"Phablet"- And What It Represents - Encourages Telecom Law Rewrite


Among the worst neologisms of the current multi-platform frenzy is “phablet,” a term coined in the computer/communications world to describe devices that fall between a smart “phone” and a “tablet.” In other words: a jumbo phone or a shrunken tablet with about a 5- to 7-inch screen.

In a new forecast, ABI Research predicts that more 208 million phablets will be shipped globally in 2015. That tally includes products such as the Samsung Galaxy Note and new devices from HTC, LG, Huawei and, presumably, many others, including Apple.

“The larger screen sizes make a significant difference to the user’s experience when compared to conventional-sized touchscreens between 3.5 to 4 inches,” says senior ABI analyst Joshua Flood. (The ungainly term “phablet” was apparently first used in 2010 to describe the failed Dell “Streak” small-screen tablet.)

ABI’s report (released coincidentally about the same time as the recent Cable Show) resonated because of the convention’s extensive discussions about wireless services and use of mobile devices. Interpreting the ABI forecast - with its underlying implications about the growing role of handheld devices - serves as a blunt reminder about the increasing overlap between wired and wireless services.

Even more significantly, the roles of carriers - in both categories - continue to be redefined as the providing companies intersect and overlap. Those confrontations will spur more calls for a true overhaul of the telecommunications law. Although Congress, in its current disarray, is unlikely to prioritize any such action, the revised communications landscape - and “airscape” - will increasingly call for a truly integrated policy assessment. The historically diverse regulatory regimen - separate approaches for media and telecom - is increasingly irrelevant.

At the Cable Show, the launch of Cable Wi-Fi by a quintet of MSOs featured the promise that subscribers could use the unlicensed local spectrum to watch TV shows. That’s a strong, appealing alternative - competitive service - to the broadcasters’ much-heralded mobile Digital TV (mDTV) initiative. Comcast’s “Video2go” service promises a way to offload cell phone traffic to Wi-Fi networks, and enable free calling.

You can bet that the legacy “phone companies” heard that one!

During the past decade as phone and cable companies shed their traditional tech-specific corporate names and became “Communications” firms - as in Verizon Communications, Comcast Communications, Cox Communications - they have also positioned themselves as all being in the same industry. Even the dysfunctional policy-makers have figured out that situation, and some may be savvy enough to recognize the need for a new omnibus approach to legislation.

Devices like the “phablet” - or whatever names emerge to describe the new products that deliver all kinds of communications to end-users - are further reminders about the collision of once-separate systems. The value of multi-functional cross-platform services is appealing to customers, although most of them will surely never understand why they might have to use different products in distinct ways because of arcane regulatory systems.

Revised telecom legislation is coming, despite the inevitable, formidable roadblocks that industries will put in it way. You can look that up on your phablet.