Cole Crawford at Vapor IO is building a network designed to bypass the telco entirely. He's installed an "aggregation box" a hop or three from the towers. Iyad Terazi's Federated Wireless is ready to connect it with a dedicated radio in 3.5 GHz shared spectrum. That's natural for certain kinds of IoT. The speed will be much better than the carriers. Interesting stuff. Packet, MobiledgeX and others are ready with the hardware and software that will make it work.
Cole gave me reasons he thought the telcos should buy in. Maybe. It's also possible services like IoT create enough of a niche to become profitable. Vapor says a single hub could serve hundreds of towers, which would bring the cost down. (I've asked how that would affect latency and am waiting to hear from the company. I would guess 3-8 ms with high performance gear but do not have data.)
What if Google, Amazon and a few others jump in to bypass the telcos? There's no evidence that's in their plans, but interesting talk. The software and programming talent at the web giants outclasses the ability of anywhere else. Google's network is the largest civilian system in history. It works well all around the world at an amazingly low cost. The scale dwarfs Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, or AT&T.
Zachary Smith of Packet supplies "bare metal" hardware for distributed computing. He's working with Vapor and also bigger companies like Sprint. Zac believes, "Technology enabled enterprises who use software + hardware as their weapon to delivery their value, will be dominant in the next decade." That could be right, although I wouldn't want to underestimate the ability of the telcos to fight back.
The world has gone to software, AI, big data, and the tools that start there. Google is in a remarkable situation: they win even if they take a moderate loss. The carriers will fight back by improving their own networks. Anything that improves networks helps Google sell advertising.
Other prospects include cable giants Comcast and Charter. Both have enormous teams working on their soon come 5G network. Currently, they are reselling Verizon, so expensive their losses are into the US$ billions. The easy assumption was that Charter and Comcast would work together, as they do with near nationwide Wi-Fi. That deal isn't final yet, however, nor do the two companies cover all the country.