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Today’s worry? 3G

Jan 13, 20032 mins
MobileNetwork SecuritySmall and Medium Business

* Mobile WAN landscape in flux

First, thanks to the large numbers of you who have responded to the year-end pop quiz. Obviously, most of you have quickly become wireless aficionados. I’ll hold off another week before bestowing accolades, in case there are any holiday stragglers who may still wish to participate.

Now, what can we worry about this week? I think 3G is a good candidate.

With a salute to Lewis Carroll, the state of the mobile WAN continues to get “curiouser and curiouser” as higher-speed, less expensive alternatives to the original 2G/2.5G/3G rollout plans spring up. Adding angst is that the mobile operators continue to grapple with issues such as spectrum availability, infrastructure and licensing costs, and lagging customer demand for what some consider too little bandwidth too late.

Witness, for example, AT&T Wireless’ recent decision to scale back its 3G rollout plans (a joint effort with NTT DoCoMo). Foreshadowing the move, AT&T Wireless reportedly said at a recent mobile Internet conference in Paris, France, that it didn’t see much demand yet for “true” 3G services (those with an aggregate maximum throughput up to 2M bit/sec).

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.

Wi-Fi has thrown a wild card into the whole mobile WAN arena. Carriers are struggling to build strategies for implementing the appropriate balance of services on shoestring budgets.

The silver lining for enterprises is that, compared to other types of network services, it’s less difficult to dump one mobile WAN carrier if industry conditions change. That probably doesn’t sound very nice, but that competitive fact – the potential for customer churn – might be what keeps carriers focused on deploying the most useful and best-priced services that they can.

Be sure, though, to negotiate flexible contracts for your organization that minimize, to the degree possible, penalties for changing network operators. On the consumer side, this has become a nightmare – users are getting locked into multiyear contracts in exchange for good monthly rates, only to discover that the services they have purchased aren’t usable from key locations, as promised.

So make sure you know what you’re getting and leave as much wiggle room for contract changes and upgrades as your carrier will permit.