AT&T lit the mobile internet on fire when it enabled 4G LTE in one of its test markets in Chapel Hill recently. Speed tests of 16.34 Mbps download and 5.40 Mbps upload through my shiny new iPad blew my home-office landline internet connection away, which makes one think about the strategic consequences of landline internet and the many devices built for it.
The social network
Fast-forward 10 years and we may no longer need local WiFi, as all devices could participate directly in a wireless cloud-managed subscription service in which all subscribed devices of your family or company network can communicate with each other (using Bonjour type of auto recognition), no matter where each of those devices are located. Grandma’s computer in another town can be saved from oblivion by a more knowledgable family member when the operating system throws her one of many curve balls. Pictures could be shared amongst family without the dependency and the uniform harness of privacy deployed by the currently prevailing social networks. Colleagues are reachable as if they are all in the office. Schools become interconnected to share best practices and compete.
Apple should buy T-Mobile
Now, the likelihood of AT&T pulling off that vision, let alone its execution will be minimal. The vast software experience needed to build the foundation of invisible computing that will be required cannot be entrusted to a company that still does not know how to put regular analog phone lines into – for example – my home (I give the Cingular part of AT&T much more credit). Yet Apple has all the pieces of the software puzzle (even in networking) to build the new social network of computing using T-Mobile’s LTE infrastructure (and compliance to the dominant GSM telephony standard to boot). So instead of paying dividends to shareholders, Apple should save its hoard of cash to buy T-mobile and grab another piece of the prime computing experience that makes everyone want one.
The network accelerates game change
And here in lies the test of the real vision of Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO. Apple needs to demonstrate (for its own sanity) that without Steve Jobs it has the capability to innovate upstream in addition to keep optimizing downstream (to iPad7). More than 6 billion people on our planet are not connected to high-speed internet today (source: UNESCO 2010 data), and the adoption speed of Apple’s iPads will soon be restricted by the six hundred million who have one. Apple is going to have to drive change in the network business if it wants to continue to accelerate massive greenfield adoption.
The game is on. Excitement is in the air.