|Photo credit: AFP
People see the gadgets of the information society. They
see the devices — smartphones, media tablets, laptops,
desktops, netbooks or dongles — that are the keys to
the Internet. These devices provide the intelligence for
bent-pipe packet-switched networks. And it is really
these end-user devices that offer the online experience.
Faster networks have given rise to powerful new devices
in many forms, ranging from smartphones such
as Apple’s iPhone and the Google-powered Android
phones, to portable computing devices such as netbooks
and smartbooks, to tablet devices such as Apple’s
iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy, to single purpose devices
such Amazon’s Kindle. Advances in chip design, manufacturing
and cost-reduction have enabled a variety of
devices that bring computing to many more people.
Gartner, Inc., a global information technology research
and advisory company, puts overall global smartphone
unit sales in 2010 at 296.6 million. The industry
as a whole still found its biggest audience in developed
regions of the world with faster networks and more
disposable income, says Gartner. Western Europe and
North America accounted for 52.3 per cent of global
smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone,
with smartphones accounting for close to half of all
handsets sold in these regions. Looking at the entire
mobile phone market — not just the smartphone segment
— unit sales reached around 1.6 billion in 2010
|Worldwide mobile device sales to end users in 2010 (in thousands of units)
|Source: Gartner (February 2011).
Front runners in the smartphone operating system
(OS) market include: Nokia’s Symbian, Google’s Android,
Apple’s iOS and RIM’s BlackBerry OS. Android sales in
the fourth quarter of 2010 continued to be driven by
broad availability of many high-end products from HTC
(Desire range, Incredible and EVO), Samsung (Galaxy S)
and Motorola (Droid X, Droid 2).
In February 2011, Nokia and Microsoft announced
plans to form “a broad strategic partnership that would
use their complementary strengths and expertise to create
a new global mobile ecosystem”. Under the proposed
partnership, Nokia would adopt Windows Phone
as its main smartphone strategy, innovating on top of
the platform in areas such as imaging.
Smartphones are driving demand
Smartphones and netbooks are driving demand for
mobile broadband and Wi-Fi networks, as these devices
become the primary means for people to get online.
Consumers are using wireless broadband to connect to
the Internet. This trend holds promise for developing
countries, where many consumers cannot afford a laptop
or personal computer, or have no access to fixedline
broadband services. Smartphones operating on a
mobile broadband network can provide access to the
Internet at a low cost, particularly if operators provide
handset subsidies to “seed” the growing broadband
Wireless technology can be the Internet on-ramp
for billions around the world, particularly because more
people are already using mobile phones as their primary
or sole voice communication device.
In the wake of the digital revolution, the most substitutable
part of the communications value chain may
well be the device used to generate the digital transmission.
In 2005, the Republic of Korea became the first
country in the world where mobile phones could receive
digital television signals. Koreans had bought 20 million
handsets by the second quarter of 2009 — double the
number from the first quarter of 2008 and 11 times the
number of handsets sold when mobile television was
Free-to-air mobile television in the Republic of Korea
is a five-year-old fact of life. According to the country’s
broadcasters, 27 million people — 56 per cent of the
population — watch regularly. While Koreans are the
world leaders in mobile television viewing, the technology
is also catching on in China, Southeast Asia, India,
Africa, and Latin America.
In the United States, broadcasters are starting to
trial free mobile television programming, supported by
advertisements. Paid premium content is expected in
There’s an app for that
Do you want to use your phone as a compass or a
personal fireplace? There’s an “app” for that: a software
application that usually can be downloaded in minutes,
purchased and paid for online, and stored (or not) on
the mobile device for future use.
The rapid growth of smartphones and “app stores”
has brought a wide range of mobile applications to the
market, driving customers’ fascination with their new,
high-tech handsets. Many of these apps make use of
smartphone cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS)
location capability and Internet access, resulting in new
features that many consumers find useful. Other apps,
while seemingly irresistible, rank a bit lower on the usefulness
Many apps could best be described as niche applications.
For example, star navigation map apps allow
would-be astronomers to simply point their phones to
the night sky and see on their mobile screens the names
of the constellations they are viewing. Augmentedreality
apps, meanwhile, allow users to see “overlay”
information relating to restaurants, cinemas and other
public places caught in the smart phone’s camera view.
Only time will tell which apps are true trailblazers.
The smartphone and its accompanying app-store
showcases the power and flexibility that advanced
handsets can offer in tandem with high-speed mobile
data networks. As of June 2010, with more than
2 billion downloads and 225 000 applications in its
App Store, Apple still led the way. But Google, with its
Android smart phone operating system and competing
Android Market for compatible applications, was posting
dramatic growth. Google’s Android Market has
sold more than 250 million downloads, and more than
65 000 apps are available. Other app stores are being
developed by manufacturers and operators, increasing
the features accessible to smart phone users.
