Regular readers will have gathered that I'm quite a fan of flatrate mobile broadband for my PC. I have an ZTE HSDPA modem from 3 UK which I use regularly, and I had the use of a Telefonica / Huawei one last week at 3GSM. I've also written a detailed white paper on HSPA for the enterprise, on behalf of the GSMA. Sure, there are still serious issues with egregiously-high data roaming costs, but it now looks like the operators will fix that problem themselves in the next few months , or else Viviane Reding and the European Commission will do it for them.
There is, however, another downside. I'd already mentioned that the Telefonica modem I got given in Barcelona had some driver conflicts with my existing software. I also noticed during the week that it caused difficulties with downloading POP3 email, either across the 3G network or using WiFi (eg on the free WiFi in T-Mobile's hospitality tent). Without going into the technical details, it did something horrible in conjunction with Outlook and Norton Security on my PC that stopped me downloading mail.
Annoying, but not a huge problem at the time as I had webmail access & another device anyway. But now I'm home, and I just spent 3 hours fixing the problem, in conjunction with Norton's support - eventually solved by deleting all traces of the Telefonica software (via its Spanish-language interface....), reinstalling Norton, rebooting about 4 times and holding my breath / swearing a lot.
Not ideal. And this isn't just a Telefonica problem either - the 3 software seems to dislike downloading or sending email from time to time as well, although it seems to be behaving itself now. And at least removing the Telefonica software hasn't taken out or disabled its rival as collateral damage (something I'd feared).
Now all this wouldn't be a problem if people used the same operator for the lifetime of the laptop. But in many cases this isn't going to happen. In fact, I had several discussions at 3GSM which talked about the need for a "session based" connection model for HSPA - where you basically choose service providers in a similar fashion to choosing WiFi connections. That's a topic for another post, especially as it poses some interesting issues around the use of SIM cards.
The bottom line is this:
Operators need to stop developing their own connection manager software and expecting end-users to install it on their PCs. The same goes for related applications like messaging clients, security functions and probably the IMS Rich Comms Suite I was dismissive of the other day. Developing PC software is a huge undertaking, and has huge potential for software conflicts - especially where users are likely to want to install competing versions of connectivity clients.
The connection manager "engine" needs to go down in the operating system, and perhaps be customisable at a UI level by operators who want to brand it differently. There should not be dedicated clients per-operator until they have demonstrated interoperability (between themselves & with popular mail & security software) and ease of removal. I do not want operators mucking around with the underlying connectivity settings of my PC - I don't trust them to have my best interests at heart (which may include churning or dual-sourcing).
Actually, this isn't just mobile operators' HSPA clients either. BT's diagnostics toolkit on my fixed broadband seems to slow everything down, and don't get me started on handset vendors' PC connectivity suites either - I have an obscure SonyEricsson dialog box inviting me to "Switch to" every time I boot up my PC.
Bottom line - there needs to be a Universal Connection Manager in the next version of Windows, which will allow branded operator services to be provided - but will also allow the customer to control (and add/remove) multiple operators' experience and clients on their computer. My Yahoo and Skype messenger clients don't fight each other or kill my email. If operators have any hopes of offering "rich" PC-based experiences, they need to prove that they can match or exceed their rivals' software abilities. I suspect they'll be forced to do it via the web & browser plug-ins, rather than dedicated software.