Monthly Archives: October 2008

iPhone – Platform for the Masses?

Conventional wisdom is that iPhone users are a gadget-loving, tech-savvy and well-off bunch. In fact, results from a quantitative study of US 2G iPhone US users conducted by Rubicon in March 2008 revealed that the former have a median annual household income of $67,000 which is roughly 40% greater than the US median. So when comScore reported that the fastest growth in 3G iPhone sales in the US over the summer months came from households that earn less than the median income, it got my attention. As the attached table shows, ownership of the 3G iPhone rose 48% from June 1 to the end of August among households earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, compared to 21% overall. Mobile-browser use grew 4.9% among lower-income consumers, versus 2.7% overall, and their mobile music-listening rose 4.7%, compared to an overall decline of 0.3%. In fact, the income segment that shows the next highest growth (46%) in ownership is the $50,000 to $75,000 income category – a segment that is not too far off from the median income.

What gives? Continue reading

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USB Dongle – Fashion Accessory?

You know USB dongles have become mainstream when operators start selling different color skins to go with them. H3G in Sweden (also called Tre) is positioning their mobile broadband as the “most stylish broadband” in addition to being the fastest!

 

Sign up for 3 mobile broadband for 18 months and receive any skin at no extra cost” according to their offer at 3’s website. What will they think of next?

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Revisiting iPhone’s Browsing Market Share – Part Deux

Back in September, I reported that according to Admob, a mobile advertising marketplace, iPhone seemed to trail Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Palm handsets in both worldwide and US share of smartphone traffic. This was in direct contrast to other web browsing marketshare statistics where iPhone seemingly comes out on top. I also received hate-mail from iPhone-junkies. But looks like there is an explanation. Jason Spero, VP of Marketing at AdMob proffers an explanation:

With regards to the iPhone question: we serve ads on our partner’s mobile sites, so when the users surf the “regular” web on the iPhone that traffic isn’t included in the Metrics report. Much of the tremendous growth we are seeing in iPhone requests are coming from the creation of iPhone specific mobile sites. This traffic is included in the report and these sites represent a growing part of AdMob’s business. As content owners look to improve the mobile experience, we believe more and more mobile specific sites will be created and the mobile web will continue its strong growth in the face of more handsets having the ability to surf the “regular” web.

One additional point of clarification – the report doesn’t state that a Motorola RAZR user is more likely to surf the mobile web that an iPhone user, it simply states that our publisher sites see more traffic from RAZRs than iPhones. The mobile web existed and was seeing explosive growth well before the iPhone hit the scene –many millions of these devices are still in heavy use today.

The short answer is that regular web-surfing (which is what most iPhone users do, I reckon) is not included in AdMob’s report. The AdMob-reported iPhone numbers refer to ads served out by AdMob when users visit iPhone specific mobile sites. 

According to AdMob’s September report, iPhone is giving the other platforms a run for their money even here! iPhone is now ranked 4th globally in terms of the total number of ad requests served by AdMob -ahead of Nokia N95/N80/N73, BlackBerry 8100/8300 and Pal Centro. Only Motorola’s RAZR/KRZR and Nokia N70 is ahead and not by much. 

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Carnival of the Mobilists #146

If it is Monday, it must be COTM! Scoot over to Carnival of the Mobilists at Andrew Grill’s London Calling to get the latest news and insights in the mobile industry. I found Chetan Sharma’s report on the 3G Americas Analyst Summit – especially his comments on LTE vis-a-vis HSPA interesting:

I think given the current economic climate, we might see the investment plans being delayed. Of course, with one city launch, some folks can claim LTE launch but pervasive availability will be pushed to 2013 and beyond. I think operators will try to milk HSPA technologies for as long as they can.

This business of “unlimited” data in its current incarnation is not sustainable. You have to be careful what you wish for. Mobile data usage is “here” thanks to smartphones and consumer awakening of what’s possible but I think the networks are not ready for a huge onslaught of data usage – esp. the kind of things we are used on the Internet like browsing, streaming, uploading, etc. – in large quantities. At some point, there will be enough users on a cell-tower that will start damaging the user experience. The incremental revenue doesn’t totally justify the investment required to support such a surge. So, what gives … we are likely to see more tiered data pricing and less emphasis on “unlimited” data.

I am not sure if there really is “unlimited data”. All mobile broadband plans (whether it is for smartphones or USB modems/dongles) come with monthly quotas beyond which Fair-Use-Policies are applied by the operators. So I am not sure what exactly Chetan is referring to here? In fact, as we have discussed multiple times in this blog, mobile operators are trying to go after fixed broadband providers and may be forced to raise the monthly quotas if they really want to compete. He does have a valid point on the huge onslaught of mobile data usage damaging the user experience.

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3G Routers – Will It Accelerate Fixed Broadband Replacement?

