Carrier mega-mergers -- What happens to innovation?

What impact does AT&T's acquisition of BellSouth have on mobile innovation, and what is the impact on the market and the end user experience?

The dust has settled -- BellSouth is now part of the growing acquisition machine that is the new AT&T. The real value in this transaction is full control of Cingular Wireless and changing and eliminating the joint venture ownership structure that existed previously. Cingular is healthy and posting strong quarterly metrics on the aggregate. It also represents more than 50 million subscribers who could potentially be approached with value-add bundles of services, as already observed in the new Unity plans.

One important item that is often overlooked in the blistering analysis of dollars and Wall Street reactions is the impact of these mega-mergers on innovation. When I say innovation, I mean new technologies (or the application of existing ones) that will affect the end user and enterprise experience -- technology that will change not only the cost of doing business but the fundamental way we go about our business.

As an analyst of the wireless industry, and in light of these acquisitions, the thought of pricing stabilization always unnerves me -- and I would caution all enterprise buying organizations to keep a wary eye on trends in service provider approaches. This is a very real possibility in the coming years as the model continues to mature and non-voice revenues take hold.

The positive side of this risk is innovation in services, and I think we're going to see a lot of it. When you think about the carrier playing field that exists today globally and the economies of scale available to them, the opportunity for real convergence, broad IP enablement and seamless available bandwidth is boundless. I hope that as consolidation continues, the industry delivers as much new capability as dollars to the bottom line. It's imperative that as consumers of wireless services we demand innovation, better quality, and continued flexibility and choice. We are the balance and the voice that can offset any lack of forward progress, noncompetitive pricing and lethargic behavior.

A great way to summarize what I'm thinking is to paraphrase Andre Mendes, CIO of the Special Olympics. A true visionary, in my opinion, Andre defines technology as "anything our children take for granted that we do not." Based on that definition, I think I'm ready to feel like a kid again. I hope the new giants of the bandwidth age don't let me down.

Michael Vollinger
About the author: Michael Voellinger is widely respected as one of the nation's top technology strategists and is considered to be a thought leader in telecommunications. With more than 10 years of experience, Michael's analysis of security risk mitigation, compliance, and the convergence of telecommunications has been continually sought out by leading corporations, government and financial institutions. Michael's commentary has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Investors Business Daily, and CNN Money, as well as numerous industry publications.
This was last published in February 2007

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