This is a very good week for the mobile Internet in the US. Our best prospect for open mobile Internet access is not legislation or regulation, but having four or more competing networks that are technically able to offer mobile broadband access.
We have three such networks today — Verizon, AT&T and Sprint — but three is not enough to break the walled garden mentality. What's changed?
1. T-Mobile USA has launched their first 3G service using the spectrum they won in the 2006 AWS auctions. For now, it's only New York City, but Reuters reports that T-Mobile plans to launch in 20 to 25 new markets by the end of the year and T-Mobile's stated intention is a full national HSPA network. In 2009, this will be our fourth national 3G network fully capable of multi-Mbps down and multi-hundreds Kbps up.
2. Clearwire has cut a deal to take over Sprints WiMAX network. As the Wall Street reports (subscription required) today:
Sprint Nextel and Clearwire are close to announcing a $12 billion joint venture that plans to roll out ultra-fast wireless Internet access for cellphones and laptops in coming years, with the backing of an unlikely alliance of technology and cable companies. Sprint has agreed to merge its wireless broadband unit with Clearwire, a Kirkland, Wash., firm founded by cellphone pioneer Craig McCaw. The new company has raised a total of $3.2 billion in outside financing from several heavyweights -- $1.05 billion from cable provider Comcast, $1 billion from Intel, $550 million from Time Warner Cable and $500 million from Internet giant Google. Smaller cable provider Bright House contributed $100 million. The investments value the new company at more than $12 billion.
This also reduces Sprint's financial exposure and hopefully reduces the likelihood they will be taken over or their network consolidated, at least in the short term. I've been negative on the prospects for WiMAX in the past, but if anyone can make this go, Craig McCaw is good bet. So Clearwire represents our fifth national network capable of delivering mobile broadband Internet access.
Assuming all this holds together, we will see affordable flat rate open mobile Internet access in the US by 2010.