YOU ARE AT:Analyst AngleKagan: Microsoft finally throws in the wireless smartphone towel

Kagan: Microsoft finally throws in the wireless smartphone towel

After a decade of swings and misses, Microsoft finally threw the smartphone towel and is exiting the business. I have discussed this many time over the last decade. Microsoft has wanted to win in the wireless space for so long. So, why did they fail and are they gone for good? I don’t think so.

They started with regular cellphones then moved to smartphones over more years than I can count. With their powerful brand name and numbers of corporate and individual customers, it should have been a natural success story. Or so you would think.

If Steve Ballmer still ran Microsoft today, I don’t think they would be exiting wireless. I believe Ballmer saw so much potential, he would keep riding this horse. Unfortunately, after so many years and with so much effort, they barely moved the needle.

Satya Nadella who took the Microsoft reins five years ago could have left wireless when he became CEO. He didn’t. Even he saw the potential. He wanted to make wireless work. He stuck with it for a few more years, but ultimately, he decided to pull the plug.

In my opinion I think Microsoft is not out of wireless for good

In my opinion, I would not say Microsoft is staying out of wireless. I see this as just a break to give them a chance to regroup and re-strategize. I think they may re-enter the space with a new objective and strategy at some point.

There are some important lessons they need to learn first. Unfortunately, the successful brand name Microsoft enjoys with Windows and Office, did not expand to wireless. After all the mobile space is a completely different universe.

Then again, other companies have the same problem. Remember when Facebook and Amazon tried to enter wireless several years ago with the Facebook phone and Amazon Fire Phone. They couldn’t move the needle either.

The only difference was they saw the writing on the wall and got out as quickly as they got in. Microsoft was in wireless years before and years after and still had nothing to show.

This is really surprising since they had so many strengths. Then again, others had strengths as well and they failed. Being successful in one space is no guarantee of success in another space.

Microsoft and Google both see 5G wireless as a key to their future

Google is another interesting company with mixed success in wireless. They too see it as an amazing growth opportunity. With that said, they have entered wireless in a variety of sectors. Android which is an operating system, Project Fi which is now called Google Fi and is an MVNO wireless service and Pixel which is the Google branded smartphones.

Google is a mixed bag of success in wireless. Their Android OS is the only huge success. It appears on countless smartphones, globally, like the Samsung Galaxy. However, the Pixel smartphone and Google Fi service have had a more limited success.

One important difference is Google Android is a huge success. Microsoft never had any kind of success in wireless. Then again, Microsoft was only in the handset business.

However, wireless remains an incredible growth opportunity for both companies. Google is staying put. That’s why I think this Microsoft exit may be temporary as they come up with a new and different strategy.

Wireless is simply too important to ignore. Apparently, it is also a very difficult business to be successful in. There are several different segments like networks, services, handsets, smartphone OS, apps and more. And there are plenty of success stories and failures.

Wireless remains a rapidly changing and expanding space

With that said, wireless is still a health and rapidly growing and changing industry. 5G wireless will transform the industry once again. It will be like throwing gasoline on the wireless fire.

It will not only impact wireless companies the way it did with 4G, 3G and 2G, but it will also bring in many non-wireless companies into the mix.

5G will empower the new world of self-driving cars, wireless pay TV, healthcare, retail and in fact industry after industry over the next decade.

The high speed and low latency will create loads of new opportunities over the next decade. The same way it did with Uber and Lyft as they reinvented the taxi and limousine industry.

With 5G, I don’t think Microsoft will stay out of wireless

Because of this, I cannot imagine Microsoft will stay out of the wireless industry. That also goes for other companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and others. In fact, any company with a huge customer base can use wireless as another leg in their stool to keep their customer base intact.

As an example, think of companies like Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile and Altice Mobile. Of course, not every company will be that successful.

So, while Microsoft is leaving the wireless world, expect the mobile industry to continue to grow and to expand rapidly into many other industries.

That’s also why I don’t think Microsoft is exiting wireless forever. Instead, I think they are just taking a break to re-group and get their thoughts and strategies together.

I fully expect Microsoft to re-enter the wireless dog-fight the same way Maverick (Tom Cruise) did at the end of the movie Top Gun after getting his thoughts together. So, stay tuned. This wireless world is about to get even more interesting.


Jeff Kagan
Jeff is a RCR Wireless News Columnist, Industry Analyst, Key Opinion Leader and Influencer. He shares his colorful perspectives and opinions on the companies and technologies that are transforming the industry he has followed for 35 years. Jeff follows wireless, wire line telecom, Internet, Pay-TV, cable TV, AI, IoT, Digital Healthcare, Cloud, Mobile Pay, Smart cities, Smart Homes and more.

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