Monday, October 27, 2008

"Cox to launch cellphone service" (updated)

Cox wants to be your phone company...cellular that is. (Or so says USAToday.)

There's been a real question for quite a while now as to what Cox was going to do with the (expensive) wireless bandwidth it bought in the 700 mhz band. The possibilities bandied about have ranged from advanced data services to mobile TV to, well, cellular service. That last is what Cox is leading with but makes it clear that it intends to do bits of the others:

Cox, which expects to eventually manage all aspects of its service, also will test faster 4G technologies that use the international Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard...

Cox also says that subscribers will be able to watch TV shows, and possibly full-time channels, on their handsets. The company wouldn't say what video will be available, how much consumers will pay for cellphone service, which markets will get it first, or how long it will take before it's available in all its territories.

So what does that mean in Lafayette? Well, it's pretty clear that Cox, as I've been saying for some time, is shaping up to be the Verizon of cable companies, that is: the company which is willing to invest real money in an intelligent long-term vision. Moving into the wireless space is smart and a will be a real challenge to LUS and the community's new network. I do think an even smarter play for Cox, especially in Lafayette but everywhere, would have been to emphasize data and go with broad, open data structures like WiMax rather than tie themselves to a one wing of a narrow, cell-industry standard (LTE). Data is where the future is and flexibility is the key to success in the long run. Cox is apparently still locked in to their "old-world" mentality of providing "services" rather than access or communications. If they push much video at all over their wireless connection they will eat up bandwidth with proprietary, costly-to-consumer content. The cable model...in a world where they are competing against any real data-driven competitors it is a model with limited life. (And in Lafayette, though in few other places currently, they will have a data-driven competitor.)

Wireless services will enable integration with Cox's other phone and video services; in addition to watching some TV shows on their mobile phone:
..subscribers will be able to use the phones to program home DVRs. They'll also be able to access e-mail and voice mail that they receive at home.
Network integration is the holy grail of modern networking. It increases overall usages and tends to lock consumers into your product line. (Oh, and real people find it useful.) Just how that integration is accomplished is the question: via proprietary pipelined services or via open networkable data standards. Cox is going with proprietary services, as one would expect given their history and DNA.

LUS and Lafayette will also, readers will recall, have a wireless play. In Lafayette that will be a wifi network hung off the fiber and made available to all who purchase network connectivity from the new division. Current testing shows the wifi network pushing high bandwidth--in the neighborhood of 10 megs. That's a lot of bandwidth, more than enough for 2-way video at mobile device resolutions for instance, and there's no reason it couldn't be more. LUS' play will be a pure data play, the basic internet protocols will be the hook on which the whole thing will be hung. As such it will be robust, flexible, and adapative. LUS has been pretty coy on just when this will officially launch and how much additional (if any) it will cost. Getting that sort of information along with what protocols the new network will support in terms of infrastructure will be crucial to encouraging development for the new fiber-n-wireless network we'll be seeing in Lafayette.

All very interesting.

Update: Mike passes on the URL to a Light Reading article on Cox's wireless ambitions in light of the recent announcement. If you're interested in the topic it shows the signs of being written by a reporter with real background knowledge; understanding what other cable companies are doing and what the history of wireless moves has been in the cable world...worth the click.

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