As part of Omdia’s ongoing Telco Services Innovation Radar project, in March we reviewed 85 announcements of innovative services launched by telcos around the world. Omdia’s selection for innovation of the month is a collection of initiatives launched by T-Mobile USA to kickstart its 5G services ecosystem. The initiatives were chosen as innovation of the month because they offer a concerted approach to solving the problem many 5G telcos currently face, which is that beyond speed, capacity, and latency improvements over 4G, there are currently few reasons for the majority of end users, especially consumers, to pay more for 5G.
T-Mobile pursues multi-pronged 5G service strategy
T-Mobile’s strategy to kickstart the 5G services market comprises a developer platform, innovation center, venture capital investments, and strategic 5G partnerships with Disney and Red Bull. T-Mobile says that one major problem hindering 5G service development is that operators put hurdles in the way of developers that prevent them from efficiently launching their services. These include limited support, unclear pricing and certification, as well as patchy 5G network coverage, which lowers the incentives for developers to build 5G-only services.
While T-Mobile already has near-nationwide 5G network coverage, helped by the low-band spectrum it uses, the latest initiatives look to make it easier for developers to access it. The most significant part of the initiative is the one aimed at developers of 5G services. Here, T-Mobile launched a developer platform that will enable developers to: easily connect devices to its network; access pre-certified modules, chipsets, and devices; access APIs and open source projects; and get access to real-time support from T-Mobile’s network experts. Meanwhile, its first Developer Kit will allow developers to connect to the network immediately with no additional costs, hardware testing requirements, or extra build time. Taken together, these moves will lower the barrier considerably for developers to access the T-Mobile network and key features such as API expert support.
Other parts of the initiative include the “Tech Experience 5G Hub,” a 24,000 square foot technology innovation center, where partners can access new 5G capabilities before they are broadly deployed and work with T-Mobile engineers. T-Mobile also expanded its accelerator program for startups and developers, building 5G experiences for augmented reality (AR) glasses on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform, partnering with Beem, VictoryXR, Mawari, Volucap, and Immersiv.io to build these new AR consumer experiences. In addition, T-Mobile Ventures, T-Mobile’s 5G-focused investment fund, is investing in 5G-focused developers SignalWire and Spectro Cloud. Meanwhile, the strategic partnerships with Disney StudioLAB and Red Bull to develop new 5G-powered experiences for fans give T-Mobile a good opportunity to develop 5G-specific content that it can then use to drive users to 5G price plans. Given that 5G access is becoming the norm for most mid and high-end price plans in leading 5G markets, bundling premium content into these price plans is a tried and tested approach to drive users to them.
Taken together, we believe T-Mobile’s various 5G services initiatives form a coherent and well-targeted innovation strategy to overcome barriers to 5G service development, as well as invest in the ecosystem to kickstart 5G service development in areas that have clear potential for growth, both for T-Mobile’s and the wider 5G market.
Next steps: promote early 5G prospects while seeding the wider ecosystem
While T-Mobile says it wants to “get out of the way” of developers so they reach the market with their applications and services, it must also monitor the market so it can promote those services that show early signs of promise. In this, it will need to balance potential gains to the company in terms of exclusive access with the needs of the market for non-agnostic carrier access. At the same time, through the strategy it has adopted, T-Mobile is in a strong position to invest in services that show early promise, thereby benefiting from future growth financially without impeding uptake by imposing exclusive access on them.
Beyond early potential 5G service successes, T-Mobile should look to encourage and stimulate the overall 5G service market by developing 5G technology skills and, importantly, raising awareness of what benefits 5G can bring to developers over previous technology generations. Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s 5G content strategy of partnering with premium brands puts it in an excellent position to develop exclusive experiences that it can use to help drive users to premium price plans.