@ MWC: Carriers Should Ask Themselves: What Would Google Do?

With all the excitement at Mobile World Congress focused on the new handsets and services that are being rolled out by the likes of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), there wasn’t many contarian views circulating in Barcelona on whether it was actually good for the industry. That voice of reasoning came to me from Paddy Holahan, CEO of NewBay, a Dublin-based company that sells white label services to carriers, like photo uploading and other web tools. Holahan, who met with me without the watchful eye of a PR person, was able to unleash his full set of emotions: “I always tell my clients to ask themselves, ‘What would Google do?’ Or else, internet players like Google and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) will eat your lunch.”

To be sure, he’s talking about the age-old debate of whether carriers will become dumb pipes if internet players are the ones to provide services on the phone. And, it really hasn’t changed much, but for Holahan there’s a big difference between subscribers using Google to search or get directions on a map and controlling the cloud. Those threats are like Microsoft’s My Phone, which was just unveiled this week, and Apple’s Mobile Me. Nokia’s Ovi falls into the same bucket, too. “They all want to own the user. Carriers have to realize they’ve already won that game.”

The theory goes if the carrier makes it easy to upload the user’s photos to a carrier-branded online photo service (provided by NewBay, of course), or if you let them save their text messages online (again using NewBay), “they aren’t ever going to leave you…When it comes to user-generated content, you have to use that, or you are commoditized.” So, how does Holahan feel about Google’s Android operating system? “I love Android. It’s a data-driven device,” adding in the same breath that maps and search are no problem, but using Google’s address book — “don’t do that.” Ask Holahan how he feels about the ‘open’ debate in wireless” and he’ll say “I hated those arguments about being open vs. being a walled garden. There’s option C, and that’s where operators offer good services without limiting the users.”

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