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Monday, September 29, 2008

Multiple devices per account on WiMAX + also wholesale options

I saw an interesting announcement this morning from Bridgewater Systems, about a solution to enable WiMAX operators to control the number of active connections per user/device. While it's being pitched as a sort of fraud-management tool, it highlights something pretty important:

WiMAX services will enable multiple devices per subscription

This isn't news as such - many market participants like Sprint have been saying this was likely for some time. But it's something that the existing cellular providers and architecture are pretty bad at. Yes, you can get family plans and corporate group accounts. Yes, discounts are available where you get both phone and 3G dongle from the same provider, linked at "customer account" level. 

But with very few exceptions, operators don't offer the option for a single subscription (ie "phone number") to support multiple devices. A few operators provide 2+ SIMs, but there's typically a clunky procedure for the user to denote which device is "active" at a given time.

Increasingly, I find myself using two or three screens simultaneously - making a phone call while using my laptop, using handheld device for email while doing something else on my PC, and so on. There's no reason why I should need multiple mobile accounts, any more than I do running two PCs over a single ADSL subscription. Why shouldn't I have two, three or more devices sharing my mobile broadband, as long as my aggregate traffic is less than the monthly cap?

WiMAX has an inherent advantage here in not needing SIM cards, in my view.

Interestingly, Bridgewater also has a wholesale solution for WiMAX providers - another angle in which I'm expecting some differentiation from cellular networks. My view is that there will be a broader selection of partner/wholesale business models in WiMAX, compared with the fairly monochrome choice of MVNOs on cellular. I'm expecting to see regional wholesale networks (eg for local councils), or ones based on specific QoS metrics (eg low-latency gaming MVNO vs secure enterprise MVNO vs. streaming-optimised MVNO). 

To some extent, WiMAX operators will be driven to these niches because they've pretty much relinquished the PC-connectivity market to HSPA/EVDO dongles in the near term. But it also reflects the likely open-minded nature of new WiMAX entrants to try innovative Telco 2.0 business models.


2 comments:

Paul said...

"There's no reason why I should need multiple mobile accounts, any more than I do running two PCs over a single ADSL subscription. Why shouldn't I have two, three or more devices sharing my mobile broadband, as long as my aggregate traffic is less than the monthly cap?"

I'm not sure that the analogue really holds, on your DSL you would aggregate over your own Wireless router and have only 1 DSL line into the infrastructure.

In Mobile, you are using up separate capacity for each device, taking air-interface capacity away from other customers, separate HLR/MGW/RNC/NodeB resources that are finite. Would you expect to get a bundle deal for a DSL line at home and in the office where you only pay for 1 line on the basis that you keep below a monthly cap?

From an operator perspective, how do they differentiate from a user with 4 devices and a household with 4 users on 1 device each? A family that are browsing on multiple HS sessions concurrently implies costs for the operator and has perceived value to the end user.

If you aggregate over a Fixed Wireless Terminal, then you have your analogy, otherwise for the operators it's a rapid journey to dwidling profitability.

Dean Bubley said...

Paul

Fair points, but the way I read the Bridgewater announcement was that they are trying to develop solutions to help solve precisely those issues.

Presumably you can do some things to spot prohibited shared usage - ie if one person tries to log in with two different devices in two separate locations simultaneously, it's obviously dodgy!

Also, you could do something with device categories, so that it's perhaps OK to use phone+PC , but not phone+phone or PC+PC simultaneously.

On the other hand, if two family members use separate devices in the same house (for *data*) simultaneously, I see no reason for two subscriptions. Especially if you aggregate over a femtocell and 1 DSL line. If it *is* a cost problem, then HSPA is certainly not going to compete with WiFi, and the operators should set policies in their device connection managers to prefer WiFi if it's available.

Dean