Friday, March 28, 2008

Tmobile: when the pipe becomes too dumb

As you might know, I believe mobile operators are all destined to become pipes. They are a voice pipe today, after all, and they will be a data pipe shortly as well. They simply do not own content or any user content. The content owner will deliver the services, not the operators.

One example is in mobile email. Everyone thought the carrier would win, because they are the gate keeper. Wrong. The gate is not between you and your email provider. The gate is in the hands of your email provider. They have the content (your email). They can decide not to serve it to the mobile operator (or gouge them for it). Eventually, market forces will push mobile operators towards open data plans, and the power will shift to email providers (ISPs and portals).

Some days, however, I get surprised how a potential dumb pipe can become too dumb. In the last few days, we started getting reports that syncs on Tmobile stopped working. From people that bought a data plan. Same phone with an at&t SIM card worked. Put a Tmobile SIM card in and it would not work (actually, it was worst, sync with native SyncML clients were giving false positives...).

After some analysis, we found the issue. All of a sudden, Tmobile is chopping off the word jsessionid from the URLs. That is what native SyncML clients use to keep track of the session. If you chop it off, the sync can't work.

Now, there are two options:
  1. they did it on purpose, to block some application they do not like. Certainly it is not sync, but I just can't see what it could be (Google and Yahoo apps work... They are the enemy, right?)
  2. they did it by mistake, putting in the network a new gateway that has a bug or a feature they did not know about
I do not like conspiracy theories and I have been around mobile operators enough to believe option #2 is the right one. We spent three hours on the phone with Tmobile just to hear that "they do not support third party application", so they could do nothing for us. Bottom line: I believe they made a mistake, which will be fixed sooner or later.

If this is the case, we are facing a case of a dumb pipe which is a bit too dumb. That is a scary thought... Let me count on market forces to fix it. It always works like this...