@ The Cable Show: Mobile is little more than an after-thought

**As published in RCR Wireless News** LOS ANGELES – After spending the last three days up close and personal with the cable industry at its big annual affair, I’m disappointed to report that mobile was hard to find. The wireless innovations and news I’d hoped to see were simply not there. I’m not sure lobbying will do the trick, but the entire mobile industry should do everything it can to bring wireless out from the distant horizon it sits in now and into clear view for most business in this space who don’t yet see the light.

Sure, executives from practically every major cable operator paid lip service to the mobile opportunity and the “convergence” of all these platforms, but few are making any real strides toward connecting with the devices most of us carry all day. At its best, mobile is merely seen as a way for cable operators to improve on the clunky service experience millions of us pay dearly for every month. Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity Remote, an app for Apple Inc.’s iPad, was easily the standout mobile news from the show and yet it’s nothing more than a vastly superior remote for TV in the home. And what’s the biggest innovative leap that Comcast will bring to the fore with this app? Search. There’s little doubt that search is woefully missing from the cable TV experience, but if that’s all that cable operators plan to bring to the table with mobile, don’t expect to see any real investment from the wireless companies that we cover day in and day out anytime soon. Mobile wasn’t completely ignored on panels or on the show floor, but in almost every case it was presented as a sidebar or after-thought at best. As has been the case for the last four or five years, most of the mobile strides (if you can still call it that) are being made by content creators. Turner Broadcasting System Inc., for example, had one table in its booth dedicated to mobile and showed off its mobile services on a litany of devices (Google Inc.’s Nexus One, Apple’s iPad and others) and service offerings like carrier-driven TV clips, Turner’s mobile variant of its online offerings and FLO TV. Echostar Corp. showed off a trio of mobile devices running Sling Media, but again that’s nothing that we couldn’t already do two or three years ago. I’m still waiting for Echostar to blow my mind with all that 700MHz spectrum it picked up in the FCC auction more than two years ago. I could be waiting a while. Clearwire Corp. had a large presence on the show floor, but I didn’t see a single cellphone showing off mobile video or TV services. And finally, Motorola Inc. for its part was demonstrating its new Medios platform, which aims to group computers, TVs and mobile devices onto a single home network. Will it catch on? The question is: does the cable industry even want to play in the mobile sandbox? It’s understandable that cable executives don’t see much of a revenue stream waiting for them in mobility. But won’t truly innovative ideas and services beget massive interest, which in turn will create new sources of revenue (at least on the advertising front)? I simply did not see the interest and love affair with mobile that I expected to find at event put on by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Isn’t telecommunications right there in the name for a reason? Throughout the event, when I asked companies what they were doing on the mobile front, more often than not I was met with a blank stare that said “you know you’re at The Cable Show, right?” After all, two of the cable industry’s largest players – Comcast and Time Warner Cable Inc. – are major investors in Clearwire Corp., a decidedly mobile endeavor. I can’t imagine either company plans to write those investments off anytime soon, but if there are any true plans to harvest new services from Clearwire’s rapidly growing IP-based network they sure weren’t on display this week. As the executive of one technology startup told me on the show floor, far too many in the cable industry are simply protecting their long-coveted ways of business. “When you’re king of something and it makes you a lot of money, sometimes it slows you down,” she said.

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