Who Controls The Branding?
Martin Geddes cheeky post about branding reminded me of something: when you buy a phone from a mobile carrier, whose brand do you see on it? When I walk past the Verizon kiosk at the Kitsap mall, most of the phones I see have Verizon branding all over them and, to a lesser extent, the branding of the manufacturer who made them. In the Cingular and T-Mobile store, I’d say it’s about 50:50, though I know there are some phones that are only carrier branded (the Windows Mobile phones made by HTC).
In Europe, though, it’s a completely different story. You can buy unbranded phones just about everywhere. You can use any unbranded phone on any network you have a SIM card for. When you do buy a phone from a carrier, the branding is maybe 50:50 at best. Certainly the subsidies aren’t as high as they are in the states.
The US is a unique market. There is no government mandated standard. Especially on the CDMA side of things, the carriers pretty much control what devices get on the network. The only place most people can buy devices is from the carrier. There are no laws requiring the carriers to permit devices purchased from other carriers on their networks. The devices are simply part of a “service,” they do not exist nor are they sold just for their own sake. Of course, with the carriers controlling what devices you can use on their network, there isn’t much of a market for devices for their own sake, is there?
Ultimately, though I think the mobile manufacturers branding is stronger in the long run. Why? Because it is not limited by geography. A mobile carrier’s brand is only good within the physical area that they serve. Who cares about Cingular outside the US? Not a soul. Who cares about Nokia? Given they are one of the top 10 brands worldwide, I’d say a hell of a lot of people.