The News – 01/28/03
I Have This Phone
Regular readers of SNS will recall several short articles of
device envy entitled “I
Want This Phone.” They tend to appear whenever a cool phone
is released. Well, finally, after lots of research and consideration,
I’ve bought myself a "3G" phone.
The wireless standard known as 3G means many things to many
different carriers, but it’s primarily about faster data access
and less about voice services or quality. While every major
wireless carrier in the US has offered a service they call 3G,
I only seriously considered AT&T Wireless, my former provider,
and Sprint, because of their coverage.
The move was spurred in part by my eldest son going off to
college in an area in which AT&T has spotty coverage. Since
he’s driving distance away from home, and since my AT&T
plan charged me up the wazoo if I roamed off their network,
I was spending extra money on cell phone calls. My son already
had Sprint and had good coverage. The kicker was Sprint’s promotion
in December that allowed us to add a new line of service at
no charge, share a bunch of minutes, and get unlimited PCS Vision
(Internet access) service.
But that wasn’t all that went into the decision,
by a long shot. There was first the question of cool phones.
I’ve been waiting for two years for AT&T to offer a converged
PDA/cell phone combo. They are just now starting to, featuring
a Pocket PC-based phone
from Siemens. But just try to find this phone on their Web site.
It’s hard to do. Plus, you can’t find it in the stores. That’s
a pretty bad blunder for the wireless carrier that debuted the
first 3G phone service in Seattle in mid-2001.
Sprint, on the other hand,
has always had cool phones. The non-3G color Samsung Palm phone
almost got me to switch when it debuted. The Handspring Treo
almost got me to switch as well. Now Sprint offers a Toshiba
and it’s actually in the stores at a whopping $700. That’s too
rich for my blood for a device I’m likely to drop or lose.
The cool phone
I settled on was the Samsung N400. It has a clamshell design
(I hate having to lock the keys when I put my older Ericsson
in my pocket), a color screen, fast (well, relatively) Internet
access, and downloadable ringtones (my main ringer is now the
sound of the phone in the old Our
Man Flint movies.) The sucker’s pretty light and compact,
although setting it to vibrate-only mode is a real pain (three
buttons and a joystick to turn the volume all the way down.)
Hello, people?! Users often want to mute their ringers quickly!
Sprint also doesn’t provide an adequate user manual with the
phone, and the downloadable one from their Web site is not a
whole lot better. For example, the phone has a GPS function,
which when you turn it on, other designated Sprint users can
find out where you are (911 operators can always find you regardless
of the setting). OK, Sprint. How the hell do I designate the
users who can see where I am? And why doesn’t your site have
a search function for anything besides retail stores?
But it wasn’t only the promotion or the rate plan or the cool
phone that made me decide to abandon AT&T. It was also my
belief, after lots of research, that the CDMA standard, which
is supported by Sprint, Verizon and others, will ultimately
deliver faster wireless data access than will TDMA/GSM schemes
like AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile (formerly Voicestream)
Without getting too much into the technical details – but still
using way too many acronyms – here’s the story, briefly.
AT&T established a US network based on a technology known
as TDMA – Time Division Multiple Access. A variant of this technology,
GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) has become the
standard worldwide, except for the Americas and parts of Asia.
The problem with both standards it that they never were designed
to do data. Because of this, in order to offer data services,
AT&T and others in the US turned to something called CDPD
(Cellular Digital Packet Data), a low-speed (19.2Kbps – in your
dreams!) data standard. Adding this to their 2G (digital) network
created Web access on cell phones, also known as 2.5G.
GSM, on the other hand, developed a migration path to faster
data services called GPRS (General Packet Radio Services). This
offered a stopgap, but only the most generous would call it
a 3G service. Nonetheless, AT&T converted its network –
at great expense – to GSM and GPRS and called it 3G. But in
reality, GSM services need to go through a few more transitions
– to something called EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution)
and then to WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) –
before finally getting to true 3G services.
