The Wireless War Update

by Jon T. Norwood

Right about now, NAB must feel like Germany at the end of WWII with everybody fighting to see who gets what from them. Welcome to the spectrum war; the battle of the titans over who which company will control the airwaves, and thus, control all Internet access, of which several developments on the front have ensued. AT&T’s big move was to agree to take over T-Mobile, forming the largest carrier in the country. While everybody in the industry is screaming about it, hoping the FCC will kill the alliance, others are quietly expressing acquiescence to the idea.

Consider this, from a recent article on spectrum company blog, “Which leads us to the “elephant in the room” question: if the National Broadband Plan is successful and virtually all American homes get 100 Mbps broadband at an affordable cost, exactly why do we need 50 channels of over-the-air TV spectrum? Now I have a sailboat and do sometimes watch OTA TV from the boat in remote areas, but do we really need 50 OTA channels for such users?”

The reference is to the stated goal of the National Broadband Plan, which it to insure the access of every American to 4G Internet access at, possibility subsidized rates. The room in which the “White Elephant” resides is the one with all the television broadcasters, the NAB. The group is screaming about Obama and the FCC taking 120MHz of spectrum from them, even after losing the 700MHz spectrum in the 2008 auction, and opening it up to build out by wireless companies, with federal help, to supply that access. Could this be the end of television as we knew it?

The AT&T Angle

AT&T’s strategy of is to belly up to the FCC with promises of full cooperation for the NBP (National Broadband Plan), to lock in control of all of that new spectrum, which would give AT&T assured dominance in the wireless market for years to come. The fear, as with any monopoly, is that this will kill competition. However, in another article the point is made that this will spur the growth of smaller, local companies providing enhanced, creative new services. The vision is more like everybody buying water from the same source and using it to do business.

Microsoft recently announced the development of a technology that will allow the Opportunistic Spectrum Access of whatever spectrum is available in a local market. The indication is that this is a nacient industry and the existence of an ‘AT&T-Mobile” monster wouldn’t stifle growth and it is just the path to the top of the hill for the other major carriers such as Verizon and Sprint-Nextel. It is all about the control of the most spectrums and the only ones that have little to say in this competition is the National Association of Broadcasters. Traditional TV became Digital TV, and there about 50 channels are \ available. This is not a powerful segment of the market when everyone with a smartphone is watching their favorite show on line? We are dismantling the old television infrastructure as the new, converged world comes online.

The Future

There are only a few possible outcomes; either the FCC approves the AT&T/T-Mobile deal or not. If yes, then the war is effectively over, the new AT&T-Mobile is the de-facto winner and is started on that universal access for all things. Verizon, et al will begin the work of making money in their shadow and many, new local companies will use the AT&T network spectrum to make their own little kingdoms. If not, the big four (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint-Nextel) will continue to duke it out until they fulfill the prophecy, “There can be only One.” We will see who ends up controlling the backbone of all those tablets, smartphones and, soon, desktop Internet as well. Perhaps the American people?

Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner at High Speed Internet, a site dedicated to providing information on Internet providers and technology. Jon can be reached at jon@webexordium.com.