Lens logoLens logo
June 10, 2010

 
Thought Leadership for the Wireless Industry
In This Issue
AT&T's Pricing Move: Alternative Thoughts
Mobile Ecosystem Update
Appearances
4G World
Oct. 18-21, Chicago
Executive Operator Round-table

Future:Mobile
Presented by Rutberg & Co.
June 16, San Francisco
Invite-only event

TieCon West
May 13-14, Santa Clara
Mobile panel

The Google Effect
Tie Boston panel
May 4, Boston

Future of Mobile
April 29, Tuck School at Dartmouth (private)

Crystal Ball Conference
April 7, Montreal
Speech on wireless


Mobile Madness
Presented by Xconomy
March 9, Boston

OnMedia
Presented by AlwaysOn
Feb. 1-3, New York
Mobile Apps & Ads Panel

Hello all,
I've had a few days to digest AT&T's pricing announcement of last week. This is the opening gambit in a new (for the U.S.) approach. AT&T and other operators could go further, and there's lots of customer education work to be done, as I explain in this Lens piece.

Also, when meeting companies or speaking at conferences, I am often asked, "what exactly does Mobile Ecosystem do?" Read below for a snapshot of the firm's mission, and some sample projects and services.


Hope to see some of you out at Rutberg & Co.'s Future:Mobile event June 16 in San Francisco. I'll be moderating panels on the network capacity, security, and M2M. 
Follow us on Twitter!
Twitter logo

Send to a Colleague
Join Our Mailing List!
AT&T's Pricing Move: Alternative Thoughts

Most of you have already read the details of AT&T's pricing announcement of last week. There are some clear advantages and disadvantages of the new approach. On the plus side, AT&T has:

 

  • Lowered the entry price for wireless data, thus opening up important new market segments and making data more affordable at the low end;
  • Developed a more favorable price point ($14.95) to add additional devices/users for data services, which I think will be especially important for households and families; and
  • Set the tone for greater awareness among users of how much data they are consuming, the undercurrent being that even with all these fantastic devices, wireless economics are different from fixed broadband economics. Those who are concerned about overage will think more proactively about using WiFi where available.

 

This is a good start, and is the opening salvo in what is sure to be a new wave of pricing activity in the industry over the coming months. But now that we're headed down this road, I do have some thoughts on what could be done differently. Here are some thoughts:

 

Plan Optimization. AT&T is trying to keep it simple, with its approach of adding 200 MB in $15 increments for those subscribing to the $14.95 plan. However, 200 MB plan users who go over their allotment are then paying $30 for 400 MB total, compared to $25 for 2 GB for those on that plan. The $15 for an extra 200 MB makes even less sense (and looks like gouging) when 2 GB plan users only have to pay $10 for an additional 1 GB.

 

AT&T would argue that those who consistently exceed the 200 MB limit should upgrade to the 2 GB plan. I'd like to see the option for what I call "plan optimization": go over the 200 MB limit, and you can choose to upgrade to the 2 GB plan for that month - which can then either continue permanently or revert back to the plan. This would give AT&T greater opportunity to upgrade users on a more proactive basis, rather than upset them over constant overage of the relatively paltry 200 MB increments.

 

Very heavy users will pay a lot more than they do today. 5GB of iPhone usage (an unlikely number) will cost $60 -- the same, ironically, as its DataConnect 5 GB broadband plan.


Buckets of Shared Megabytes. Wireless data pricing, whether flat rate or usage-based, is still principally based on a per-device, per-subscriber approach. But the average individual/household owns multiple devices, with varying data requirements and usage scenarios. Wireless operators in the U.S. have been hugely successful with family/group plans for voice. Why not take the same approach for data? As the master account holder, I would buy a "bucket" of MB (or likely GB), which could then be shared across multiple members and devices in my household. This would be great for additional household members, as well as for devices with different usage profiles. A smartphone is going to have a more persistent need to connect to the cellular network; but devices like the iPad, portable gaming device, or even a laptop might have more infrequent, occasional, cellular connectivity needs.

