Relationships in the mobile market are rarely straightforward. You quickly learn that it’s a place where a partner is also a competitor. Companies can be simultaneously signing long-term
agreements and suing one another. It’s probably the reason why it’s often such a close knit and friendly place because, while you might be rivals in one market, you’re collaborators in another. A closed door in one department doesn’t mean that you’re shut out of the building.
Two interesting examples of the complexities of competition in the world of mobile have emerged in recent weeks, from very different areas of the market. One was in the MVNO market with the launch of Carphone Warehouse’s iD MVNO on the Three UK network. It would have been fascinating to hear what EE, O2 and Vodafone thought of their partner’s plans. While the retailer has stressed that iD isn’t designed to compete with the three major networks on its roster, the fact that it has decided to put it on the only one that it doesn’t carry must have irked its current partners slightly. It demonstrates both the power that Carphone possesses when it comes to retail and how confident the brand is in remaining independent. Both Vodafone and EE have signed multi-year agreements with Carphone since it was first announced that the retailer would be launching an MVNO on Three - a sign that they don’t believe it would compromise Carphone’s ability to sell their tariffs. Nonetheless, it shows how complex the web can sometimes be.
The other big and (depending on your viewpoint potentially bad) blurring of lines came from Google, which launched its US MVNO Google Fi. As well as being the internet’s pre-eminent power it is also the maker of the most popular mobile operating system in the world. Google is an example of the modern mobile firm that seems entangled in everything, and this quote from Nick Fox, VP of communications products at Google at the launch of ‘Fi’, showed just how ingrained the brand is in the industry: ‘Project Fi enables us to work in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and all of you to push the boundaries of what's possible.’ All of those players must also be wary of Google positioning closer to the consumer.
The fear that the customer will be lured away from the traditional mobile players by new forces such as Facebook or Google is not a new one, just as plans by manufacturers to change the consumer relationship are a constant presence. The shifts that occur in the big relationships in the industry are characteristics that make the market so compelling.