Article in this weeks New Scientist about the capacity crunch across mobile networks due to the incredible surge in demand for mobile data, in particular video. If network capacity remains as is and the projections are on track, some time in 2013 is the date when the wireless networks collapse under their own weight. The author examines four different solutions that the wireless carriers could use to address this issue.
Get rid of “unlimited data” plans. When something is perceived as free, it tends to get used a lot (cf. the internet). This solution is already being deployed by AT&T for new iPhone 4 users.
Increased bandwidth available to carriers. While this seems feasible, it is highly political and spectrum auctions are viewed by governments as very welcome ‘new’ sources of revenue (so very expensive). Plus doubling the bandwidth will delay the crunch for maybe two years.
Deploy 4G technologies, such as LTE and WiMAX, unfortunately while these promise greater speeds, the uplift in capacity is only 50% over 3G, which just delays the inevitable one year. Given the ‘go slow’ mentality of most carriers when it comes to 4G, I seriously doubt if 4G will be deployed except in major cities until well after 2013.
Deploy femtocells in the home to offload the network (they would hook into the customer’s broadband connection). This would reduce the energy needs of cell towers, improve reception and boost capacity by a factor tens or perhaps even hundreds (the major benefit comes from removing the signal attenuation through walls). There are some interference issues that need to be addressed but I think this is probably a non-starter. Why deploy a femtocell when I already have a wireless router? Most smartphones like my G1 Android phone can switch between a Wi-Fi and 3G network and there is also the Line2 app for the iTouch which effectively turns an iTouch into an iPhone bypassing the carrier completely. The carriers run the risk of exposing their customers to a bypass technology if they aggressively deploy femtocell technology (unless it is perceived as ‘free’ and they seem loathe to do that.)
Of course, we may all get tired of watching videos, but I doubt it…
With the release of the Motorola ‘Droid’ phone running the Android 2.0 operating system, there has been much talk and chatter on whether this is the long anticipated “iPhone killer”. It could well be, there are a number of impressive features on the Droid such as multi-tasking that are not available on the iPhone. That said, in the long run I think the feature that will make the most difference is the operating system itself.
For the first time, I can as a T-Mobile subscriber with a G1 phone make recommendations on ‘good applications’ to a Verizon subscriber with a Droid phone. The application catalog is no longer tethered to the mobile phone operator. It is the realization of develop once and run on multiple networks (in this case GSM and CDMA).
In 1968, the FCC allowed the CarterPhone to attach to the AT&T phone network. The CarterPhone was a non-AT&T approved device linking a two-way radio network to the phone network. This decision was made over the stringent objections of AT&T, the telephone monopoly at that time in the US, who argued that foreign devices would by their very nature cause a breakdown of the telephone network.
Fast forward to 2009, and we see history possibly repeating itself with AT&T replaced by Apple, the network with the iPhone platform and the CarterPhone with Google, Palm, etc. and the FCC examining the merits of Apple’s policies.
Recently there has been a lot written on Apple’s decision to not permit either Google Voice or Latitude to be added to the iPhone Apps Store. ( see NY Times, Business Week, and InformationWeek). In particular, the Information week article describes how Apple is using thirty year old arguments, “Apple Fears Jailbroken iPhones Could Kill Phone Networks” in defense of its only Apple approved applications on iPhones policy.
The question is of course should Apple have absolute say over what runs on an iPhone ( a kind of benign dictatorship as it were). It is not totally clear what criteria Apple uses but one of the criteria seems to be is the application a competitive threat to either Apple or at&t. There have been a number of missteps so far (see sample rejected iPhone apps).
Looking back at the CarterPhone decision and seeing the innovation that resulted (think cordless phones, fax machines etc.), I would argue that while Apple should be able to have an “approved” applications list, it should also provide a mechanism for other non-approved apps to be available on the iPhone. This ruling should of course apply to all other app store platforms, like Microsoft, Android, Pre etc.