November 29, 2004

Telecom Competition Heats Up

It has taken a while, but competition is rife in the telecommunications industry, and it is picking up in the Quad-state region, a rural area that is often the last to see technological change.

Most telecom competition is in the wireless arena, with six providers in the Virginia portion of the northern Shenandoah Valley, four in the Eastern Panhandle, six in Washington County and three in Franklin County. They're all looking for customers, a task made easier thanks to portability of cell phone numbers.

Cable TV companies will soon go head-to-head with the incumbent phone companies by offering voice-over-internet-protocol, or VoIP. This allows local and long distance calling at monthly rates much lower than those now charged by the wireline companies and the AT&Ts, MCIs and long distance resellers of the world.

Comcast and Adelphia, both with a presence in the Quad-state region, are feeling the heat from direct broadcast satellite TV companies. Verizon hopes to offer video services by putting cable into homes and businesses with the rollout of its "fiber-to-the- premise." And electric utility companies may get into the broadband act by offering access through electric outlets in homes and businesses.

The next big thing in wireless broadband is WiMax, which will improve the reach of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) broadband. Several independents have started Wi-Fi companies in the area, and they have had success with residential customers who want Internet service anywhere in their homes.

The goal of WiMax is to get broadband reception anywhere, so that the world becomes one big "hot spot." The unanswered question is who will pay for it? Wi-Fi is a service people are willing to take at home, in the office, at the airport, hotel and coffee shop. But will they use WiMax while sitting on a park bench?

Copyright News for Business, Inc. Nov 2004