As it turns out, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Android ended 2012 with almost 70% market share worldwide; slightly lower in the U.S. The wireless operators now realized they had created a monster.
To counter this new menace, the operators first prodded Windows Phone in 2012, and now BlackBerry 10 in early 2013. The ultimate verdict on those operating systems is likely to take at least another few quarters, but so far their success is far from a foregone conclusion: Combined, Windows Phone and BlackBerry market share is no higher than approximately 10%, possibly even lower.
Even if the operators manage to make Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10 a success, the victory may turn out to be temporary for the wireless operators. Why? Microsoft owns Skype and has ambitions for all forms of services, ranging from productivity to entertainment, colliding with operator monetization plans.
In other words, if the wireless operators manage to promote Windows Phone into parity with the iPhone and Android, in the end Microsoft will care as much about the operators' success as Apple and Google (GOOG) -- which is to say not at all. Microsoft is the ultimate enemy of the operators, just like Apple and Google.
What about BlackBerry, then? Certainly, in its current form, BlackBerry is the same darling of the operators as it was in Jim Balsille's "constructive alignment" heyday, 2002 to 2008. However, as I have pointed out before, BlackBerry is likely going to be acquired by Microsoft, Nokia (essentially Microsoft's smartphone hardware arm), Samsung, Amazon.com (AMZN) or HP (HPQ). If you consider Nokia to be a de facto part of Microsoft, then the best the operators could hope for is that BlackBerry gets bought by HP. Amazon and Samsung are next after Google, Apple and Microsoft to step into the center of the operator enemies list for ecosystem monetization. So BlackBerry is unlikely to fulfill the role of operator-friendly entity in the long run, assuming it gets acquired. If you're the big operators today, what do you do then? The answer is at the core of today's smoke-filled room: Support yet another new and fully compliant operating system! What the operators want is an Android without a Google. It's true that Android can be forked, but there is still the lingering dependence on Google. What could possibly fit this bill? It looks to me like what the operators want to see is one of the new operating systems without ecosystem ambitions. They include Ubuntu and Mozilla's Firefox OS. They can run on hardware that's basically standard Android. Specifically, Firefox OS has, with the help of Qualcomm (QCOM), partnered with numerous wireless operators around the world. On the handset side, LG and Alcatel (ALU) have been announced. You should also expect higher-end handsets soon.