Sprint, on the other hand, is on a migration path to an incompatible
standard (standards, you gotta love ‘em) called CDMA2000. According
to an article on 3G.co.uk, “The cost
of adopting WCDMA is considerably greater than the cost to migrate
to CDMA2000 for Sprint PCS. Additionally, CDMA2000 from Sprint
PCS will be available much sooner than WCDMA.” And, here’s the
kicker: CDMA2000 will be faster than the competing WCDMA when
all is said and done. There are a number of additional advantages
of CDMA2000 such as reduced battery usage and increased voice
This somewhat confusing chart shows where we’ll end up in a
couple of years, although, given the moribund state of the telecom
industry, those might be dog years. The GSM networks have a
migration path to CDMA2000, but the more likely one is to EDGE
and then to UMTS/WCDMA. Note that this latter standard tops
out at 2Mbps, whereas CDMA2000 should deliver 50 percent more
bandwidth: 3.09Mbps. Plus, it is far more likely that the various
CDMA2000 transitions will be backward-compatible, which could
be important for buyers of large numbers of cell phones.
So that’s the deal. I switched because I believed AT&T
had backed the wrong horse and was running up massive debt converting
their network. I believed the speed of their current implementation
is inferior to the speed of Sprint’s, and that means they are
less likely to attract the revenue necessary to support that
debt burden. The company itself is reinforcing this perception.
At a recent mobile Internet conference in Paris, France, AT&T
said it didn't see much demand yet for “true” 3G services (with
throughput up to 2M bit/sec). According to an article
in Network Fusion, “Since then, the carrier has cut its initial
3G deployment schedule for 2004 from 13 cities to highly populated
areas of four U.S. markets. But it has launched Wi-Fi hot spot
services in five U.S. airports.”
Although I initially held out great hope for NTT DoCoMo’s investment
in AT&T Wireless and the US implementation of the DoCoMo
system (called mlife here), I think ultimately AT&T will
fade. Of course, Sprint’s not in great shape either; there’s
hardly a wireless provider who is.
My advice to corporate buyers who may be contemplating converged
devices? Wait until at least mid-year when the Microsoft Smart
Phones are released in force. The Pocket PC platform has progressed
to the point that it is just beginning to be feasible to eschew
a laptop and go with a phone/Pocket PC combination. The devices
can do email (with attachments), connect via 802.11b (Wi-Fi)
wireless LANs, and even connect to projectors to do PowerPoint
presentations. Although these capabilities are available in
Palm-based PDAs, especially the Clié from Sony, the ability
to use the familiar MS Office applications on the PDA is likely
to be a key decision factor.
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: I
repurposed and adapted an article about the wireless service
known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) for the Reside newsletter.
It’s entitled, Wherever they
go, there you are and it points out how marketers
can use – carefully – this new way to contact their customers.
I’m featured in Manyworlds’ Thought
Leader Showcase, which lists a few of the white papers
Finally, the CTOMentor wireless white paper, You Can Take
It with You: Business Applications of Personal Wireless Devices,
is available at ITPapers.
Simon Delivers An Outage
I’ve written before
about local Minneapolis online grocer Simon Delivers, a
company who is taking a practical approach to the market:
Grow small and profitably. Well, they just took a real step
backward a couple of weeks ago when their Web site went
down for a couple of days.
The company blamed their hosting provider and the failure
of a backup of a backup. Companies with critical Web operations
can learn some things from this debacle. First, examine
your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and make sure the remedies
for lapses in service are in line with the hit your company
will take. Most SLAs specify that you’ll get free hosting
if the site goes down. Tell that to Simon Delivers, who
lost thousands of dollars, and perhaps a few customers,
to the outage.
Second, develop a disaster recover or business continuity
plan. Such a plan may specify maintaining a warm or hot
site that mirrors your own and can take over at a moment’s
notice. Third, once you have a plan, exercise it. While
it is always possible to have the backups of your backups
fail, I suspect there was some systemic problem with the
way Simon Delivers’ site was being backed up. Conducting
a simulated outage drill may have uncovered that. If you
want more advice on business continuity, give StratVantage