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Mobile Ecosystem
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Mobile Ecosystem Roundup:
U.S. Wireless Carriers

| May 24, 2011 | Mobile Ecosystem
| Analysts:
  Peter Jarich, Service Director, Service Provider Infrastructure,
  William Ho, Vice President, Consumer Group


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Unlike many parts of the mobile ecosystem, the U.S. mobile operator landscape is relatively simply to define: carriers delivering mobile voice and data services over their own, or partner, networks. While a vibrant part of the ecosystem, we will ignore mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) here for the sake of focusing on operators with their own network assets, spectrum, etc. Even without the inclusion of MVNOs, this leaves us with a wide array of services and operators as already covered in Consumer Services:

  • Contract Mobile Voice Plans
  • Prepaid Mobile Voice Plans
  • Mobile Broadband Plans
  • U.S. Carrier Profiles

Like operators elsewhere, U.S. mobile carriers dictate the agendas of the other players in the ecosystem. They determine the pace of technology roll outs. They determine the winners and losers in the vendor space. They determine the devices that get deployed. They drive these devices (and, ideally, the applications running on them) into the market thanks to their distribution, marketing and subsidy efforts. And while it’s fashionable to argue that device capabilities and over-the-top (OTT) application providers have marginalized the role of the operator, the argument is often overstated.

Operators still represent the brand that wireless subscribers associate with – the companies responsible for rolling out networks that support new services, with a clear role in driving innovation around application development, mobile marketing and mobile commerce.The same could be said, of course, about operators in any region. Where the U.S. stands out for its size and maturity, it also stands out for its vibrancy and diversity. While four national operators touch more than 90% of the country’s population, regional and local players make it a market with dozens of smaller operators.

At the same time, the U.S. was among the first markets to launch mobile broadband technologies such as HSDPA and 4G, and with AT&T’s pending acquisition of T-Mobile USA, it’s a market that highlights truisms about the importance of scale and spectrum in addressing network technology upgrades, developer and device vendor roadmaps, etc.


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