One area that's been hot at CTIA is virtual operators. While MVNOs really aren't anything new in the US market, the focus is beginning to change a little bit. Content and technology are taking center stage as the MVNOs follow a useful roadmap that's been provided for them -- basically looking at what physical carriers do, then doing the exact opposite. Amp'd, which is aggressively targeting 18- to 35-year-olds (and aggressively hyping itself up, too) has made data and content the center of its offering, enclosing it in a slick UI that blows away existing carrier portals. The company realizes that it's got to make its offering fit the behavior of its users, not the other way around, as incumbent operators are wont to do. ESPN Mobile -- sorry, Mobile ESPN -- is going after sports fanatics, again with a custom UI that delivers a combination of ESPN.com and SportsCenter to its handset. While fantasy league fanatics will eat it up, one question over ESPN is how many people want only sports content and nothing else? Rounding out the trifecta is SK Earthlink, which is really leveraging the expertise, experience and technology of Korea's SK Telecom, with the expectation that it will deliver a lot of the advanced services seen in places like Korea and Japan that were previously unthinkable here. All three companies are targeting niche markets, with ESPN pretty much locked in to sports lovers. But SKE and Amp'd are saying all the right things, and their success will be as much about all the general stuff they're doing better than physical carriers as it will their targeted content. That's the real differentiation, and it's one that can be applied to the US mobile market as a whole, not just 18- to 35-year-olds.
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