Forget Voice, Cable’s Wireless Plans Need Video

Wall Street has been losing its enthusiasm for the four-play plans that offer voice, video, data and wireless services to consumers.  The initial results of such efforts have so far been marginal; one can understand the investor skepticism. But don’t tell that to cable and phone companies, which are plowing ahead with similar-sounding plans. However, for cable companies to stand up to their arch rivals Verizon (s VZ) and AT&T (s T), they need to not only match the phone companies, but go a step further. They can do so by tapping their core competency — video entertainment — as the centerpiece of their wireless efforts.

If they can unify both the wired and wireless worlds in a way that makes it easy for consumers to manage, buy and watch content on a PC, television or cell phone, cable companies would benefit from having a differentiated service offering and tie consumers to all aspects of a cable bundle. That’s good for customer retention and just might be something for which people would pay more.

For example, a consumer could use their cable wireless plan to program their DVR from their mobile phone that operates on that plan while away from home. Once in the home, videos downloaded on the go could be added to a queue of content to be viewed on the PC or television. It’s likely such content would come from a cable-sanctioned source rather than iTunes. Over time, the cable guys could build handsets that double as remotes, moving move content around the home. Since they don’t currently offer wireless plans, they don’t yet have handsets, so this is theoretical for now.

From offering triple-play services, cablecos already have experience integrating IP services such as caller ID or eBay listings onto the TV. Plus, there are existing programs that allow remote access to TiVo through a mobile phone. Comcast (s CMCSA) also has a web-based video service and has invested in Cartiza Networks, a startup developing an IP-based content management and delivery system for mobile broadband networks. Comcast could easily use its Fancast portal as a place for customers to keep their content and then use the Cartiza mobile CDN to efficiently push that content to mobile devices.

Stephen Bye, wireless VP of Cox Communications, gave an interview with Fierce Wireless on Monday, in which he came out in favor of Wi-Fi on planned handsets — less so for voice than for moving content around the home. Cox is building out its own 3G voice network, and will experiment with LTE, in its current service markets.

This means we may be one day be able to catch up on our pre-recorded programs from our DVR on phone or laptops on a cable provider’s WiMAX network. Cox and Comcast are clearly thinking about how to unify our wired and wireless networks. If done well, their efforts could turn video into the next killer application for mobile.