AT&T’s Buyout of T-Mobile & the Future of Seattle-Area Wireless Innovation: The View from VC Tom Huseby

4/6/11Follow @curtwoodward

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regulators who still have to bless the AT&T takeover. Plenty of commentators have already bemoaned that prospect, and one of the first trial balloons floated by AT&T’s lobbyists was the interesting argument that consolidation was going to happen anyway.

“All of a sudden, you get to where there’s no longer four companies trying to innovate their way through a competitive landscape—now there’s only two and a half companies,” Huseby says. “There’s lots of innovative people in AT&T and Verizon. I know a lot of them. But frankly, one of the problems was dealing with a large bureaucracy—well, it just got bigger. And people within those bureaucracies know it’s tough and do their very best to make it easier. But no matter what they do, it’s still bigger.”

Through all these big shifts in the carrier landscape, Huseby sees an even bigger storyline in the convergence of mobile and Internet. “Two or three years ago, the word began to go around that the Internet was coming to wireless,” Huseby says. “And in fact, that has allowed people who knew nothing about wireless to go mobile in big ways. That’s a much bigger impact on the dyed-in-the-wool wireless, RF-centric, carrier-centric investors than actually where the headquarters are. That’s a big deal.”

But, Huseby says, that was just the beginning. “Now, it turns out, we have a chance to be very, very effective in the new world. Because I think that Internet going mobile is old news. I think the big news is that mobile is going towards the Internet. And I know that it sounds like the same thing, but it’s quite different.”

Here’s what he means: Taking the Internet to the mobile sector was, at first, about making the browsing experience smaller and nimbler, more able to function on a mobile device. Huseby says that’s “a minimalist approach.”

Contrast that with the app-based ecosystem that emerged as the built-in platform for mobile computing, and chart where that’s going: just about everywhere. Suddenly, we’re watching movies by streaming Netflix over an app-like system on our networked game consoles. Our browsers are increasingly incorporating apps for Twitter clients, news readers, and more.

And this change is really just starting—in fact, the idea of an app-dominated future was a big part of Wired’s cover story last year that declared “The Web is dead,” and also was one of the “Seven questions that will decide mobile’s future” laid out by Xconomy’s Wade Roush.

“I’m sorry—app-driven TVs? That’s all from mobile, coming from the Web and leaping right over into your living room,” Huseby says. “That’s a much bigger opportunity, and there’s a lot of expertise in Seattle that knows how mobile works and knows how to direct that experience at digital media and what’s happening on the home screen … We’d better figure out how to respond to that.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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