Qualcomm will sell its nationwide licenses for the 700 MHz broadcast spectrum as it pulls the plug on its FLO TV mobile television service. AT&T will pay nearly $2 billion for the rights to these radio waves. Along with this announcement came the news that Qualcomm will shut down the mobile television services that it has been providing to AT&T and Verizon for their privately-branded services.
AT&T will reportedly use the new spectrum to provide faster wireless broadband service as part of its new 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network. Qualcomm is primarily a chip maker, and will make the chips required for 4G LTE devices. As I wrote in the the past, Qualcomm’s heart probably was never in the FLO TV project; it just wanted to demonstrate what could be done with a high-bandwidth wireless data network. So it’s hard to count this as a failure for the company; the spectrum will still be used and chips like Qualcomm’s will still be required.
The take-away for me is that there are indeed limits to what the American consumer wants in terms of wireless services. And in particular, it appears that scheduled TV programming on cell-phone-sized devices is probably beyond those limits. I still think that consumers are getting a taste for on-demand programming, thanks to the Internet, and I suspect that high-speed broadband wireless provides a more versatile and appealing solution than just replicating the traditional broadcast model.