Cable Mobile and HP Aftershock

It looks as though there may be some hope for Clearwire; Sprint is said to be seeking cable partners to help fund a buyout of the firm.  There’s some logic to this move, I think, because with mobile becoming the hottest spot in all of networking, the cable MSOs are generally without a mobile property.  They need to come up with a strategy that will let them into the mobile game without each of them building out private mobile infrastructure.

The question is whether ganging up on a single solution for mobile is an answer.  The cable companies are competitors in the major metro areas, and thus it’s hard to see them playing nice in the mobile space.  The biggest problem would be the integration of TV-Everywhere content with mobile delivery when potentially several competitors in a given market have different rights under different terms.  The rumor is that Sprint would establish itself and Clearwire as a host for MSO MVNO relationships and that they would all deploy their own rights management layer on top.  But what about the CDN space?  CDNs for mobile service would be expected to require deep caching that’s tightly coupled to the backhaul network to optimize utilization and QoE.  Does that mean one shared CDN or would every MSO have to deploy their own?  It’s hard to see how the latter would work, but also hard to see how they’d keep fairness in the first option, or even decide what “fair” meant.  Weighted access based on cable customers, mobile customers, or what?

The media has been having a lot of “fun” with the HP decision to exit the PC space.  HP has been generally castigated for buying Autonomy, often castigated for pulling out of PCs.  The HP move has been called an opportunity for Dell and Apple or a warning.  PCs are dead or they’re still healthy, and the $99 fire sale on TouchPads is a seed for a needy market or will suppress everyone’s sales forever.  You get the picture.

HP had little choice in exiting the PC business.  The problem is that there is really no convincing “brand” of PC anymore, so there’s little opportunity to gain brand loyalty.  The market at the consumer level is really determined by retail availability; whoever’s on the shelf at a good price wins.  That’s not a market where anyone will make a good margin, and it’s been shifting convincingly to Asian manufacturing anyway.  The thing that’s more surprising is that HP not only stayed the course in the PC space, it made a biggish (over one billion dollars) acquisition of Palm to get WebOS and a tablet position.  Then it tossed that out with the PC.  It’s pretty clear that HP has been struggling with the right position in the “client” space.

There isn’t one, at least not in the long run, and not even for Apple.  There can’t be a long-term, margin-rich, consumer market.  It either commoditizes or is superseded (or both).  Apple jumps from trend to trend to be successful, something it can do because it’s cultivated a leading-edge-hip-consumer image.  HP is hardly that, nor could it hope to be.  It might have been reasonable for them to hope for a position in tablets when Google wasn’t buying Motorola Mobility, but once that deal was done so was the HP tablet opportunity.  They gambled and lost.


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