It is hard to argue with the proposition that the number of U.S. mobile broadband subscriptions is going to eclipse the number of “household” broadband connections, for the simple reason that there are more people than households and that perhaps 75 percent of all mobile devices will be using mobile broadband, relatively soon.
Infonetics Research directing analyst Diane Myers think that will happen in about three years, in 2013. That has implications for nationwide and large regional providers of mobile services and larger fixed-line service providers. Perhaps the most-significant implication is that although most service providers have competed “in territory,” the availability of a large mobile broadband user base also means that applications and services can be delivered “out of territory.”
“TV everywhere” is one example, and possibly the best current example. One might point to Comcast becoming a mobile video supplier. But one might also say Comcast for the first time will leverage its in-territory video services “over the top,” on a potentially nationwide basis. Application providers, of course, long have taken this route, creating apps and services that are consumed “over the top” on any broadband connection.
The big issue is how important a similar approach might be for other services traditionally thought of as “fixed line” services provided “in territory.” Voice, texting and messaging services are other examples of “over the top” services provided without regard to territorial restraints.
There are several obvious additional observations one might make. Going “out of territory” is something most smaller service providers already do by “edging out” from an existing service territory into an adjacent market where business customers can be served, using a combination of new facilities and wholesale access.
Smaller providers might continue to find that a viable way to go “out of territory,” as the complexity and cost of supporting a full “over the top” applications offering is more than a small company can support or envision. But those limitations also illustrate the changing nature of competition in the consumer services market. Fixed-line providers increasingly will face mobile-based broadband competition from much-larger competitors across a broad range of products, including, but not limited to, voice, entertainment video, broadband access and applications.
“If telecom operators aren’t able to provide competitive mobile services, they will be at a significant disadvantage,” says Myers. One might argue there are limited responses a small provider can take, beyond doing its level best to maintain high levels of customer service and satisfaction.
“Now that residential voice and Internet services are no longer tied to a physical household, operators can, and should, customize services for individual members of a household and compete on a nationwide basis versus a specific fixed territory,” says Myers. For most, that will require scale and investment few smaller companies can afford to make.
The largest national mobile providers, the largest telcos and cable companies, on the other hand, do have the scale and heft necessary to undertake operations of that sort. The top national mobile providers are, by definition, already operating over a national territory, considering their own networks and extensive roaming agreements.
The biggest telcos and cable providers already have programming relationships and customer volume that will give them a head start in the over-the-top video services business, while a few “over the top” providers, including Netflix and Apple, likewise have the advantages of huge installed base to work with.
That is not to say that in-region assets are unimportant. In many cases, it is the value of those assets that provide the springboard to out of region efforts. One might argue that metro Wi-Fi networks are an amenity cable and telco providers use to glue customers to fixed-network broadband services, for example.
At least for the moment, that’s the same business value “TV Everywhere” provides: it provides enhanced value that glues customers to Comcast’s at-home video services.
In fact, though it is correct in one sense to talk about “mobile” extensions to “fixed” services, it also is correct to characterize such efforts as “out of domain” efforts as well. Services might be sold to an enterprise location, which is the primary revenue venue, but then be revenue enhanced, directly or indirectly, by extending service outside of the domain to mobile devices and remotely-connected computing devices.