New-style operators will keep cellular relevant in the WiFi era

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By rights, we should by now be heading rapidly towards a world where mobile spectrum is no longer a trump card for an operator. For the first time since the start of the cellular era, there are alter-native ways to support wireless broadband services, based on WiFi, which can enable companies to compete without splashing out on a licence. And juggling different connections –as in the new Google Fi service – can greatly reduce the cellular capacity re-quired, whether operated disruptively by a cableco or defensively by a cellco.
So why are fixed-line providers still paying large sums for mobile operators (BT in the UK, now Liberty Global’s Telenet in Belgium), and why are MNOs paying even larger sums for yet more licensed spectrum (the US government expects to get up to $40bn from next year’s incentive auction)? And will the leaders of the WiFi challenge to the MNOs, the US cablecos, succumb to the lure of cellular spectrum too?
The answers all revolve around the fact that operators on both sides of the fixed/mobile divide are still stuck in a conventional view of their landscape, and while they agonize about the right bal-ance to strike between licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and be-tween networks they own and networks they rent, they risk being overtaken by new, more flexible approaches to providing telecoms, data and media services. Enabled by next generation networks – with huge capacity created by a pool of all kinds of spectrum – and by virtualized platforms, it will be possible to support thousands of service providers on a fully dynamic basis.
There will be two main winners – a small number of carriers in-vesting large sums in wholesale infrastructure and in the virtual-ized network-as-a-service platforms; and the service providers with the most attractive offerings. A few players are showing signs of adapting to this future reality – Google has been a major propo-nent of the idea, and its MVNO and its fiber and balloon plans (see separate items) will help lay some foundations. AT&T is, ironically, more advanced, with its Domain 2.0 software-defined network project and discussions about supporting large numbers of providers with that; Hutchison’s MVNE (mobile virtual network en-abler) is interesting (see below) because it is a step towards a major network owner supporting a wide variety of retail offerings.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).