US telecoms are embracing media to extend their role beyond connectivity

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As digitization reshapes the telecom industry, US network operators are seeking to innovate their services by overhauling adjacent businesses, with media being at the top of the list.

Daniel EkSpotify CEO Daniel Ek.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

That's because the line that once separated mobile networks from home broadband networks is fading as consumers use their mobile connections for more digital activities like streaming video and video games - and it will only fade further as 5G networks proliferate. As this shift occurs, the role of mobile carriers is changing from just providing wireless to being purveyors of all of a consumer's connectivity and providing access to media.

Here are the latest moves by US network operators to leverage media and entertainment streaming services.
  • AT&T and Spotify. The carrier added Spotify Premium to the list of special offers supported under its Unlimited & More Premium plan. Customers can select Spotify as one of two free add-ons from AT&T; other options include HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, VRV, and Pandora.
  • Sprint and Hatch. Sprint dove into the next frontier in gaming by partnering with cloud gaming company Hatch to provide its 5G subscribers with unlimited access to the game streaming service. Sprint 5G customers have access to over 100 premium mobile games that can be played instantly over the internet, with no downloads or updates required.
  • T-Mobile and TVision. T-Mobile's home TV service, which launched in April in select markets and is a rebranded version of Layer3 TV, is expected to make its way over to T-Mobile's mobile plans. The carrier is also on track to launch nationwide streaming services later in 2019 following its deal with Viacom in April.

Notably absent from the list is Verizon, which isn't heading down the same road as its rivals when it comes to media services. While Verizon's competitors also offer a slew of additional streaming services, Verizon doesn't provide any major free offerings for its mobile subscribers apart from Apple Music subscriptions for select plans.

Instead, its perks are focused in its other areas of business: It offers one year of free Netflix to its FiOS Triple Play package customers, as well as a free month-long YouTube TV subscription and an Apple TV 4K or Chromecast Ultra device to its 5G Home service customers.

And although Verizon initially planned to offer an over-the-top (OTT) video service alongside its 5G internet service rollout, it scuttled plans to do so last May and instead revealed plans to partner with companies that are in the linear game, according to comments from Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam.

But this week, Verizon appeared to backtrack on even that sentiment: The company reshuffled its unlimited plans to lure subscribers by providing a wider variety of unlimited plans to choose from - but free content apart from Apple Music on select plans is still missing.

If Verizon sticks to its decision to not lean on free streaming services to differentiate itself in the mobile market, it's likely to hurt its growth and expansion efforts. Nearly half (47%) of consumers in an EY survey said TV and video services are one of the three best opportunities for telecoms to have incremental digital growth.

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