Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cox Exits Wireless, New Possibility for Lafayette with Sprint?

Cox has completely pulled out the wireless game stranding its investment in spectrum and throwing into doubt the particulars of a grand reorganization it recently announced.

This finally kills a constantly shrinking commitment by Cox to wireless. It means there will not be a wireless play by Cox in Lafayette to put up against the deal that LUS Fiber has put together with Sprint.

A wireless play by LUS Fiber is still a necessity. But Cox's withdrawal and AT&T's structural weakness means that LUS' play is much clearer—and cleaner. With Cox out of the way Sprint is no longer tied to an implacable opponent of our local network. Sprint has long been the most obvious choice for a cellular partnership with LUS Fiber. Sprint is committed to advanced technology, focused on data rather than voice as compared to its larger brethren, is the small, "different" telco that is struggling to break out of its also-ran status.

But I recently engaged in a long bit of speculation about the wide range of possibilities wired and wireless for potential Sprint-LUS Fiber and won't go back into all that now.

But since I took a look at the possibilities a new one has appeared. Bandwidth.com, a major provider of VOIP services to folks like Skype, has launched its own user-facing company using the Sprint network. It's called Republic Wireless and it's hope is to disrupt the cellular industry. (Which could use some serious disruption!) Republic wants to flip your phone from being cellular-centric to being WiFi-centric. That's something many of us have already achieved — I know the vast majority of the times I use my phone its for data, and the vast majority of those times are when I am at home or at another location where I've got it switched onto a local hotspot. AT&T's 3G is a "good enough" service. But whenever I have the opportunity I switch to WiFi. The big exception to data-centricity is phone calls which are always routed over AT&Ts network. Republic is going to change that making WiFi instead of Cellular the default. You'll use WiFi for everything anytime it is available only grudgingly switching over to cellular's capped, slow networks when you have to.

And you get their service for $19 a month. Data and Voice.

Sure there are caveats. There's a cap on how much cellular you can use (that replaces the current cap cellular providers now place on data connections). And not all phones are set up to favor WiFi in that way. But that's not a big technical hurdle and I have to think that most phones could deal well with this...it's a system level, software-malleable sort of thing. It's even been done before. T-Mobile's UMA-based Home Zone products preferred WiFi too. The problem isn't technology. The problem is that cellular corporations have control of the market. But Sprint and Republic Wireless may be about to change that assumption.

For Lafayette the possibility opens up of following through on long-delayed plans to build a wireless network. Such wireless networks have dramatically cut local government's telecomm bills in other locales and LUS Fiber provides the ubiquitous fiber-huge backhaul down every street that makes the engineering much less technical. It would be easy, very easy, to design a system that pushed 50 megs of bandwidth off our electrical poles. With that kind of bandwidth delicacy in design can go away...and with that kind of network a partnership with Republic or Broadband.com would mean that those of us living and working in the city would only tap into the Sprint cellular network when we travel. All for 20 bucks a month. Or less...

There'd be huge savings involved for the citizens. And damned good ones of the City-Parish government as well. We ought to be looking into it.

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