The Next Big Switch

A new “big switch” is coming for the communications industry. Back in the 1980s, much was made of the idea that former over-the-air (wireless) broadband traffic (TV) was moving to the fixed network (cable TV networks) while narrowband traffic (voice) was moving to the mobile network. That was dubbed the  Negroponte switch.

In more recent years, we have seen something different, namely the shift of all media types to wireless access, starting with voice, continuing with messaging and web surfing, and now video. Mobile bandwidth improvements are part of the explanation. But offload to Wi-Fi also drives the trend.

In the coming 5G era, that trend is going to accelerate, with the role of untethered and mobile networks continuing to grow.

The other notable change is that the distinctions between narrowband or wideband and broadband also have shifted. As we continually revise upwards the minimum speeds dubbed “broadband,” more and more use cases and traffic are actually no longer broadband in character.

When a high-definition streaming session only requires 4 Mbps to 5 Mbps, while broadband is defined as 25 Mbps, HDTV has become a wideband--not broadband--application.  

Consider the performance characteristics of most networks. Wide area networks mostly will support applications requiring 10 Mbps or less. That is, by definition, no longer “broadband” use cases.

That also will be the case for most untethered networks as well.

In other words, most apps driving revenue (direct subscriptions) or value (indirect revenue streams) will operate in either narrowband or wideband speed ranges.

We might be in a “gigabit” era, but most apps will generate value and revenue in narrowband or wideband use cases.

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