Monday, May 07, 2007

Private-label cellular service arrives

Have you ever wanted your company's name on a cellphone service? For many clubs, charitable causes, etc., mobile service, used daily by nearly everyone, is a highly attractive product to offer to their members.

Today's Wall Street Journal discusses this market (free link), focusing on Sonopia, one of the companies providing a platform for clubs to resell mobile service.

The concept isn't brand new. Working Assets, a progressive political group, has been offering long distance service for nearly two decades and wireless since 2000. It recently announced that it is providing the platform for Planned Parenthood to offer its own branded mobile service. But Sonopia's recent launch has been the most visible to date.

The affinity group's value proposition to its members is as follows: cellphone service is a commodity, and if you have to buy a commodity somewhere, you might as well buy it from a group you care about (us), and channel some of the money (around 5%) our way.

More than this, though, the organizations feel they can deepen connections with their communities, both by having a logo on a product used daily and by having the ability to communicate with their constituents in a real-time, always-on manner.

But no one wants to do it at a loss, and even if cellphone service is a commodity, Verizon, Sonopia and the affinity group all want their piece of the pie. The question then is: will there be enough money to go around? And how many people will give up their Cingular family plan for a Yoga phone?

Time will tell whether private-label mobile phones are a long-term success, or merely a passing fad.

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