Truly mobile medium

Truly mobile medium

David Elder, COO, Datawind

David Elder, COO, Datawind

Can internet on the move ever satisfy its harshest critic, the consumer?

The internet pervades every area of modern life and has become established as one of the natural means for the way we communicate today. By many, it is still regarded as a static medium to be used on the couch at home or at the office desk. Many companies have tried to render the internet truly mobile, but a lasting breakthrough is still proving elusive. So what are the prospects now of data following the path of voice, where telephony has been so completely transformed in the past 20 years that mobile handsets have become the de facto standard communications device?

For the internet to become a truly mobile medium, several criteria have to be satisfied and delivered to the satisfaction of an increasingly critical consumer base. The first is that all web pages need to be delivered on a mobile device with exactly the same look and feel as they appear on a PC or laptop at home.

Matching the PC experience

Not only does the mobile internet have to have the same external appearance

as the static internet, it must deliver all the essential functionality that consumers are growing up with, including the ability to book hotel rooms, edit attachments on email, and open large PDF files.

The speed at which web pages are opened and then rendered in a mobile environment must be fast enough to maintain the attention of the user. It is unacceptable for smartphones to take up to a minute, or sometimes longer, to reach a destination web page. Whilst consumers accept that it will take longer to access data on a mobile platform, the delay needs to be kept within a reasonable timeframe; much longer than 10 seconds strains the patience of the average user.

The cost of harnessing the power of the internet needs to be fair, transparent and low. There have been too many horror stories of consumers experiencing nasty surprises when presented with a mobile data bill, whether consumed domestically, or when a device has been operated outside the home market and has incurred roaming charges. Few people know precisely what constitutes a megabyte of data, and fewer still understand the details of a typical operator-defined fair usage policy.

 

Understanding the opportunities

Yet mobile phone operators are, at last, waking up to the enormous opportunity of the mobile internet by offering more flexible and attractive data tariffs to stimulate data capacity on existing 2G and 3G networks. For its part, the European Union, in the shape of the formidable Communications Commissioner, Viviane Reding, is applying pressure on operators to lower the intraoperator roaming charges for international data usage. One recent effect is UK consumers being inundated with offers for free laptops when they sign on for mobile broadband, leading to a huge uptake in dongles for mobile laptop use.

Device manufacturers have in turn accepted the deficiencies of WAP, that never to be forgotten standard created by the mobile phone industry in the 1990s that proved so incapable of meeting customer expectations. Manufacturers are now bringing to market products that deliver the web in all its full-colour and multifunctional glory. The Apple iPhone is probably the best known of these devices and, stung by criticism of the poor speed performance of its original variant, Apple has recently introduced its 3G model throughout Europe.

Cost is still a problem however. Despite the attraction of free laptops, it is apparent that the true cost of ownership for most mobile internet solutions remains high; perhaps more importantly, it remains confusing for consumers to ascertain total costs because of the traditional minefield of data contract commitments.

Despite all these issues, consumer demand for mobile broadband is increasing; according to an Ofcom report in the first half of 2008, this area has moved from a niche business service to the mass consumer market. One of the sure signs that a product category has achieved critical mass is the shelf space being devoted to it by the large national retail chains. In the past 12 months, all of the key UK consumer electronic chains have been scrambling to expand the shelf space for mobile internet products and it promises to be a hot area for Christmas this year.

Another sure way to verify when a category has arrived is when an acronym is created for it; welcome to the world of the MID, also known as Mobile Internet Devices!

Datawind is a developer of wireless web access products and services, and has developed a series of wireless web access devices and the related web delivery platform.

 
World Wide Web visit www.datawind.com
 
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