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Signs Of Hope For A Mobile Channel
[August 06, 2007]

Signs Of Hope For A Mobile Channel

(Computer Reseller News Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Your column was dead-on ... and dead wrong ("No Mobile Channel?" July 16). The iPhone, BlackBerry and Microsoft are perfect examples of why you were so right, and so wrong.

On one hand, there is already a mobile channel. The solution vendors are the wireless carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, etc. The distributors are Brightpoint, Brightstar, Tessco, etc. The channels are the carriers' own B2B teams, company-owned retail stores and indirect dealers. The indirect dealers are the mobile version of the VAR. The problem for your readers is that this structure, much like the computer industry's, has grown into a mature model. Sorry to be cliche, but it is very hard to teach any of these dogs new tricks.

The iPhone is the perfect example of how the wireless industry refuses to break with the old ways. If Apple were able to hit the market with a phone that was not locked to any carrier, it would sell exponentially more phones. Of the thousands of iPhones sold to date, only 25 percent are to users who used to be with another carrier. That means that carrier loyalty trumps Apple buzz by about 3 to 1. If Apple could sell to every carrier's customers with ease, the iPhone's impact would have made this successful launch look like just another Friday in wireless retail.

The problem with this model is it works well for free phones and low rate plans, but it sucks for the more demanding wireless data customer. If a customer wants BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Palm, they can buy the device and a data plan at their nearest wireless retailer. If they want a wireless solution, of which the device is just one component, they have to learn how to Google for these fantastic but obscure solution providers. The carriers' internal channels don't sell software like Idokorro's Mobile Admin or Thin Print's Content Beamer because the carriers don't compensate for it. The carriers only care about gross adds and churn. Loyal customers-ones who buy solutions-churn far less, but the carriers don't see this. The vast majority of the indirect channel doesn't sell it either. Again, they aren't incented to.

Over the past five years, I built a wireless data program at a large Midwest wireless dealer. When I left that company in March to start my own wireless services company, wireless data accounted for more than 12 percent of activations and more than a quarter of a million dollars in revenue. There is a model that works for selling wireless data in a "mobile channel."

This is where we get to the most important part of your article. If there is a model that works and if there are millions and millions of BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices being used in the world, why aren't your readers reaping the benefits? Why are most corporations letting some "phone guy" from their wireless carrier dictate onto what device they are going to pump the company's information? Your readers may control the infrastructure, but the wireless carriers are stealing the hardware business outside the companies' doors. The problem for the wireless carriers is that they don't know, or seem to care, how to sell solutions. That is where your readers should focus. I doubt that the carriers will welcome VARs anytime soon. I know your VARs' customers will welcome someone, anyone, who can show them how to change their Treo or iPaq high-tech phone into a real business solution. How sure am I? I bet everything on it. My new business is based on this premise.

There are signs of hope for your readers. Some manufacturers are selling unlocked data devices. Nokia's E Series is available from the manufacturer and Dell with little carrier restriction. RIM is selling a couple of unlocked devices on its Web site as well. Many manufacturers are including cellular modems in their laptops. Although they are locked to a given carrier, it is a small step. Wireless data and the enterprise are in the middle of a long and permanent merger. VARs and wireless dealers who recognize this are forming partnerships to capitalize on each partner's channel resources and market intelligence. There is already a mobile channel. The question is whether your readers are ready to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. My hope and my confidence say that they will.

Mark Jenkins


Marquis Mobile Solutions

Maplewood, Minn.

Copyright 2007 CMP Media LLC. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2007 CMP Media LLC

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