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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rhetoric or delusion for mobile broadband?

I was at an event yesterday organised by the UK's Mobile WiMAX Acceleration Group (MWAG). Unfortunately I had to leave early, but one thing really struck me:

Why does the WiMAX community keep touting LTE as "the competition"? It's perfectly clear to everyone in the entire mobile industry, that in 90% of cases (especially for mobile and portable devices like PCs) the game is about HSPA and HSPA+. Fair enough to talk about LTE in terms of long-term roadmaps (and no, WiMAX isn't "4G", either), but the fact of the matter is that HSPA is about now, and doing rather well. It works, it's in lots of places, and it's cheap. Yes, it may getting congested - but that's a different argument, and to win it you will need to acknowledge that it's where mobile broadband is today.

I'm still mystified as to how someone at the event managed to get up on stage and wax lyrical, with a straight face, about how his amazing trial WiMAX unit allowed him to conduct the amazing feat of using his PC when away from the office. Wow - I mean the 2 million people in the UK with 3G dongles would be astounded, I'm sure.

I can't work out whether this is marketing rhetoric, or simple delusion. Honestly, WiMAX marketing folk: drop the LTE rhetoric, you lose credibility every time you put up a slide-deck which references LTE before HSPA.

Mind you, on the other hand, the "opposition" isn't much better.

Attention GSMA folk: someone with a 3G SIM card in an HSPA featurephone is not a user of "mobile broadband" either. Just because they occasionally download a music track a bit faster, or glance at a news headline in a browser, doesn't make them a "broadband user", except in your attempt to generate PR-friendly headlines to make pointless comparisons with ADSL and cable. Counting 3G dongles and iPhones is fair enough, but we all know there's lots of unused HSPA capabilities in phones out there.


Manish said...

Did you take into account the number of HSPA users, with 3G SIM in their phone, using their phone as a modem to connect to Internet? Those would count as broadband users, right?

I have done so, and I believe there might be others as well? Not substantial numbers?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your WIMAX statements.

But when you do not want to count HSPA phone owners who "occasionally download a music track" as Mobile Broadband users, I wonder where you draw the line?

How much must a HSPA device owner who pays for a HSPA service use his/her device to be counted as Mobile Broadband user? 100 kB, 1 MB, 1 GB?

A smoke detector with HSPA connection will most likely never be used, still it can be seen as a Mobile Broadband device and should be counted in my eyes...

Dean Bubley said...

Manish - I estimated the tethering/mobile-as-a-modem numbers in my recent Mobile Broadband report. I don't think it's that high, especially outside of industry/enthusiasts.

3G modems are so cheap it makes sense to use one, especially as the dongle-specific data plans are usually cheaper than the phone-oriented data plans.

Anonymous - a smoke detector might be a "connection", but I don't think it's reasonable to refer to it as a mobile broadband subscription. Given that the GSMA attempts to draw a parallel between HSPA and ADSL/cable in terms of user numbers, it seems reasonable to look for connections which have broadly similar usage profiles, as otherwise it's comparing apples and oranges.