Speaking Engagements & Private Workshops - Get Dean Bubley to present or chair your event

Need an experienced, provocative & influential telecoms keynote speaker, moderator/chair or workshop facilitator?
To discuss Dean Bubley's appearance at a specific event, contact information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

GSMA Mobile Broadband announcement - a billion dollar ho-hum

Lots of fanfare this morning about the announcement of GSMA's big "Mobile Broadband" branding exercise, whereby notebook vendors will put a sticker on embedded-3G notebooks, reminiscent of Centrino or WiFi.

Some good stuff in the announcement, notably a $1bn marketing budget which is obviously likely to help drive the uptake of both embedded and external solutions. But also lots of self-serving propaganda as well (as exemplified by the quote from Gemalto, maker of SIM cards).

But the focus on WiFi hotspots in the PR points out just how narrow a niche the initiative is addressing. Personally, I use HSPA a lot as an alternative to hotspots - but that's because I'm the type of user who really needs access in a lot of different places, and I cringe at the stupid prices charged by the likes of Swisscom in hotels and airports. My next laptop might well have an embedded module - as long as the price is right, and it's not locked to a specific MNO's data plan.

But I'm in a minority - as, I expect, are most readers of this blog. The vast majority of notebook buyers - consumer or corporate - won't be buying an embedded-3G notebook any time soon. Many don't need mobility anyway, and others will be happy with dongles and tethered 3G phones.

I'm buried in other stuff today, but I'll get back later in the week to why the curve of 3G "attachment" in notebooks will be much shallower than that experienced by WiFi a few years ago.

And as for the semi-serious mention of refrigerators with embedded modules in the PR.... I remember the "screen fridge" in all those house-of-the-future demos back in the late 1990s. It says a lot about the balance of reality vs. wishful thinking in the whole announcement.


Edsard said...

Hi Dean,

Thanks for the post.
I would like to start by saying that all of this needs to be put into the right context.

1. I believe that, like any technology, HSPDA is not something for the masses (in Europe) today. When I say masses, I mean like ADSL is today a commodity.
I believe it can happen, but it will take time. But this is just as normal as the ADSL curve a couple of years ago.

2. The same applies to a 3G embedded module. Some will want it (gadget freaks, etc...) because its "cool", some will need it (utilities companies with large field operations, using PC cards today) and many may not need or want it.

3. Both points above are also dependent on the region the "end-user" is in. For example; I see emerging markets taking up certain things much faster then in Europe, because of the lack of copper (African nations like Ghana and Nigeria actually are "leapfrogging" to HSPDA) or the way people live. Prepay is hot for example on 3G dongles because in Asia (percentagewise) there are many more users without a bankaccount. Basically its a lot more cashdriven for example.
This means that in certain markets HSPDA will be complementary to ADSL/Fibre and in other markets it will have no competition from ADSL (African countries) and that in others markets (and with other players) you will see a competition pitch and ADSL vs. HDPA

4. In essence I agree that this is a "niche" like you said. However, I believe that many things are niches. I think VOIP, FemtoCells, Hotspots, 3G Dongles, Wimax, 3G Routers are all niches. Being a nice, these days is more common then not - its not a problem. And the world is a big place. A wise man once said: "it's better to have a little of a lot then a lot of nothing..."

5. I believe that, eventually, the more common model will be for a person to buy a Notebook, from a Dell website, where they have the option of "ticking the 3G box" and then selecting a carrier. The price of the module will be dictated by the contract term, that the end-users also selects. I also believe that this model works the best. If gives consumers all the options they want. This means that when you have a problem you will not be returning it to "Vodafone stores" but to Dell. And this is what people are used to.
The OEM's will be opportunistic and allow you to choose a carrier that works for them (price, subsidy, etc...). And if the uptake is to low, all they have to do is drop their prices to a point where is does take off. Funny enough that is exactly what happened in the ADSL days. As soon as "ADSL Lite" prices come down to a certain point, the masses starting adopting. And this was possible because enough "Niche" people were paying the "Unlimited prices". In short, its a matter of time.

5. It does mean however that MNO's will be eroding their margins, if they do nothing else. They will become bitpipes. And I am interested in learning how they plan to avoid this trap. Because if you think about it, MNO's will no longer be in the driver's seat.

Ram said...


As you know Snapdragon has a 3G core as well as a computing core and is being designed into a lot of mini-laptops/netbooks etc. The integration of the 3G core reduces the cost of the chipset and is very similar to the Intel/WIMAX integration model. I am betting that going forward netbooks with integrated 3G will be the norm.