Playing the carrier game

It looks like equipment and applications vendors aren’t the only ones interested in mobile advertising. Today Vodafone and Telefonica teamed up to buy Amobee Media Systems, a mobile ad platform provider based in San Francisco. Admittedly ad companies are a hot commodity: Nokia scooped up Enpocket in September, and AOL landed Third Screen Media in May. The remaining ad platforms out there are considered fair game, but what are two carriers doing in the hunt?

It’s both surprising and not surprising to see Vodafone and Telefonica stake off their claim to this potentially huge market: Surprising because carriers don’t usually buy infrastructure and platform companies. Not surprising because carriers just can’t be carriers anymore.

Nokia didn’t just buy Enpocket to offer an ad solution to its operator customers. It also bought Enpocket to serve up ads to its blossoming Ovi portal and its future mobile Web service platforms, just as it bought Navteq to gain access to map data for Nokia Maps and Loudeye to power its mobile music store. Infrastructure providers are suddenly service providers, and that’s not the end of it. Look at the world’s biggest ad platform, Google—an obvious partner for the carriers, right? Well, Google is becoming a carrier, bidding on spectrum even. What’s more, Google has created its own handset OS, and might even become a hardware vendor (remember the Gphone? It still hasn’t ruled that out).

When your vendors become your competitors and partners become your competitors and suddenly everyone has it in their heads that they can do the services game just as well as you, then, yeah, we’re going to see a lot more carriers buying up applications vendors and even content companies. Don’t expect this purchase to be the last.

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