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April 30, 2009

Thought Leadership for the Wireless Industry
In This Issue
Companies Leveraging Change
Evolution of the App Store Business Model
Remembering Mark Desautels

Trends in Mobile Internet Devices
Hosted by the British Consulate
May 20, Boston

Wireless & Broadband Forum
Hosted by Rutberg & Co. and Ericsson
May 6, Boston

April 1-3, Las Vegas
Moderating Session on Mobile Search

Future of Mobile Innovation
April 7, Boston
Opening talk

Wireless Innovations
March 17-18, Redwood City, CA
Speaker: Shifting Wireless Landscape

Hello all,
Lens logoChange is an important word of late. We see huge change going in wireless: from ecosystem structure to business models, path to market, and the way in which content is being discovered and consumed.  This Lens features two pieces addressing the concept of change. The first features case studies of five companies that have found ways to capitalize on the change going on around them. The second piece, Evolution of the App Store Business Model is the first of a two part opinion piece I am writing for Fierce on what the next generation app store might look like.  

On a more somber note, most of you know of the sudden and tragic passing of Mark Desautels this month. Please see below for a few words.

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Five Companies Leveraging Change

As executives, I think it is important to learn from companies that are being especially innovative in adapting to change, introducing new business models, or are significantly over-indexing their peer group.  What are some of the lessons for the wireless industry?

Case Study 1:  Netflix
We're all familiar with how Netflix pioneered the mail-order movie business.  But the growth of broadband, cheap DVDs from Wal-Mart, and on-demand services from cable companies all threatened the oroginal Netflix model. Instead, Netflix has effectively implemented a multi-screen strategy: for no additional monthly fee, Netflix subscribers can now watch movies on their PC via the Internet, or on their TV through a number of Netflix connected devices, which range from private-label Roku devices to the Xbox 360 and certain Tivo models.  So Netflix broadened its distribution channel and gave its customers more for their money at the same time.  Netflix was also sort of a pioneer in social networking and user-generated content, mixing customer reviews, professional reviews, and recommendation engines.  Netflix users can now share their reviews with their Facebook friends through the Facebook Connect program. It is instructive to see how Netflix has outdone Blockbuster at just about every turn.

Lessons for Wireless: Netflix has leveraged its strong subscriber relationships, excellent supply chain, and vast content library to expand distribution for content, leverage the proliferation of Internet connected devices, and take advantage of social media.  

Time Magazine
We read daily about the demise of print media.  Newspapers are struggling, and weekly newsmagazines such as Newsweek and US News are shells of their former selves.  Time Magazine has bucked the trend, however. I grew up with Time, but had not paid much attention to it over the past 20 years until we recently bought a six-month trial subscription for my 11-year-old daughter. I must say I am impressed.  With 24-hour news and the Internet, the concept of a "newsweekly" has certainly changed, and Time has adapted well, focusing more on news context, analysis, and commentary. The magazine is also doing an excellent job of covering many of the important issues of our day, and has not gone too far over the "infotainment" line.  They have leveraged their brand to attract some marquee writers, and obtain unique access to industry and political leaders (such as this week's Obama cover story). I am also very impressed with how visuals and graphics are used in the magazine to communicate a lot of information in a compelling way. The Internet site is a good complement, featuring highlights from the print edition, value-added content online, supported by plenty of advertising and a partnership with CNN.

Honorable mentions go to the Wall Street Journal and The Economist. All have expanded their editorial content in recent years, showing that there is still a monetizable market for good content, well presented.

McDonald's has done a great job of taking itself out of the doldrums, and in three different ways.  First, it took some share back from Starbucks, with an improved coffee offering at a lower price (although I'm not sure whether the tagline "just because you're having bad food doesn't mean you have to drink bad coffee" would have gone over too well).  Second, McDonald's improved its "healthy" offerings to at least an acceptable level of quality and choice.  Parents can now go to McDonalds and have an alternative for themselves or (wishful thinking) for their kids.  And the company is less of a lighting rod for those pointing to our fast food establishments as a cause of the growing obesity problem.  Third, McDonald's has been very aggressive on price, heavily discounting certain items in order to get folks to come into the store. The sides often (fries, soda) cost more - and are more profitable - than the main event. The company saw the economic crisis before many of its peers, and has managed to gain share from casual family restaurants such as Applebee's, and the fast casual category such a Panera Bread. McDonald's regained the image as an affordable alternative to eating at home, at a time when people are paying a lot of attention to their pocketbook.  

