Rising Prospects for a New Competitive Battle

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-09-10 Print this article Print


The days of Android being available exclusively for T-Mobile customers are coming to an end. The same is true for BlackBerry products. Unless a user wants a specific product, they can get a BlackBerry on any major carrier. For consumers, that gives them the option to have the phone they want and the opportunity to choose the carrier they prefer.

Right now, Apple iPhone customers don't have that luxury. They're currently locked-down to AT&T. But as more rumors ignite speculation that the iPhone will become carrier-agnostic soon, the possibility of it seems more likely. And in the process, it's possible that AT&T and Verizon Wireless (the most likely recipient of an iPhone contract) will need to battle it out once again.

A vicious circle?

And perhaps that's the most interesting element of the mobile-phone market's transition over the past few years. The iPhone has ushered in a new way of doing business for carriers. Today, it's all about the phones. But if the iPhone is made available on multiple carriers, those companies are thrown right back into a battle for customers on the service they provide.

Perhaps that's why Sprint has instituted an unlimited-calling plan. Maybe that's why AT&T announced Thursday that it plans to boost data-transfer speeds in six cities around the United States by year's end.

It's possible that these companies, seeing the writing on the wall, are preparing for a carrier battle once again. The cell phone industry is an interesting space. Since the beginning, carriers have largely influenced how customers spend their money. If Verizon Wireless or AT&T had the best coverage in a particular area, chances are, those in that area would have opted to sign a contract with either carrier. But with the release of the iPhone, the market changed. And now, even a slight change in Apple's strategy could drastically alter how all the carriers in the mobile-phone market compete.

So for now it seems that the carriers really are dumb pipes, transferring calls from one person's favorite phone to another person's favorite device. But it won't last that way forever. Eventually, a major phone, whether it's the iPhone or a product that can supplant it as the dominant force in the industry, might be offered on multiple networks, forcing carriers to compete for the same customers who want that special device.

Get ready, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and the rest. The battle might be returning to your shores.


Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.

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