T-Mobile's "concept" mHealth service, WellCare

By Brian Dolan
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Winston Wang, Director of Strategic Innovation of the T-Mobile Creation Center, told the standing room only crowd at Stanford University's Mobile Health 2010 that he joined T-Mobile to bring a "Silicon Valley" mentality to the carrier. Within the carrier's creation center, which is developed alongside design firm IDEO four years ago, Winston and his team aim to push T-Mobile to develop and offer new services.

Among Wang's many initiatives at T-Mobile is mobile health.

Wang showed attendees a short "commercial" for a concept service his team developed, called T-Mobile's WellCare. The video showed a woman in her late 60s or early 70s waking up, taking medication and going for a walk. As she moves from her bedroom to her bathroom, a "nightlight" glows and blinks indicating it recognized movement. After she takes her medication, a younger woman, assumedly her daughter, is shown in another location receiving a text message. As the older lady laces up and goes for a walk, an "activity monitor" message appears on her TV screen in the background, and the younger woman once again gets an alert -- assumedly one that tells her that her mother is on-the-move.

"WellCare from T-Mobile let's you loved ones keep their independence, while keeping you informed," the "commercial" concluded.

Of course, few of the services shown in the advert are commercially available in this specific use case -- medication adherence being the exception -- but technologically all of these services are developed and ready. In other words, the vision of WellCare is not at all a hyped-up vision for future mobile home health services.

What is perhaps more striking about the conceptual video is the service's name: "T-Mobile WellCare." A mobile operator branded health service. Few US carriers would make such a concept public, indeed, others have specifically told MobiHealthNews that a carrier branded health service would likely not hit the market anytime soon. (Revisit the writeup from our CTIA event here for more on that.)

Wang said that when he brought ideas about mobile health up to the top executives at T-Mobile they were not sure what to do with it. T-Mobile sees mobile health as an opportunity that's not quite here yet. The carrier also "doesn't know the space" and knows "there is a number of liability issues" that still need to be sussed out. Bottomline: T-Mobile is looking to learn more about mobile health before making any moves.

Wang and another T-Mobile representative announced to the audience that they really wanted to meet with reps from Nike after noting that mobile-enabled fitness services were T-Mobile's short term prospects for getting involved in the industry.

Finally, another interesting point that Wang made also runs counter to statements made by other US wireless carriers: Wang said one of the reasons carriers matter to the mobile health industry is that they have a valuable marketing channel. They have retail space in most of America's malls. They can sell these products.

In March, Verizon Wireless told MobiHealthNews not to hold its breath on that one. Other carriers have long shrugged off the idea that their stores would carry health-related devices. Time will tell, of course, whether some carriers are just playing coy, if others simply have a (very) different view of the market, or... both.

UPDATE: T-Mobile USA asked me to clarify that this is just a "concept" and a "vision" and not at all necessarily going to lead to an actual product launch.