Please download and use the RootMetrics app.
Their coverage maps are highly informative, and the more people that contribute, the more useful the results become.
Please download and use the RootMetrics app.
Their coverage maps are highly informative, and the more people that contribute, the more useful the results become.
The Verizon Storm may be heading for failure in more than one way. A raft of reviewers, led by David Pogue of the New York Times are trashing its usability. This means that even with the marketing might of Verizon behind it it may not fulfill its goal of being a bulwark against the iPhone in the enterprise.
But the Storm was an experiment in another way by Verizon. The other three major American mobile network operators have capitulated to Wi-Fi in smartphones. Against the new conventional wisdom, Verizon decided to launch a new flagship smartphone without Wi-Fi. The Storm looks like a trial balloon to see whether Wi-Fi is optional in modern smartphones. If the Storm is a success, it will demonstrate that it is possible to have credible business smartphones without Wi-Fi. But if it turns out to be a flop because of other factors, it will not be a proof point for Wi-Fi either way.
But Wi-Fi is a closed issue by now for all the network operators, perhaps even including Verizon. Phones have lead times of the order of a year or so, and controversies active back then may now be resolved. Verizon covered its bets by launching three other smartphones around the same time as the Storm, all with Wi-Fi (HTC Touch Pro, Samsung Omnia, Samsung Saga).
Before its launch, AT&T hoped that the iPhone would stimulate use of the cellular data network. It succeeded in this, so far beyond AT&T’s hopes that it revealed a potential problem with the concept of 3G (and 4G) data. The network slows to a crawl if enough subscribers use data intensively in small areas like airports and conferences. Mobile network operators used to fear that if phones had Wi-Fi subscribers would use it instead of the cellular data network, causing a revenue leak. AT&T solved that problem with the iPhone by making a subscription to the data service obligatory. T-Mobile followed suit with the Google phone. So no revenue leak. With the data subscription in hand, Wi-Fi is a good thing for the network operators because it offloads the 3G network. In residences and businesses all the data that goes through Wi-Fi is a reduction in the potential load on the network. In other words, a savings in infrastructure investment, which translates to profit. This may be some of the thinking behind AT&T’s recent acquisition of Wayport. The bandwidth acquired with Wayport offloads the AT&T network relatively cheaply. AT&T’s enthusiasm for Wi-Fi is such that it is selling some new Wi-Fi phones without requiring a data subscription.
The enterprise market is one that mobile network operators have long neglected. It is small relative to the consumer market, and harder to fit into a one-size-fits-all model. Even so, in these times of scraping for revenue in every corner, and with the steady rise of the Blackberry, the network operators are taking a serious look at the enterprise market.
The device manufacturers are way ahead of the network operators on this issue: the iPhone now comes with a lot of enterprise readiness Kool-Aid; Windows Mobile makes manageability representations, as does Nokia with its Eseries handsets. RIM, the current king of the enterprise smartphone vendors also pitches its IT-friendliness.
Wi-Fi in smartphones has benefits and drawbacks for enterprises. One benefit is that you have another smart device on the corporate LAN to enhance productivity. A drawback is that you have another smart device on the corporate LAN ripe for viruses and other security breaches. But that issue is mitigated to some extent if smartphones don’t have Wi-Fi. So it’s arguable that the Storm may be more enterprise-friendly as a result of its lack of Wi-Fi. Again, if the Storm becomes a hit in enterprises that argument will turn out to hold water. If the Storm is a flop for other reasons, we still won’t know, and it will have failed as a trial balloon for Wi-Fi-less enterprise smartphones.
Owners of iPhones know that web browsing on the iPhone is a completely different animal than on any other cell phone. How different? Well, it would appear to be thirty to fifty times different.
Thirty times is difference in data usage between iPhone users and others on the T-Mobile network in Germany, according to Unstrung.
Fifty times is the difference in the number of Google searches by iPhone users compared to others according to Google.
I have previously written about OpenMoko. It seems now that it was the drop before the deluge. Google’s Android appears to have gained good traction with Sprint and T-Mobile joining the Open Handset Alliance, with Dell rumored (update) to be planning an Android-based phone, and with Verizon expressing lukewarm support. Nokia has for some time sponsored open source handset software through Maemo.org, but this week it upped the ante with its acquisition of TrollTech. Trolltech is responsible for Qtopia, a semi-open source platform used in Linux-based phones. That makes four credible Linux-based mobile phone software platforms. Update: Make that five – the LiMo Foundation is a consortium of carriers (including NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone), phone makers (including Samsung, Motorola and LG) and others “dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices.”
But a phone doesn’t have to be open-source to be an open application platform, and this category is just as vigorous, but better established. Nokia’s Symbian phones have always been open to an extent – there are over 2 million developers registered in Nokia’s developer organization, Forum Nokia. Then we have Microsoft. Microsoft claims that sales of Windows Mobile phones are set to double year-on-year, to 20 million units. Windows Mobile provides a sufficiently open application environment that applications like Skype run on it. The iPhone is not yet officially an open application environment, but there is still a healthy slate of applications from third parties for those with the stomach to take the unofficial route. This is scheduled to change in February when the open-ness goes official with the release of Apple’s SDK for the iPhone. So that’s three major open application environments for smart phones.
2008 is also the year that Wi-Fi phones will come into their own. The dam broke with the iPhone. Wi-Fi on the iPhone raises the bar for all the other smart phones, making Wi-Fi a baseline checklist item for the next generation of smart phones. Previously mobile network operators were fearful that Wi-Fi in a phone would divert traffic from their data networks. This fear led, for example, to AT&T’s removal of Wi-Fi from their version of the Nokia E61. But there is now new evidence. At last week’s IT Expo East I heard an unsubstantiated report that 60% of wireless data usage in December was by 2% of the phones: iPhones. If this is even partly true, it would demonstrate that a web-friendly phone will drive traffic on the cellular data network even when it has Wi-Fi.
The list of participants has no real surprises in it. Nokia isn’t on the list, most likely because this project competes head on with Symbian. This may also help to explain why Sony Ericsson isn’t a supporter yet, either. But the other three of the top five handset manufacturers are members: Motorola, Samsung and LG. All of these ship Symbian-based phones, but they also ship Windows based phones, so they are already pursuing an OS-agnostic strategy. Open standards are less helpful to a market leader than to its competitors.
Of course the other leading smartphone OS vendors are also missing from the list: Microsoft, Apple, Palm and RIM.
Ebay is there because this massively benefits Skype.
Silicon vendors retain more control of their destiny when there is a competitive software community, so it makes sense that TI is aboard even though it is the market leader in cellphone chips. Intel is another chip vendor that is a member. Intel can normally be relied on to support this type of open platform initiative, and although Intel sold its handset-related businesses in 2006, its low power CPU efforts may evolve from ultra-mobile PCs down to smartphones in a few years.
Among MNOs Verizon and AT&T Mobile are notorious for their walled-garden policies, so it makes sense that they aren’t on the list, though Sprint and T-Mobile are, which is an encouraging indication.
At the launch of the iPhone Steve Jobs said that the reason there would be no SDK for the iPhone was that AT&T didn’t want their network brought down by a rogue application. I ridiculed this excuse in an Internet Telephony column. Even so, the carriers do have a valid objection to completely open platforms: their subscribers will call them for support when the phone crashes. For this reason, applications that use sensitive APIs in Symbian must be “Symbian signed.” When he announced the iPhone SDK, Steve Jobs alluded to this as a model that Apple may follow.
So Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s participation in this initiative is very interesting. Sprint’s press release says:
Unlike other wireless carriers, Sprint allows data users to freely browse the Internet outside its portal and has done so since first offering access to the Internet on its phones in 2001.
Open Internet access is actually available from all the major US MNOs other than Verizon; AT&T ships the best handset for this, the iPhone. But the iPhone doesn’t (officially) let users load whatever software they want onto the phone. Symbian and Windows-based phones generally do, and again all the major MNOs ship handsets based on these operating systems. An open source handset goes a big step further, but who benefits depends on what parts of the source code are published, and what APIs are exposed by the proprietary parts of the system. As a rule of thumb, one would think that giving developers this greater degree of control over the system will increase their scope for innovation.
I called the T-Mobile customer service line and received a clarification about the HotSpot@Home service. The charge for this service is just for unlimited calling at home and at T-Mobile hotspots. If you don’t mind using your regular service minutes in these situations, there is no need to subscribe to the @Home service – you can still use the Wi-Fi connection for better reception. So since I never seem to use more than half my minutes, I cancelled the @Home service. The phone still uses Wi-Fi when it can, so the customer service agent appears to be correct.
