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Irony: Cable MSOs to Simplify Mobile Service

USA Today reports that more than one year after announcing plans to jump into the mobile phone services business, America's biggest cable TV operators, in partnership with Sprint Nextel, are finally launching their service offering.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable TV operator, later this month will add wireless to its offerings in Boston and Portland, Oregon, says Sprint CEO Gary Forsee. Time Warner Cable, at about the same time, will launch their mobile service in Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cable companies believe they need to add cellphones to their TV, Internet access and home phone bundles. AT&T and Verizon, which own huge cellphone operations, are adding TV to their service bundles, putting pressure on cable operators to keep pace. Forsee acknowledges that the launch has taken longer than expected. "But the good news is that we've got something that is unique."

Ease-of-use will be the hallmark of the new service. People want simplicity. One example: A "universal" voice mail box feature alerts customers on their mobile phone when a message has been left via their home phone line (consumers must subscribe to the cable operator's home phone service).

New software will also make it easier to send and receive e-mail from a mobile phone. Hoping to drive service bundle sales, cable companies will require customers to buy at least one other service, such as broadband or TV, before they can sign up for wireless phone service.

Customers will receive one bill -- from their local cable TV operator. Customer service and support also will be handled by the cable companies. Frankly, I find it somewhat ironic that cable MSOs decided to make usability and simplicity the keystone of their service differentiation strategy. Most analysts assumed that they would focus on multimedia content.

While mobile service providers typically target early-adopters with new service launches, in contrast the cable MSOs appear to be targeting mainstream consumers. Apparently, they have made total 'addressable market adoption' a high-priority objective, and therefore that would explain the service launch delay.

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