The Fixed versus Mobile Broadband Conundrum

2012 will prove to be a pivotal year for fixed broadband demand.  In some countries, especially those with very robust mobile networks, demand for fixed broadband has started to decline and in those countries where the fixed infrastructure was never reliable (such as India and most of Africa), demand for fixed broadband has never met the expected demand.  Combine that with an ever-increasing number of operators rolling out LTE (49 commercial LTE networks as of Jan 5, 2012, per the GSA) and consumer’s appetite for mobility will definitely put some significant pressure on fixed broadband operators.

I am not going to make subscriber comparisons between fixed and mobile, because it is comparing apples to oranges.  A fixed broadband subscription is typically associated with households, while mobile subscriptions are individually based.  It is very rare (even in high penetration markets such as South Korea and Singapore) for a household to have more than one fixed broadband subscription – yet it is plausible that a single household with a family of four – could have four or more mobile subscriptions.

Let’s face it – mobile is sexy and fixed is not.  But the allure is not in the network – it is all in the devices. To own the latest and greatest device is a status symbol, much like owning designer apparel was in the 80s’ and 90s’.  Unfortunately – this is not something that providers of fixed broadband solutions are ever going to match.  Yes, you can design an esthetically pleasing home gateway (Free’s Revolution) or streaming video server (Boxee, Roku), and even Set-Top Boxes, but its not likely to be something that a consumer is going to brag about or show off.

But they do like to talk about their speed and their quality. 

So how does a fixed broadband operator compete with the mobile broadband avalanche?  Provide a network that a consumer simply cannot live without.   How do you do this?  By making sure that not only do fixed broadband speeds match and/or exceed mobile broadband competition, but that applications and services (video, gaming, e-health, e-education, e-business, bandwidth guarantees, quality of service, etc.) remain unique to fixed broadband. And that is where technologies such as DSL vectoring, DOCSIS 3.0 and architectures such as FTTx come into play. 

So here are a few reminders as to why Fixed Broadband can (and will) remain relevant over the longer term:

  • It is that fixed broadband connected to a Wi-Fi device that enables Multi-Screen TV services
  • It is that fixed broadband connected to your home gateway that enables multi-room DVR services
  • It is that fixed broadband connected to your Wi-Fi router that enables Apple iCloud and iTunes Match
  • It is that fixed broadband connected directly (or via Wi-Fi) to your Smart TV, Blu Ray Player, Gaming Console and OTT box that allows streaming video services
  • It is that fixed broadband connection that allows multi-player gaming and XBox Live services
  • It is that fixed broadband network that allows one person to take an on-line class, another to stream video and another to download music – simultaneously
  • It is that fixed broadband network that has electronically transferred a critical medical document, x-Ray or Cat scan for evaluation and consultation
  • It is that fixed broadband network that enables you to have a lower cost VoIP telephone service
  • It is that fixed broadband network that allows you to use your Skype service
  • It is that fixed broadband network that enables you to have that Facetime conversation with you grandmother, you parents, your children, your friends
  • It is that fixed broadband network that connects your Wi-Fi device to everything else in your home and your community
  • It is that fixed broadband network that enable mobile connectivity
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