It’s The Pipe, Stupid

Any of us who consume content via the Internet are aware of how profoundly that consumption has changed over the last few years.  The advent of smart mobile devices and tablets has freed that consumption from the tether of the desktop computer and has started to fulfill the promise of “always on, anytime, any place, any screen.”   From a marketing perspective that has been incredibly frustrating as brands try to keep up with the ever-changing consumption patterns of their intended customer bases.  From a user perspective, it’s gloriously liberating.

From eMarketer.com

Some statistics from the good folks at eMarketer with respect to that change are over there on the chart.  You can see online – desktop – time spent dropping even as consumption of video and social increases.  Look, however, at the rapid growth on mobile devices.  There is a similar pattern to the type of content consumed but the time spent has gone from negligible to half of that on desktops and laptops.   But I don’t think that’s the real story.

Just as important – maybe more so – as the growth of these mobile devices is how all that content gets on those devices.  In other words, the pipe.  For tablets, a lot of the usage is in the home where it’s reasonable to assume the pipe is the home wi-fi network that’s drawing from the basic internet connection – the cable or DSL provider.  For phones and some tablets, it’s the mobile network.

The issue in my mind is that usage of these devices is artificially depressed by the usage constraints placed there by those carriers.  It’s hard to get an unlimited data plan with many carriers and those of us who have those data plans grandfathered in still get hit with bandwidth caps – usage points at which the data gets slowed down.  The carriers often say it’s about managing network capacity.  Which means, of course, it’s about money.

Building a wireless data network is a huge, expensive undertaking.  The carriers have every right to earn back that investment and have an obligation to do so to their shareholders.  The wireless business defends itself from undercutting by municipalities that attempt to install free public wi-fi.  Google, however, has proven it’s possible to roll out an uncapped very high-speed network at reasonable prices.  Admittedly so far this is not a wireless network.  Does anyone think it won’t be at some point?

If not Google, something else will break the dam of bandwidth restrictions.  That’s when the world really changes.  Just as improved cable networks have made HDTV ubiquitous (something like 75% of all homes have HD now), and just as that same bandwidth into the home has made cord-cutting a growing trend, a freed-up, uncapped pipe for mobile will drastically change the landscape.   You agree?

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