In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum

Ideas sometimes take decades to emerge as commercial realities, something we will likely see with artificial intelligence, internet of things, connected cars, and possible even edge computing.

Decades, not years.

Consider the ways Wi-Fi-based voice of the type cable TV operators offer. The basic idea is to connect smartphones to cable Wi-Fi at home and in other public or work settings, using leased mobile network access (mobile virtual network operator) for truly “on the go” access.

Or, consider a newer approach that might blend leased access (MVNO) for “on the go” access, with use of “owned”  licensed spectrum for at=home access, and then Wi-Fi as a filler elsewhere when users are stationary.

Broadly speaking, the use cases include use of the mobile network outdoors and away from home, with use of the fixed Wi-Fi or small cell network when users are stationary at home, at work or other venues.

Cogeco, the Canadian cable TV operator, is looking at a “hybrid” model using its own small cells and licensed spectrum when customers are at home, with leased access (MVNO) when users are out of the house or moving.

“Today, we remain interested in offering wireless services to complement our service offerings to customers within our traditional cable footprint and grow our share of our customers’ telecommunications spending,” says Louis Audet, Cogeco CEO. And Cogeco believes it can use its fixed network to support 5G small cells to supply smartphone service to its customers at home.

That bears a striking resemblance to a late-1980s concept known as “personal communications service.”

In the early 1990s, at a time when mobile service was not used by most people, and was expensive, it was thought there was a market opportunity for a new type of service that would be halfway between cordless indoor telephone service and fully-mobile outdoor service.

Known as personal communications service, PCS would support communications outdoors at pedestrian speeds, would function as a cordless phone indoors, but would not support full mobility at auto speeds.

NTT, in fact, marketed Handyphone service in which a handset functioned both as a cordless phone in the home and as a mobile phone outside the home. As it turned out, rapid price declines for full mobile service eroded the potential market.

The market niche for PCS and Handyphone never was sustainable, once mobile became affordable for the mass market.

So even where new spectrum was made available for “Personal Communications Service (PCS),” it mostly lead to the entry of new firms into the mobile business. In the U.S. market, Sprint and what became T-Mobile US into the U.S. mobile market, using 2-GHz “PCS” spectrum. The original thought was that PCS would be a pedestrian speed network, supporting cell tower handoff at pedestrian speeds.

Later, Cablevision Systems Corp., which studied and then shelved the idea, eventually did launch a similar service, essentially mobile phone service using unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum exclusively. Much as did PCS, it never took off.

But, in a different form, we now see cable TV and even mobile firms looking at small cells to support at-home or other stationary access (akin to use of Wi-Fi offload), with reliance on a mobile network (owned or leased facilities) for full mobility and out-of-home access.

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