Broadband: How will faster wireless affect wireline?

Several announcements in the last month got us to thinking about what effect faster wireless broadband speeds will have on wireline broadband. For example, could 4G/LTE broadband wireless substitute for wireline broadband access to the extent that wireless voice has replaced wired phone lines? Could 4G/LTE wireless broadband supplement wireline in cases of disaster recovery or in remote areas in lieu of a satellite broadband connection? Of will 4G/LTE hasten the move of cloud-based applications to mobile devices?

Several announcements in the last month got us to thinking about what effect faster wireless broadband speeds will have on wireline broadband. For example, could 4G/LTE broadband wireless substitute for wireline broadband access to the extent that wireless voice has replaced wired phone lines? Could 4G/LTE wireless broadband supplement wireline in cases of disaster recovery or in remote areas in lieu of a satellite broadband connection? Or will 4G/LTE hasten the move of cloud-based applications to mobile devices?

BY THE NUMBERS: 4G to cover more than 4 billion people by 2015

Consider two announcements from Verizon Wireless and Cisco starting with the companies' plans for Verizon Wireless to support a 4G wireless version of Cisco's Cius, a business-grade tablet designed as a mobile collaboration tool that will be available in spring 2011. When added to the dozens of tablets planned for 4G compatibility, we believe it reasonable to expect computer-level integration of applications and content delivery to these devices capitalizing on 4G network speeds.

So the next question about wireless broadband as a substitute. Recall that according to the U.S. Government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 homes has cut the legacy wireline phone cord in favor of wireless-only voice. Could we see wireless substitution rates that high for broadband access? We think not because radio spectrum is a limited resource, and unlike wireless voice networks that have plenty of spectrum to manage voice calls, if 25% of broadband users shifted from wireline access, the demand for wireless broadband would likely exceed available spectrum given today's technology.

However, we do see some "cord shaving" as likely. For example, Cisco and Verizon Wireless also announced a 4G WAN interface on Cisco's second-generation Integrated Services Router (ISR G2), which will be used by Verizon Wireless to drive innovation and create new business models targeting enterprise and small- and medium-sized business customers.

Turning again to Verizon news, where Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg discussed the company's LTE trial with satellite broadcaster DirecTV at a recent investor conference, Seidenberg disclosed that Verizon and DirecTV are in trials that use a satellite connection for video and an LTE antenna to provide home broadband. In our opinion, this arrangement could be used in a way that lets Verizon extend a "triple play" (voice/video/data) bundle outside its wireline footprint because its LTE speeds approximate the wireline broadband connection speeds offered by cable operators and telcos. And the bundle pricing could be especially attractive compared to using satellite broadband for Internet connectivity.

Technology and limited spectrum issues aside, we think that the biggest effect will be how broadband consumption is priced, including models that might charge for speed and amounts consumed.

If you would like to weigh in on our perspectives here, please feel free to drop us a note by clicking on Larry's name on the link above and we'll be happy to share your views with our readership.

Learn more about this topic

Verizon unveils 10 mobile devices with LTE built in

AT&T LTE service to launch by midyear

Ericsson: Mobile broadband subscriptions will double in 2011

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