Exclusive Handset Arrangements in the Wireless Industry: A Competitive Analysis
Posted: 13 Nov 2013
In many markets, a handset vendor and a service provider may enter into a tie-in for a handset to be available exclusively through the service provider. We examine when and why a service provider and a handset vendor may find this arrangement mutually profitable. We find that an exclusive handset arrangement (EHA) may serve a dual strategic purpose. By restricting its handsets to one service provider, a handset vendor may be able to induce a rival handset vendor to compete less aggressively. At the same time, the service provider may be able to essentially raise a rival service provider's handset costs by limiting the handsets available to the rival. Interestingly, the handset vendor's market share may be higher when its handset is sold exclusively than when it is not. Our results might explain why EHAs seem more attractive in some markets than in others, why some service providers have exclusive arrangements even for handset models that do not seem popular, and how some handset vendors enjoy high market shares despite having many exclusive models. Furthermore, an EHA may lower the handset vendor's incentives to improve handset quality, supporting concerns raised by proponents of wireless network neutrality.
Keywords: competitive strategy, distribution channel, exclusive arrangements, game theory, raising rival's costs, wireless network neutrality
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