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Wireless Carriers’ Next Battles Against Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley has repeatedly defeated wireless carriers in the high-stakes war over making money from mobile apps. That was highlighted this week by the death of a U.S. carrier-owned smartphone payments app, Softcard, which shut down after selling its tech to Google. But the carriers aren’t giving up.

Facing slowing revenue growth, carriers from developed markets like the U.S. and Europe are continuing to fight for a piece of markets like online video and “identity management,” which will become clear next week at Mobile World Congress, the biggest annual conference for the wireless industry, in Barcelona.

Among the elements of the attempted carrier comeback: helping wireless subscribers quickly log in to banking, insurance and other sensitive apps with phone-based credentials managed by the carrier. Along those lines, Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, which owns T-Mobile in the U.S. and carriers across Europe, next week will announce a deal to use a password storage and secured log-in tool offered by Intel’s security unit, according to a person briefed on the deal.

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In developing markets, some carriers are trying to avoid the mistakes their counterparts made in developed markets. For instance, many early mobile services efforts by carriers were available only on an individual carrier’s network. But in India, the country’s No.1 carrier, Bharti Airtel, last year launched a subscription music app that works across any carrier in that country. It has been downloaded five million times in five months.

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The carriers’ share of all mobile revenue will drop to 50 percent from 60 percent by 2020.