LONDON My in-box is overflowing with heroic news of its uptake, potential and high-speed wizardry. I can't receive a monthly statement from my mobile provider (Vodafone, since you ask) without a glossy leaflet shouting about its virtues, nor pass a mobile phone shop without gaudy adverts asking how I can possibly live without it.
So, why is the mobile broadband industry splurging out up to $1 billion to promote this technology and service? Is such a hard hitting awareness campaign really necessary?
Do we really need a mobile broadband service mark which, like 'Intel Inside', will be placed on devices to help customers identify laptops and other devices which are mobile broadband (essentially HSPA) ready?
I, and several others who have e-mailed me this morning, think not.
Who, exactly, is this
eye-catching little logo targeted at? As the press release itself stresses mobile broadband uptake is already growing rapidly without it.
Could it just be at those folk who are undecided and waiting whether mobile WiMAX may just be a better long term option?
And if cellular broadband is so good (or, to be precise so available which, judging by my experience both here in north London and on vacation to Italy is debatable) why is such a defensive move against WiMAX branding needed.
According to the blurb, the 'mobile broadband' badge is designed to help make it easier for buyers to identify devices which can connect to mobile data networks as easily as handsets do for voice. But, as Steven Hartley senior analyst at Ovum points out, it is already in the best interests of device vendors and operators to do this anyway?
Of the sixteen companies involved in the initiative's launch all are already working together on embedded products. How does a sticker help?
For a sticker to drive user buying decisions it needs industry wide support. The GSMA will need to quickly get other laptop manufactures such as HP, Apple, Sony, Panasonic, NEC, and Fujitsu on board.
In any case, probably the toughest barriers to embedded laptop connectivity for OEMs are complexity in the solution and the costs to embed. According to the GSMA, the current cost to build-in HSPA connectivity is roughly $70 and it expects that to get to as low as around $40 by next year. The only way this service mark will keep this number heading south is to increase volumes.
Certainly, for operators, the initiative brings more co-ordinated promotional activity, but is the $1 billion marketing spend any more or less than would have been spent anyway? If additional spend, then could the money have been better spent? The GSMA could have coordinated subsidies to drive volumes and lowered embedding costs by $100 for 10 million laptops.
That would certainly have helped the GSMA’s vision of speedy mobile broadband via embedded laptops, rather than via USB modems (dongles, or as I got to know them, chiavette, following a few run-ins with the folks at Telecom Italia Mobile).
Ovum's Hartley notes that one operator involved in the initiative believes that two thirds of mobile broadband access will still be via modem in two years time. That means over 30 percent for embedded laptops, a major increase compared to today, but still a minority. They'll have a nice sticker on, though.