It’s a good time for some reflection. Our industry moves so fast these days, we sometimes lose sight of very important developments, many of which have long lasting implications on the overall business. We’re at the very beginning of one of the most important – 4G wireless – which should create a very interesting ride. Take note.
While there is some debate about the true definition of 4G, I tend to think of it as true mobile broadband. By true mobile broadband, I mean mobile wireless broadband that rivals wireline broadband in terms of speeds. While today’s 4G mobile broadband speeds (typically 6 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload and below) are on the low end when compared to today’s wireline broadband standards , nevertheless, they represent a quantum leap in mobile capability in my opinion.
For example, these mobile speeds allow subscribers to contemplate ‘cutting the wireline broadband cord’ and go wireless only for both voice and broadband. I fully admit everyone won’t do this, but a subset of customers will. It demonstrates the importance of video, be it through IPTV or over-the-top video (OTT). Wireline broadband service providers need to ensure their broadband network provides the best video experience possible, to help justify to these potential cord cutters a reason to keep wireline broadband.
The move to 4G is well underway. Sprint and Clearwire got out of the gate first with their WiMAX offer. They have a goal of reaching 100 million people with their 4G offer by the end of the year. Just today they announced the expansion of their coverage to include Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh. They now reach 56 markets with their WiMAX footprint and intend on covering others by the end of the year, including New York City, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to Clearwire, cable companies have a 4G wireless play as well.
All eyes are now on Verizon, who will launch their rival to Sprint and Clearwire – a 4G LTE network. Verizon plans to cover 25 – 30 markets by the end of the year, which suggests they’ll be launching something soon. Rumors have been circulating that the first market should go live sometime in October. Verizon is even entertaining working with rural carriers to accelerate the availability of 4G LTE in rural markets. They’ve announced a rural partnership program, although details of which have been slow to materialize.
MetroPCS has already beat Verizon to the 4G LTE punch, with the launch of two markets so far – Las Vegas and Dallas. AT&T is scheduled to start making 4G waves next year, and T-Mobile is sticking with HSPA+ for now, which even though technically is a 3G technology, offers 4G type performance.
Regardless of technology or network, the move to 4G will have profound implications on the business as a whole. Subscribers for the first time will have true mobile broadband, allowing them to do incredible things on the go. It will raise expectations for all broadband carriers, as customers will begin to expect a true broadband experience everywhere and on an increasing number of devices, from smartphones to tablets to even their cars. Service providers who best enable this experience – both in the home and out of it – stand to gain significant competitive advantage and financial reward.