What Is The Future Of Wireless Broadband?

On this week's TWiT (This Week in Tech, for the uninitiated), prominent tech blogger Om Malik made a great observation about consumer broadband. Every time we saw a large jump in the broadband speeds consumers were able to get to their homes - we saw great new innovations to make use of the new bandwidth. The move from dial-up to low end DSL: Napster. A boost to DSL speeds (from 300kbps to 1.5/3 mbps): YouTube, Revision 3, etc. Soon enough the majority of consumers will be able to receive broadband speeds at and above 10-20mbps and the question was raised: "What's next?"

I couldn't help but think about the current state of mobile broadband (EVDO & HSPA). When my carrier of choice, Verizon, started to roll out their 3G network nationwide they began to offer small on-demand TV clips via their "VCAST" service. While the service was fun, novel, lower quality, and slightly on the pricey side - it was fairly revolutionary. Think about it - 10 years ago did you think that you would be able to watch music videos, on-demand, via a device in your hand simply because it was connected to a cellular network? Now with the advent of 4G (LTE and WiMax specifically) and mobile broadband speeds that will reach the 3-6mbps range (up from current 300-700kbps speeds) you cant help but wonder: "What's next?"

With the new found "larger pipe" a lot is possible. If carriers wanted to - they could become more media centric. You could stream high quality video of live sporting events right to your mobile device. Same goes for the opposite - consumers could stream higher quality audio and video streams to the web. Some of this is happening now in the form of uStream, Qik, and YouTube mobile upload but quality still leaves something to be desired... I believe you could see a transformation of cellular carriers to more "media centric" companies offering on demand or live content to consumers via multiple mediums. Think about it: what if Verizon sold a TV or set top box (like what you have from your cable or satellite provider) that had LTE built in? Allowing you (for a monthly fee) stream or download high definition content directly to your living room.

It would truly be a game changer, but the carriers aren't going to get very far without the support from the content providers. All of the major networks are going to have to realize that all former means of distribution simply not adequate anymore and be willing to play ball with someone offering a new way of doing things. A lot of them are, slowly, waking up and allowing their content to be distributed via Hulu, Netflix Streaming, Amazon Unbox, or their own websites, but there's still no "find it ALL here" option. If carriers could overcome this hurdle and offer the service at a reasonable price you would see many pro-consumer moves in the way of pricing because of competition. You could see bundled packages from your cellular provider popping up for one rate that would allow you to consume major network media in your living room on the couch AND on your mobile device on the go...

Will the carriers actually implement such options? No one knows. Most are holding their cards very close to their chests for now - so we'll just have to wait and see. But it is most certainly possible....

by Ben Pike