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November 21, 2008

Mobile Trumps Fixed Broadband – Comm Prediction #2

"80% of Web users will choose mobile broadband over fixed by 2013" is the headline of a Total Telecom interview with John Cunliffe of Ericsson. I agree with the conclusion although I think Ericsson will be unpleasantly surprised to find that LTE is NOT the technology which leads to this revolution.

Mobile access at speeds at least equal to what cable offers and at a price lower than today's cable broadband will be available both in the home and on the road within a year or two at the most. From the Total Telecom article:

"Cunliffe said that over the last 12 months Ericsson has been running LTE tests in Sweden. These have taken place in urban environment, with clear line of sight between the cell tower and the device for less than 40% of the time, while moving at speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour.

"'We recorded peak speeds of 154 Mbps, an average of 78 Mbps, and minimum speeds of around 16 Mbps,' he said."

What'll drive this change? My friend Pip Coburn argues persuasively that change doesn't happen until there is a perceived benefit large enough to overcome the perceived pain of adoption of a new technology.

Online cars will be the initial benefit in buying high-speed mobile connectivity. I just got my first connected GPS. It's called Dash Express and can connect either through GPRS (low speed mobile data) or WiFi. Here's what's really cool: all the Dash Express units can communicate the current speed they are moving through their data connections and have access to the aggregate traffic reports of all the other units – talk about crowd-sourced realtime traffic reports. Wow! I know I won't get much useful information here in Vermont until penetration of these devices are higher but friends tell me it is already useful in urban areas where the company has apparently seeded units. You can also do Yahoo searches for anything you're looking for and find cheap gas, all using real-time data rather than a stored set of points which quickly gets obsolete. I'll write more about this when I have more experience with it.

High speed mobile data connections are about to become very cheap because of technologies like WiMax and LTE and, IMHO, even more importantly because of the FCC's action in freeing up the "TV" white spaces for unlicensed use. Now think of that GPS screen in the car. It's a lot bigger than the screen on your mobile phone; it's connected to the car battery so doesn't have to worry about battery life. It's going to have realtime video of traffic conditions, attractions you are passing, and is going to deliver entertainment – hopefully to the passengers. Of course there'll be another screen for the kids in back, already is in many cars but now it'll be Internet connected.

So we'll all need to connect our cars. Once we do that, we'll start to wonder why we need a separate connection for our house. It'll take us awhile to drop these where there already installed and working; but, when it comes time to upgrade for higher speed, we'll tend to switch to the mobile connection for home use as long as it's fast and cheap enough. For new subscribers the choice'll be easy: they'll just buy one connection.

Ericsson's customers are carriers so they think of how much easier it is for a carrier to let a customer self-install mobile than to make a house call for a fixed-connection: "Installation of a fixed connection into the customer premises is a nightmare for both the consumer and the service provider, compared to a mobile connection which self-installs and automatically connects to the network," Cunliffe says. We won't rush out and buy mobile connections to make life easier for carriers although easy installation will help bring the price down. We WILL buy mobile connections because the pain of being unconnected while in motion'll be too high and there will be little or no incremental cost for mobility and because they meet our need for high-bandwidth when we're sitting still.

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