Maybe we need a Little Magic to Accelerate Mobile Broadband Services

It seems that everywhere we turn nowadays we can’t help but be impacted by the desire to have rich content experiences and accessibility to our content in a fluid and seamless fashion.  As consumers we understand this in terms of how our applications, search requests, music and video downloads and social networking opportunities are delivered to us regardless of device or where we are located.  But our quality of experience is equal parts content to equal parts capacity and coverage, hence the rapidly increasing demand for mobile broadband accessibility.

For example, you are watching the season premiere of Madmen on your iPhone while commuting on the train from home to work.  It’s only a 20 minute ride, so you resume watching from where you left off on your lunch break. Interested in what other viewers are saying about Don Draper’s scandalous lifestyle choices, or Joan Holloway’s buxom dress attire, you check out blog sites about the show, add a comment or two, retweet a clever quip and click the Facebook Like icon, all on the commute back home.  It’s smooth, uninterrupted and fluid.  No churn, no long buffering times, no crashes. This my friends is what the mobile broadband experience is all about. Someday.

Internationally, perhaps you are a student in Manila, a farmer in rural India, a doctor in Northern Canada, an engineer at sea, all placing demands on the wireless broadband networks that allow the flow of data to your colleagues, patients, co-workers and families. In many of these instances a hiccup, a crash, the stalling of information could go from inconvenient to devastating. “Next generation technologies” – or the 4G World we are beginning to hear more and more about – refer to LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMAX, both enabling a seamless broadband experience for consumers whether geographically located in Manila, India or roaming globally. The differences between the two include network speeds, compatibility with existing infrastructures, frequencies, market maturity and a few other details.  But overall, the two technologies are mostly similar.  Therefore which is more cost effective in the long run? 

The ecosystem – an organizational chart of players if you will – encompasses a complicated web of service providers, equipment and device manufacturers, and other influencers who are all seeking cost-effective, scalable solutions with continued flexibility as the world gets ready for massive 4G deployments beginning 2011.  Now service providers have been rolling out WiMAX networks globally over the past three years to the point where we are seeing mobile and wireless broadband services adopted across all geographic markets. WiMAX is operational in the US, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and India.

But alas, the global march to 4G has operators going down a long and winding road.  Some service providers have committed to WiMAX, some to LTE.  These decisions are based largely on business relationships within the ecosystem as well as the availability of network equipment and cool, new mobile devices (the proliferation of which is never ending!) at reasonable prices. 

A notable member of the ecosystem, and critical a “behind-the-scenes” player in these commitments, chip-set manufacturers provide the vital piece of hardware inside our equipment and those that really make the magic happen.

Well as someone who keeps her ear to the ground, it’s always interesting when you hear whispers about deals and other business matchmaking.  One rumour that’s floating out there involves a couple of chip-set manufacturers who –  in the past – may not have matched up well, but now present a compelling  business case for strengthening the partnership playing field that will accelerate the global mobile broadband experience.

About six weeks ago, India completed its Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum auction yielding some interesting results.  After 117 rounds of bidding, and the government of India making about USD $5.5 billion, two notable players emerged.  Infotel Broadband Services, which has since been acquired by Reliance Industries , paid a hefty sum for licenses in all 22 of India’s service areas.  And Qualcomm who secured bandwidth in four significant service areas including Dehli and Mumbai, and then this week announced a joint venture with two major players to build a network offering wireless broadband services in the South Asian market. 

What makes this story interesting is that Qualcomm is a mobile-phone chip maker, not an operator.  Its participation in India’s BWA spectrum auction is/was driven to gain a stake for its LTE technologies in arguably the fastest, largest mobile growth market on the planet.  Qualcomm seems to be on the make to strategically position itself as a major player at the heart of mobile broadband deployments. In India, however they are going to be competing with Reliance who is publicly deliberating a move to WiMAX due to the readily available WiMAX network equipment.  LTE equipment is easily 18-24 months away from widespread availability at reasonable price points.

In the US, Clearwire, who has long since championed the WiMAX movement, announced yesterday that it will begin testing LTE technology.  What Clearwire is demonstrating with this move is that in a 4G World, coverage is important, but capacity is the indisputable winner. If key players in the mobile broadband ecosystem are likely going to walk on either side of the fence, all in the name of accelerating the deployment of broadband technologies, they need to strategically partner up with industry leaders capable of servicing what is quickly evolving into a multi-mode WiMAX/LTE network.  One such player is Beceem Communications.

In comes the magic referenced earlier.

Beceem is a leader in the WiMAX chip set manufacturing space, occupying nearly 50% of the WiMAX chipset market.  In fact one could say, if Qualcomm controls the LTE chip set market, Beceem would be its alter ego in WiMAX, albeit dramatically smaller in size.  Beceem, however, took the next step in early 2010 with the unveiling of its BCS500 4G multi-mode semiconductor product, which is compatible with both WiMAX and LTE technology.  Translation: a chip that enables devices to seamlessly roam between LTE and WiMAX service providers, or true global roaming.  All indications are that this is the year for mobile broadband companies to come to the market armed and ready for action! Clearwire has already acknowledged they need the magic of Beceem that being chip technology to enable a smooth transition of network equipment and mobile devices from WiMAX to LTE.  Rumour has it that Qualcomm – in the name of strategic positioning, and to cover its bases in India should Reliance deploy WiMAX – has its eye on Beceem as a potential candidate for acquisition.

All I can say is, as a gal-on-the-go, I like my content readily accessible and my devices reliable. And I’m sure the mobile broadband users in India do, too.  So Beceem, if you and Qualcomm do make the magic happen, we are all one step closer to living the 4G dream!