What’s Up Wednesday 3/27/19

T-Mobile Plans Rural Broadband

Is it possible that a cell service provider can attain a foothold in the home broadband market?  That’s T-Mobile’s plan and the starting point for this endeavor is to pursue the – at present – unserved rural market.  We are talking about a market that has no current broadband options other than the less than ideal satellite internet service.

Rural broadband has basically been non-existent in the United States.  There are some fixed wireless operations that have been set up in various rural communities across the country, but most are owned and managed by small local or regional companies.  The components of such a fixed wireless service include a basepoint tower (with radio antenna) connected to fiber, and a radio antenna for the customer that requires for effective reception line-of-site access to the basepoint antenna.  One of the companies offering this type of service is Rise Broadband.  Today Rise Broadband is the largest of these regional fixed wireless broadband providers.  The fact that there are no nationwide companies providing a similar service for the sake of competition has given companies like Rise Broadband a virtual monopoly in certain geographic locations – and what’s worse, the service being provided to most customers is not that good.  Limitations exist to this type of service – and our own experience using exactly such a service (our experience it should be noted was not with Rise Broadband) has convinced us that it is inferior to cable and fiber and almost impossible to use for business purposes due to its subpar reliability (if your goal is to get to know your local broadband technician on a first-name basis this is for you because you’ll be seeing a lot of him or her in your struggle for reliability).

T-Mobile has a different approach in mind with its new pilot program – broadband service through traditional cell towers.  The same cell towers that are used by their cellular customers.  This new home broadband service will employ a fixed in-home LTE network antenna, an antenna that’s been designed specifically for home broadband (which separates it from practices like tethering your cell phone or using the hotspot feature on your phone to gain better reception).  It’s rather a designated antenna that’s always on in the same way that a cable modem is always connected.

T-Mobile plans to have the service available to 50,000 rural customers by the end of this year.  That’s 50,000 customers who previously had no home broadband internet options other than satellite.

Another competitor in this area that may begin offering a similar service in the not too distant future is SpaceX.  The company plans a low orbit network of satellites that can provide broadband coverage to the entire globe (sounds terrific).  The SpaceX plan calls for thousands of satellites – this new network of low-orbit satellites will presumably not have the latency problems that have plagued current satellite internet providers.  The service will instead be similar in quality to cable and fiber.  We’ll have to wait and see about cost (unfortunately always an issue).

A nice aspect of the T-Mobile service is the (extremely reasonable) $50 per month price.  And this will also be without data caps and speed reductions.  Therefore, customers will have access to streaming and online gaming options that all current cable broadband and fiber customers have.  Netflix finally becomes a reality for our rural citizens.

From a customer standpoint, there should be no limitations or differences in the T-Mobile service from any other high-quality broadband service.  It’s just a matter of how many customers the company can reasonably serve without incurring ridiculous build-out costs.

This is a service rural customers desperately need (and deserve).  It’s difficult to live without high-quality broadband in today’s world.  Let’s hope T-Mobile can provide a cost-effective competitive offering so that more US citizens have high-quality internet access.

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