Thursday, August 11, 2011

Alternatives to Cable/Telco Broadband Duopoly

Today, high-speed broadband options in most communities is limited to local cable systems and/or major telco operators.  For years, though, a range of possible alternatives for providing Internet access to people and homes have been explored and tested – and mostly proving too expensive and/or inferior to cable/telco solutions. Alternative focused on wired networks (such as using power lines) still haven’t reached the point where they are competitive with constantly upgrading cable/telco options.
Systems integrating wireless components have looked more promising, from wide-area WiFi and Wireless ISP systems (WISP), to the still-awaited promise of full 4G cellular. Wide-area WiFi looked promising, but when implemented it encountered the problem that access speeds slowed drastically with increases in users (being a shared bandwidth).  Standards for full 4G systems promised broadband speeds, competitive with wired broadband capacity at the time; however, by the time cell  providers implement those standards, growth in use of online video has increased demand for even higher bandwidth services, and cable/telco upgrades in the wired net has provided significant boosts in available bandwidth.
That leaves WISP. A piece on the Online Video Insider blog looks at the potential of WISPs to provide a competitive alternative to the cable/telco duopoly. WISP differs from Wifi and cellular (mobile) services in that the wireless component is a dedicated signal from a user’s fixed base to a wired network access point – users get a dedicated bandwidth (based on the signal used) that is not shared.  Historically, the major issue with WISP was the cost of the wired broadband Internet access point, which made WISP an expensive alternative and limited its use to areas without wired broadband service to the home.  But as cable starts offering services more and more like the telco, and the telco reciprocates, the cable/telco duopoly is actually getting more competitive, particularly in the market for high bandwidth dedicated services which become de facto Internet access points.  This is bringing the WISP cost point down to where it is becoming more competitive, even in the heavy telco/cable duopoly strongholds of urban markets.  Now, WISP can provide broadband for a cost 30-50% lower than wired broadband prices in some areas.  The piece suggests that for the moment, WISPs are likely to be most competitive for commercial accounts than residential services, as they often have high upload needs which often bump up against the cable/telco residential systems, which are designed to maximize download speeds at the expense of upload capacity.

Source: “Bypassing the CATV-Telco Internet Access Duopoly”, Online Video Insider

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