Recent announcements by Alltel about EV-DO launches in Montana and North Dakota illustrate the maturation of mobile broadband wireless beyond downtown urban clusters. Much of the attention around 3G deployments focuses on Sprint and Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO strategy of blanketing urban markets. But Alltel claims the largest EV-DO footprint (geographically speaking), and much of it is well beyond urban cores. Alltel’s latest announcement says they’re bringing mobile broadband to “Helena, Missoula, Billings and communities along Interstates 94 and 90” in Montana. That follows on the heels of similar moves by Alltel in North Dakota. Mobile broadband and the competition it empowers has arrived in rural America.
Rural America is no stranger to broadband wireless. But it’s typically been in the form of fixed wireless, where service providers have used Wi-Fi and other unlicensed spectrum options to expand the reach of their broadband footprints. Alltel, to some extent Verizon, and other smaller wireless players are now using EV-DO to provide more auspicious competitive broadband options to rural consumers, making it more enticing to “cut the chord” entirely. Wireless voice and now wireless broadband is within reach of millions of rural subscribers in much the same way that their urban counterparts have enjoyed it for some time. These mobile broadband solutions will broaden the competitive landscape for rural wireline providers and their DSL offerings. As mobile broadband continues to evolve through upcoming 4G technologies, its competitive implications will only broaden. Some rural service providers who historically have been somewhat shielded from wireless competitive pressures, may start to see the tides turn.