Forget Sexy, Let's Be Realistic
By Carlo Longino, Wed Mar 24 21:45:00 GMT 2004

Lucent's pumping a new product that uses EV-DO networks to provide backhaul for Wi-Fi access points. It's not the sexiest use of high-speed mobile networks, but a very realistic one.

The equipment vendor's secured a hefty contract from Verizon Wireless to build out their US EV-DO network, and is pushing the Wi-Fi product at transportation companies like trains and limo services. It's a simple idea -- the Wi-Fi AP connects to the Verizon network and its 300-500 kbps connection, then sends out a Wi-Fi signal to users' laptops and devices.

Like I said, it's not the sexiest idea, but a very viable one. Most current efforts to deliver Wi-Fi on trains have used either satellite or GPRS connections, but the EV-DO network offers greater speeds and wider coverage. It could also be a boon for limo and other car services, whose high-end clients would likely be very interested.

It remains to be seen, though, what Verizon thinks of the idea. Of course they'd rather have users stumping up $80 a month for the service individually, so the pricing may have to scale up as the number of users sharing one connection does as well. But it's not hard to see that marrying EV-DO and Wi-Fi could also make it a viable broadband option for home or business use -- with one caveat: the price has got to drop.

The benchmark for wired broadband access in the US is around $40-50 per month, for DSL or cable modem with speeds ranging from 384kbps to 3Mbps. $80 a month for a 300-500k service is way too high to try to take business away from the wireline providers, and is likely too high to attract anybody but corporate mobile users as well. But if the Verizon service was priced competitively and bundled with Lucent's Wi-Fi product, it could eat into the cable and DSL providers' share.

While EV-DO could perhaps command a slight premium because of its mobile aspect, nobody's gonna shell out $80 on top of $50 for their home connection and another $50 for their cell phone each month. But if Verizon dropped their price, and offered something like the Lucent device that would let users share the connection at home, and also use it outside, they could have a real winner.

Backhaul's not as cool as a video chat over two phones, or live streaming video, or any other number of services a speedy EV-DO network offers. But fast, mobile connectivity is something that people will pay for -- under the right circumstances.