Panel discussions at CTIA Wireless conventions are invariably hospitable and friendly. But there was an underlining tension Tuesday at the Executive Forum panel that found carriers and Internet companies on the same stage.
On the carrier side was Brad Duea, senior vice president of marketing for T-Mobile USA, and Brian Higgins, vice president of network and tech for Verizon Wireless. They were paired with Vincent Paquet, group product manager for Google Voice, and Talmon Marco, founder and CEO of Viber Media. Two-year-old Viber provides free mobile VoIP service to about 70 million users globally, while Google Voice, also free, provides kind of a universal communications.
Moderator Rajeev Chand, head of research for Rutberg, noted in his introduction that there was an “historic battle” between carriers and outside companies that wanted to use the networks for their own services. The standoff, he said, “is finally coming to fruition.”
Viber’s Marco framed the rest of the discussion by saying he believes that handset manufacturers and networks have owned mobile communications until recently, but that the future will see a new mobile business sector providing only services like VoIP.
“You’re going to see a differentiation between the networks and services,” he said.
Both Paquet and Higgins said the carriers have major strategies to design and provide innovative services, sometimes in-house and sometimes with outside partners. They obviously didn’t want to become a “dumb pipe.”
“We view this as an opportunity,” Duea said of new services that use the networks in a non-traditional way. “When you look at T-Mobile’s history, you see we want to power your communications everywhere. We don’t want islands of communities.”
Higgins added that Verizon sees services as one of its key strengths in the future. “We’re building our own services that compete with over-the-top players but also are helping them,” he said. “In the long view, over-the-top is important.”
Google’s Paquet commented that in his company he is viewed as a kind of legacy communications spokesman because Google Voice uses traditional and IP communications. Google Voice is service provider-agnostic, he said, and is just a way for users to manage their services.
The closest that the panel came to a confrontation was when Viber’s Marco said traditional telecom operators “are going to be network providers” that provide access. He compared wireless carriers to Consolidated Edison, the utility that provides power to New York City.
“I don’t agree with the Con Ed analogy,” responded Higgins. He said Verizon and other operators provide many services to their customers and not just access. He said communications is complicated enough that customer service is critical to helping consumers choose services and devices and teach them how to use them.