Making another trip around the rumor mill is the suggestion that Apple is moving torward becoming their own mobile service provider with full intentions of being able to subscribe iPad and iPhone customers directly.
The only difference with the news this time around is it is being given legs by Whitney Bluestein, a veteran wireless industry strategist who can offer some credibility to this idea.
According to Bluestein, Apple has been getting their ducks in a row for some time, stating that they have all of the critical elements required to make this a reality. This includes having a network architecture that would support being a wireless service provider which is validated by a patent application made back in October 2006 that is dated shortly before the initial release of the iPhone. This application was subsequently extended in the fall 2011. At a minimum, the details of the patent application suggest that this thought has occurred to Apple.
Highlights of a speech given by Bluestein at the Informa MVNO Summit in Barcelona include:
- Apple will in the near future begin providing cellular service, data, voice and roaming, directly to its customers
- Apple will begin by offering mobile data plans bundled with iPads (vs. current practice of selling GSM iPads with AT&T data and CDMA iPads with Verizon data plans)
- Apple will then offer iPhone customers activation, data and international roaming plans through the iTunes Store
- Apple will provide voice, data and messaging plans directly to its iPhone customers, on an ala carte basis as an alternative to their current mobile operator and then as wireless service provider directly to customers
- Google, while behind Apple in technology, distribution and back-office capabilities, will nevertheless follow in lock-step behind Apple and provide wireless data services directly to its Google Tablet customers
So why haven’t they already? Bluestein supposes that it is related to the enormous subsidies paid by the current operators like AT&T that to date Apple hasn’t had to provide. If you buy a device directly from Apple it is unlocked and full price.
While Bluestein does say that Apple will be providing this service in the near future, it is impossible to say when it could actually happen. A better question would be why. Apple doesn’t have a history of diving into new business ventures that do not fit within the company’s core-competencies which makes a move like this less likely. But the flip-side of that argument does say that Apple likes to control all aspects of their offerings and being able to provide mobile service would certainly give them that (but that control is diluted when there are still other service providers out there, and I just can’t see Apple being able to persuade people away from their current contracts en masse).