WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The iPhone has been the object of the creation of more applications than any other platform, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts noted on stage today at the 2009 Cable Show.
Now, Skype is available on the iPhone. Besides Skype, there are and will be other ways to use wifi and broadband Internet connections to turn handheld devices into phones – without connecting to wireless phone networks.
So what should cable do about wireless telephony?
Comcast and a few other big cable system operators are working with serial disruptor Craig McCaw to provide wireless phone services through his Clearwire broadband wireless. Cox Communications bought its own spectrum and is developing the back office and other systems needed to deliver its own wireless services, as well as working with Sprint. And smaller operators, such as St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications, are taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
After all, a prior joint venture between big operators and Sprint, called Pivot, died. And, if Skype on an iPod Touch is all you need to have a wireless phone, why reinvent the wheel? It’ll just help sell your Internet service. As long as you make wireless access to the Internet part of what you do throughout your service territory as Cablevision Systems is doing.
“Wireless is a conundrum in the cable industry in how we take that first step,’’ said Roberts.
But there is really less to this conundrum than meets the ear. Because neither the Comcast nor the Cox approach is about delivering phone services. They’re not about the ear.
They’re about the eyes. How to deliver services that incorporate features that the cable operators already deliver, with television and Internet services, that they can somehow marry to voice services or even just deliver straight to handheld devices, in some unique fashion.
What that “killer application” or applications might be, no one knows. But the operators want to take from a tried-and-true playback of building the capacity so that the apps and the users will come.
Clearwire’s McCaw, on the same stage as Roberts, noted that his company has assembled more spectrum than has been put together before, in a civilized nation for civilian purposes. Cable operators will be flying Boeing 777s, he indicated, compared to the “regional jets” of rivals.
But, in the end, whatever emerges will still be based on what is inside the cable network, generally a regional infrastructure itelf.
“The most valuable asset (we) own is still the last mile to the home,’’ said Cox president Pat Esser. “Wireless does not change that.”
It, he said, would be an overlay.