Carriers Invest In Start-Ups To Avoid Becoming Dumb Pipes

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Wireless carriers are investing more money in start-ups with the hope that they’ll be able to offer more compelling services and avoid becoming a dumb pipe, reports GigaOm via BusinessWeek. The timing corresponds with the trend towards consumers buying smartphones and wanting to use their phones for more than making calls. The investments also follow increasing pressure from companies like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK), which are both heavily investing in mobile services that aren’t designed to share profits with the carrier. To drive the point home, check out the numbers: In the U.S., data revenues reached $8.2 billion in Q2 2008, or about 21 percent of total wireless-services revenue. This compares to spending of $5.85 billion, or 17% of total services, for the same period in 2007. That data jump increased ARPU by 50 cents, offsetting a 5 cent decline in voice ARPU, according to data released by Chetan Sharma Consulting. Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) Ventures’ Matthew Fix said: “In my opinion the operators are becoming a little more aggressive and the equipment folks are less aggressive, with less to spend on R&D. Carriers are more aggressive because there’s a lot of uncertainty around their business models.”

A few examples of recent investments by carriers:

— Eventful, a location-based calendar service, announced a $10 million round that included money from Telefonica (NYSE: TEF).
— Social calendaring service Zvents raised $24 million, some of it from AT&T.
— Femtocell systems maker Percello, which raised $12 million, including money from T-Mobile.
— Pelago, which is developing a mobile social network called Whrrl, raised $15 million, with some of it coming from Deutsche Telekom

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Joy Wong Daniels

Interesting article, Tricia. Thanks for your insight on the wireless front.

Just to clarify, Zvents isn't a "social calendaring service," but rather a local search engine that features event listings to promote local business. The distinction is important because as a search engine, Zvents aggregates data (events, weekly specials, sales, things to do, etc.) via web crawling and extraction, user-and-merchant generated content, and data partnerships. Localized search relevance and ranking are also determined by Zvents' deep search technology. Unlike a social networking site, Zvents powers a unified international search index for the Zvents network (250+ media partners, such as MTV, MSN, YELLOWPAGES.COM, and hundreds of newspaper partners) through which users and consumers can perform "what, when, and where searches" to find whatever they are looking for.

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