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April 21, 2008

Cordless or Wireless? Good Question

We don’t do spring here in Vermont so now it’s summer although there’s still plenty of snow gleaming in the mountains. Time for me to work outside (at least until we get our obligatory late season snowstorm).

My cordless phone is scratchy by the time I get out on the deck; it doesn’t like being that far from the base station. The WiFi isn’t great on the deck either.

I could move the base station for the cordless phone and install a repeater for the WiFi signal. Last year I used my antenna and high-power WiFi card to make WiFi work right outside. But that’s all a lot of trouble.

Instead I made my calls using my wireless (aka cellular) phone. And I put the EVDO USB modem in my computer and just used that for connectivity. Since I never use my 500 wireless minutes each month nor the 5 gigabytes per month included in my EVDO account, it doesn’t cost me anything incremental to be in my travel configuration while on the deck; and it’s a lot more convenient than making the house radios have good coverage outside.

So here’s the question: will there come a time when we don’t install our own little radios for voice and data at the end of the wires, cables, or fiber that comes into our houses? Will we just pick up the same signal from our carriers that we use when we’re traveling inside the house as well as on the deck and in the car?

Clearly WON’T happen unless the carriers lower the prices for cellular and EVDO and lift the volume limits. $99/month for unlimited talking on Verizon Wireless or AT&T is a lot more than $24.95 on Vonage which also includes reasonable rates on international calling. 5 gig would disappear pretty soon if I were doing my nightly over-the-net backups and watching MLB.com on EVDO. Moreover EVDO isn’t really fast enough for lots of web stuff.

The conventional wisdom is that eventually voice and data will come over a fiber into the house and then be distributed wirelessly thoughout the house and maybe the yard and that mobile needs will continue to be met by different technology at a higher price. Maybe the conventional wisdom is right but it’s always worth questioning.

I think there’s a strong probability that not just the last 100 feet but the whole last mile will be wireless in many places. Radio technology is advancing very quickly. There would be plenty of spectrum IFF (and it’s a big IFF) there were regulatory reform to allow use of whitespace and make much more spectrum open. As we (and our computers) spend more and more time connected, we’ll be more and more impatient with having to switch connectivity modes when we walk out the front door.

That would mean no communication wires, cables or fibers coming to most single family residences. That could also mean true competition in communication services just as cell phone service offers more choices, more competition, and more innovation than landline service does today. It’s hard to make a business case for duplicate networks to each house; much easier to make the case for competitive radios, even on the same towers.

Just a speculation.

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