Cable's participation in mobile broadband market a disappointing one

Lynnette LunaBack in 2008, the country's cable operators were anxious to grab a piece of the fast-growing wireless pie, but today they are struggling to make any sort of dent in the market or capitalize on offering wireless services as part of a bundle. And the trend among MSOs seems to be one of spending very little money while continuing to experiment with service offerings and pricing strategies.

Cox Communications announced this week that it will decommission its 3G network infrastructure and continue using Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) CDMA network for its wireless service, the company confirmed to sister publication FierceWireless.

"In continuing with our successful wholesale model for 3G wireless services, we will accomplish speed to market while achieving greater operational efficiencies from a wholesale model that continues to improve." Cox spokesman David Deliman said."  Cox claims it has already doubled its projected subscriber forecast, though Deliman did not indicate how many wireless subscribers Cox has.

Cox had originally planned to build its own 3G network using 1xEVDO Rev. A technology--and use the wireless spectrum it acquired by bidding in the 700 MHz spectrum auction and the AWS spectrum auction (in the AWS spectrum auction it bid as part of the SpectrumCo joint venture). It's network rollout experienced a number of delays.

Meanwhile, Comcast and Time Warner buy network capacity from Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR),to create their own service offerings. In January, Time Warner executives said the company's wireless business had produced "not very impressive and pretty inconclusive" results. The company said then it had 15,000 WiMAX subscribers. The MSO said its wireless play was still in its early stages, and that it expected to experiment with different wireless pricing strategies.

"We are basically exploring whether packaging wireless data with our wireline offerings is something that consumers want, and if there is a formula that people want, so we are trying different models, different products, what have you," Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt said during the company's fourth-quarter 2010 earnings conference call. "To date, I would say our results are not very impressive and pretty inconclusive. So, we are going to stick with that for a while. We are trying to spend not too much money while we are doing it."

Comcast at one point had big plans for WiMAX, including delivering TV over WiMAX and offering femtocells to deliver wireless to the home. Today, while it bundles WiMAX service, that service isn't mentioned much in financial conference calls.

Given MSOs unwillingness to pump money into the mobile broadband space, they will eventually fade away from the wireless market. The mobile market is much too competitive for these players to offer me-too services, yet that is just what they are settling for. As such, it's more than likely that Cox's move to decommission its 3G network is its first step in exiting the market.--Lynnette

P.S. FierceBroadbandWireless won't be publishing Monday, May 30, in honor of the Memorial Day holiday. We'll resume publishing Tuesday, May 31.