 

Allow Multiple Devices to Connect. As a corollary to the "bucket" plan approach, I don't believe users should have to make individual data plan decisions for each and every wireless-enabled device they own. A broadband subscription can be shared across devices, and an iTunes service can be shared across multiple PCs. Operators have gone "half-way" with cellular data, allowing other devices to draft off a primary device (or MiFi) using WiFi. I'd like to users be given the ability to authorize up to a certain number of devices that can share in a data plan. A side benefit of this is greater stickiness to a carrier's data service, since there would be less incentive to shop around for a lower, or prepaid plan from another operator for a device with less need for a persistent cellular connection.

 

What About Broadband? The plans AT&T announced last week were aimed at smartphones. Lens readers know I have long been advocating for lower, more flexible price points for mobile broadband from laptops. T-Mobile and Metro PCS have led the way with lower prices, and there are some good prepaid options (per day/week/month) from Virgin Mobile and Verizon Wireless. But with the delta shrinking between computing device and phone device, and products such as the iPad that are in-between, I believe having a separate, significantly premium-priced mobile broadband offering makes less sense.

 

AT&T's broadband plans now look downright wacky. 200 MB for iPhone users costs $15, but it costs $35 for laptop users. Huh?

 

Start Thinking Anew About Voice and Text. Messaging has been a cash cow. Text plans remain incremental to wireless data subscriptions in most cases. Lines are blurring, however, between messaging of various forms - voice, e-mail, text, IM, and social networks. Today's user accesses Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn via their data account, but must pay extra for SMS and MMS. There will be tension around this as users add multiple devices to the network, as smartphone adoption flows down to the younger, text-centric segment of the market, and as users/households start really examining their total monthly spend.


It is time to start thinking about how legacy messaging and voice plans are going to be "sunsetted", in a 4G, "everything is IP", multi messaging platform world. The subscriber relationship will be less about discrete services (voice-messaging-data) and more about a "connectivity" plan that is shared across multiple devices and users. This will require tough decisions around legacy - and highly profitable - plans.

 

Make Some Moves in the Enterprise. Enterprise pricing has not changed markedly over the past three years. While this segment remains higher margin, I do believe two moves are needed. First, mobile broadband pricing needs to be adjusted, and to be more in line with smartphone pricing, especially since tethering options have expanded. There should also be more prevalent plans that provide some pricing flexibility for occasional/infrequent users who represent the next phase of growth for the market.

 

Customer Education. I'll have more to say about this in a future Lens. But with the dawn of usage pricing, operators have an interesting challenge with regards to customer education. AT&T has developed the right "early warning" tools to protect consumers (and themselves) from bill shock. However, truly understanding data consumption is tricky. Sometimes it is obvious, such as downloading TV program from iTunes. But there's murky ground with respect to:

 

  • Embedded content. It's one thing to go to YouTube...and another to play embedded content within an app, such as a video clip on CNN.
  • Apps requiring persistent connectivity. A good example here is applications using location services, such as navigation. Also, it's not always clear when one is actually "connected" to the network. Does my RunKeeper app stay constantly connected, for example? And what about integrated messaging services that are constantly sending information to and from Facebook, Twitter, and the like?
  • Over the air synchronization. More and more services are using over the air synchronization, for example managing e-mail, contacts, and calendar using the "cloud" such as Gmail and MobileMe. 
  • Advertising. Ads to count against the data buckets.  It's not an issue right now given current consumption patterns - but with more sophisticated, multimedia ads being developed for mobile, we'll have to keep our eye on this.

 

The operators have developed some reasonably good tools: AT&T has usage scenarios and a pretty nifty "Usage calculator", which shows how moderate usage of anything multimedia gets you to 2 GB pretty fast. The more troublesome area to predict consumption is with apps requiring more persistent connectivity, as stated above, and the issue that the customer is not always in control of their data consumption, such as when they are sent large files, attachments, video ads, and so on.

 

Operators need to make these tools prominent, especially via collateral, at the "My Account" site, and at point of sale. I would also recommend adding more functionality to the "early warning system" For example, inform users of high-usage apps; warn them if a file they are about to download is above a certain size; or recommend for certain downloads that they use WiFi. At point of sale, or when signing up for data service, there can be an option for users to opt in to this early warning system, similar to what they do now for privacy settings.

 

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see what other operators do. I believe Sprint and T-Mobile will stick with aggressive "unlimited" plans, to maintain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Plus, their data networks are less taxed at the present time. For Verizon, which has intimated it will migrate to usage-based pricing, the question is whether it will take the "airline" approach of mimicking AT&T's plan or whether it might do something a little different. I'd bet on the latter.

