Wireless: Fertile Ground for Wheeling and Dealing

Thanks to countless conversations with reporters, I have developed a crystal clear idea of why Dish Network and SoftBank want to acquire Sprint Nextel. It has less to do with wireless carrier ambitions, and much more to do with the future — being leaders in a new space that’s still largely under the radar.

When wireless took off, it is was all about voice calls. Then the industry realized if it wanted to continue strong growth, it had to be more than just voice. Since the late 1990s, we’ve seen a constant progression of wireless data speed and functionality. Wireless now supports text, Web, images, video, live television and more.

Change Is in the Wind

Not every carrier and handset maker has seen the same high levels of growth, but the industry in general has — and the future of wireless looks even better than the past. Sprint Nextel was a rapidly growing company a decade ago. Then it slipped. It took two CEOs and a variety of changes at the corporate level to first see, then fix the problem.

Today Sprint is actually a good quality provider of wireless services, but it hasn’t been able to convince the marketplace of that fact. So it continues to struggle. By the way, this same thing happened to it in the 1980s and 90s. It took Sprint forever to get past that problem time. Remember the pin drop commercials?

Look at the last few years. Six years ago, Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android didn’t even exist. Today the industry circles around them — and the industry keeps growing, changing and innovating. What will it look like in another five years?

It will be very different. Sure, wireless will continue on it’s growth path with smartphones, apps and more, but there are other things in store. Tomorrow is why companies like Dish and SoftBank want to get their hands on Sprint.

Where the Action Is

There are three big growth segments few are thinking about today:1. Companies like Dish could use networks like Sprint’s to deliver video and Internet to customers. That means Dish customers could get a wider array of services wherever they were.

2. There are more smartphone innovations to come. Today, we don’t leave our homes without taking three things with us: our smartphone, car keys and wallet. As smartphones develop, they will be in charge of everything in our lives. Going forward, we’ll just have to remember one thing when we walk out the door — our smartphone.

A smartphone can unlock and start up a car. Just think about how you do that today. You carry a key fob in your pocket and simply hit the start button on the dash. Well the same technology that’s in the fob can be in your smartphone. It’s as easy as that. Plus your smartphone will keep you in touch with your car app to stay up to date so you’ll know when it’s time for another quart of oil, or an oil change, or changing other fluids and filters. Plus it wirelessly connects with the manufacturer , so you can report problems with your car and be notified of recalls and so on.

In addition, you will store all of your personal and ID information in digital format on your smartphone — think of an e-DriversLicense, or insurance card and registration — and have it automatically updated. Same thing with all your photos and membership cards.

3. Other industries need help to go wireless. You may have noticed that both AT&T and Verizon have been running television commercials about helping other industries use wireless and wireline networks and technology to innovate their business models. That’s an enormous opportunity for growth in the wireless industry. This is also a great opportunity for Sprint.

Imagine walking into your favorite retail store, and the moment you walk through the doors, your phone beeps and you receive a friendly greeting. As you walk through the aisles, you get personalized offers for special sales.

Imagine that every time you test your blood, your numbers get sent to your doctor so your diabetes can be monitored in real-time. Imagine sitting in the back seat of your parents’ car and watching television or surfing the Web on the back of a headrest. All these things and more are real today, and much more is coming. This a sampling of the enormous opportunity we are moving toward. We are just in the very early stages of this new wireless revolution — and these are only three examples of what the future holds in store.

The Race Is On

So, any question as to why Dish Network and SoftBank want to make big moves in this exciting new marketplace? Many more companies will be interested in taking advantage of wireless opportunities going forward as well.

The opportunity is both for today’s wireless marketplace and tomorrow’s, which is much larger than anyone can imagine. We know all the changes the wireless industry has been through in the last five years with the smartphone revolution. Well, we are not done. The revolution continues. The question now is what changes can we expect going forward? How will things be different in the next five years?

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is an industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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