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Update Odd Men Out - 09-May-2008, 11:20

Odd Men Out

When it comes to wireless broadband, it appears that DBS services may have been left out in the rain.

This week, Clearwire and Sprint said they would combine their next-generation wireless broadband platforms. There are big names backing the venture, such as Intel and Google as well as cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

Satellite TV appears to be out of the mix. As Craig Moffett put it, DIRECTV and DISH Network "look to be the odd men out." And that has some suggesting that the satellite TV company's current partnerships with Clearwire could be dissolved.

In a conference call this week, DIRECTV CEO Chase Carey dismissed the speculation surrounding Clearwire and the DBS service. Clearwire hasn't had "any meaningful part of anything we have been doing," he said.

Carey had one good thing to say about the Clearwire/Sprint endeavor, suggesting that anything creating an "alternative in the broadband space is a positive."

DISH had nothing to say about the wireless broadband push. The company acquired licenses for 700 MHz spectrum earlier in the year, so the company may have a few cards of its own to play in the wireless business.

Still, the satellite TV services may not be the entities most impacted by the Clearwire/Sprint partnership. The big losers could be telcos. And given this week's news, those companies are probably making every effort to ensure that they aren't benched on the wireless broadband sidelines.

AT&T and Verizon, both of which already control a lot of wireless spectrum - including licenses for those coveted 700 MHz frequencies, will undoubtedly feel the heat in the fledgling and yet increasingly competitive wireless broadband space.

Also, there is the open architecture of the Sprint/Clearwire platform, something that undoubtedly attracted Google to the venture.

Verizon bid for 700 MHz licenses at the Federal Communications Commission that contain open access requirements, something the telco said it will embrace when it rolls out service. Still, Google has its doubts, saying in a FCC filing that the agency "must ensure that Verizon understands that this license obligation means what it says: any apps, any devices."

AT&T's 700 MHz licenses do not contain open access provisions. Still, AT&T Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega said, "It's all about giving customers choices." Does that mean the company is prepared to endorse an open standard for mobile/wireless broadband services? AT&T may not have a choice, given the competitive implications of the Clearwire/Sprint move.

When it comes to open access, instead of chasing away application developers and device manufacturers like the ornery old neighbor chasing away kids from his front lawn, the telcos may have to embrace the outside rascals, whether they like it or not.

And that would only be good news for consumers.
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