Prediction: More Love & Money for Wired Web

Mari Silbey —  January 23, 2012

It’s all about wireless. We’ve got 4G nearly everywhere, mobile broadband in cars, and Wi-Fi hotspots out the wazoo. The cable companies are in bed with Verizon to get their wireless share, and Verizon is sucking up spectrum like a giant Bissell vacuum cleaner. Who needs that wired stuff after all?

It’s a wireless fun fest today, but I predict within 18 months (that’s a totally arbitrary guess- could be a year, could be two years) that the love affair with wireless will have entered a new and cynical phase. Not only that, but we’ll see renewed interest in wired broadband investments. Here’s why.

1. Data caps on mobile broadband are only going to get worse. Today I keep wi-fi off on my 4G phone because mobile broadband almost always performs better than whatever public wi-fi hotspot I find myself in. However, I’m grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan. When that unlimited deal goes away, my 4G access is going to be a lot less useful.

2. Wi-Fi hotspots kinda stink. By and large this is true, and as we expect to be able to do more online, the quality of public wi-fi is going to become more and more of an issue. At the same time, there’s going to be a bigger strain on these hotspots as more people try to offload from their mobile broadband connections.

3. More cool broadband stuff is coming. Between more video coming online and experiments with 1Gbps connections, we’re going to continue to have more incentive to use more data. For a quality experience, we’ll resort to the tried-and-true broadband connections we can get at home and work. Which means, those home and work connections are once again going to grow in importance.

There’s a lot of investment going on in consumer wireless broadband today, but the pendulum should swing back the other way once some of the inevitable wireless disillusionment takes hold. While Verizon has significantly slowed (stopped?) FiOS deployments at the moment, it will be in the carrier’s best interest to pick them up again in the future – if only to offload wireless traffic and keep its mobile customers happy.

Either that, or Verizon will find itself having to encourage competitors’ wired broadband investments – something that may get tricky given the increasingly competitive commercial services market. That’s right, don’t forget about the business market. Even as Verizon and the cablecos have gotten all cozy on the residential front, there’s still a battle brewing for commercial customers. Cable companies take a small percentage of that market today, but it’s a huge revenue growth engine for them. And I doubt Verizon will be keen to let that growth go unchecked. So, enter again the need for wired broadband investments. I predict the battle will heat up first in the commercial sector, but then spill over into residential neighborhoods again. It’s only a matter of time before wired broadband comes back into vogue.

15 responses to Prediction: More Love & Money for Wired Web

  1. I’d add public WiFi networks are inherently insecure… But I doubt we’ll be able to ween ourselves of wireless. Which means we’re going to end up paying more for tiered service – both speeds and data size.

  2. Whatever happened to the initiatives for free public WiFi? Are those dead? Haven’t heard much about them lately…

  3. Are the truncated RSS feeds intentional? The site used to provide full feeds (which I use via Reeder on my iPhone during my metro commute – no internet access)

  4. Yes… Every now and then I get tired of chasing down the sites that scrape and profit off our content by essentially stealing our Google juice. Most hosts make takedowns extremely time consuming for me, when they respond at all, and we fear retribution. Google has a nice solution to delist those infringing pages, but it’s easier to pull the feed. We know it sucks for our regulars. I’ll continue to think about how to better handle it.

  5. Wifi hotspots kinda stink? You are way too kind.

    I’d say 9 out of 10 times I’m in a hotel – whether a Hampton Inn or Four Seasons – the WiFi is not strong enough to watch Netflix or HBOGo, let alone YouTube. And forget about uploading any sort of large files.

    Where are these free public wifi spots you refer to? In NYC, I find them to be few and far between. Mostly weak signals sponsored by local parks or business initiatives. And Starbucks.

    Hotels used to be a good source of free WiFi, but now even the lobby wifi is usually limited to guests.

    Most business wifi is limited to people with corporate email accounts and the guest password changes so often, getting on seems to inevitably require a call to IT. Or two or three calls.

    I have never been to South Korea, but hear many tales of how pervasive the powerful wifi system in Seoul is and how residents make much more use of their smartphones than we do here in the US.

