Steve Jobs initially hoped to create his own network with the unlicensed spectrum that Wi-Fi uses rather than work with the mobile operators, said wireless industry pioneer John Stanton.
Stanton, chairman of venture capital firm Trilogy Partners, said he spent a fair amount of time with Jobs between 2005 and 2007. "He wanted to replace carriers," Stanton said of Jobs, the Apple founder and CEO who died Oct. 5 after a battle with cancer. "He and I spent a lot of time talking about whether synthetically you could create a carrier using Wi-Fi spectrum. That was part of his vision."
Stanton spoke late in the day on Monday at the Law Seminars International event in Seattle.
He said that after around 2007, Jobs gave up on the idea. But Jobs still managed to have a major impact on wireless operators, Stanton said.
"If I were a carrier, I'd be concerned about the dramatic shift in power that occurred," he said.
Companies like Apple and Google, which develops Android, sell a variety of software and services that capture revenue streams that might have otherwise gone to the operators.
He advised operators to take some chances with new phones and services rather than invest too heavily in established offerings. Sprint, for instance, has been criticized for making a $15.5 billion four-year deal with Apple to sell the iPhone.
U.S. Cellular, however, has revealed that it decided that it would not be a good investment to similarly take on the iPhone.
When Stanton was head of Voicestream, the operator that became T-Mobile, his company invested in Danger, the company that invented the Sidekick and whose developers went on to build Android. It also had a small investment in Research In Motion.
"We had investments in those spaces because in part we were the little guy and we wanted access to unique devices," he said. The Sidekick had a very dedicated following.
Stanton was the first employee at McCaw Cellular, the first nationwide mobile phone company that became AT&T Wireless. He later started Western Wireless, a rural mobile operator that started Voicestream, which was purchased by Deutsche Telekom to become T-Mobile. Western Wireless was purchased by Altel.