I was at a speech event held by DoCoMo Labs USA in Palo Alto earlier today. There, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, Jonathan Zittrain of Oxford University and Peter Hirshberg of Technorati talked about their insights about Net and Web, and the whole thing was quite enlightening and exciting for me.
Once they started their panel discussion among them, however, trying to address some implications to mobile communication for the organizer, it started boring me. Their discussion went into the same old accusation that mobile carriers are evil who try to control their closed universe, which I have been hearing in numerous occasions in the mobile world. While they do have a point and the mobile network has started to open a little bit, I don't think such accusations will work to open the mobile network.
In my younger days back in Japan, there was a thing called "rice purchase certificate". It is hard to believe now, but 50 years ago, Japan was a poor country and had to ration its staple food, namely rice, and my parents had to show this certificate at a store to buy rice. Amazingly, the system remained active until 1981, according to Japanese Wikipedia.
Mobile network, by laws of physics, is a rationing economy. There is a limited bandwidth of radiowave, and the technology still has certain limits of number of users within that bandwidth. There is a very limited supply of data bandwidth to start with.
People also find more value in mobility and voice quality than the bandwith, unfortunately, for cell phones. Even if you can use quasi-DSL speed with your 3G phone, if the simple voice coverage area is limited, very few people would buy it. Coverage area, which is supplied by carriers' towers, is still limited to more populated areas and wherever the zoning is somewhat favorable (which often contradict each other). Landline broadband doesn't have to deal with this matter.
Jimbo Wales said, with more competition, a more open carrier will win over incumbent closed carriers, but that is not the reality. T-mobile and Sprint are generally more "open" to a certain degree, but people still buy AT&T and Verizon because they have better coverage. Because Verizon has lots of customers particularly in crowded cities, they always have to be careful not to deteriorate their voice quality, and as a result, they have to ration their bandwith very carefully. As a result, the more closed carrier have better voice quality and they actually win more customers. It works totally different way, at least for now. And if the service is based on this rationing economy, carriers have to be in strong control. It is sellers' market, where demand exceeds supply.
Some day in the future, maybe a revolutionary technology will be developed to free us from this laws of physics somehow. Until that time, we have to live with this rationing economy. PC-based web culture people often don't understand this reality.