John Stanton is a man who knows a thing or two about wireless networks. He was the first employee at McCaw Cellular, the operator that eventually became AT&T Mobility. He left the company before that transition occurred to start Western Wireless, which eventually grew to be called Voicestream, which was then purchased by Deutsche Telekom, who then renamed it T-Mobile USA. Speaking earlier this week at the Law Seminars International conference in Seattle, Stanton said that between 2005 and 2007 he spoke with Steve Jobs about the state of the wireless industry. His exact words:
“He and I spent a lot of time talking about whether synthetically you could create a carrier using Wi-Fi spectrum. That was part of his vision. He wanted to replace carriers.”
With hindsight we of coure know that Apple never did become an operator, but they did manage to change the rules of the game. Whereas before a company like AT&T would buy devices in bulk, throw their custom software on there, and then distribute them in AT&T authorized stores, the iPhone was left untouched and sold in Apple’s retails stores as well as AT&T stores. Stanton says this is troubling: “If I were a carrier, I’d be concerned about the dramatic shift in power that occurred.” And he’s right. When he was at the helm of Voicestream he invested in two companies because he say them as potential disruptors: Danger, which released the Sidekick, was eventually purchased by Microsoft, and who the head of the company (Andy Rubin) would eventually make Google’s Android OS; and Research in Motion, creator of the BlackBerry. He proposes that operators start making these type of big bets to move the industry forward, because right now they’re just hyping up entrenched players.
We can only imagine what would have happened if Steve Jobs got his way. He could have owned and operated the world’s best wireless provider, setting an example that everyone from América Móvil in Mexico to VimpelCom in Russia would have been jealous of.
[Image above a screenshot from this YouTube video]