Possible dangers of “quad play” services.

image source: flickr

Sprint is partnering up with Google in a national rollout of WiMax. WiMax is a wireless broadband technology that is similar to the popular WiFi networks, except that that it has a range of miles versus hundreds of feet. The power of WiMax lies in the fact that a carrier does not need to install the “last mile” to each home, which is the most expensive part of implementing a new. Sprint would provide the WiMax technology, while Google would provide search, e-mail, IM, a calender and other applications.

This partnership is part of Sprint’s US$3 billion investment over the next two years to build out their WiMax network. The logic being that once the network is place, people will need Google’s applications to encourage the adoption of their standard. The successful widespread adoption of WiMax is still far from being certain, however this news will certainly help.

Sprint investment is the next generation of broadband technology is important because they are looking to expand outside of the mobile voice, by introducing other services on their own data pipes. As Atish Gude, Sprint’s senior vice president for mobile broadband operations notes, “We have tried to articulate over the last number of months . . . that this is not a cellular model.”

This announcement highlights a trend that should be watched with care. We are already seeing VoIP services being combined with cable and Internet access, with so-called “triple play” services by cable companies. WiMax provides a window to the coming “quadruple play” of phone, cable, Internet and mobile. While “quad play” does ease bill paying and account management, it does force people to rely on one data pipe for all their telecommunication and information services. If service is interrupted, all four media go down. On a normal day, being completely disconnected is not such a big deal… go home early, read a book, or spend time with your family. In an emergency, an ill-timed service outage is devastating.

I feel much more confident in a move towards redundant systems. Sprint and Google’s announcement comes right after T-Mobile’s WiFi phone service launch. In the US, T-Mobile is known for having limited coverage among the four major mobile carriers. Their new service “HotSpots@Home” allows people to place calls using their home WiFi broadband service. When GSM coverage drops, the phones can seamless transfer to WiFi without losing the call. This move allows T-Mobile to extend their coverage with building new towers. While the general discussion of this services focus on the mutually exclusive areas of GSM and WiFi coverage, the overlap is just as important. The overlap exists because people can use this service on any broadband service provider. Now, people have access to two different sets of pipes to maintain service. This model of making services over multiple pipes is crucial and underappreciated, but should be encouraged and even demanded.

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