Friends at last: Facebook joins the GSMA

Perhaps it will. At present full membership is only on offer if and when Facebook (or any other entity) acquires some spectrum somewhere which may well be one option for the social networking number one in the longer term…. but not yet.

According to Facebook, associate membership is an accurate reflection of its current close collaboration and working relationship with many of the GSMA’s members and the move reinforces the growing importance of mobile access in the Facebook business model.

The GSMA’s own news Website, Mobile World Live, quotes Dan Rose, VP of partnerships for Facebook saying, “Joining the GSMA reflects our focus on mobile and our continued desire to work closely and collaboratively with partners in the industry, and we look forward to playing an active role as an associate member.”

Associate members (in all trade groups such as GSMA) tend to be suppliers, anxious to throw themselves into the work schedule to better understand (and perhaps help form) their customers’ technical requirements and therefore able to offer solutions in a timely manner. The GSMA’s other associate members include the likes of Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as well as a host of smaller, specialised suppliers. Associate members clearly don’t get to vote.

Facebook, though designated an associate, is arguably a different sort of member for the GSMA. In ecosystem terms it’s more of a ‘peer’ to the network providers than a supplicant and, as telco leaders are apt to blurt out, there are still outstanding issues.

From the telco perspective Facebook, Google and Apple and Amazon, are all camping out on telco networks without paying a fair share of the costs. It might be a nonsense argument - without Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple driving mobile data demand the telcos would still be back in the mid-2000s trying to sell mobile TV - but it’s an argument that persists despite being debunked over and over.

In addition, Facebook and its messaging service is widely percieved within the industry as eating into mobile telco text volumes.

Clearly at the GSMA level the strategic grumbling can be set aside in the interests of getting on with the nitty-gritty technical solution-finding, which is progress of a sort.

It’s true that the rhetoric on the telco side has changed subtly in the last year or so too - there is now more talk of ‘ecosystem’ (which at the very least implies mutual dependency) and while ‘third party’ players are still refered as ‘‘OTTs” it’s possible to detect a greater willingness to “work with” them rather than (ideally) try to snuff them out by introducing telco service equivalents.

Whether those other two arrivistes, Google and Apple, would also be welcomed into the GSMA as Associate Members (or whether they’d want to be there) is an interesting throught. There’s plenty of evidence that Apple under Jobs was hostile to telcos (he seriously considered making the iPhone WiFi only). Whether Tim Cook - who seems a much friendlier figure - has inherited the old warhorse’s misgivings has yet to be seen.

Google, on the other hand, has done a significant amount of bending over backwards already. Chairman Schmidt has been to address Mobile World Congress at least twice and the undertow of muted hostility which greeted him didn’t seem to faze him. Perhaps we will see more new members at the GSMA soon?

After all, if Facebook is an important player in the ecosystem, then Apple and Google who between them completely dominate the smartphone OS, must also be worth including as well?

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