There's a well documented movement away from wired telephones. It is evident most recently in the debate among pollsters handicapping next month's presidential election about how to tweak data to account for the growing cell phone-only segment of the population.
The handwriting is on the wall for an even bigger change: The advent of WiMax, Long Term Evolution (LTE) and other high capacity wireless networks means that it is only a matter of time before a majority of subscribers rely solely on mobile networks for all their broadband needs.
It's prudent for Americans to look at the Pacific nations and Europe for insight into what lies ahead. Analysys Mason suggests that by 2013, 47 percent of European broadband will be mobile and almost a quarter of sites receiving broadband will get it exclusively via mobile networks. The piece says that net addition of digital subscriber line (DSL) customers are slowing. The situation is bound to get a bit complex if mobile and wired broadband achieve parity. Analysys Mason was referenced in another story -- at Tech Watch -- in which the firm pointed to an approach by O2. The carrier is bundling wired and wireless broadband together.
On one level, this spat about T-Mobile advertising that favorably compares its mobile broadband to fixed line services is small potatoes. The Advertising Standards Agency in the U.K. criticized the company's claim that service was comparable in speed and quality because the carrier doesn't allow peer-to-peer or support gaming and streaming in the same manner as some wired networks. The flap, of course, is local -- but suggests that the two platforms are near enough to equivalency to lead T-Mobile to create such an ad.
This equality is evident today, and the 4G landscape is only in its formative stages. This week, the GSM Association said that LTE could deliver theoretic speeds of 186 Mbps and real-world speeds -- depending upon distance and other factors -- of 100 Mbps. The fast networking capability may be available in Japan and South Korea as early as 2010 and in Europe by 2012. Such a move could steal the thunder from expensive wireline projects. The piece says that BT recently announced an upgrade to 100 Mbps, and says that LTE may achieve the speed before it is complete.
The day when Americans have the option of going all mobile broadband may be near -- or, for subscribers in Chicago, Baltimore of Washington, D.C. -- already here. This Computerworld piece looks at the service being provide by Xohm, the WiMax service launching in those cities. The service, which is backed by Intel, Sprint Nextel and several other companies, offers peak downloads of about 4.4 Mbps and average speeds of 3 Mbps. The story, which offers several other relevant numbers, inadvertently makes the case for replacing wired broadband:
Think about receiving the equivalent of a home DSL or cable broadband connection while you're mobile, and you get an idea of its potential to put data everywhere you'll be.
The reality is that wired and wireless networking are reaching parity. It will be interesting to see which inherent properties of each beyond speed -- cost, quality of service, coverage, reliability and others -- determine which wins in the marketplace.