Cable operators have been busy selling bundles of video, voice and data in recent years. So it’s not a surprise that they haven’t been on a desperate quest for wireless functionality. But that’s starting to change as major MSOs shift attention to the Sprint joint venture, their recent acquisition of advanced wireless spectrum and the additional revenue that could come from adding mobile services to the bundle.

The big question, however, is how all of this will work. While many MSOs talk about giving subscribers a cable-on-the-go experience, is anyone quite sure what that means? Does remotely setting a DVR qualify? Or will only full-fledged TV on cell phones do the trick? Or will something in between take hold? Tough questions. One thing is for certain: Trying to stream massive amounts of audio and video over cellular networks likely would create enormous network congestion, which could create a bad experience and a terrible consumer backlash just as MSOs are trying to win them over.

Motorola, which is uniquely positioned as a wireless device and set-top maker following its purchase of General Instruments in 2000, has some advice for cable operators: At least for now, let existing wired cable and broadband infrastructures do the heavy lifting when it comes to mobile data. This "cache-n-carry" model relies on letting consumers load up their wireless devices with content from a set-top box and then take it with them wherever they go — synching it up when necessary. Sound familiar? Just ask those millions of iPod users.

Cache-n-carry has advantages. For one thing, it allows MSOs to avoid making immediate wireless infrastructure investments. Cached audio/video content — combined with live control features such as remote DVR that sucks up little bandwidth — could be just the thing that gets consumers accustomed to the idea of cable-content mobility. Obviously, cache-n-carry won’t work for time-sensitive content, but it just may seed the market. "Cache-n-carry isn’t the end all, be all," says Nick Chakalos, VP of Motorola Connected Home Solutions. "But it allows the service provider to take that first step toward a media-to-go strategy that’s all-encompassing."

If this get-them-addicted-now concept works, imagine the revenue-generating possibilities for wireless. Cable operators could sell new wireless service tiers catering to sports fanatics, rabid gamers and other live-TV addicts while letting cache-n-carry content help drive DVR set-top rentals/sales.

Chakalos notes that Apple’s iPhone (expected to hit stores in June) "lights a bit of a fire under the industry." As cable operators move into the wireless future, gradually winning over consumers may be the best way to avoid getting burned.


Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at mgrebb@accessintel.com.

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