Big news for the wireless and tech industries out of today’s FCC meeting, which could mean new service offerings and new mobile gadgets in the not-too-distant future. Sorted by how soon they’ll matter, if ever:
– Verizon to acquire Alltel. Combining the no. 2 and no. 5 wireless providers will make Verizon the no. 1 carrier with more than 80 million subscribers. Current Alltel subscribers could eventually get better service, access to better phones. Verizon (VZ) could get an upper hand on new, exclusive phones, too.
Not a huge deal, but probably incremental bad news for Sprint Nextel (S), the remaining major “CDMA” provider, which has even smaller relative scale. AT&T loses bragging rights as no. 1 carrier, too. But it still has the biggest prize: Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone.
– Sprint Nextel to spin off Xohm WiMax unit, combine it with Clearwire. The new Clearwire (CLWR) will get a few billion in funding from the cable industry, Google (GOOG), and Intel (INTC), to offer super-high-speed wireless Internet service. Cable subscribers could get wireless broadband roaming and mobile video service. Great for laptop card subscribers, especially once it’s rolled out in more cities.
Big question is whether WiMax can take off fast enough before every other wireless provider rolls out its competing ‘4G’ technology, “LTE.” If WiMax can get enough devices and subscribers, Clearwire could fluorish. If delays, no compelling devices, too expensive, or LTE jumps ahead, then Clearwire could go to zero.
– FCC to open up airwaves between TV channels — so-called “white spaces” — for “wi-fi on steroids.” No guarantee this will ever work commercially, but companies like Google (GOOG), Motorola (MOT) and Microsoft (MSFT) win their hard-fought right to offer Internet gadgets that work on free, “unlicensed” spectrum that no one needs to buy from the FCC — the way wi-fi works now.
Still unknown: What these wireless devices will look like, how well they’ll work, whether they’ll replace your existing wireless or broadband service, who will offer service, how much it’ll cost, and whether the telco incumbents like AT&T and Verizon will risk cannibalising their existing businesses to try grabbing a foothold here. Lots of hype here, but until there’s real devices and service providers here, it’s still all theoretical. It’s entirely possible these gadgets will never exist.
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