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It looks as though we might relatively soon get new tests of the value of network agnostic access.

If Google launches its own mobile service, relying on Wi-Fi, Sprint and T-Mobile US networks we might start to get a sense of how 5G mobile networks will operate, aggregating the best access “available right now.”

Whether that devalues or enhances the value of any specific retail operator’s offering remains to be seen, though 5G supporters obviously believe such “any network” access will enhance value for any retail mobile services provider.

Comcast is expected to do something along those lines, using a “Wi-Fi first” approach. Cablevision Systems Corp., in one sense, is using the “legacy” approach, relying on an owned network solely. Granted, it might be odd to classify a “Wi-Fi only” mobile network as a “legacy” approach, but that is what a sole reliance on an owned Wi-Fi network represents.

The long-term business issue is whether leading mobile networks would agree to allow a “use the best access” approach that includes roaming onto the networks of key competitors. An example: AT&T and Verizon customers having reciprocal rights to access either network, depending on which network has the strongest signal or the least congestion, right now.

That might have seemed crazy in the past, as both firms have competed fiercely to build and operate the “best” network, in terms of signal strength and coverage, as well as bandwidth.

But the emergence of new competitors, including Google, Comcast, Cablevision and Dish Network, on top of competition from Sprint and T-Mobile US, might change the strategic rationale.

If customers of AT&T and Verizon were able to automatically access the best network–AT&T, Verizon or Wi-Fi–that might add value to both carrier offers, compared to all the others.

As unthinkable as cooperation between AT&T and Verizon might be, it is not unthinkable.

The reason is that if Google and others manage to make Internet access using unlicensed spectrum a viable alternative to or replacement for, licensed access, access providers using the licensed approach will have to work harder to maximize the value of their approach.

Paradoxically, if shared access, or unlicensed access, become more-important parts of the access architecture, the value of licensed access might become more valuable, particularly as related to quality of service.

If most unlicensed access continues to rely on “best effort,” there will be times when a licensed approach will be able to provider higher user experience, during times of congestion.

Of course, supporters of unlicensed approaches will work to assure that there is so much available spectrum, across so many networks, that latency and quality will not be practical issues.

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