Separate announcements Tuesday for business conferencing services, one from AT&T and the other from Sprint, highlight the radically changing business models at U.S. wireless carriers.
AT&T is working with Cisco on a cloud-based, video collaboration service that will be available for almost any device when it launches next month. In October, AT&T also announced another video meeting service with Blue Jeans Network.
Separately, Sprint on Tuesday announced a cloud-based audio conference service called UberConference from Switch Communications, which is run by a group of former Google employees, including Craig Walker, the principle creator of Google Voice. With UberConference, Sprint business customers on any device will gain access to Google Apps for Work. Users will also have access to Google Hangouts for up to 100 participants.
The announcements from AT&T and Sprint were short on details, including their cost. What both announcements signal, however, is a continuing push by U.S. wireless carriers to offer services to business customers as a way to generate lucrative future revenues in a radically changing economic climate for carriers.
After spending billions of dollars each year building out their fast LTE networks, the major carriers are focused on pushing business and consumer subscribers to run data over their networks. Added services could distinguish one carrier from the others or highlight a focus on a specific business group. For instance, Google Apps for Work is regarded as a service for small and medium business customers, while AT&T's two video collaboration concepts are directed at just about any size business.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, recently noted that not only are carriers facing revolutionary technology changes with devices and networks, they are facing changes in how they generate revenue and in how they adapt their businesses to do so. If a carrier can move beyond offering merely "dumb pipes" to customers to carry their traffic, then it stands a better chance to be more resilient in the future.
If AT&T or another carrier can offer distinctive software and services, then it also prevents a third party from offering that same service "over-the-top" of their networks, where the carrier has little say and misses the opportunity to reap potential added revenues.
Carriers have tried to find ways to collect revenues from over-the-top services for years.
Because of this over-the-top services debacle, the net neutrality debate takes on greater meaning. If carriers can offer their own content and services on their own networks, they don't have to worry as much about whether they are throttling somebody's else's third party service, and they don't have to levy a higher charge on that third party to give its service greater priority on a busy network.
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