Wow. That’s all I can say. I read some of the transcripts and watched some of the video from the D: Dive Into Mobile conference last night. Interviews with some of the big wigs who run the carriers and their strategies were nothing if not illuminating and one with RIM that equally sheds light on what failure could look like. All I can say is these guys must be as insulted from the real world as a modern day politician. They sure spin like one. And you can certainly say that their respective staffs didn’t prep them well enough.
But spinning is a part of their job. Fortunately in most cases, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher didn’t let them off the hook when the spin got spinning, actually pinning them down on a few points. Take for example the circular Q&A from RIM’s CEO Mike Lazaridis. When the pressure was put on as to why RIM had fallen behind Lazaridis came out spinning so much that you could see the hosts’ heads turning as they tried to pin him down. The hosts were talking today and the CEO was looking way past tomorrow, which in mobile time is like a century of innovation away.
But he wasn’t alone. AT&T’s President Glen Lurie got hit with a question about dropped calls and came out spinning saying perception lags behind reality. Really? He also said that the effectiveness of the network depends on where you go. Really? But the part I really loved is when he trumpeted the company line that they got more traffic than they anticipated to the tune of 5000% of the last three years. We all know AT&T wasn’t prepared for the surge that happened when the iPhone was released. You can argue that they have slowly started to address those issues depending on where you are. But isn’t a fundamental part of running a business being able to deal with unexpected success in a way that doesn’t turn it into a failure or at the least a PR debacle? I’m just saying.
My other favorite piece of “oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that” was Verizon’s CEO Ivan Seidenberg didn’t come from D: Dive into Mobile. Mr. Seidenberg said that LTE might be good enough to replace a “modest substitute” for traditional home Internet access. That may be true for some and if so that would be a great thing. But no one is on this big new network as of yet and, as we all suspect, things will tighten up when the customers come. Whether the “modest substitute” proves to be true or not, I’m not sure a CEO should be moving the goal posts quite that far so early in the game.
The disappointing part of watching all of these videos is that the two hosts failed to address what I see as the biggest issue all of these honchos are inevitably facing along with their customers. With the move to tiered pricing picking up steam parallel with the continued move towards more and more of an always on connected lifestyle how are they going to reconcile the conflict that will be caused by lots of bits streaming over their networks with their pricing schemes? Don’t get me wrong, we would have gotten a bunch of spin and no real answers. But it would have at least been entertaining to watch them try to tackle the answers. Because I don’t think any of them have a clue. But when you’re in a business where you are basically printing money, maybe you don’t need to.