Sprint, T-Mobile & The End of Phones

August 2, 2019

Sprint and T-Mobile got the go-ahead from the government to merge last week. The third and fourth largest cell phone companies in the country are becoming one.

It’s not a completely done deal — there are still some state lawsuits to negotiate, and the government stipulated that a brand new wireless network has to be created out of the DISH network and some related assets.

But now that it’s highly likely that that the newly merged company will happen, we’re starting to see a lot of hand wringing in the press on how this new company will soon be able to compete against AT&T and Verizon by raising its prices without losing market share.

Personally, I don’t think it matters. Why? Because in five years, the phone will be obsolete.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

The conventional view is that the manufacturing industry has been dead for many years now with no hope for a revival. But over the past ten years, manufacturing businesses around the world have quietly been investing in sensors and connectivity. They’ve been hard at work putting sensors into everything they make: cars, lightbulbs, dishwashers, water heaters, garage door openers, chairs, pipes, tiles, windows, tables sidewalks, rebar, lights, shoes, bottles, tires, bricks, you name it.

Pretty soon, all the manufactured objects on the planet – everything that comes off the assembly lines — will be able to receive and transmit data. IoT is simply the digitization of the physical world through sensors and connectivity.

When that happens, our world is going to change, massively. When every physical product essentially becomes an edge device on the network, they all become access points to a broader application or service that sits in the cloud. So your closet, for example, will become a portal for a clothing delivery service. Your refrigerator will be your access point to a food delivery service. Every single product will turn into a service.

And in this world, I’m not sure you are going to need that phone. As any smart home enthusiast is painfully aware, using your phone to turn on and off your light never made any sense. Responding to your voice may be a step forward, but in today’s world, shouldn’t the lights simply know when to turn off and on by themselves?.

And so, if we are soon entering a world where every physical product has the capacity to recognize us, interact with us, anticipate what we want, why would we need a phone to control all these things? You’ll be able to make that restaurant reservation from any car, ask your deck to save you seats for the next showing of Avengers 20. Stuff will just work. Things will just happen. These services will know our preferences and profiles. All of these millions of edge devices will intuitively respond to ourselves and our environments.

I suspect that’s what the telcos are focused on right now. Their obsessing less about selling us the latest phone, and more about getting SIM cards into all of our appliances, furniture, vehicles, security systems, clothes, workspaces, etc.

Today, a big story about two cell carriers merging just isn’t that compelling to me. When a cell carrier starts to sell you a refrigerator, then things will get interesting!

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