There are two really interesting things that came out of today's announcement by UK-based wireless operator 3 today that they were going to focus much more heavily on being a mobile broadband player
than being a mobile phone operator. For those who don't follow the wireless industry closely, 3 was the first mobile operator to launch a "3G" service -- but they did so on March 3rd, 2003 more because they liked the date (03/03/03) for marketing reasons, rather than that they had the network and associated services ready. Since then, they've made numerous missteps in trying to promote their service. They launched with bulky, expensive 3G phones that no one wanted, believing that people would pay a premium for the ugly phones in order to do video calling -- something that still hasn't caught on. Meanwhile, through it all, they refused to learn the lesson that the internet should have taught them, that people want to be free to do whatever they want with data services, and that's what encourages adoption. Instead, an executive from 3 claimed that the company's customers were "nuts"
if they wanted to access the full internet, and they were much better off with the extremely limited walled garden the company provided people. Today's announcement suggests they've finally realized that's not true, and that their value really is in providing mobile connectivity, rather than a heavily limited version of what they think people want. That's a good sign, though, the fact that it took them more than three and a half years to realize it should send up warning flags.
However, there is one oddity in the announcement. As part of the announcement, 3 talked up various deals with lots of companies, including Skype, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google. They also announced a deal with Sling Media
, makers of the Slingbox that lets you watch your television over the internet, including on mobile devices. It's not at all clear why 3 would need to announce support from these companies if all they're offering is a data connection. Once that's there, it's up to the users who they work with, whether it's Google, Yahoo, Sling, Skype or someone entirely different. With Sling especially, the company is hyping this up as a big deal since it's their first mobile partner. However, as we've noted in the past, it doesn't make sense
for Sling to need to sign partnerships with mobile operators. As long as mobile operators are offering unlimited data services (which is always a tricky subject
), it's up to the users, not the operators, to decide if they want to make use of Sling's product. By even suggesting that Sling needs "permission" from the operators, shows that they still can't get it out of their heads that they should be the gatekeeper to the walled garden.