US cable operators continue to dominate the broadband services landscape, but they must also be careful to avoid complacency amid emerging threats from fixed wireless broadband (FFWB) competition as well as developing satellite-based services, a top industry analyst warns.
At the moment, FFWB represents the "most important threat" to cable broadband providers, Craig Moffett, analyst with MoffettNathanson, concludes in a new report sizing up the state of US broadband.
Moffett's latest review of US broadband takes another quarterly view of overall growth rates and drivers while also undertaking a deeper look at FWBB upstarts such as Vivint Internet and Common Networks and an exploration of the competitive potential posed by new low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite broadband projects underway at SpaceX (Starlink) and Amazon (Project Kuiper).
"We highlight these competitive threats not to suggest that Cable's long run as a protected and advantaged infrastructure is facing imminent threat, but instead to warn against creeping complacency," Moffett wrote. "Over the next year, we expect that conversation about broadband alternatives will intensify."
Among those in the FWBB group, Vivint Internet (a spinoff from Vivint Smart Home) and Common Networks are using mesh architectures and other techniques designed to compensate for the shortcomings of millimeter wave spectrum, which delivers plenty of data but only over very short distances.
While Vivint and Common Networks don't pose an imminent threat to cable's broadband numbers today, they are worth watching. "The mere expectation of new competition will start to matter long before they actually have an impact on observed results," Moffett explained.
Moffett said SpaceX's Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper also deserve a cautious eye, despite lingering questions about how those services will be priced and brought to market.
"Unlike satellite broadband of the past, LEO constellations at least have a chance of working outside of rural niches. Like mesh-based FWBB, they, too, demand attention," the analyst explained.
CableLabs has also been keeping a close eye on this emerging category of broadband competition, concluding that the momentum behind LEO-based technologies indicate that it's no longer a "pipe dream," but a potential, true competitor to cable and other forms of terrestrial broadband.
"2020 is a big year for LEOs and particularly SpaceX," said Shahed Mazumder, principal strategist at CableLabs, which has been conducting a competitive scan of the satellite broadband market and presented some of its findings at the recent NCTC Winter Educational Conference in Las Vegas.
Still, not all analysts are aligned on what represents the biggest competitive threat to US cable broadband growth. Jeff Heynen, analyst with Dell'Oro, believes that broadband cord-cutting is cause for even more concern:
For more about these emerging threats, including Moffett's opinions on the second generation of Verizon's 5G Home service and the anticipated advantages and disadvantages of new LEO-based satellite broadband platforms, please check out this story at Light Reading: Cable must fight 'creeping complacency' about emerging broadband threats – analyst.)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News