Carrier Evolution

Some would argue that a war over “interpersonal communications,” separate from the earlier messaging formats of email, instant messaging, chat and text messaging, is about to break out among three of the over the top application platforms, namely Google, Facebook and Apple.

For mobile service providers, that poses an issue, namely the future of their text messaging revenue streams, since historically mobile service providers have not make money directly from email or chat.

Facebook’s unified Chat / Messages / Email; Apple’s cross-device iMessage system and Google’s Gmail / GChat / Hangouts are something different, some would argue, as those platforms blend email, messaging chat and even video conferencing.

For mobile service providers, “how to compete” is the issue. A reasonable person might argue that no mobile service provider is fully equipped to compete in the “interpersonal communications” space dominated by those three application providers.

But every mobile service provider has an indirect interest in all those applications. Email was the killer app that drove adoption of dial-up Internet services. BlackBerry made mobile access to email a revenue driver for mobile data plans.

Messaging remains a pillar of the emerging “interpersonal communications” business, and incorporates the value of text messaging, which is the direct revenue stream mobile service providers have dominated.

Chat traditionally has been a feature users have valued as part of social networking platforms, and many would argue that mobile use of social networks is a key part of the value proposition for buying a mobile data plan.

At some level, then, sales of mobile data plans will be a direct benefit mobile service providers can expect, no matter which messaging platform “wins.”

On the other hand, SMS revenues could suffer if users start to migrate their short message activities to one or more of the application platforms.

Some of us would argue that among the advantages of the new Verizon Wireless “Share Everything” service plans is the ability to preserve much of the value and revenue once provided by discrete voice and text messaging plans, even as users migrate to the newer “interpersonal communications” platforms.

There is, remember, a difference between “usage” and “revenue.” To the extent that mobile service providers continue to bill for voice and texting in a “usage” mode, less usage means less revenue.

What “Share Everything” means is that unlimited domestic voice and texting is a feature of a network access fee. In other words, people get to use voice and texting as part of their service fee providing mobile network access.

That doesn’t directly create a rival interpersonal communications platform, but does preserve revenue from access to the voice and texting features that now come with mobile access.

On the other hand, since “Share Everything” is billed on a modified usage basis, when users avail themselves of the over the top apps, they buy more broadband access when they use more over the top apps.

It is not a complete answer to how mobile service providers can protect legacy revenue streams, but is an important new tool.