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Predictions for Broadband in 2014: Wireless, FirstNet, Hackathons

From blandinonbroadband.org… I’ve asked a few folks to send broadband predictions for 2014. I’m hoping to post them in the next week or so. (Let me know if you’re interested in sharing your look at the future!) I’ve started with my own – just to offer a model. Because I normally focus on broadband in Minnesota, I’ve tried to look more broadly at broadband.

Wireless

I’ve had a few conversations in the last few months on wireless options and the role wireless will have in ubiquitous broadband. I’ve always figured there is a place for wired (fiber) and wireless options but I figured wireless would be an interim solution for the un/underserved that would remain even once fiber emerged to offer better mobility and offer options for tourists and other short timers.

Well I’m starting to expand that role of wireless and will be watching the pilot project involving libraries and whitespace spectrum in 2014. The idea is to connect branch libraries via white space spectrum – which will help get libraries better broadband. But the spectrum at that level acts more like a point-to-point connection. The spectrum broadband itself does not reach the end user per se in the way 3G or 4G would. However, with the better middle mile access, the library might be able to offer better local wireless access options. (Especially with emergence of stronger Wi-Fi tools.) It would create a mesh network built upon various types of wireless networks. A fiber backbone is still important but suddenly wireless options makes more sense. Especially if the local wireless network can reach a community and provide access without data caps.

That’s a big role for a library to play – but I’ve heard similar innovation happening in the private sector as well.  That mesh of licensed/unlicensed spectrum wireless boosted by Wi-Fi options could be a winner. Or there may be an option to mesh satellite for video and 4G wireless for Internet. They may be finding a provider or provider partnership that is interested. The idea of losing POTS (plain old telephone service) makes me a little nervous but I suspect a national provider would be more interested in looking at rural markets if POTS went away. (I’m not advocating – just predicting.)

Perhaps there are better, homegrown solutions with local providers. I always like to see the local provider do well. Because I think it’s human nature to offer better service to your neighbors than strangers and I think it’s nice to investment in your neighbors. But again I think it will come down to partnerships – perhaps public-private, perhaps private-private.

I still have reservations about wireless – and it comes down to cost, caps and captive audience issues for the end customer.  GigaOm just posted an article on broadband usage per household. I was surprised that there were some households that don’t hit data caps – because I have teens and as the article points out houses with teens blow the caps out of the water. But I don’t think you can sustain a business assuming that your customers will be retired couples or single ladies. And I don’t think you can count on customers who will pay what I pay – which is $345 month for 4 phones and one mobile wireless hotspot. (That cost is separate from our wired broadband plan.) Eventually even I will find time or get sick of that expense and will find a better plan.

Also I have some concerns about filtered access via wireless. Ars Technica just posted a good article on the potential of net neutrality changes…

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