No one likes wireless carriers, or The mystery of the missing fans

Bvifk_medium

I'm not a big fan of my wireless carrier. and I don't know anyone who is. In fact, there seems to be universal animosity to the companies that connect us. If you call someone "the AT&T of people," it is easily understood that you aren’t being nice. But even though we don't like them, we still have to use them, and quizzically, the most hated wireless companies (Verizon and AT&T) are the most popular.


The extreme passion and prevalence of tech enthusiasts at all levels of of a consumer product make the absolute lack of fans of carriers particularly odd. Developers have fans. Manufacturers have their own fans. OSs have rabid fans. And even competing nascent technologies have had fans duking it out over which one was superior. Remember BluRay versus HD DVD? How about the battle between resistive and capacitive screens? Or even Wimax and LTE? There are evangelists, fans, hobbyists, enthusiasts, debaters, and trolls for all sorts of things. There just might be more resistive touchscreen fans than fans of any particular wireless carrier. How have they managed to miss out and continue to miss out on such a huge group of passionate people searching for cool, new things? There is so much potential good will that they don’t seem interested in.

Has Fans? Everyone hates?
Technologies

Yes

No

Manufacturers

Yes

No

Carriers

No

Yes

OSs

Yes

No

Apps and Devs

Yes

No

Carriers, perhaps feeling that it is impossible to be loved solely for fulfilling the role of being a carrier, try to inject themselves into some of these "cooler" areas like apps, app stores, or hardware. However, the bring their utter ineptitude and consumer hostility to these areas too. The apps aren’t good and you can’t delete them, the app stores were destined to fail, and the hardware decisions are ridiculous, like crippling the functionality of the Sprint Palm Pixi not having a WiFi radio or marring aesthetics of the Galaxy Note II by adding a Verizon logo to the home button. Then there are the features that carriers roll out that look good on the surface, but are actually hostile to consumers. Like buckets of sharable data that are really designed to omit the size most people would want. AT&T has started letting more of it’s users make Facetime calls, but that masks that AT&T arbitrarily differentiates between data Facetime uses and every other byte of data your phone uses. It seems that carriers are incapable of delivering innovation that users really want.



Speaking of innovation, it has become a cultural meme that patents or copyright get in the way of innovation. However, despite the real and perceived flaws that go along with patents and copyright, there are a host of companies making weird and wild phones and there all all sorts of apps and software available for download. And the great thing is that everyone gets to pick their favorite. Contrast this with carriers where there is a lack of innovation and people choose carriers they don’t like. Patents and copyright aren’t standing in the way of innovation for phones and apps (at least not in a way that is evident or harmful to the consumer) so I’d be willing to bet that they aren’t standing in the way of better carriers either. Instead, the problem is that the carriers barely need innovation to retain customers. In America, you’re likely to be stuck with a carrier because of a 2 year contract, and when the contract is up, you might still be stuck because real, differentiated alternatives don't exist. I can't just take my phone to a different carrier (sometimes for technical reasons, sometimes for dumb reasons), nor and subsidies create a dependency that make a prepaid carrier that's more willing to be a dumb pipe a less attractive option to many.

What would it take to make people enthusiastic about carriers? What If one carrier actually decided to be that dumb pipe? They could garner a wave of positive feelings and even gain a lot of fans, at least for a while. But this might drive all of the carriers to be dumb pipes to compete, so there has to be more innovation to keep those fans. Carriers would have to be more ambitious than they are now.

While the carriers do change and improve over time, they so closely mirror one another that none can be called innovative. It seems the wireless market is structurally opposed to meaningful competition and therefore innovation. And satisfied customers. And fans. I don't claim to know in what ways they could better compete or future innovations they could take hold of, but some innovation sure would be better than the trajectory they are on now. There is room for future competition: cheap prices, good service, fast rollouts of new technologies, and plenty of things that we can’t even predict, because that’s how innovation tends to work.

I'm ready to be a fan of any or all of the carriers, but they have to want it. And I'm afraid they won’t put forth the effort unless they are made to want it. Is socializing wireless services the answer? I’m skeptical, but if limiting competition at certain levels (ie mandated interoperability of networks) breeds much more innovation at other levels, I’d be for it. The constant march of innovation is why we love our gadgets in the first place. They are new, innovative, visionary, novel, and futuristic. They move us forward in our lives and in society. Do carriers aspire to any of that? I wish they would.

Maybe there is still reason to be hopeful.