Is the party over for mobile data

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. year of the crunchThe author examines four different solutions that the wireless carriers could use to address this issue.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…

Beware the Android

Lots of press this week about the Nexus 1 (a.k.a. the Google phone) and whether it was as good as the iPhone. (see coverage roundup). It may be a moot point. An insightful article, falseiPhoneon the NT Times Gadgetwise blog, describes a counterfeit phone from China, that looks and behaves very much like an iPhone but is in reality an Android-based device.

Seems as if you can the best of both worlds (albeit illegally), an iPhone on a non-proprietary platform. Sort of begs the question, why would I buy an iPhone if I can get an Android phone that can act like one (or as a regular android phone)?

This really could put the cat amongst the pigeons as it divorces the iPhone (user interface) from the Apple iPhone operating system.

The App/Map Gap Flap

It should come as no surprise that AT&T has taken Verizon to court over their “There’s a map for that” advertisements. The ad is very clever and plays at several levels – the pun on the Apple ad for the iPhone ‘there is an app for that’ as well as AT&T’s well known capacity issues for data delivery.  There seems to be a general consensus that the ads are successful. (see link)

AT&T recently lost the first round (see link) but has said it will appeal. AT&T’s lawyers will will have to do a lot better than its weak rebuttal ad (link).

What I find interesting in all of this, is how Verizon has turned the discussion from quantity of applications to quality of experience. It may be that the reign of the app was very short lived and a broad application catalog is no longer a differentiator but a necessity.

Verizon has a lot to thank T-Mobile for as it essentially picked up T-Mobile’s marketplace catalog and made it available to its own android phones.

“Police officers are not delicate flowers.”

Wonderful post from silicon.com about the cultural difficulties of rolling out new technology, in this case the deployment of 40,000 plus smart phones, such as Blackberrys, to the British Police. Even dixon-of-dock-green though the benefits are easy for everyone to see, basically more time on the beat and less in station, rolling out the innovation has not been easy.

"This is not really a technology project," Hitch added. "The technology is there and in many ways that’s the easy bit – what this is is a people project. This is about cultural change. This is about getting people to work differently. This is about getting people who have never really used a mobile phone for anything other than answering calls and making calls to actually do their day to day job on a small, tiny in some cases, PDA.

 

"There’s a lot of culture to overcome."

Yet, as a recent survey from  synovate showed, mobile phones are becoming a necessity.

Three quarters of the survey respondents – including 82% of Americans – never leave home without their phones, and 36% of people across the world (42% of Americans) go as far as to say they ‘cannot live without’ their cell phone.

Perhaps more interesting was how the phones were being used. Other than voice and SMS, the most used features were in order

  1. Alarm clock – 67% globally use this regularly / 56% of Americans
  2. Camera – 62% globally / 68% of Americans
  3. Games – 33% globally / 31% of Americans

In terms of services that require 3G.

  • Overall, 17% of respondents use email on their mobile on a regular basis, led by 26% in the US and 25% in the UK.
  • Similarly, an overall 17% use internet browsing, topped by the UK at 31% and the US at 26%.
  • Eleven percent say they social network regularly via mobile, again led by the UK (17%) and the US (15%).

What would Dixon of Dock Green have made of it all?

Unlimited Potential, Base of the Pyramid and Emerging Markets

[a long post]

Economist 20090926issuecov The Economist magazine recently published (Sept. 26, 2009) a “Special Report on Telecoms in Emerging Markets”.

While the headline is a bit misleading, the 14 page report covers much more ground than just ‘mobile money’ The Economist makes a very strong case that the balance of power and innovation has shifted form the developed world to the developing world.  I would very much recommend reading the article from start to finish but in the mean time these are the key points I gleaned from the article.

First and foremost, Why are mobile phones so important and impactful in the developing world? As the Economist states

… being able to make and receive phone calls is so important to people that even the very poor are prepared to pay for it. In places with bad roads, unreliable postal services, few trains and parlous landlines, mobile phones can substitute for travel, allow quicker and easier access to information on prices, enable traders to reach wider markets, boost entrepreneurship and generally make it easier to do business. A study by the World Resources Institute found that as developing-world incomes rise, household spending on mobile phones grows faster than spending on energy, water or indeed anything else.

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Is it time for another “CarterPhone” decision?

 

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.