be resolved quickly.Nigel Rundstrom of Nokia spoke about their Ovi services portfolio. By offering services, Nokia inevitably creates some tension in their relationship with carriers, who are also their main channel for mobile devices. (I examined this tension in a previous entry on location-based services.) Several other participants, including myself, joined Rundstrom for a a panel of device (and equipment) providers:

  • Larry Lang, Cisco
  • David Harris, Motorola
  • Nigel Rundstrom, Nokia
  • Kristin Gillespie, Sony

Harris pointed out much openness complexity stems from business model conflict, rather than technical challenges. Gillespie (from Sony Electronics, rather than Sony Ericsson) reports that their CEO, Howard Strong, plans for 90 percent of their product categories to include network and wireless connections. Sony is an example of a company new to the mobile industry who brings existing channels and customer support assets.From a Cisco “packet plumbing” viewpoint, I noted that increased openness for mobile devices and application platforms means less control for carriers at end points. Whatever control they wish to retain must be implemented in the midst of their core networks. Some controls are generally accepted, such as intercepting traffic among criminal suspects in response to a court order. Some controls are more controversial, such as constraining peer-to-peer sessions. And of course, many controls relate to billing. The ambiguity about acceptable controls has invited regulatory and governmental intervention, such as the recent FCC intervention, stemming from Comcast’s insertion of Sandvine devices. (Comcast might have lessened concerns with more transparency and less obscuring the practice, despite the availability of tools that detect such blocking.) Mark Desautels and others engaged in discussion about how the industry might develop a cooperative agreement about fair boundaries for controls of public networks, which are a shared resources. Just as roads require stop lights and highway patrols, the Mobile Internet will require some reasonable controls.Unfortunately, I had to depart early for the airport, so missed the content and regulatory panels. But I’m sure the conversation about openness for the Mobile Internet will continue well past this conference.On the flight to Seattle, an “unaccompanied minor” next to me used her mobile phone to capture video of our take off and landing, which she’d sent to friends even before leaving the plane on arrival. Obviously, she ignored flight crew instructions to turn off her electronic devices. On the one hand, I can’t complain too much about the teen behavior that’s contributing to the tremendous growth of the Mobile Internet. On the other hand, I’d rather not meet my demise because of such behavior. You have to be alive to enjoy such irony.

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  1. In addition to the Glasnost tool (link above) for detecting service provider intervention, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has introduced a tool to est your ISP”” called Switzerland: http://www.eff.org/testyourispMore indication that service providers should be transparent about steps they take to manage users who hog network resources.Larry Lang”

  2. A colleague reminds me of the other mobile Linux effort, besides Android, called LiMo:http://gigaom.com/2008/05/14/verizon-gets-limo-mobile-linux/

  3. Hi, Danny! Thanks for reading and commenting.These bilateral patent agreements are usually pretty opaque, with constraints on discussing them in public. One of the least open”” areas of the mobile industry. :-)I expect Nokia wanted better CDMA patent terms, as it seeks better penetration of the U.S. market. And both companies clear the decks to prepare for battle with OFDMA insurgents.”

  4. Larry,What is your take on the Qualcomm – Nokia agreement?