Cable Gets Into the Mobile Phone Game


The cable industry has long faced the challenge of getting into the mobile phone business. Its lineage, of course, is in carrying video signals over cables. Providing voice was a stretch that took it years to master. Providing these services in a wireless fashion is an even bigger step.


It is clear, however, the industry recognizes that mobile voice is a vital piece of the overall picture and that it must find a way to provide service. One option is to resell other providers' services, but this is a low-margin "me too" approach that doesn't provide control. In other words, a definite plan B.


There are at least three plans under way in various segments of the industry. This week, PC Magazine reports that Cox Communications is set to provide wireless services. The company, under the name Cox Wireless, paid more than $304 million for 22 licenses in the 700 MHz band earlier this year. The story says that the company aims to reach 20 percent market share with differentiated services such as security, monitoring of the elderly and energy management.


The second plan of note is Cablevision's Wi-Fi initiative. The operator, which serves Long Island, parts of New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey, is embarking on a Wi-Fi project that will blanket its service area over the next couple of years. Voice, as well as video and data, are part of the project.


The third plan is continuation of a project based on the network Clearwire has established. Executives speaking at the keynote of The Cable Show '08 in New Orleans earlier this month noted the promise of the project, which includes operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. In addition to Clearwire, the cable operators are being joined by Intel, Sprint Nextel and other non-cable players. The International Herald Tribune offers more details on the venture, which was announced in May. The bottom line is that the group could give these operators -- and others that join -- a powerful way to alleviate any mobile voice shortcoming.


Cable definitely needs a mobile voice offering. The good news for the industry is that there is no shortage of ways to fill this gap in its resume. In addition to these projects, it is certain that lower-profile initiatives are in the field or on the drawing board.