Monday, October 24, 2011

Is "4G Plus DirecTV" a Viable Alternative to FiOS?

Verizon Wireless seems to be cooking up an out of market “video plus broadband” plan, working with DirecTV. During its recent quarterly earnings report, Fran Shammo, Verizon Communications EVP said that the company was working on such an effort.

“You're going to see that come in the fourth quarter with the what we now call the Cantenna, which is not a commercial name obviously, but it's the antenna that we actually trialed with DIRECTV, which was extremely successful,” said Shammo.

Some will legitimately wonder whether that approach might even wind up being used in some Verizon markets where FiOS has not already started to be deployed. LTE plus DirecTV

There are some significant Verizon markets including cities like Boston, Buffalo, N.Y, Baltimore and Alexandria, Va. where FiOS construction has not started.

The obvious new question is the rational approach Verizon should take to upgrading its fixed-line network. There isn’t much doubt about optical access media being more resistant to some weather-related impairments than copper networks, nor is there much doubt that new optical facilities cost less to maintain than older copper networks.

But the business question is how much incremental investment ought to be made in the fixed network,  if video and broadband services can be provided using the wireless network. One might rationally argue that the cost of maintaining the fourth generation wireless network is lower than the cost of maintaining the FiOS network.

Obviously, if that is true then the avoided capital investment in new optical facilities is significant as well. That isn’t to argue that fixed and wireless networks are in any way equivalent in terms of absolute bandwidth. But there is a financial question.

If the expected revenue and operating cost advantage of FiOS, compared to 4G, does not provide the optimal financial return, then a wireless solution might be the most-rational way to invest new capital.

The problem is that voice is a negligible contributor to incremental revenue on a FiOS network, while video, though an important contributor of revenue, is not such a great contributor to profits. That leaves broadband, and revenue upside is tough.

That is not to say fiber to home facilities are unimportant, merely to say that they might not be the best use of capital for a provider that also is investing heavily in mobile broadband.

In fact, there is an interesting bit of data in the latest report from Akamai on global Internet usage. The global average fixed-line connection speed was 2.6 Mbps, and the global average peak connection speed was 11.4 Mbps.

Looking at mobile broadband connections, average connection speeds on known mobile providers ranged from 5.3 Mbps down to 209 kbps, while “average” peak connection speeds ranged from 23.4 Mbps down to 1.2 Mbps.

The interesting observation is that wireless broadband has the higher peak speeds, about double that of fixed line connections, with a variable “average” speed that in some cases also is twice as high as fixed-line connections, though such sessions are highly variable. When mobile broadband is slow, it is an order of magnitude slower than fixed line connections. Global broadband speeds

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