M-Eco Update

For those who might want a quick overview or refresher on the Mobile Ecosystem mission, here's a quick overview.

 

What is Mobile Ecosystem?
Mobile Ecosystem is a consulting and advisory services firm focused on the evolution of the wireless industry, led by Mark Lowenstein. I have been running the firm since 2002, except for the time I was at Verizon Wireless as VP, Market Planning and Strategy. Prior to starting M-Eco, I led the Yankee Group's global wireless practices for ten years.

 

What Type of Work Do We Do?

 

Our business is divided into four areas:

 

1.             Project-based consulting


Projects typically center on senior level strategy engagements. We consult on market, product, and industry strategy, for companies across the mobile and digital media value chains.


Recent engagements include:

 

  • Development of mobile strategy for leading news organization
  • Mobile roadmap for leading provider of high resolution imagery
  • Assessment of market opportunity for leading vendor of network coverage and capacity solutions
  • Mobile opportunities for leading provider of customer care services
  • Expert witness in case involving mobile coverage claims
  • Strategy consulting for vendor of international roaming solutions
  • Thought leadership report for provider of wireless provisioning systems
  • Testimony to the FCC related to the state of wireless competition

 

2.             Advisory Services


Some clients choose to be a monthly retainer, and use our services in multiple ways: diligence on a potential partner or acquisition; speaking at a management or board retreat; mobile roadmap exercises; and  on-call questions. Think of this as an advisory board relationship.

 

3.              Customized Research Products

 

  • Mobile Roadmap. We deliver an in-depth report/presentation to executive teams on the evolution of the mobile market, spanning the breadth of the industry value chain.
  • Mobile Bootcamp. This is an intense, one or two day meeting designed to familiarize companies with the scope of the mobile ecosystem: Industry structure, metrics, business models, direction of networks, devices, products, services, and content/applications.
  • Strategy Sessions. Highly interactive executive engagement, analyzing client's mobile strategy, against the backdrop of competitive and industry roadmap, opportunities, and challenges.

 

4.              Thought leadership


We are frequently invited to speak at private company events and major industry conferences.

 

Industry events at which we have participated over the past few months:

 

  • Rutberg & Co's Future: Mobile, San Francisco
  • The Crystal Ball Conference, Montreal
  • OnMedia, Presented by AlwaysOn, New York
  • Mobile Madness, Presented by Xconomy, Boston
  • TieCon Entrepreneurs Conference, Santa Clara
  • AdClub conference on Mobile Advertising, Boston
  • Future of Mobile: at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College
  • CTIA, spring and fall events
  • Open Mobile Summit, San Francisco
  • Wireless Innovations, Redwood City

 

Recent Private Company Events:

 

  • The evolution to 4G, wireless operator event
  • Mobile operator "mindset" for leading network infrastructure provider
  • Presentation to Board of Directors of leading mobile software company
  • Mobile Opportunities at gathering of the venture capital community
  • Led 4G Summit meeting for network service provider
  • Ran Customer Forum for leading billing/OSS provider
  • Dinner speaker for content aggregator's customer/partner meeting

 

The Lens on Wireless newsletter is read by 10,000+ industry executives. Lowenstein also writes a monthly opinion column for Fierce Wireless, which is read by more than 75,000 wireless professionals daily. Click here to see recent columns.

 

What Are the Areas of Expertise?

 

We have expertise across the breadth of the mobile value chain. Particular areas of focus include:

 

  • Service provider product and pricing strategy
  • Wireless Network evolution
  • Mobile Device Capabilities Assessment and Roadmap
  • Consumer products, services, and applications
  • Enterprise products, services, and applications
  • Wireless pricing and business model considerations
  • Content and digital media strategies for mobile
  • Wireless messaging and social networks
  • Multimedia
  • Mobile advertising, marketing, and m-commerce
  • Regulatory developments and impact
Recent Opinion Columns
What's Next for the Enterprise?
What's So Bad About Being the Pipe?
What's Next for Blackberry?
Re-Thinking Wireless Pricing
The New World of the Wireless Operator
What the iPad Should Be
Who Ya Gonna Call?