Operator Patchy-ness Vs. Monoliths

Recently wondered what might be better for the mobile industry, the operator patchy-ness you find in Europe, Asia and Africa or the network operator monoliths found, for example, in the US? From a software development point of view things are probably easier for device manufacturers in the US. You sell your device to one network operator, you do your software once, you do your hardware once, you do everything once and you are done. Sounds good but this creates also a great dependency. If you suddenly fall out of grace of a network operator you've been doing devices for you loose market share on a whole continent instantly. Also, despite covering a whole continent, US operators use frequency bands incompatible with most networks on the rest of the planet. That leaves them vulnerable when it comes to volume. 

In Europe and the rest of the world things are very different. A manufacturer can sell a mobile device, identical from a hardware point of view, to many different network operators. If one doesn't like you, the world does not come to an end, you can still sell to the national competitor and each country is a whole new game. Obviously, that gives more power to the manufacturer. On the other hand, it's also more work due to all the different languages and apps each country and network operator requires on the devices he sells. Many network operators have networks in different countries now, which might make things a bit more simple for both sides and gives network operators a bit more power than those have that operate only in one country.

But despite there being many network operators they all have one thing in common: They all use the same technology and the same frequency bands. From a hardware point of view, that's a huge advantage for device manufacturers, they can concentrate on one variant of the device for all network operators. Very different in the US with it's mixture of GSM, CDMA and LTE coupled to both existing GSM and LTE networks.

Perhaps the huge number of countries and network operators throughout the European continent has had one good thing: Unlike in the US where operators were and mostly still are of the opinion that they can walk it alone, there is no such thing in Europe. Everyone knows that compromise is necessary to a common technology. Those not sticking to a consensus will have a difficult time to go it alone. To me it looks like this has helped tremendously to mold the industry together. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Operator Patchy-ness Vs. Monoliths”

  1. This is a really interesting question. I suppose there are very few countries/markets that could even conceive of utilizing non-standard technology: China, Japan, the US… maybe a couple of others. China has chosen to use (mostly) standard technologies and radio spectrum. Japan, until recently, has been almost completely proprietary so as to protect local technology companies from foreign competition.

    The US has probably been most ‘successful’ at using proprietary technology (and spectrum), and there have been some interesting outcomes, for example, proving that CDMA was viable both technically and commercially. It will also be interesting to see if LTE adoption is higher in the US due to its deployment at relatively low frequencies.

    However, ultimately, someone has to pay for a go-it-alone strategy. Invariably, the payor is the subscriber. One must wonder how much more US consumers — and Japanese consumers, in particular — have had to pay because of carriers’ and regulators’ hubris.

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