MVNOs – Strategy for Innovation?

I had a completely kooky idea the other day while meeting with Mike Liebhold and Francois Bar to discuss a research project. One of the big challenges for creating innovating services, apps, devices — what have you — within the current mobile ecosystem is that the carriers don’t adopt the same kind of spirit of innovation that many entrepreneurs, researchers, inventors in the internetworked world hold. They have things called “walled gardens”, untenable strategies that block independent developers from creating new usage scenarios, applications, services and such all on the carriers’ platforms. Now, one is not entirely blocked, and there are points of entry for creating cool things. But it’s a rocky, basement lab approach that forces one to consider all kinds of obstacles to success. And on top of that, there’s the challenge of user adoption. You know the drill — 16 people in the world think your idea is cool and will try to get it running on their top-end handset. What about the other 16 zillion people with handhelds? The one’s we mention in our PowerPoint pitch? In the part about “enormous growth of the mobile media market?” Are they going to spend a weekend getting the app up and running?

So, there’s that.

And then I started thinking about the [w:MVNO] – Mobile Virtual Network Operator. White-labeled service in front of an existing carriers infrastructure. They’re popping up all over the place. Some with positively moronic profiles, like Voce by T-Mobile and Sprint.

Voce will launch by offering unlimited flat rate service to the rich and famous in New York and Los Angeles using Cingular’s network. For a $1500 sign up fee and $500 per month, Voce will offer their subscribers unlimited voice and data, personalized live service, and new, exclusive handsets every 4 months. Voce hopes to expand to the US’s top 10 markets by the end of next year, and may also expand their carrier partners to include T-Mobile and Sprint.

[via phonescoop]

Erraaa..okay. I mean, unless being rich and famous means having chalk in your brainpain, I’m not sure what the upside here is. I mean, if you’re rich, famous, and smart, you can probably plug a few numbers into a spreadsheet and find out that you can have virtually unlimited voice and data for a $129 1500 minute plan that includes unlimited data for an extra $15, and subscribe to an off-shore valet service for $300, or just take advantage of the live attendant service of your Gold Amex or Platinum Visa.

It occurred to me that an MVNO might be a relatively challenge-free way for a carrier to introduce some speculative service, like a mobile games (mobile as in movement and location, not just games on a little portable device) MVNO.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something about the MVNO economics that doesn’t work? Amp’d seems to be in some sort of flat spin:

Is Amp’d in trouble? The cloyingly hip MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) targeted at the youth of today hasn’t even launched yet and there already some signs that things aren’t going well. MocoNews reports that three senior execs have recently jumped ship..and that an executive recruiter they spoke to has reported seeing a number of resumes from current Amp’d employees looking for an exit. To make matters worse, the company’s new COO has been barred from working there while a judge decides whether her former employer (T-Mobile) can enforce a non-compete agreement she signed.

[via engadget]

The Amp’d thing is a little weird. I just met with those guys a week ago. I think at least one of the people I met with bailed. Or was bailed. Or whatever.. I guess the “commercial world” moves quickly, which can be great if you’re actually trying to get things done, unlike academia where you ask for a research budget..and a year later they say, wait..did you ask me for a research budget or something last year?

Why do I blog this? I’m trying to capture various approaches, both at the level of experimental/laboratory research as well as commercial possibilities for innovating mobile designed experiences.

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