The cord-cutting revolution is growing. People are ditching their cables boxes in favor of streaming videos through their smartphones, tablets and services such as Roku and Apple TV. In reality though, these are not real cord cutters. They still pay bills to the cable companies that deliver broadband Internet access to their homes. That broadband is delivered… by cords. Is it truly possible to live an Internet-connected lifestyle and cut all of the cords?
I consider myself a cord cutter. I stopped paying for cable service and live my life through my Roku box, iPad and Android smartphone. The Roku delivers Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon video on demand and MLB.TV to my television. I can access most of those services through my iPad and Android, as well. Yet the Roku is powered through a Wi-Fi router that is delivered from a broadband connection from Comcast. The iPad is almost always on Wi-Fi when in the apartment. While I think of myself as a cord cutter, the cable company is still getting nearly $60 a month from me.
And Comcast still sends me these lovely fliers about once a month.
To be honest, it is enticing. For about $25 or so extra dollars a month, I can have cable and faster Internet, video on demand and I’d finally be able to watch Game Of Thrones on HBO. The cable company wants me back on cable, and I might be inclined to give in.
But what if I chose the alternate route and completely cut Comcast out of the equation? Like it or not, I still have to choose a service provider. Right now, I pay Comcast for my home Internet, Verizon for the data connection on my iPad and AT&T for my smartphone plan. To really cut all the cords, I am throwing myself straight into the arms of AT&T, Verizon and maybe even Sprint. Is this a move that I would be willing to make?
Here is how it would theoretically look.
In April, I used 140 GB of broadband data through Comcast. That is up from March (115 GB) and down from February (164 GB). Let’s say that on an average month, I am using about 120 GB of broadband data. That includes streaming video through the Roku, running music through Spotify for about eight hours a day through the iPad and my normal activities as a writer at ReadWriteWeb (running multiple browser tabs, uploading pictures, etc., as I work from home). In addition to the 120 GB of broadband data, I use between 500 MB and 1 GB of Verizon 3G data through my iPad and about 2.5 GB of AT&T LTE through my Android. So, for all my devices, let us call it about 125 GB of data used per month.
While 120 GB of broadband data might seem like a lot, for a cord cutter that does not watch any video media on cable, it is fairly reasonable. Comcast currently sets its data cap at 250 GB and soon may be going to a usage-based system and says that 99% of its users stay well under that cap.
But here is where the biggest problem is posed. For Comcast, delivering that 120 GB of data is simple. It has big, fat pipes and a sophisticated network to deliver Internet to the T1 connection to people’s homes (also known as “the last mile.”) To replace that data through pure wireless solutions will take creativity… and it will not be cheap.
The first thing to look at is turning my smartphone or tablet into a wireless hotspot. That way I could replace the Wi-Fi router without having to buy any extra equipment. While this would be the simplest option, it would also become problematic to run several data-driven devices at full speed at once. The answer then might be to get a separate wireless hotspot, such as a MiFi router that turns cellular data into a broadband connection over 3G or 4G.
If I am looking to completely replace that 120 GB of broadband data by this route, it becomes cost prohibitive very quickly. A look at the hotspot plans for the top three U.S. carriers:
AT&T: 5 GB per month: $50 ($10 per GB overage charges)
Cost to replace 120 GB: $1,200
Verizon: 10 GB per month: $80 ($10 per GB overage charges)
Cost to replace 120 GB: $1,180
Sprint: 12 GB per month: $79.99 ($0.05 per MB overage or $51.20 per GB)
Cost to replace 120 GB: $5,609.59
That is only half of the equation, though. The other half is performance. Wi-Fi is a great technology because it provides reliable speeds and can be split among several devices. Comcast delivers speeds in tiers, with about 15 Mbps running about $57. At this point, LTE devices can deliver faster performances in real-world conditions on a device-by-device basis. Realistic speeds of anywhere from 15 Mbps to 40 Mbps can be seen, depending on what region you are in and how many people are using the same LTE network. As more people start using LTE, those real-world speeds will start coming down as the network becomes more congested. The question will be how well will your devices perform through an LTE MiFi device or mobile hotspot from a tablet or a smartphone? When you rely on your laptop or desktop for work purposes, you are going to end up frustrated with your data connection more often than not.
How Much Does Mobile Displace the PC and TV?
Well, there is a very simple answer to all of this: Cut the cord entirely, stop streaming entertainment to your device, find Wi-Fi hotspots in public and only use data on your smartphone for basic purposes including Web browsing, search and social media. This is not hard to envision, millions of people do not have cable and hardly use their cellphones at all. The easiest way to cut the cord is to just not live by the rules of the cord. Same goes for the wireless carriers.
This brings us into an interesting discussion on “mobile-only” existences. The idea of mobile-only has been percolating for the past several years as people look to cut the cable cord and smartphone and tablet use has skyrocketed. Within the past several months, mobile-only has been a topic pushed to the forefront as people analyzed Facebook’s S-1 document the company filed for its initial public offering.
Facebook has a problem. It does not make any money off of mobile. At the same time, many of its users interact with the social platform primarily through mobile devices. It is not inconceivable that many or most of Facebook’s new users going forward will be mobile-only consumers. Much of that growth will be international in countries that do not have robust cable infrastructures, but it will also happen in the U.S. and Europe as people that do not need to work from laptops or desktops only use tablets and smartphones to interact with the Web.
Internet billionaire investor Mark Cuban poses these pertinent questions in a blog post breaking down Facebook’s IPO and the challenges the company faces with mobile-only consumers going forward:
“Which leads to a much broader question. Just what percentage of PC Online usage will mobile displace? Is it feasible that people will “cut the broadband cord” and live exclusively off of their mobile internet access? Why not use your mobile as an in home hotspot rather than paying for 2 internet connections? If you avoid streaming video and downloads its easy to stay within your caps. Do you know anyone that has cut their broadband access to go exclusively mobile internet?” Cuban wrote.
This, of course, is not just a question about Facebook. Mobile-first and mobile-only approaches by consumers are going to affect the entire technology industry going forward. Companies such as Comcast have to worry about people not just cutting their cable cords, but cutting broadband out of their lives entirely. Forget about replacing 120 GB of broadband data, Comcast might need to learn how to compete in the mobile space where high-end plans are between 5 GB and 10 GB.
The reality though, in the short term, is that most users in developed countries (especially the U.S.) are not going to be mobile-only. As it stands now, cord cutting represents one step in a digital lifestyle where classic cable gets cut out of the picture in favor of other alternatives. Moving down the spectrum is where we find the mobile-only users and right now those people are few and far between.
Have you gone mobile only? What have been your experiences? Do you miss the ability to stream mass amounts of media? Do you miss cable? If you have taken this plunge, let us know in the comments.