With 3G in and reportedly growing fast, it would only be a matter of time, expectedly measured in months and not in years, that the wireless broadband subscriber base would surpass fixed-line broadband subscriber base in the country. And as that happens, a history could be repeating itself…

Yes, the reference is to telephony. It’s been history that mobile service subscriptions have zipped past the fixed-line numbers. Could we be witnessing a similar phenomenon for wireless broadband vis-à-vis fixed-line broadband?

That leads to another question that is sometimes asked: will wireless broadband make fixed-line broadband redundant at some point in time?

Well, before we answer that, let’s ask another question: what is the key driver for wireless–be it voice or data–and what is it for fixed-lines? And the answer is a no-brainer–mobility!

‘Fixed-line phones are for buildings and mobile phones are for people,’ was a catch phrase in the early days of mobile services growth. Naturally so, because buildings are stationary while people are mobile!

And that logic, which applied so well to voice services aka telephony, very well stands true for broadband too. Moreover, as smart phones become smarter and gain more computing and processing powers, and as their screens become a new centerpiece for delivery of content ranging from video to gaming, the wireless broadband case becomes more compelling with each passing month.

Another factor that works well for the uptake of content on the small screen is that mobile devices, unlike the TV in the living room, are more personal devices and are therefore better suited for delivery of personalized content. In this context, ongoing research for development of foldable screens has been interesting. Commercial availability of such screens could make the mobile device even more attractive for consumption of rich content delivery and consumption. Of late, Samsung was in news for being at a rather advanced stage of development of such screens. The ability to view content of their choice while away from their living rooms would be a definite pull for consumers.

Obviously, it doesn’t mean that the mobile screen would make the living-room screen redundant. And likewise, it would be unrealistic to consider that wireless broadband could be replacing fixed-line broadband in the foreseeable future, also because fixed-line broadband speeds would always be far ahead of the wireless speeds.

Talking of not-so-small screens, at least two of the country’s 3G service providers, Airtel and Aircel, have announced plans to make iPhone 4 available on their networks this week. Interestingly, this comes just a month after the iPad 2 arrived in India.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, May 26, 2011; header changed.)

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