Wouldn’t it be something if the cable industry turned out to be the hero of wireless communications? It could happen. I know it’s been hot, and it’s also August, so a lot of strange ideas circulate in the humid miasma that is Washington. But hear me out. Years ago the cable industry started talking about the possibility of our infrastructure as an ideal complement to the wireless telephone industry. The idea revolved around putting mini-cells next to our amplifiers on the poles and picking up cell-phone signals (then called PCS), dropping the signal into the cable, up to the headend, and connecting to the public switched telephone network. I thought it was a great idea and promoted it. Well, it turned out back then that the costs were too high and the benefits didn’t develop into a business plan that could be sold. So the cable guys stopped looking at cellular phone service and focused elsewhere, like data service and digital delivery, VOD and HD-all the stuff that constitutes the "triple play." Of course, that also includes telephone, whether switched or VOIP, and we have now come full circle. You see, one remarkable thing about the current offering of cellular telephone service is how really hit-or-miss it is. Our cell service is terrible compared to most other places in the world. Yes, we can rationalize that by pointing out that in most of those other places their wireline service was so bad, (and so expensive) that it made sense to build a whole new service and make sure it worked well. That’s what they did. But that doesn’t explain why ours still works so poorly! Our cell phone providers are still competing on the fact that you can "…still hear them!" Well, I would have thought that would be fundamental, but it’s not… yet. And now we get back to the technology of cable, the soon-to-be-auctioned by the FCC "advanced wireless services" (AWS) frequencies, and advances in "mesh" network technology. Put all those things together, and cable could augment its existing infrastructure with 802.11(a) and other "WiFi" and cellular phone frequencies to create a "mesh network." It could use those "mini cells" at the amplifiers and the broadband system as a local backbone for wireless calls. Even better, we can combine that with our current telephone offerings so someone’s personal telephone switches back to "wireline" mode inside the house! That’s a true "personal communications service" (we should have kept that PCS moniker!) Adding to the irony is that the signal, which is so variable now (particularly in major metropolitan areas), could be a whole lot better and more reliable. I remember the days (now long gone, since cable gets better "reliability" reviews than the telcos for telephone service) when detractors sneered at the idea of people buying telephone service from the "notorious, unreliable, consumer unfriendly" cable guy. No more. Our telephone offering is getting very high marks, and our reliability is every bit the equal of the telephone guys. Wouldn’t it be something if we started seriously rolling out a wireless telephone service… pardon me, an integrated personal communications service… that was demonstrably better than anything seen in this country before? The engineers, and now even the business folks, are telling me it just might happen. I’d love to see it.

The Daily

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