Monday, October 19, 2009

Unanticipated Consequences of Wireless Multi-Media

I recently had a long talk with a colleague on the subject of the evolving world of wireless multi-media communications and devices.

Of particular interest to us was the relatively new wireless cellular modem card for use in laptops. Verizon has been advertising its MiFi service and gear relentlessly in past weeks.

Essentially, this device allows a user to take 4-5 users through one cellular router up to a cell system, bypassing an initial wireless step into a conventional WiFi hotspot router and onto the wired internet.

Instead, internet connectivity is totally wireless through the cellular carrier, until it accesses the internet backbone.

Pricing, of course, can quickly reach hefty levels if more than one person is using this in a full-blown multi-media mode. But the capability never the less now exists, practically, for several people located in the middle of nowhere, in terms of wired internet access, to have reasonably high-speed wireless access to the internet.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted iPhones and similar non-Apple devices being used for this sort of multi-media application, consuming huge amounts of wireless capacity. So much, it contended, that two local wireless slingbox users could effectively consume a neighborhood's total wireless bandwidth capacity.

Thus, pricing is probably going to move, rapidly, to a bandwidth-usage basis. After the initial pricing plans incenting large volumes of text messaging for fixed prices, the subsidizing of larger-bandwidth hogging video viewing is finally exhausting existing wireless system capacity.

The logical consequence is to move to usage-based pricing in order to both effectively ration bandwidth usage and fund further capacity increases in existing wireless systems.

Ironically, this might actually overshadow any similar move to wired internet usage pricing, as that begins to look like a comparative backwater.

As I'll mention in an imminent post about coming generations of wireless reader devices, this is just the tip of the iceberg for wireless usage, pricing and capacity issues. It's going to get much more interesting, as the Journal piece noted, for companies like Google.

In fact, the article observed how quickly Apple went from fighting Verizon's possible encroachment on applications on the iPhone to a partnership to make sure iPhones can work on the latter's network. Apple is evidently seeing that getting others to pay for the infrastructure that the iPhone requires is far cheaper than being forced, through a closed system, to pay for one itself. Thus, the article mused that Google, Yahoo and other non-network-owning content providers could soon find themselves in a difficult pricing situation.

They will be using large amounts of bandwidth to serve their customers, but won't own any pipes, and, thus, will be vulnerable to applications-based pricing from their servers.

This could get quite interesting in a hurry, causing some business models to become much less profitable almost overnight.

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