This makes me a lot happier with T-Mobile. When the Wi-Fi is being used to offload their network and provide better coverage, they don’t charge for it. This is as it should be. If the offload/coverage effect turns out to be a significant benefit for T-Mobile, and as the price of Wi-Fi in handsets comes down, it is conceivable that T-Mobile will find it worthwhile to add Wi-Fi to all their phones.
I remain curious about why my Nokia 6086 can’t use the Wi-Fi for web browsing.
David Pogue, the gadget-maven at the New York Times, went to a cell phone conference in Italy last week, and learned a few home truths.
On Independence Day he wrote a column that lambasted the US cellular carriers for their conservatism, and the following day he eulogized T-Mobile for deploying UMA. The UMA writeup is a PR flack’s dream. All true, too.
In the column on the calcification of the US cellular carriers, he indulged in a bit of wishful thinking:
If the iPhone becomes a hit, then, it could wind up loosening the carriers’ stranglehold on innovation.
Seasoned denizens of this industry may scoff, but it must be possible. And while UMA strives to exploit the VoIP genie while still keeping it in the bottle, at least its another step in the right direction. In the column on UMA, Pogue made a prediction that I happen to agree with:
But hard to believe though it may be, T-Mobile did make an announcement last week. And even harder to believe, its new product may be as game-changing as Appleâ€™s.
The Wall Street Journal has already made the observation that the network operators don’t necessarily have their subscribers best interests at heart. But these two events in the same week may mark some kind of a turning point. I hope they do.
***Update: I went to the T-Mobile store this morning and signed up. The service here in Dallas is $10 per month, not $20 as reported by Reuters. The store manager also told me that people with poor cellular reception at home can use the UMA service at no additional monthly charge, but that this usage is treated the same way as cellular usage – in other words, it counts against your cellular minutes.***
***Update 2: Here are some details on the T-Mobile launch campaign. ***
Reuters reported this morning that T-Mobile is rolling out FMC service nationally.
Subscribers would pay an extra fee of up to $19.99 per line or $29.99 for five lines on top of regular monthly cellular bills for unlimited calls in a subscriber’s home or the nearly 8,500 places T-Mobile runs Wi-Fi, like Starbucks coffee shops.
This pricing model seems ambitious, compared to what it is competing with. T-Mobile’s MyFaves 300 plan gives you unlimited minutes nights and weekends and unlimited minutes to a list of five people that you choose. So the 300 minutes are consumed during the day, calling to people whom you call infrequently. For $20 more you can bump this to 1,000 minutes. Alternatively, you can spend that $20 on the FMC service. It seems like the FMC service would only be a better deal for people who are home all day (or at Starbucks), who want to talk a lot to people beyond their five most frequently called. MyFaves 1000 would be a better deal for people who want to talk to a large variety of people during the day when they are not at home, for example in the car or out of range of a Starbucks – like at work, for example.
So who are these people that this “HotSpot@Home” service is aimed at? Surely there can’t be many. Why doesn’t T-Mobile use this technology to gain more customers, by giving it away free to subscribers? This would appeal to all the people who have poor reception at home, who would feel bilked by having to pay extra just for acceptable quality of service there (Hey! They do! See the update above). Another way to increase customer appeal would be to go with a wideband codec for Wi-Fi calls, guaranteeing CD-quality sound to Wi-Fi on-network calls. Or why not do both? This would provide a viral motivation to complement MyFaves, it would be unique among US carriers, it would improve retention, and it would bring new subscribers to start exploiting all that spectrum that T-Mobile picked up in the AWS auction in September 2006.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good article about T-Mobile’s UMA trial in Seattle. It says that T-Mobile may be rolling it out nationally as early as next month, despite some trial particpants’ complaints about handoff and battery life issues. T-Mobile will be offering a home router to help with QoS and battery life. I presume that for the battery life this is just WMM Power Save (802.11e APSD) since that is what the phones in the trial (Samsung T709 and Nokia 6136) support. For QoS side I expect these APs will support WMM (802.11e EDCF), but they could also support some proprietary QoS on the WAN access link, the way that the AT&T CallVantage routers do, which would be interesting.
There is some background on the trial here.
The article goes on to put the trial into the context of other FMC deployments, from BT Fusion, Telecom Italia and Orange. The article quotes a Verizon Wireless spokesman saying that they aren’t convinced that Wi-Fi can deliver high enough voice quality to carry Verizon branded calls. This is amusing bearing in mind the usual quality of a cellular call in a residence.
The article also quotes Frank Hanzlik, the head of the Wi-Fi Alliance as saying that business FMC may have more potential than consumer. I agree.