Declaring 2010 “the year that mobile broadband went from a niche to a mass market,” Randy Dunbar, Clearwire Communications’ wholesale & strategic partnerships vice president, said wholesalers reselling Clearwire’s wireless broadband now account for 3.3 million of its end users, while its own retail user base stands at only 1.1 million. (How many of those are MSO customers and how many belong to Sprint remains a mystery.)

Clearwire is making hay in the MSO community for the obvious reason that the only other nationwide-class spectrum owners are telcos. Short of becoming wireless carriers themselves, Sprint and Clearwire perhaps are the only alternative MSOs have, other than do-it-yourself Wi-Fi offerings; that’s exactly what Cablevision has been doing for nearly two years: using a Wi-Fi mesh in the New York metropolitan area that already sports 6,000 deployed hot spots.

Indeed, four of the nation’s five largest MSOs have mobile broadband offerings, the preponderance of them reselling Clearwire’s WiMAX offering, using a marketing strategy that has redefined the term “4G” (which was supposed to signify 100 Mbps download speeds, rather than the 3 Mbps or 4 Mbps Clearwire typically delivers or roughly 30 Mbps maximum for the technology).

On a recent industry panel about wireless, cable’s putative “final frontier,” Dunbar was joined by Karen Brown, One Touch Intelligence’s senior director/Communications Industry Intelligence, who ticked off four reasons why MSOs need to move into wireless:

  • Competitors are doing it.
  • Consumers are getting used to wireless broadband.
  • IP allows for converged wired/wireless applications, including the remote control of a DVR.
  • Wireless devices are getting better at deploying content (i.e., video) – particularly with tablet computers finally making headway in the market.

While those factors affect all MSOs in common, Brown noted a variety of packaging experimentation in the industry. Time Warner, she pointed out, is selling mobile broadband only as a part of a package of offerings. Comcast is selling its offering, dubbed “Xfinity Internet 2Go,” as a standalone product or as part of a bundle. Cox is reselling conventional wireless voice and data services from Sprint.

“There’s a little bit of experimentation” as the industry learns how it might best sell mobile broadband," she concluded. “The cable operators are looking at this as a data extension. The big question is voice.”

Brown also said “it would be suicide” for a MSO to attempt to enter the voice business in direct competition with such entrenched players as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Toledo, Ohio-based Block Communications is looking at voice, but “we’re looking at voice as an application on the data network,” said Joseph Jensen, the operator’s executive vice president/Cable & Telecommunications. “Our intent is to be able to offer a unified solution to our customers.” However, Block doesn’t own spectrum; it wholesales Sprint 3G wireless broadband to deliver its offerings.

– Stuart Zipper

The Daily

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