Best Buy
There's no question that all consumer electronics retailers have taken a hit over the last year.  But Best Buy has fared better than most.  Why did Best Buy survive and Circuit City tank? I think the lesson here is total experience for the customer.  They simply executed better than Circuit City in most areas of the "fundamentals - price, selection, and service.  Low prices are the ante needed to play the game, but not the sole factor - otherwise Wal-Mart would almost always win.  Best Buy has hit the right combination of competitive price, excellent selection, and good store experience.  Shopping at a Best Buy store is more enjoyable than a lot of other big box retailers: more pleasant lighting, better layout, more attractive displays. You can play around with a lot of the products.  The stores are well staffed and the salespeople are well trained.

Best Buy's acquisition of Geek Squad five years ago was prescient, and the firm has made the most of it, adding a consulting/service orientation at a time when consumer electronics was starting to get a lot more complicated. Best Buy has also done a good job of locating its stores in premium locations, whereas a lot of Circuit City stores were in or near second-tier, "tired" malls. The company has also been prepared to pay a premium to be city core, such as in Manhattan, where other big box retailers have stayed away.  Finally, Best Buy experimented with, and has since doubled down on its investment in Best Buy Mobile, recognizing that there's an untapped opportunity for a national third party mobile retail brand, and that mobile is also becoming more closely linked to other products that it sells.

I'm not going to focus here on the performance of its individual business units here, but, rather, on its singular commitment to "the network".  It really started several years ago, when Verizon Wireless made the right bet by focusing on "the network" in its Intel inside-ish marketing message - but also backing it up spending more than its rivals and outflanking them in tests of network performance, at a time when a lot of users were frustrated with cellular.

Chapter 2 of this story, however, was the gutsy bet made to invest $20+ billion in FiOS.  There were many, especially on Wall Street, who were critical of this move.  So far, the bet appears to be paying off, in that Verizon has both added a new revenue stream - TV - (or, more appropriately, content), when it knew that the landline telephony business would erode over time. The take rate for FiOS, where it is available, is higher than projections, and they are starting to take meaningful share from cable. With the huge growth in Internet video content, from YouTube to full length TV shows and movies, "fatness of pipe" in the home will be a differentiator in coming years. The challenge for FiOS is getting it rolled out fast enough (less than 15% of households passed today), as the cable folks and rival AT&T are not standing still.

On the landline side, the firm has continued to invest in its global IP backbone, even as the Verizon Business unit has been among its most challenged in this economy. AT&T's investment in this area is similarly impressive.

Verizon is just about to embark on Chapter 3 of the network story with LTE. The moment for this decision was soon after it won huge amounts of 700 MHz spectrum and saw CDMA becoming increasingly isolated on the global stage. LTE also represents an opportunity to more effectively leverage the Vodafone relationship. Rolling out 4G aggressively is a big bet to make in this challenging economy, especially as sales of mobile broadband subscriptions have slowed. The under-recognized aspect of plunging into 4G is the need to deliver data at a much lower cost per bit, which would enable a proliferation of "always connected" devices and services. Constant connectivity is going to be a near requirement in the next decade. Over time, and for a time, Verizon could have the pre-eminent fixed and wireless networks in the country, with the additional symbolic benefit of helping the U.S. overcome the image of having a second-rate broadband infrastructure.
Evolution of the App Store Business Model
With so much investment and effort going into the app store ecosystem, I think it's an opportune moment to consider what the future might look like. In this column for Fierce Wireless, I focus on the evolution of the app store business model. Part 2, to be published in a couple of weeks, will look a the evolution of app store features, capabilities, and what we might see on feature phones.
Remembering Mark Desautels
Most of you know of the tragic passing earlier this month of Mark Desautels, who was VP, Wireless Data for the CTIA.  I knew Mark for fifteen years. Going back to the early days where we served together on the CDPD Forum, Mark was one of the pioneers of wireless data, and played many important parts in helping grow this part of the industry. He was the lead on many CTIA events, created the Wireless IT & Entertainment show, the WIC, and was involved in numerous policy issues on behalf of the CTIA. Mark was one of the most connected, and respected, people in the industry. He managed the multiple, and political, aspects of his role with aplomb. He was a person of sterling character. He will be sorely missed. My thoughts go out to his family and colleagues.
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