Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wireless Carriers’ Ambivalence Toward Wi-Fi

            Perhaps you share my frustration when wireless carriers and their sponsored researchers tell us how benevolent they are: tirelessly competing to enhance the value proposition for consumers.
             Really?  Corporations seek to maximize profits and enhance shareholder value.  That is what they are supposed to do, plain and simple.
             Consider wireless carriers’ position on Wi-Fi and for that matter: any unlicensed spectrum. 
             First approach: Wi-Fi is bad, very bad.  How can the FCC expect lay people to serve as good stewards of the spectrum?  We need professionals.
             Second approach: Wi-Fi is still bad, so bad that we have to disable Wi-Fi access in cellphones or alternatively prevent certain Wi-Fi activated applications from working, such as Skype.  Carrier motivation: prevent subscribers from substituting services that do not debit minutes, or which provide cheaper (if not free) alternatives to carrier toll services.
             Current approach: Wi-Fi is great.  It helps us manage completely unanticipated growth in demand for voice and data service.  It lets us offload traffic onto another carrier’s network. Can we sell you a femtocell? Don't let this get out: it solidifies our bottleneck control as increasing numbers of terminals and devices in the home or office, connected by Wi-Fi, still have to travel through our lines.
             Clearly wireless carriers’ change in attitude toward Wi-Fi represents a refinement in their thinking about a technology.  What once was a threat now becomes an enabler and maintainer of the status quo.  The change in position has everything to do with carriers’ economic gain and nothing to do with carrier benevolence toward consumers and competition.

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