Verizon Wireless has quietly launched a media storage service that costs $2.99 a month for a user to back up 25 gigabytes worth of photos, documents and other unprotected content from the phone to the cloud. Eventually, the idea is for that content to be viewable on a variety of screens, including phone, TV, tablets or computers.
While carriers have meddled in the space before, by allowing users to backup photos, contacts or text messages, this service goes further and has the potential to become a threat to Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Facebook, and other third-party providers, like Mozy. Anticipate seeing others enter this space, including other wireless carriers and handset makers, which see backing up a users’ important data to their servers as away to keep a subscriber or customer over the long-term.
Two main trends are driving the interest in cloud-computing: Consumers are buying more devices that can view photos, listen to music, watch videos or create documents. Storing everything in the cloud becomes attractive when it’s difficult to transfer things from one device to the next or keep track of what piece of content resides on which device. The second trend relates to connectivity. More devices are connected to the internet as wireless networks become more pervasive through technologies such as Wi-Fi, 3G, and increasingly, 4G. This makes storing things on the cloud and not on the device possible.
At an event last week in Seattle, Takayuki Hoshuyama the CEO of D2Communications, a marketing company which has received funding from NTT DoCoMo (NYSE: DCM) in Japan, said as more users keep their content in the cloud, it will eliminate the need for storage on the device. He said NTT DoCoMo anticipates devices to have very little on-board storage within two to three years. While this time line is aggressive, you can see how the trend might disturb Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which typically sells more expensive devices based on storage.
Meanwhile, players like Verizon, Google or music subscription services are moving forward. Just today, a Billboard article suggests that Google is working on providing a music service that would charge consumers about $25 a year to store songs in the locker, which would be accessible on any internet-connected device by either streaming or downloading. Other music-subscription services have already moved in this direction, including Rhapsody and Thumbplay.
Verizon Wireless’s vision is even grander, said Kyle Malady, Verizon Wireless VP of product development. Once you have the copyright issues taken care of and devices have LTE, he said “you can have your media in the cloud and stream it to a TV, and play your music anywhere.” Even at a friend’s house. “This is our first step, but we think there’s a whole bunch of cool stuff that can follow.”
The current service is more limited. Verizon’s Media Manager lets you transfer media between your mobile phone and online storage. You can use your phone, PC or any internet browser to access the media files once you’ve uploaded them. Right now it’s limited to content that’s not copyrighted, which includes documents, photos, videos, and even unprotected MP3s. “We are trying to make you content agnostic, so you can access it on whatever device you are using and wherever you are,” he said. The current version mostly allows content to move from the device to the PC, but soon, the loop will be closed and users will be able to move content from the PC to the cloud.
The carrier’s pitch to consumers is that they can be a trusted source and deliver a reliable, secure service, a reputation that other providers have had a hard time maintaining — as sites either get moth-balled or privacy is neglected. Whether customers will want to store content with a carrier, is another question. “I think a piece of population believes this is the kind of service that we would be good at. There’s a trust factor with the customer. We keep it really secure, and we build carrier-grade systems. You want your data to be there when you want it….There