We have seen the wireless and telecom industry go through wave after wave of transformation, decade after decade. I have learned that the secret to winning long-term is to recognize the industry is continually evolving and to stay with that change wave. The alternative is to stay put and the wave goes ahead without you, leaving you behind. That seems to be what is happening at Verizon (VZ) and Verizon Wireless today. That may be why they are losing so many customers in a shocking quarterly report.
Twenty years ago, Verizon Wireless service stunk. Then they invested in upgrading it and rode that success wave. Ten years ago, the Apple (AAPL) iPhone changed the smartphone space. Verizon said no to the iPhone and AT&T (T) said yes. Eventually, Verizon got on board the iPhone train, but it was late and they realized they made a big mistake in waiting.
The Big Mistake at Verizon
In recent years, more change in wireless and telecom says the industry is shifting again, so the leaders must also shift to continue growing. This is where Verizon made a big mistake in recent years. Interviews with the CEO on CNBC last year showed a company without direction for growth.
They eventually acquired AOL and recently Yahoo. A move many still do not understand. I still cannot see how this will help the company grow except for advertising revenue perhaps. This may work, but is this really the future of the wireless and phone company called Verizon? It just doesn’t make sense.
Verizon Was Very Late Joining Unlimited Wireless Data Race
Another mistake was staying away from unlimited wireless data. As AT&T Mobility, Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) re-entered the unlimited wireless data wars, Verizon Wireless sat it out. During the last year or two customers started recognizing the wireless space was changing. They started leaving Verizon. Suddenly Sprint and T-Mobile were growing once again. Suddenly, AT&T acquired DirecTV NOW and started offering mobile TV and winning new business.
In fact, AT&T has been so successful in television that it sent Comcast (CMCSA) back to the drawing board to try and come up with a competitive offering. And even the Verizon CEO has said they may need to get into television to better compete with AT&T. However, they are not there yet and that is hurting their growth.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile Showing Bold Action and Growth
So, while AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have taken bold steps and shown transformation and new growth, Verizon has been sitting out this game. That is until in-action started to cost them business. So recently, Verizon finally, reluctantly joined AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the unlimited data wars. Finally.
If they had not introduced their unlimited plan, their quarterly numbers would have been much worse. The questions I have is why does Verizon insist on doing these questionable things instead of leading in the space? I used to be a big fan and want to be again. But it all depends on Verizon actions.
Future of Wireless Much More Competitive with Comcast, Google and Others
The future of wireless is only going to get more complicated and more competitive going forward. Is Verizon ready? I am not so sure.
Comcast Xfinity Mobile is going to re-enter wireless. Google (GOOGL) Project Fi is also a wireless competitor now. These two will only bring more competition and confusion to the marketplace. Plus, I expect others, like Charter Spectrum (CHTR), Cox and more to enter wireless. Who knows, we may even see Facebook (FB) phone and Amazon (AMZN) Fire Phone make a comeback.
Wireless is continuing to mature, change and grow. AI, the cloud, AR, VR and so much more will transform the industry. Every other industry will embrace wireless for communications and marketing methods we have never seen before.
This is a much more active space than Verizon or Verizon Wireless has ever competed in before. I want them to succeed. I want them to be a winner. A leader along with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. However, it’s up to Verizon to make that a reality. And except for finally introducing their unlimited plan, I don’t see any signs of understanding about the changing marketplace yet.
Let’s hope they figure it out before it’s too late and the growth wave moves ahead without them permanently. Remember, it has happened before to strong companies Motorola, Blackberry (BBRY) and Nokia (NOK). It can and will happen again. Verizon can still recover if they take the right steps today. Will they, is the real question. Let’s hope Verizon wakes up in time. This is a step in the right direction. Will they continue is the real question?
Jeff Kagan is an Equities.com columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected]. His web site is www.jeffKAGAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan