Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Charter (NASDAQ:CHTR), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), and many more may have something to fear in the coming months and years as two movements on both sides of the country threaten to redefine the Internet and mobile carrier market.
Any number of factors could be putting traditional Internet service providers and mobile carriers at odds with their customers. Of course, things like poor service can turn away customers, but that’s usually on a case-by-case basis. But one recent Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) project and one privately-held service provider could be chipping away at way business is fundamentally conducted.
Google actually has two things going on: Google Fiber and a free WiFi service in a New York neighborhood. Google Fiber is the company’s new, high-speed Internet service that stands to best all other public ISPs when it comes to bandwidth, and could do so at competitive prices. As for WiFi, Google has agreed to offer free, public WiFi for the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, which could see a great deal of traffic from the area’s denizens.
These two projects may not be enough to deal significant damage to Comcast or Charter yet, but they certainly do threaten to best those services within the areas they are offered. Currently, Google Fiber has seen availability limited to the Kansas City area, though there are plans to expand.
However, on the West Coast, there is a private company offering a far less traditional service that could hit both ISPs and mobile carriers. FreedomPop is a Los Angeles-based company, but a quick look at its coverage map shows service locations all over the country, even on two Hawaiian islands.
Simple coverage isn’t enough to shatter traditional mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T, who have far greater coverage. But, free service might do the trick. FreedomPop’s mobile service offers a modest amount of free data to customers every month on its 4G network, and customers have a number of ways to get more data allotted to them.
If customers want more data, they can always pay for it, but FreedomPop also has offered to let them take data from friends on the service who aren’t using as much. Additionally, the carrier’s starting 500mb of free data can be increased by simply adding friends on the carrier’s social network, and that doesn’t even require that those friends be new sign-ups — though that, too, will provide customers with more free data.
Even with just a dozen friends on the network, most average users should find the free service sufficient. It may not be enough to to challenge broadband networks, but some free data followed by competitive pricing on extra data could solve that issue — especially as news has been going around that ISPs have been misleading consumers about data caps in a scheme to charge more for data usage.
Now, traditional service providers may have to worry. FreedomPop’s service, though limited, is popping up in more and more major cities and could seriously threaten to take those markets from other carriers — people can jump on the FreedomPop network with as much as an iPod and special attachment, which isn’t a feature found with most carriers. Google’s service isn’t as large or immediately threatening, but Google has the might and resources to expand vigorously. The two companies could prove to be a ticking time-bomb for Comcast, Charter, Verizon, AT&T and the like.
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