I have been commenting quite regularly in this blog about how mobile broadband (based on USB dongles and modems) is increasingly being used by mobile-only operators (those without fixed assets) to accelerate the replacement of fixed broadband, primarily in Europe. The spectacular growth in mobile broadband subscriptions is being driven by aggressive pricing from mobile operators, along with free laptop bundling offersbuilt-in 3G support for laptops and netbooks isn’t hurting either. One missing element in this puzzle has been a way for multiple members in a household or a small office/home office to share a mobile broadband connection in a simple plug-and-play fashion. Enter the consumer-friendly WiFi-over-3G Router! 3 UK is rolling out the nifty Huawei D100 router –  insert your dongle into the router and share your mobile broadband with WiFi-enabled devices such as PC, Mac or a laptop. The 3 store claimThere’s no need for a landline, because the Wireless Router does all the work” is a clear indication that they are going after fixed broadband. If most people are already making voice calls on their mobile phone, it is a small step for the consumer to wonder if he needs the landline at all! It remains to be seen how many consumers will be happy with a monthly usage plan under 15GB especially with the increased usage in online video. Surprisingly, the mobile broadband plan for the router does not include the 15GB monthly allowance plan (which is an option for the laptop plan) – for some strange reason, only the 5GB allowance is available. One would expect that people who buy into this 3G Router in order to share their mobile broadband would sign up for a plan with a higher monthly data allowance. Clearly, 3 is also looking for this product to create stickiness – 3’s compatibility statement indicates that the router has firmware to ensure that a modem from any other carrier does not work properly.

I am a little surprised that 3 UK is not offering a bundled voice + mobile broadband offering. Both (3) Sweden and (3) Austria have been selling Huawei’s 3WLAN Router E960/E970 for a while now – in addition to 4 Ethernet interfaces and WLAN support, this 3G Router also has a RJ11 interface, ideal for connecting the black phones. It is not clear if voice is transported as VoIP over 3G in this case. Several operators including Vodafone Egypt and Optus (Australia) are offering this product in their mobile broadband portfolio as well.

T-Mobile in UK announced a similar product called “Mobile Broadband Share Dock” earlier in the month, but unfortunately, it is still not available for purchase (unlike 3 UK). The concept is similar – plug in your old T-Mobile USB modem or a new one into the dock and share the mobile broadband amongst as many as three people (3 UK claims their product can support 4 end users). I am betting Vodafone and the other operators in UK will follow suit if this concept catches on.

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Filed under 3G Router, fixed broadband, mobile broadband

Telstra Announces HSPA+ Upgrade

Telstra announced that it is upgrading its HSPA network to HSPA+, which the company says will offer peak downlink speeds of 21Mbps by end of 2008. Looks like Telstra pipped the other operators to the post – Qualcomm had announced multiple HSPA+ trials early this year to be conducted with Hutchison 3G, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telstra.  

Telstra has always prided on itself being ahead of other carriers and the device ecosystem – it launched its Next G HSDPA network operating in the 850MHz band in record 10 months in 2006. Use of existing GSM bands, such as 850MHz and 900MHz, enables Telstra to expand broadband coverage much more cost-effectively than they can using higher frequencies. Radio signals travel much further at these frequencies than they do at 2100MHz, the other main band currently used for HSPA mobile broadband services, reducing the number of base stations required to cover any given area. 

Not satisified, in 2007, Telstra upgraded its network to support a peak rate of 14.4Mbps (another first) even though no devices were available that could download at those speeds! And now HSPA+. In fact at this year’s Mobile World Congress,  they even committed to 21Mbps before the end of the year and 42Mbps using HSPA+ in 2009. This is all well and good – but some key topics are never fully addressed in these announcements: end user terminals as well as backhaul and core upgrades.

User terminals: I was looking through Telstra’s website and I could not locate any device/user terminal that supported HSDPA at 14.4Mbps. I am not sure what the point of the upgrade is if there are no terminals that can leverage the network’s capabilities. In fact, Telstra seems to be mainly promoting their walled garden services (such as BigPond Mobile and Mobile FOXTEL) on their Next G network. Even for this HSPA+ press release, it is not clear what end device prototypes were used for the interoperability testing – the only piece of available information is that Qualcomm’s MDM8200 is the chipset in Ericsson’s HSPA+ infrastructure solution. 

Backhaul and core upgrades: The press release has a reference to “planned Ethernet backhaul” – no additional information. There was also a pithy press release in June about Telstra activating 3G Direct Tunnel in its core network. In Direct Tunnel, the bearer traffic flows from RNC directly to the GGSN, bypassing the SGSN. Only the signaling traffic is processed by the SGSN. This requires a software upgrade of all the 3 elements – RNC, SGSN and GGSN and the benefits are not entirely clear since it is still quite aways from the flat IP architecture.

Atleast, Telstra’s shiny network boasting the highest coverage (close to 99%) is allowing it to charge premium prices. Telstra’s 1GB plan for mobile broadband costs almost three times as much as Optus’ comparable plan. According to Forrester Research,  Next G mobile broadband service is one of a few that Telstra will not consider discounting – even for its largest customers. Surprisingly, it does not seem to have affected its HSPA market share. Telstra had 3.525 million HSPA subs at the end of 2Q 2008, representing a market share of ~88 percent. With the other operators increasing their coverage and driving prices down aggressively, this space should be interesting to watch.

Update: Sierra Wireless announced it is working with Australia’s Telstra, Qualcomm and Ericsson to deliver the first 21Mbps HSPA+ devices. Sierra said shipments for customer trials are expected to begin in the coming months with a commercial launch to follow. If enough vendors announce support for HSPA+ in the near term, it could spell trouble for WIMAX.

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Carnival of the Mobilists @ Xellular Identity

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is over at Xellular Identity which includes a fascinating post on the South Korean mobile market. There is also a post that discusses the US mobile internet penetration – I was surprised to learn that several off-deck US publishers such as The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Reuters, ESPN and others are all generating over 1m page views. The downside however has been the inability of the publishers to monetise this traffic. Read the post to find out why!

Would like to thank Xen for including my post on 3G embedded netbooks in this week’s Carnival!

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