Contributed by Dr. Wolfgang Irber, PPCW.Net Reader and Business Professional
It's all about data. Right
now you hear it from every operator that is going to launch 3G networks and
Wi-Fi hot-spots these days. We are promised lots of bandwidth over wireless
networks, wherever you go, wherever you are: easy and fast access to the
Internet, to corporate networks, to stream movies, all made possible by the
introduction of UMTS (W-CDMA). A whole new world is promised to us. But is the
public ready for it?
If you listen to all the
announcements you may get the impression that everybody is waiting to rush into
the stores once the network has been opened to the public. But I guess most of
us followed the news about what was and is happening, e.g., in Japan, the UK,
and Italy, all countries where UMTS networks went commercial already some while
ago. And as most of
us will know, not much has happened in
fact when it comes to data. But what went wrong?
It surely is a combination
of a couple of reasons of which technical issues are quite significant. But we
cannot blame just everything to the techniques: I simply observe the public
appears to be not ready yet. Of
course, we geeks are fascinated by the switch in radio access technology from
GSM to UMTS and all the benefits that come along. But does the public care as
well? Let's look around, not
using a geek's perspective.
Using a phone for
accessing the Internet is not in the public awareness
From all so-called wireless
data traffic, SMS or text messaging is still accounting for most of mobile data,
with a high number of SMS sent everyday. And indeed, if I watch the people next
to me, almost everybody is using SMS, even my 70 year-old Dad. But what is about
GPRS or using the phone as a data terminal to wirelessly accessing the Internet?
How many of your non Tec-savvy friends or neighbors do it? Is there anybody at
all you know
An excellent reflection of
public awareness of any kind is the daily TV or movie program. When did you see
somebody on TV or in a movie using a phone or a PDA to access the Internet via
GPRS? I never did! Well, I may have missed some, but no matter how we look at
it, using GPRS or any other 2.5G or 3G technology is definitely not a common
thing, not even fancy enough for Hollywood!
My personal observation
simply tells me that - despite the operators' marketing efforts - wireless
Internet access over the phone network is not in the public awareness at all: a
phone is a phone for the overwhelming majority of us, and not a data terminal!
Hence, in order to make GPRS
and UMTS a data success story, the public, which is simply reflected by our
friends and neighbors, has to change the way they communicate and access the
Internet. But changing well established behaviors is a slow process and
strongly depends on the prize. Some early adopters always
try right from the beginning, however, when is the mass market ready to follow?
And more important: what is the point that makes
everybody wanting to follow?
SMS and phone calls cover
all the public needs: what comes next?
Using the cell phone was
initially driven by displaying a new and fancy lifestyle to others. Only later
this was outweighed by the convenience factor. Or SMS: the usage of relatively
cheap SMS was first driven by the initially very high connection costs from
mobile to mobile, later by the convenience factor again.
Today, both are in
combination the perfect means of communication and cover everything the majority
of us needs: a phone call is the direct, SMS the indirect option, the latter
nonetheless with instant and automatic delivery.
But what's next? The public
is surely not using data only because it is there. MMS, for instance, is not
really taking off even though camera phones are selling well. GPRS is currently
only important for a few business users, and the always mentioned video
telephony already flopped for wired telephony and is in the current
technological stage just disappointing over UMTS.
So what comes next? When is
the public going to see data transfer over phone networks as a useful tool?
Honestly, I don't know. I only can imagine that some
service is coming up that is initially providing a fancy status, and is later
driven by the convenience on substitute of something else.
When the UMTS licenses were
sold, an operator was once quoted with "We need to create a demand for something
the people don't yet have a demand for". Obviously, the current idea for 3G
networks is to provide bandwidth without having a real concept of how to use it;
that may sound stupid, but that's perfectly OK. Somebody is certainly coming up
with a nice idea of how to use the new bandwidth. It's the same with computing
power or hard drive space every year. That's simply technological evolution at
I'm very curious about what's
going on in the near future with data over 3G networks.
I'm absolutely convinced that UMTS will soon become a great success for business
user, but my personal guess is, it will take some significant time till our
friends and neighbors are considering data over their cell phone as
useful. So far, the operator marketing has completely
failed in attracting
more than a few early adopters.
My personal favorite is
E-Mail and news via GPRS. But I'm using a combination of PDA and cell phone where
these applications are great; the market potential, however, for such a
combination is very limited. The new upcoming Windows-based Smartphones appear
promising to me and seem to have a great potential to change the way we use cell
phones. But that's my personal point of view; is it also
shared by my neighbor? We
certainly will find out soon.
Hence, the current answer to
my question in the headline is definitely "no". But when we simply look around
to see what's coming up, we will find out when the public is
going to be ready for data over 3G
networks. Just keep an eye on your friends and on the current movie program!
Cheers ~ Wolfgang