The demise of the agreement between Clearwire and Sprint may appear, on the surface, to be irrelevant to the financial services industry as does the debate around net neutrality and Google’s Android effort. Actually, all are quite important to when a new set of innovations will arrive.
First a brief detour into the land of mobile payments. Let’s look at two of the leading contenders in this space in the US, Firethorn and Obopay. Grossly over-simplifying, Firethorn is making its bet on the carrier side. They are providing the tools for Verizon, ATT and the rest to monetize the channel by managing the application. Obopay is lining up on the handset side, with their on-phone app written in BREW for Qualcomm handsets. Each of these approaches makes good sense for a startup. Find a powerful incumbent and spin up operations.
In contrast, the promise of WiMax and Android is the ability to put any device on the end of the pipe and connect it to any service. This model is independent of what the carriers or the incumbent handset manufacturers want. The demise of the Clearwire deal with Sprint means that a true 3G / 4G network with open access is that much further away. No pipe. No new apps. And the rest of the world just gets that much further ahead of us.