Verizon Wireless announced Friday that it was paying $3.6 billion to three cable TV companies — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks — in exchange for wireless licenses the companies bought in an FCC auction in 2005. Pundits are describing the deal, and especially its cross-marketing provisions, as revolutionary with the potential to change the way we communicate and are entertained. I doubt this. Rather, I think it reflects a failure of the cable companies to compete in other markets.
I remember this license auction and wrote about it at the time. New spectrum was being released and the MSOs were afraid Verizon and AT&T would snap it up to compete with them for video. So the cable companies bought the spectrum specifically to keep it out of commerce, which has been the case now for six years. Mission accomplished. Yet the price they are getting from Verizon when you wrestle through the apples and oranges of varying licenses bought and sold at different times isn’t significantly higher than they paid back in 2005, especially since the licenses have produced zero cash flow for going on seven years.
But the point isn’t the price, we’re told, but the co-marketing — that Comcast can sell Verizon Wireless service eventually without even calling it Verizon or that Verizon will presumably resell Time Warner Cable or Bright House to the very folks it would rather buy Verizon’s own FiOS video package.
I think the co-marketing story is just spin and that not much will come of it.
We’re heading into a bandwidth war between DOCSIS 3 cable modems and fiber-to-the-curb services like FiOS. And while I can’t predict which side will win or lose this battle I can say that wireless service won’t be a factor in the decision.
Yes, we get e-mail and play Angry Birds on our smart phones and yes, 18 months from now all mobile phones will be smart phones, but the mobile transition hasn’t had any impact on our bandwidth use in homes or offices. It has just given us a way to consume even more electrons at lunch or in the car. And for all the very real potential of Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G networks, they can’t in practical terms serve enough bits to enough people at the same time in any city to be viable competition to almost any form of wired Internet, whether from the phone company or the cable company. The physics just doesn’t support it.
Eighteen months from now many American homes will be where Japanese and Korean homes have been for sometime, sucking 100 megabits or more from the Internet. LTE can’t do that now or then and it can’t do half of that for a tenth or even a hundredth of the customer base of wired Internet.
Verizon needs the bandwidth because voice landlines are going away and it has to compete with AT&T, not Comcast. The new voice is all wireless. But at the same time, even 4G wireless will come to share analog voice’s sense of not being enough.
FiOS was deliberately designed from the very beginning with the good glass — fiber that can go to a gigabit and beyond. DOCSIS 3’s channel bonding and network segmentation will eventually allow full access to 70+ video channels for data service where currently most cable modems use one channel and some use two or three. No matter what way the wire gets to your house that wire will soon carry 100 megabits and then a gigabit that LTE never will.
Those wireless bandwidth caps are there for a reason.
Cable companies today make most of their profit from providing Internet service. FiOS and similar services are Internet services enhanced to keep subscribers subscribing, not especially to give them Wheel of Fortune.
This deal is the cable companies getting out of wireless because they can’t figure how to make money in that business.