Carriers in Consultants' Clothing
That's the question that increasing numbers of IT professionals will be asking themselves as the Big 3 U.S. wireless operators try to muscle their way into the market for "managed mobility services" (MMS) – a broad space that includes wireless expense management, procurement, mobile deployment consulting, corporate mobile-application integration, fixed and wireless network convergence, and so on.
Heretofore the turf of systems integrators like Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) (NYSE: EDS) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) plus a raft of startups like Wireless Watchdogs and Movero Technology Inc. , MMS is increasingly seen by the carriers as a way to add value beyond providing minutes (at ever declining rates) and to capture the business of large corporations that want to find a strategic partner for all their networking projects as wired and wireless systems converge with IP. (See Going Mobile? Get Help .)
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) took the most definitive step in this direction when it formed Sprint Enterprise Mobility earlier this year, a wholly owned subsidiary that will put Sprint's wireless expertise at the service of companies looking for an independent, "carrier-neutral" partner for wireless strategy and management.
The reconstitution of Ma Bell could help AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) move into the MMS field as it combines the wireless network and customer base of Cingular Wireless with its own long experience in providing network services to big companies. In February, Cingular launched OfficeReach, a voice-based VPN that gives business customers a suite of tools to manage their varied communications platforms including one-number services, call management, zone billing, and so on.
Not to be outdone, Verizon Wireless has rebranded its services arm Verizon Enterprise Solutions and is marketing a line of integrated services that combine the remote access platform of MCI with Verizon's EV-DO cellular system. As with the other carriers, Verizon claims it can offer expense management, fixed/wireless convergence, IT support, and strategic mobile-deployment planning.
The obvious question is, can these carrier offshoots be relied upon for any degree of objectivity, or are they simply vehicles for selling you more carrier services?
The answer, as you might guess, is "It depends." Each carrier has slightly different motives for moving into MMS; Sprint Enterprise Mobility president Bill Halbert, for example, strenuously defends the neutrality of his unit's services, while Verizon Business is more nakedly selling a package of converged services that includes service from Verizon Wireless.
While executives at the upstart rivals for MMS business, such as MindWireless , dismiss the value of these service offerings, lack of neutrality is not necessarily a disqualifier: Many IT departments aren't looking for a full strategic makeover of their wireless deployments, but rather (and more simply) a way to get a handle on expenses, ROI, physical units, and so on. The carriers' move into MMS should not be dismissed as a pure marketing ploy; it's also a genuine effort to better understand the needs of their enterprise customers and to meet those needs with comprehensive integration and management services. That's a smarter and more useful move than squeezing corporate calling plans for every last dime.
The first question you should ask of any carrier-based managed services rep, though, is "What if I decide to broaden my service-provider base – are you still going to be with us?"
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung