Just about anywhere you go nowadays, within the wireless industry (talking shows, conferences, OEM visits here), the buzz is mobile data. Ah, mobile data... that ubiquitous platform that will take us to the next step and really make 24/7, anytime, anywhere, anything available to anyone. Ummm... OK.
A couple of years ago, I saw mobile data as being the immediate future’s most promising technological leap. I’m talking today’s mobile data not the early stuff that was mostly in public safety and ISM applications 15 years ago. I still think that is the case, but lately, I’ve seen a lot of muddying of the waters (again).
As an editor, I get tons of information daily, from any number of sources, about any number of technologies, devices, applications, innovations, prognostication, etc. I make a monumental effort to keep up on all of this, and most importantly, try to be objective. I also get to see a lot of this first-hand, so I get first-person knowledge as well. So when I digest these inputs, I do my best to develop a thesis based upon a synthesis of reliable, accurate and up-to-date information.
So, porting this to the current state of mobile data, I believe that in spite of the multitude of devices, browsers, applications and platforms (Wi-Fi, HSDPA, CDPD and such), mobile data has been slow in coming. You can pick from any number of reports and find just about as many analyses as to why, but IMHO, there are two, maybe three, basic reasons why data has been so slow to proliferate.
At the recent 3GSM Congress, for example, one of the messages that was pretty prolific was that the movement for newer and better versions of WAP, HTTP or HTML browsers, or applications designed to provide the desktop experience on a wireless device with a small screen and numeric keypad, is in high gear. That’s nice, but without an “interoperable” infrastructure, and ease of access, none of this matters much. And, unless mobile data starts showing potential to make money... well, now we have strike two.
Well, here’s my two cents worth.
First, let’s talk infrastructure. To me, this one tops the list. Wi-Fi has shown that not only is it doable, but desirable, from the end-user perspective. It’s not perfect, but it’s not all that mature yet either. Coming down the pike is WiMAX, WiBro, mobile Wi-Fi mesh networks and more to tie it all together. There is a ton of support out there for it. Cities are using it to implement city-wide ubiquitous coverage, homes are using it, airports are using it, and most importantly, Tarbucks is using it!
There are those in the industry that say Wi-Fi isn’t really a good platform for mobile data (that it will never have the bandwidth to support the next generation of video-on-demand, multimedia, etc). I disagree, for a number of reasons, but mostly because I hear that noise from those with infrastructures that don’t support Wi-x, (cellular infrastructures, for example) and think rolling their own data subsystem is better than getting on board with a workable platform. Sometimes the carriers remind me of the wicked queen who smiles at Snow White in public but at night goes home, looks in the mirror, and asks, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?" Up until now, the carriers have been told by the mirror, "You are." But one day, the mirror will have a different response.
Unfortunately, this has been a typical pattern in high-tech and has proven over and over to be more detrimental than beneficial, especially on a global basis. To wit, CDMA vs. TDMA that horse is out of the gate and long gone, and we’ve been trying to corral it since (by patchwork or integrated devices). So, the first thing to get out of the way with mobile data is a single, common infrastructure platform, even if there is a bit of pain up front.
Next is the issue of mobile data networks making money. While hard data about who is making money is difficult to come by, I don’t see a lot of research data about that, so it tells me, from a PR perspective, no news isn’t good news.
Now it’s fairly well accepted that the consumer is the end target for large-scale mobile data deployment, and prognosticating price points in the consumer industry is dicey. But the fact is that if they have a reliable, high-speed and ubiquitous mobile data network that is easy to access and use, and provides value to the consumer, they will use it. And, the more consumers that use it... well, we all know that economies of scale will play that one out.
The third factor that I feel will play large in both the rate of adoption and the rate of implementation is ease of access. I read in one report that for every additional click needed to drill down for data, you lose 50% of those trying to access information. I agree wholeheartedly. This means that whatever it takes to make access quick and easy is the bull's-eye.
So is mobile data coming? Of course. But I thing it could be here a lot sooner if everybody could just stop thinking short-term and start thinking long-term. The sooner it gets ubiquitous, the sooner everybody starts making money.