Where the bucket brigade will take us

Where the bucket brigade will take us

Who says wireline telephony is dead and wireless was caught in the act? I think it is more like wireline and wireless are complicit in a plot to do away the real threat to wireline telcos-the cable TV companies. When three major wireless carriers recently launched $100-per-month all-you-can-eat plans (I like calling them buckets, but I guess eating out of a bucket doesn't sound appetizing), it might have first seemed like the two biggest wireline telcos, who were behind two of those offers, were finally giving up on wireline voice.

Instead, they may have just been waiting for the right time to really stick it to the cable TV competition, who have been about as good at figuring out wireless as Qwest Communications, which doesn't have a handle on it either. Like Qwest, a few cable TV companies have partnered with Sprint, but that was a long time ago, and where are all their wireless customers now?

The new flat-rate plans come at a time when cable TV companies are making strides winning wireline VoIP customers, but also losing some of the video customers to the telcos. By offering flat-rate wireless plans, AT&T and Verizon will make switching to cable company VoIP less attractive. Their wireline numbers were declining anyway, a trend that arguably was recently accelerated with the help of a struggling economy. By launching the flat-rate plans, AT&T and Verizon may end up saving customers from having to cut other services to save some dough. And it's a good bet the current flat-rate standard of $100 per month will only continue to go down.

With the two biggest telcos ceding the wireline voice battle essentially to their own wireless subsidiaries, telcos will force the cable TV industry onto a battlefield where it can't tell the landscape from the land mines-that is, if the cable guys decide to show up.

So, what's next for the bucket brigade? Maybe femtocell deployment, which really would make cutting the cord on home wireline service worthwhile. I wouldn't be surprised if the femtocell companies at the CTIA Wireless 2008 convention see increased interest from a couple of big telcos.

Incidentally, I recently saw a press release from the CTIA promoting a new partnership between the CTIA and the International Engineering Consortium that will allow the IEC to contribute some fixed-mobile convergence programming to this year's show. The IEC is about as old-school a wireline telco organization as you can find these days (and I mean that as a compliment). If wireline really can find a home at the CTIA's shows, this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. -Dan

P.S. Fierce will once again host its popular networking party.  Join us on April 1 from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. at Rain at The Palm in Las Vegas.  RSVP here.