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Monday, October 27, 2008

Massmarket PC-based VoIPo3G

Sign of the times.

I'm sitting in my normal branch of Starbucks in London. There's a young girl a few tables away, with a basic notebook, and dongle from 3 UK. Not an obvious member of the mobile industry / enthusiast fraternity - she looks like a typical foreign student in London.

She's on Skype, with a headset, doing a video call, with, I'd guess from her body language, a family member somewhere in Asia.

It was a year ago that I started saying that VoIPo3G was going to be more important than VoWLAN in the medium term. Coupled with last week's fring/Mobilkom announcement, I'd say we're pretty much on track, despite the slow rollout of HSUPA.

I've had a couple of people ask me about updates of my VoIPo3G Business Models report, and it's something I'll probably do in H1 2009. But if anyone's interested in the current edition, I reckon that it's still pretty much valid - get in touch with me at information AT disruptive-analysis.com for details, or to inquire about a VoIPo3G workshop.


David Chambers said...


Always helpful to refer to "real users" in our industry - we can often get carried away with the technical possibilities of our marvelous new gadgets!

Two observations regarding "She's on Skype, with a headset, doing a video call" (using 3G HSPA dongle from 3).

1) Why use a 3G dongle when Starbucks is renowned for its public WiFi service? Has mobile broadband already replaced public WiFi as the broadband connection of choice when out and about? Personally I think so, and its partly due to the ease of use (1 subscription, just works anywhere, attractive flat rate pricing).

2) Why use a netbook for videoconf instead of a 3G mobile? I know many people with video-call capable 3G handsets, including myself. I've never seen anyone use the feature, except for curiosity. This could be because video calling benefits from sitting down/stationary with a reasonable sized screen (so ideal netbook/laptop application). It could also be that Skype and other free over-the-top services connect easily and directly with PC's at home. And almost certainly because the cost is unknown and/or expensive - especially for international calls. Its hard to charge for "calling applications" (like video calling) in addition to the bit transfer.

Dean Bubley said...

Hi David

1) Starbucks in the UK is still tightly affiliated to T-Mobile. Like almost all UK hotspot providers, it is extremely expensive and clunky for one-off access. It's £5 for an hour!!
(*Nobody* in the UK buys hotspot subscriptions)
It's also a pain entering long hexadecimal login passwords.
Conversely, both 3 and T-Mobile offer simple prepay and contract 3G dongles, starting at £10 a month.

I now use my 3 dongle instead of (paid) WiFi in the UK. But if there's free WiFi (eg at a hotel), I'll always use that out of preference as it's always faster, lower power consumption & more reliable.

2) There are many, many, reasons why nobody ever uses videotelephony on a 3G phone. Some of the main ones are:
- Cost (especially for an international call)
- Small screen with poor picture & frame rate
- Ergonomics - much easier to put a PC on the table in front of you, rather than holding a phone at arm's length for an hour.
- Multiple windows at the same time
- Better user interface
- Presence & chat windows also on screen
- Power consumption
- Needs the other person to have a 3G phone as well (and at maybe 25% global penentration the chance of any 2 people both having it is 6%)
- Ability to run a browser simultaneously so you can discuss web stuff (or other applications)
- Skype user experience is very good
- You can't accept inbound video calls on your phone if you're walking, driving, or wearing a bluetooth headset
- Probably another 10+ reasons!

Put together, these certainly mean that PC-based videocalling will always be much more important than phone-based options.