Wal-Mart Broadband Looks A Lot Less Impressive Than First Envisioned

Three years ago, we discussed the possibility that Wal-Mart could eventually enter the broadband business. At the time, the discussion was around Wal-Mart using its massive network of stores to act as WiMax access points, coating much of the nation with wireless internet access. The idea didn’t seem likely for a variety of reasons, and with the news that Wal-Mart actually is entering the broadband space, we can easily see why the WiMax plan never made sense for Wal-Mart. Rather than taking the route suggested three years ago, Wal-Mart is simply partnering with Hughes to resell satellite broadband access. As many people know, satellite broadband access is the last refuge for the broadband addict who simply has no other choice. The speeds aren’t great, the latency is a huge pain, and the reliability is often a problem. So, there are already some hurdles to overcome. Second, unlike the original suggestion, Wal-Mart appears to have nothing to do with the offering, other than slapping its brand on it (and even then it’s not entirely clear from the article how the service will be branded). That means that Wal-Mart won’t be able to have much say in how the service is run. Even if the stories of Wal-Mart losing its technology edge are overrated, this deal is going to involve existing infrastructure and existing service models — meaning that it won’t shake up the industry very much at all. Basically, what was envisioned three years back was Wal-Mart routing around other providers and offering up something entirely new, which it could control. Three years later, the best the company can do is piggyback its brand on a weak legacy offering. That’s hardly going to shake up the industry.