Which Is The Most Open, Advanced Carrier?

As Mike said, both he and I were at the DemoMobile conference last week, and Mike already covered many of the presenters at the show. What I wanted to focus on was my one "Hmmm...AHA!" moment of the show, which came at an entirely unpredictable moment. A panel was on the stage discussing whether carriers were blocking the progress of mobile data and services through walled gardens, or whether they were the drivers of progress (guess who was arguing this issue on the stage). Anyhow, the moderator posed the question: "Who is the most innovative, most open, most advanced carrier?" Mike pointed out the obvious leaders in Japan and Korea, but this started me thinking about who was the 'best' carrier in the US. My conclusion surprised me, because it is the oft-maligned AT&T Wireless Enterprises (AWE). Yes, AWE is bottom-ranked for customer satisfaction, service, and network coverage, but if one looks exclusively at their data services one sees a carrier that: 1) early on adopted the iMode model from DoCoMo to emulate that success, 2) launched four cities with UMTS because of contractual obligations and then surprised us by launching two more under no obligation, 3) has a nationwide EDGE network which offers real speeds of 100Kbps, 4) offers a wealth of advanced phones including lots of Bluetooth, 5) was second-place to Nextel in offering turn-by-turn driving direction solutions using GPS, 6) was first to offer consumer LBS like 'FriendFinder" and "find the nearest..." yellow page apps, 7) is perhaps the only US carrier to offer a walled garden with low walls, which is demonstrated by the fact that PTT was available on AWE long before VZW and Sprint PCS started arguing over it - a company called Fastmobile used AWE's open platform to offer a symbian-based PTT client which could use AWE's GPRS network to handle data flow. Because AWE is more open, third parties are more able to offer innovative services on their network. AWE benefits by charging per Kb for data, and thus benefits from innovative services without dedicating resources to controlling them. Seems like a winning strategy for mobile data services...we can only hope that Cingular keeps up this innovation Glasnost when they swallow AWE.
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