We've mentioned Amp'd Mobile before, but since they gave me another look-see at their… Read more Read more
Amp'd, which plans to launch in November, is following an interesting strategy: look at what the traditional wireless operators are doing, then do the exact opposite. So things that people hate about their existing wireless carrier—devices with features removed, restrictive and expensive data plans, clunky user interfaces and so on—are gone. Statements like "We don't want to ask people to change the way they do things," reveal how diametrically opposed Amp'd and other MVNOs are to traditional carriers. "We don't have that telco mentality," says Amp'd chief marketing officer, Don McGuire. "We're an entertainment company."
SK-Earthlink, a joint venture between South Korea's leading wireless carrier, SK Telecom, and ISP upstart Earthlink. The basic idea here is to take SK's bleeding-edge technology from Korea and meld it with Earthlink's knowledge of the US market and its customer-service operations. SK-Earthlink, which should launch in the spring under a new brand name, is still remaining quiet about exactly what services it will have and handsets it will sell, but judging by the CDMA EV-DO handsets SK sells in Korea, it could make the gadget writer's often-used tagline—"you'll never see that here"—an endangered species. "We're going to offer access to technology that people may have been disappointed they couldn't get before," says SK-Earthlink's director of corporate communications, Julie Cordua. "We will deliver something this market has never seen before."
SK Earthlink, like the others, is also targeting a narrow niche: 18- to 30-year-olds that are willing to pay a premium for advanced handsets and data services. A traditional carrier simply couldn't take that narrow of a focus and remain a viable business. "It's hard for carriers to shift their brand," Cordua says. "Since we're starting from scratch, we can start something different."
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The real potential impact of these latest MVNOs, though, isn't just their content and services as an end in themselves, but rather as disruptive forces to the wireless service business as a whole. While a lot can change between now and the time they launch, the MVNOs are saying all the right things in terms of the services and experiences they'll provide, reflecting the dissatisfaction many of us have with our wireless provider. Mobile ESPN, for example, put out a press release saying how great its customer service will be.
Most of these lessons aren't specific to the narrow target markets they've defined—while everybody might not be interested in baseball highlights videos, most people are interested in getting good service at a fair price, something traditional carriers still struggle to deliver. The content offering can always be reconfigured to address another niche, or even, perhaps, the mass market. But while it might be that flashy content that gets all the initial interest, it could be the way these companies treat their customers in delivering all these cool services that keeps them going, and causes the most problems for their physical-network rivals.
Carlo Longino is a writer and analyst that follows the mobile industry. He's co-editor of MobHappy, and also an analyst for Techdirt. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more Airtime. The column appears every Tuesday on Gizmodo.