My friend and partner-in-crime for ETel, Surj, wonders whether Google could be the new Ma Bell (Unca Sergei? Grampa Larry?). His thinking starts with Om Malik comparing Google’s mobile strategy to Yahoo!’s: Yahoo! works with existing players while Google wants to do it their own way. This isn’t just their mobile strategy, though: in everything they do, Google wants to do it their own way. We expect Google to reinvent whatever area they touch, as they did with maps, e-mail, and how we use the Internet–and we’re disappointed when they don’t: blog search, feed reader, and portal were all very received with a resounding “eh”.
Yahoo!’s strengths are different: they play well with others. Google is often called arrogant, whereas Yahoo! seem to have emerged from their arrogant phase. They build relationships, appease their partners, and are only slowly building their own content to compete with their partners. They do innovate (the keyword advertising business is Overture’s baby, Oddpost did Ajax email before Google, and the 360 social network is infinitely more useful to them than Orkut is to Google) but they haven’t been able to capitalize on their inventions.
This plays out in the mobile space, too: Yahoo! partners with mobile operators, reinforcing the status quo of closed operators and dinosaur business models: “we’ll provide some premium services and your lock-in will be our lock-in.” Google’s not so willing to play by the carriers’ rules: they bought Android and got the creator of the Sidekick and the Android technology: an open platform for telephony development on mobiles. Add this to the bandwidth buy and Google’s attempts to do wifi everywhere, and you form an interesting picture of Google creating a nationwide developer-friendly mobile wireless platform, bypassing the “orifices” (to use Steve Jobs’s phrase) of the carriers.
I love that idea. As we build the Emerging Telephony conference, we’re trying to figure out what’s coming in 2006. The big news isn’t VoIP qua VoIP: we’ve been able to route calls over the Internet before. The big news is the applications made possible now we have Internet developers able to write voice applications. TellMe have a great developer program where you can build VoiceXML applications that they’ll host for you: zero infrastructure voice applications that can even call out to the web for highly dynamic behavior. Asterisk gives you zero cost infrastructure: use AGI to integrate external applications with your call in the same way that CGI lets you integrate external applications with your web site.
But the biggest problem we’re facing is mobile. Surj is bullish (he ought to be: he worked for France Telecom for a while!) but I’m bearish. Anything cool in mobile has been 18 months away for the last six years. I think a lot of reason for this is the business model: the carriers have to try and make 60% of the money in the mobile space, which crushes the innovation. The only big telco I can think of that might be considered innovative is AT&T who have developed some great VoIP and voice services and seem to be relatively progressive. Of course, they don’t have a wireless division so aren’t mobile carriers. Carriers haven’t been hot-houses of innovation, they’ve been charnel houses.
So it’s about time that someone, anyone, found a way to route around their brokenness. Huzzahs to Google if it be them (host telco.google.com still doesn’t resolve, though :). Imagine the explosion in hardware and software development if there were an open network–hmm, it just might resemble wifi growth. ‘Tis a consummation most devoutly to be wished.