It knows where you are
According to Skyhook, there are now more than
6000 location-based iPhone apps, 900 Android apps,
and 300 BlackBerry apps, and it is still early days. These
location-based applications range from social networking
(such as Twitter, Foursquare, or Google Buzz), to
child tracking, to gaming, to targeted location-based
advertising. Augmented reality applications are also
Privacy concerns are one of the growing social
harms associated with these applications. According to
an Australian survey, the greatest fears associated with
using location-based apps are revealing where your
home is, and facilitating stalking. A study by the United
States Carnegie Mellon University revealed that people
are also worried about being tracked by the government
and do not want to be annoyed by receiving ads
based on their exact locations. One website, dubbed
“Please Rob Me,” highlighted the potential risks of sharing
Push and pull apps
Some mobile apps push information from a server
to a mobile device. Others are initiated by the mobile
device (by user interaction or automated scheduler) and
pull information to it from the web. Smart phones take
advantage of both types of applications. Push apps require
little user intervention, but they may be viewed
as more invasive because the user does not control the
receipt of updates. To the user, however, there is little
difference between the two types of updates.
|Photo credit: AFP
All the underlying parts of the information society
are falling into place: the high-speed, large-capacity
backbones; the wireline and wireless broadband access
networks, gadgets and gizmos; the features and applications
to make them sing; and advanced services such
as mobile television to provide content. Just how are
we going to pay for all this? What pricing and metering
mechanisms make the most sense?
In many areas, the easiest and simplest way to promote
take-up of service has been to offer non-usagesensitive,
flat-rated pricing. Customers (sometimes) pay
a service-initiation fee, then enjoy unlimited usage on a
monthly payment basis. But this can lead to massive imbalances
in data downloads by a few customers, straining
the capacity of even a broadband network.
According to the United States operator AT&T, about
3 per cent of smart phone users are consuming about
40 per cent of its network capacity. As a result, the
United States mobile service market has begun to see
tiered wireless data plans. For example, AT&T’s DataPlus
service provides 200 Mbit/s for USD 15 per month, and
its DataPro offering provides 2Gbit/s for USD 25. In the
first quarter of 2010, Nielsen Corp analysed 60 000 mobile
bills in the United States and discovered that the average
smart phone mobile data user consumed around
300 Mbit/s per month.
When do you know you are living in the information society?
When people could seem to be babbling to
themselves — until you get close enough to see
their wireless earphones.
When you fill out government forms and pay fees
online — saving time and aggravation.
When you make hotel reservations, purchase
airline or train tickets, and check in online.
When you “participate” in a trans-oceanic meeting,
via a laptop computer
When you order jewelry online, hand-made by
artisans in a country on the other side of the
When you become “friends” on a social networking
site with someone you never meet in person.
When you are a student at an online university,
and you collaborate on a project with a
“classmate” on another continent.
When you are contacted online by a financial or
Metered data pricing that offers lower price points
may be fairer to consumers. UK telecom operator O2 has
also moved away from unlimited data plans. Another
potential driver for metered data pricing is to provide
less-expensive options to entice mobile customers to
purchase a data plan. Wireless operators in Sweden,
however, are going the other way, moving from tiered
plans to unlimited usage plans. Both 3 Sweden and
Tele2 have removed the data caps on their most expensive
On the fixed-line side, United States cable operator
Comcast has been experimenting with metering
data usage since 2008. It has instituted a 250 G/bits
combined upstream/downstream cap per month. The
median Comcast customer averages 2 to 4 Gbit/s per
month and fewer than 1 per cent come close to the
250 Gbit/s cap, according to Comcast. Internationally,
fixed-line operators have been more comfortable instituting
bandwidth caps and have not faced consumer
backlash for their actions. Some critics argue, however,
that fixed-line network operators are eager to impose
caps to ensure that their own proprietary video offerings
will not be affected by customers switching to
Smartphone users consume five times the amount
of data capacity that standard mobile phone users do.
As more users buy and use smartphones, operators in
the United States are struggling to keep up with the
huge demand for data capacity.
One approach is to address network capabilities.
Operators are upgrading copper backhaul connections
to fibre, splitting cell sites, and adding newer towers in
densely populated areas. They are also using additional
spectrum resources to offer greater capacity, investing
in Wi-finetworks, and encouraging users to purchase
femtocell devices to off-load traffic from the operator’s
network onto the consumers’ facilities.
Meanwhile, operators have worked with hardware
and software manufacturers to optimize how devices
such as the iPhone and bandwidth-intensive apps such
as Internet television and radio streaming use the network.
Operators have also introduced different tariff
structures, charging higher prices to customers with
high data-rate plans or penalizing customers who exceed
certain data allotments. Operators are also looking
for more spectrum allocations.