US mobile market is ripe for disruption by Softbank, analysts say

The Japanese carrier might bring in new plans and bundles of services by buying Sprint

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

In Japan and other countries, many carriers offer a greater variety of prepaid and postpaid data plans, including ones that are limited to certain mobile applications or to data use at a particular time of day, Paolini said. More targeted plans could draw in consumers who don't use mobile data yet because they can't pay $30 per month for a generic plan, she said.

"There is plenty of room for innovation and disruption, more so than in many other developed markets," Paolini said.

By tapping into its home-country experience, Softbank could even introduce offerings radically different from what wireline or wireless service providers have offered in the U.S., said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.

Softbank combines its home and mobile services with services such as gaming and entertainment in addition to straight connectivity, Gold said. U.S. operators have never done that well or successfully, he said. For example, the big carriers' TV services for mobile phones have been expensive and offered limited selection.

The problem is that U.S. carriers haven't been focused on these value-added services, haven't been creative when developing them and haven't priced them attractively, Gold said. That's been true for cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) carriers as well as mobile operators, he said. For example, a cable operator might have shaken up the industry 10 years ago by offering a video-conferencing service like Skype, but none did, Gold said.

Softbank may change that pattern, Gold said.

"They need the pipe, but what they want to do is bundle services on top of that," he said. "Think of it as a new AOL." That tightly controlled subset of the Web once satisfied millions of users who were new to the Internet. Today, consumers might welcome a set of services that made mobile simpler, Gold said. For example, Softbank might sell customized, easy-to-use restaurant maps with a built-in reservation system. "There are other services that do that, but it's very messy," Gold said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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