The rise of the mobile platform-device, and the decline of the operators

Over the last five years, we’ve seen a staggering creation of wealth by two companies with mobile device strategies: Apple (which owns the iPod and iPhone) and RIM (which owns the blackberry).

Their success comes even as the major operators have stagnated — the big three have created almost no value at all.

Below is a chart of the stock performance of Apple and RIM, compared to the Nasdaq over the past five years. They’ve grown about 1,500 percent, compared to Nasdaq’s (the blue line) anemic 33 percent. You’ll also see that Sprint (in green) has actually had negative growth. AT&T and Verizon haven’t done much better.

Consider, for a second, the numbers. RIM has a mere 12 million customers, and it’s valued at $65 billion. Sprint has more than 52 million customers — more than quadruple RIM’s count — and yet is is valued at a $24 billion, or less than half. How can that be?

Well, after fees and other costs associated with its business, RIM is reportedly pocketing between $3 and $7 from every user every month — because it’s offering such a compelling service for professionals. More significantly, it shows the value in being able to manage partners. RIM has some 200 carrier partnerships. Few other device companies have mastered this — until now, with Apple.

Whereas RIM started with the business customer, and is moving over to serve the consumer, Apple is doing it the other way around. Apple has played impressively with managing partnerships, first in the music business, but now increasingly, with operators globally. Apple looked like it might go out of business some five years ago. But it’s now valued at $144 billion (and just announced record earnings and revenue).

The operators need to figure out how to exploit their networks more efficiently than just putting calls through. Increasingly, they are doing that, especially abroad. But are they doing it quickly enough? And how are they going to react to the success stories of Apple and RIM?

At our MobileBeat conference Thursday, we’ll be hearing from the operators, as well as some of the representatives and investors related to the device platforms — RIM, Apple, Android and Nokia.

At 9:30am, during our pre-event morning session targeted mainly for developers (note there is a seperate registration for this), we’ll be hearing from Matthew Fix (of Vodafone) and Sattya Mallya (of Orange), two of the more dynamic international carriers.

Then, at 11am, during our venture capital panel, we’ll hear from AT&T’s Rupert Young (pictured left), who leads the company’s business development, including strategic investing and M&A. He’ll be on a panel joined by Rick Segal, of the Blackberry Partner Fund, and Richard Wong of Accel Partners, as well as Shawn Carolan (left below), a managing director at Menlo Ventures. Carolan (left below), who we haven’t announced until today, is backer of TeleNav, a MobileBeat Top 30 mobile companies, which is one of the most popular mobile applications around. On the panel, we’ll be discussing the most attractive areas for investments.

Finally, in what could be our highlight panel, at noon, we’ll have Kleiner Perkins’ Matt Murphy, who is investing in the Apple iPhone ecosystem with the iFund, and Google/Android’s Rich Miner — representing two of the most exciting new entrants.

They’ll be joined by JH Kah, a representative from one of the more dynamic operators around SK Telekom. The Korean carrier now has 20 people in an office here in the valley, and has a $100 million fund it is investing. It’s looking to enter all kinds of areas — even, we hear, bricks and mortar retail. JH Kah (left) is a sharp guy. He says, only half-jokingly, that 3G really stands for “gambling, gaming and girls.” That’s where the money is on phones. The panel will be moderated by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. It will also include Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt, one of the first social networking companies on the iPhone that exploits GPS. Here again, while Loopt initially signed deals with the major carriers to get distribution. But with the iPhone, the company no longer needs agreements with the carriers to get circulation: It gets distribution directly through the iPhone’s App Store.

The last batch MobileBeat tickets are on sale here.

Finally, thanks to our sponsors, Blackberry Partners Fund, Forum Nokia, Sun Microsoystems, Norwest Venture Partners, Amiando, Zanox, mTouch and Mippin for making this possible. If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, please contact Jacob Mullins.


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