Wireless: New Salvation for ISPs?

WASHINGTON — More than 100 million households will have wireless broadband capability within the next six years, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Wireless Bureau Chief John Muletta predicted Wednesday during an IPSCON keynote address.

As broadband becomes widely available, wireless Internet connections and services are becoming an attractive alternative for the independent ISPs who are holding their semi-annual conference here this week.

With cable companies and incumbent telephone carriers currently dominating the traditional home broadband market and other high-speed platforms such as broadband over electric power lines, satellite, and third- and fourth-generation wireless mobile technology still years away, wireless is one of the top topics at ISPCON.

“The time is near and we want to make sure applications ride seamlessly over wireless platforms,” Muletta said. “We want to make sure the regulations don’t get in the way.”

Muletta, the former president of PSINet Ventures, said several elements must be in place for the great wireless leap forward. He cited the success of the cell phone industry as an example of a flexible regulations, combined with competition for customers who were willing to pay for new technology.

“The right equipment, the right scale, the right spectrum and the right time — they were all in place,” Muletta said, adding that spectrum auctions over the last 10 years have generated more than $14 billion. “I think we got it right with the PCS band.”

Delivering broadband services over the new wireless pipes will drive new economic forces for ISPs, Muletta said.

“I predict all these wireless devices will have the capacity to do broadband. They will be Internet Protocol-based and interoperability will be key,” Muletta said. “There will be bundling with these services, a sort of family broadband plan.”

Muletta’s speech was sandwiched between forums designed to help ISPs find new ways to generate revenue. Voice over Internet Protocol , Web hosting and wireless services are all on the ISPs’ agenda.

“If you’re a dial-up ISP, it’s going away,” Dave Robertson, CEO of STIC.net told fellow panel members Wednesday. “The ISP that can’t find a way into broadband is going to go away. You have to find something that customers can’t do or won’t do. You’re going to have to become an applications service provider.”

Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, a Toronto-based ISP, added, “Old ISPs don’t die, they just become another business.

Editor’s note: The ISPCON show is co-produced by the Golden Group and Jupitermedia, parent company of this Web site.

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