The battle over who controls the customer, whether it’s a battle for the smart pipe or the smart device, is quickly moving into a battle over who controls the customer’s content. Today the field is wide open, leaving plenty of room for new winners and losers in the space.
Content has moved from only being stored on the laptop’s hard drive or in the handset’s address book and image gallery to the cloud. In a digital world, your contact information, as well as your photos, your friends, your e-mail, your music, your Twitter followers, even birthday reminders, are stored online. Telecom carriers, cable operators and Internet service providers aren’t the only companies holding that information, however. Companies as diverse as Facebook, Flickr and BestBuy Mobile all can store a person’s content, or a majority of it. Best of all for the consumer, many companies don’t charge for holding this information. Or, as NewBay Software management thinks, that might be worst of all. NewBay is betting that wireless carriers will win this battle for customers. NewBay’s chief marketing officer, Nagappan Arunachalam, argues customers want a billing relationship with the company in charge of their most valuable information. He also believes Google and Yahoo eventually will charge for access to the cloud. If a company loses your information, but you don’t have a billing relationship with them, you have no recourse, he points outs.
InCode Telecom’s Rob Chimsky predicts that next year the battle will heat up between the cloud and the edge as device companies are “unwilling to assume ‘dumb terminal’ status.” In a recent interview Chimsky said companies like his former parent, VeriSign, may be the trusted source for storing information in the cloud. There’s merit to that point as well, especially when one considers how mobile payments could take off. Credit-card information is certainly among the content that needs to be protected most.
As such, network security and reliability issues will become tantamount and could do a lot to shake out the winners from the losers in this impending battle. T-Mobile USA, Research in Motion and Facebook have all had network outages or worse, disabling their customers from accessing their content. (I imagine every company took a second and third look at their backup situations once they heard news that Microsoft servers lost T-Moible Sidekick users’ information.) It’s too early to say which companies are best able to manage all this content, or if the best qualified companies will eventually be the ones with staying power, but as competition for customer control heats up, so does innovation.