    As for FIOS and resuming their deployment – it takes them close to a full day to rewire a suburban house. That’s a big investment. Google’s been playing around with high-speed connections in Kansas City – they may have something up their sleeves.

  6. I’ll put in another request for the full-text RSS feed, please! I tend not to bother clicking through on the short blurbs unless they’re really interesting.

    Gabe, I’d say the economy happened to free community Wi-Fi initiatives. It costs lots of money, especially if you want to keep up with demand and keep things secure.

    Of course, some communities also found themselves swamped with freeloaders, BitTorrent downloaders and sharers, and the like. It’s easier for companies like AT&T to deploy urban Wi-Fi, since they have the infrastructure, they can authenticate users, and they can make some money — or make the service available for free to existing customers.

  7. My experience with AT&T’s free Wi-Fi is that its mostly useless. Sitting in the drive-thru lane waiting for my turn at McDonalds getting breakfast in the morning my podcast stream will generally just totally freeze up as soon as the Wi-Fi signal comes in range. And no, launching Safari and hitting accept doesn’t fix anything. Hit Google and watch the little blue circle spin while they try and load the Ginormous Google page. I wish I could tell my iPhone to ignore AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots, but I can’t.

    The clamp-down on unlimited data plans. The clamp-down on tethering if you’re not paying for it. The MiFi’s that don’t work if they’re plugged into power. The extra device to charge. Another $60 data plan. Etc.

    No thanks.

    We keep hearing rumors of the family plans all these carriers are going to announce any day now to allow you to share your data between all your devices, but so far… nothing.

    Wired is still where its at. But if you think its the future, you’re still crazy. There’s just a few bumps in the road first…

  8. I agree, i think that pendulum has already started to swing though, look at republic wireless…. I know it’s still using cell data and wifi, but it’s relying heavily on the idea that you have a hard wired connection somewhere… with a wifi access point plugged in. In my case, I have wifi at friend’s places and at work, so it’s easy enough.

    I still feel like 4g on cell phones is kind of a scam, I almost never find myself needing high speed data out in the field. When I do I’m always at some bar or at a friends place, where I can pull something up.

  9. +1 for full RSS feeds. BTW. Many of my feeds embed their ads into the feed, so that way even they’re scraped, you’ll hopefully get some $$ out of it.

  10. Martin, some of the worst offenders pull out all article links and graphics (then run their own ads along side our content), so I assume if we ran ads in the feed they’d vanish as well. The bigger problem is long term as most websites depend on Google for traffic and these guys are essentially using our content against us. Also, it’s generally just kind of crappy to work so hard on something to see it swiped. It’s demotivating and perhaps one of several reasons why I’ve been writing less.

  11. From my personal perspective, as someone who relies on RSS, I’ve never seen the need for full feeds.

    I look at my RSS reader, (the humble NewsFire), see the headline and initial sentence, and if I’m interested, I click the RSS item and read it in my browser.

    I know that others have different workflows, but I’m of the humble opinion that my workflow is how RSS should be employed. The RSS reader used as a full browser experience has always seemed backwards to me.

  12. Oh, I forgot to mention we now send full articles via email. Clicking the box below the comment entry form subscribes you. There’s a sidebar widget as well, which is preferable, but there are some formatting issues with it.

  13. “Oh, I forgot to mention we now send full articles via email.”

    What is this “email” of which you speak? Is it some kind of new Twitter-like service?

  14. I’ll give a plus one for the daily email: on busy days, it’s great to be able to read the latest off my phone in a very legible font

    About a year ago, I decided to stop relying on RSS and switch to daily emails for the half dozen sites I count on. It’s worked really well, as (reverting to the original topic of Mari’s post) I no longer have to rely on spotty wifi or 3G connections to get to all these sites

    It also makes it a lot easier to find articles I want to get back to.

  15. I’ve enabled the sidebar widget, it’s the last item in the column immediately to the right of the comment area. This email subscription is somewhat different from the one near the top – the top one I believe will be excerpts via RSS feed and handled by Feedburner, while this new one at the bottom should send the whole article as an email (and handled via WordPress).