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Cable industry still looking for right wireless strategy

03 апреля 2009

Cable executives at the industry's largest annual conference repeated the need to increase their companies' wireless presence, a goal that seems as old as the 58-year confab.

While major cable operators continue to hold the upper hand for now as telecom rivals Verizon Inc. and AT&T Inc. encroach on their territories with competing television and Internet service offerings, they remain well behind the phone companies in wireless service offerings, preventing the cable companies from being able to offer customers the ability to get what they want, where and how they want it.

"Wireless is a conundrum for the cable industry in how we take that first step," Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in Washington at the Cable Show, the annual event hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Roberts called the phone companies "super elephants" in the wireless business, and he conceded that cable operators like Comcast have a steep climb ahead in order to catch up.

Cable operators have adopted three different basic strategies in the wireless arena, and they're all watching each other to gauge which might gain traction first.

Comcast - along with Time Warner Cable Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corp. and Bright House Networks - has backed Clearwire Corp., the WiMax provider that will launch service in
Portland, Ore., this summer followed by several other markets later in 2009.

Clearwire's technology offers higher bandwidth than other wireless technologies, and its partners are hopeful that its service will offer superior speeds to its rivals over time, but the process of getting it up and running has been slow and expensive.

Cox Communications Inc., the third-largest cable TV provider in the
U.S., is building its own wireless network to rival the phone companies.
Still Cox Chief Executive Patrick Esser said wireless will remain secondary to its cable service.

"The most valuable asset I own is the last mile to the house," Esser said. "Wireless won't change that."

Cablevision Systems Corp., meanwhile, is building out a wi-fi offering across its cable network for access by its subscribers. The company's dense territories in the tri-state
New York area with an upper-crust demographic and a high commuter population make it an anomaly in the industry.

The cable industry's lack of progress on wireless offers its telecom rivals a competitive foothold in the market they could exploit as demand for wireless media access becomes more prevalent.

While cable operators have picked up phone service market share with digital service offerings, consumers are increasingly dropping land-line phone service and going wireless-only, and the concern for cable providers is that trend could spread to TV and Internet service as technologies improve.

Craig McCaw, chairman of Clearwire, noted that the majority of phone calls made now are on wireless networks, and close to half of all Internet and email connections are made on wireless devices.
He also said the strong demand for wireless applications for Apple Inc.'s iPhone demonstrates the public's appetite for wireless media consumption.

"A seamless connection between inside the home and outside the home will be a must-have," McCaw said."We see the obvious elements of change are on the horizon."

Cable companies have had a poor track record with wireless offerings. In 2005, Sprint Nextel Corp., Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House and Cox Communications unveiled Pivot, a wireless joint venture that was seen as a potential challenger to the major wireless players.

But the different parties chafed under the unified Pivot brand and couldn't agree on how to market the service.
Ultimately, Sprint stores didn't want to sell the service, and the cable companies didn't want to market it. In 2007, Sprint stopped marketing the service and slowly phased it out.

Источник: Total Telecom

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