Cable operators taking different routes to same destination: broadband wireless

Cable operators generally agree about everything, but when it comes to mobile wireless that agreeability frays a bit at the edges. A panel of cable executives yesterday at The Cable Show showed that wireless is in every MSO's future, but the definition of wireless is not the same for every operator.

Comcast and Time Warner, for instance, have embraced Clearwire's WiMAX 4G, with a little 3G mixed in via agreements with Sprint. Cox Communications, whose 3G mobile wireless rollout is "imminent," is going it alone by building a mobile network using spectrum it purchased in FCC auctions. Cablevision Systems is enamored of its New York metro area WiFi mesh that it shares freely with neighboring Comcast and Time Warner systems. And BendBroadband, the smallest of the group, is pursuing an aggressive mobile wireless course that doesn't necessarily include mobile wireless voice.

"Just because we're a smaller operator doesn't mean that everything has to be small," said Frank Miller, BendBroadband's CTO. "Wireless broadband is a prerequisite to the customer experience."

BendBroadband isn't alone in taking a hands-off approach to voice. The Clear MSOs have voice services with Sprint and 4G data with Clearwire. Cox is building a 3G voice network that is an extension of its wireline phone business and then migrating to LTE. Cablevision subscribers can run VoIP on top of the WiFi network, but the MSO so far hasn't gone into the mobile wireless space. And BendBroadband's service "will be application-based. Voice is an application; video is an application," said Miller. "We're always looking into a mobile voice application (but) why be sixth to market?"

Mike Roudi, group vice president of mobile services for Time Warner agreed with Miller--to a point. TWC's model, he said, is to "enable our customers to maintain the relationship with us when they leave the home and take our services with them."

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