Like an addictive drug, the more bandwidth consumers get, the more they want, and the global mobile device electronics industry has thus far benefited the most. Mobile operators have benefited as well, but are facing a category 5 hurricane of mobile bandwidth demand in the next few years that could wipe out profits or deflate the mobile bubble. Sprint was looking particularly vulnerable with its unlimited data plans, but what can we expect going forward? Accelerated innovation.
Tokyo based SoftBank is no stranger to a high density population of mobile data hungry technofiles, so its been a few steps ahead of its US mobile operator counterparts. Through its characteristically Japanese patience and long term outlook, it won out over rivals for Sprint and Clearwire without succumbing to an all-out bidding war.
Japanese telecoms has been an early innovator in SDN and its close cousin, NFV, both promise to drive significant network and capital efficiency gains in core and edge service provider networks. And Japan seems to have bought into globalized telecom standards, a critical ingredient in the ‘getting more for less’ economy of scale recipe that benefits all.
For the radio access network (RAN), SoftBank’s acquisition comes with a much needed $5B capital infusion to invest in Sprint’s network – nice. Investment in expanding the ‘New Sprint” with LTE macro cell coverage is a given, but I’m eager to learn the role small cells and public Wi-Fi will play in the New Sprint network (although it might already be obvious to me if I were a Tokyo native!).
Having worked for a Japanese company and with both Japanese and South Korean clients, I have a deep respect for their technological prowess, determination, and long term vision, as well as their technology savvy and orderly societies. However I have always found the language barrier difficult to overcome, and I know I am not alone in that difficulty. With the New Sprint assumed to be a US based proxy for SoftBank, I’m eager to see the benefits of Japanese mobile network engineering in the US. Why? Just look what Toyota and Honda did for (or to?) the US automobile industry. Similarly, it’s been South Korean Samsung who took the shine off the Apple, and Chinese telecom vendors Huawei and ZTE may have finally discovered their entry point to the US market – inexpensive yet competitive smart phones.
Having finally learned from European mobile expertise (think GSM vs. CDMA), the US wireless ecosystem is getting some much needed new DNA from Asia and at a critical time, and me thinks AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile need to keep a close eye on the New Sprint.
And for Sprint’s TV commercial pitchman Dan Heese? He’s still CEO but expect he will be hanging up his made-for-TV leather jacket so Oto-san, SoftBank’s talking family dog, can take on the Sprint TV mascot role (look out T-Mobile cutie!) It’s a consumer’s world, so stay tuned!