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January 18, 2014

Mobility Techzone Week in Review

Let's end our week, or rather begin our week's review, with some very good news. Jim Carlson, a true advocate and pioneer in the use of White Space TV spectrum to bring high-speed broadband access to rural areas, is about to have all of his hard work pay off. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has finally certified his company - Carlson Wireless - to sell its RuralConnect platform. This instantly opens up significant new opportunities - both for Carlson and the rural communities he will serve. Congratulations are fully in order!

Now let's turn to a bit of BlackBerry news that isn't all dark and stormy. First, it appears that John Chen may be more interested in BlackBerry than it first appeared. Earlier in the week we all noticed that Chen has dropped the "interim" from his BlackBerry CEO title. Perhaps he has some real hope for the company. Later in the week Chen also announced that Eric Johnson would be taking on the role of President of Global Sales. Johnson is the fourth former member of Sybase that Chen has now brought on board. Hmm. We still believe that Terry Stepien, a former Sybase President would make for a great permanent CEO (if and when Chen chooses to move up the ladder to a chairman-only role).

Another long-time mobile player, NetMotion Wireless, also announced a new CEO this week. Erik Prusch, formerly Clearwire's CEO, is now officially taking on the CEO role at the mobile VPN vendor. Prusch's task will be to drive significant sales for NetMotion beyond the company's traditional avenues. Towards that goal, NetMotion also announced this week a new version of the NetMotion Mobility platform, one that has been significantly retooled under the covers to deliver significantly new high rates of cellular data throughput for wirelessly connected mobile employees out in the field.

Last week we took close note of AT&T's decision to deliver what it refers to as sponsored data plans. On the surface this sounds like a real win for consumers - it is sort of like an 800 number, where the consumer makes the call and the recipient pays for it. Sponsored data plans would work the same way - consumers access the data and the sponsoring company pays for the data being delivered to the consumer. But issues are emerging that such a sponsored data approach may prove to be anti-competitive, and of course the FCC now claims it is ready to step in and intervene should it believe this is the case. We see another FCC-carrier lawsuit on the horizon.

Verizon in the meantime is planning to offer its business customers "pay by the hour" access to Oracle software. This may in fact prove to be highly attractive to Verizon's small business customers. And no, the FCC should certainly find no objections to it.

Now that we've got Verizon and AT&T covered for the week, there is another tale of two carriers worth exploring. This week it became quite clear that T-Mobile's "uncarrier" strategy is working - and in fact working exceedingly well. The company reported earlier in the week that it has added 800,000 new subscribers in Q4 2013. That, believe it or not, may be enough to set in motion a change in who the number three wireless carrier is - will Sprint fall back to number four now? We've thought all along T-Mobile was making a smart move, but we didn't imagine it would work this well.

Sprint, on the other hand, is suffering. In addition to facing strong competitive efforts from T-Mobile, the company had to announce this week that it is pulling the plug on its "One Up" early upgrade program for mobile devices for customers with existing contracts after only four months. This means those customers are still locked into their old devices unless they want to pay big dollars to upgrade. Sprint did later announce a new device installment payment plan, but the whole thing smacks of uncertainty at the company. This is distinctly different that the "strong certainty" T-Mobile is exhibiting.

Another company that faces a possibly darker future continues to be Google's Motorola Mobility. The company looks to be having a very hard time selling its Moto X phone, and to try and boost sales Motorola is now offering a free Google Chromecast device to consumers who opt to use the highly customizable smartphone. We're not holding our breath on this one.

So that we don't sign off on such dour notes as Sprint and Motorola. We'll close by noting that this week Apple and China Mobile began to put real marketing efforts behind the new deal the two companies have signed. We have long believed that this deal is going to add significant sales numbers to Apple's iPhone revenue streams. And if that isn't enough, the latest U.S. numbers show Apple maintaining a strong lead over Samsung in American mobile OS market share.

Have a great weekend!

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