Analyzing the Carriers

Michael Vizard

There's a lot of frustration with mobile carriers these days, largely because nobody likes to buy a high-end smartphone or tablet only to discover they can't use some of the more advanced features in certain areas due to network congestion. When that happens, people start to wonder just what it is that prevents carriers from intelligently deploying enough bandwidth to serve the needs of their customers.

The good news is that it looks like some carriers are now trying to figure out how to better allocate resources. Sybase, a unit of SAP, announced today at the CTIA Wireless 2011 conference that over 50 providers of mobile computing services have signed up to use the company's Sybase Operator Analytics 365 service, which is a hosted implementation of Sybase's IQ Analytics software. Better yet, Neil McGovern, director of marketing for Sybase, says the company anticipates that it will have a total of 90 signed up by the end of next month.

You might well wonder what carriers have been doing all this time. When it comes to investing in IT infrastructure and software to improve their services, there seems to be a lot of unexplained reluctance. Some even think that folks in Congress should start asking more pointed questions about what the carriers are doing to improve service. Many think that by not improving service, the carriers are artificially constraining network bandwidth as part of an attempt to improve margins. And with AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, many fear things will get worse with effectively only three carriers in the U.S.

As regulated entities, the carriers have more obligation to explain their business practices than other companies. The good news is that with the rise of hosted analytics services, the carriers can't claim that they can't afford to collect and provide information on their operations. Obviously, it would be great if the carriers used analytics to optimize the performance of their services. The question is whether they will use that information to compete more aggressively, or to try to optimize the pricing of their most heavily used services regardless of what it costs them to deliver those services. The tension between those sometimes conflicting goals will become even more important as e-commerce applications mature on mobile computing platforms.

We'll never know until somebody in Congress or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets smart enough to ask the right questions. The information is definitely out there and soon to be more accessible than ever. The challenge now is figuring out how to ask the right questions.

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