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Didn’t like WAP? Let down by 3G? How about 4G? 5 September, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in mobile.

OK, so WAP was a dog. Despite the hype and promises of the internet on your mobile, the reality was so far behind to make most users (all 3 of them) give up in despair. But that was OK because 3G came along to solve all that. Make video calls. Watch TV clips. And get the internet on your mobile (again – no really).

The take up of 3G services has been slow to say the least. As Kim Ki-ho, Samsung’s senior VP told delegates to the Samsung 4G forum,

“3G was a failure. The market did not respond, and it is already becoming an old-fashioned technology.”

The solution is, of course, more bandwidth. The new technology, imaginatively named 4G, will offer 100 megabits per second for users on the move and a pretty pokey 1 gigabit per second when they are stationary.

But is the problem really in the technology or is it in the marketing?

3G has largely failed to capture the imagination of customers outside of Japan (where it accounts for some 50% of the market). In some areas it suffers from the network effects principle (it’s not much use if you can make video calls but none of your friends can). In others it suffers from mobile form factors that don’t deliver a rewarding viewing experience – the people who are expected to watch TV on their microscopic mobiles are the same people who are rushing out to buy 42″ plasma TVs. And the ability to watch clips and shows is being directed at an audience that is quickly retreating from traditional push media.

It’s as if the SMS lesson hasn’t been learnt. SMS succeeded because it enabled predominently young users to communicate quickly, cheaply and in a way that differentiated them from the grown up world around them. It was fast and two way – and even better, created its own language.

3G, as it is currently sold, is typically passive. Watch this. Listen to that. Play this game (by yourself). If 3G (or 4G for that matter) is to capture the imagination of non-business customers then it needs to find applications that help people make connections, reinforce bonds, and communicate with others in new and interesting ways. Without this, no amount of additional bandwidth will make a difference.

Source: Reuters



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