Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

What’s the prognosis for true high-speed mobile data?

The mobile industry confuses its customers and doesn’t deliver what it promises.

We all talk much about the latest technology, and how it will transform this that or the other element of our personal and/or working lives.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday talking about LTE — also known as 4G by some, but not everyone, in the mobile industry. It’s known as 4G because it succeeds 3G, today’s iteration of mobile broadband technology. Even though, confusingly, some of it, such as HSPA which can give you as much as 21Mbits/sec is known as 3.5G.

And LTE isn’t 4G technically, because it doesn’t quite meet the definition of 4G laid down by the global standards body, the ITU, according to one analyst I spoke to. So you’ll find LTE referred as 4G or as 3.5+G, LTE-Advanced — which does meet the 4G spec — or just plain LTE. WiMax, incidentally, is 4G according to the ITU. No wonder the mobile industry confuses its customers. There’s a pithy piece about LTE and 4G here.

But that’s all by the by in some ways. The important thing about LTE is that it promises 100Mbit/sec download and 50Mbits/sec upload speeds. If you know anything about the technology, you’ll know that in practice some 25 percent that is likely to be eaten up by protocol and other overheads. You’ll also know that a further 25 percent is likely to be lost to distance losses, cell sharing, and clogged up backhaul networks.

All this is due to arrive over the next ten years. Yes, ten years. Roll-outs are unlikely to start happening in the UK before 2012, more likely 2015.

Except that this is so much hogwash.

I was in the middle of London — yes, challenging conditions due to the concrete canyon effect, but the kind of area in which the mobile industry has to demonstrate its best technology. And the best mobile data rate I managed inside or out was a standard GSM-level 56kbits/sec. This is early 1990s technology.

So if 20 years after its invention and 15 years after its introduction, that’s the best I can get in the middle of one of the world’s leading capital cities, I suspect it’ll be 2025 before I see LTE speeds.

You know what? I’m not sure how much I’ll care by then…

Filed under: mobile, , , , , , ,

Beware the Skype-iPhone hype-fest

There’s a battle heating up in the burgeoning voice-over-wifi (VoW) space.

On the one hand you have Skype, which has just launched its eponymous app for the iPhone and, despite the almost audible gnashing of teeth from the mobile operators, has reportedly become a hugely popular app for the Jesus phone. Skype is claiming that it’s had a million downloads in two days, and that’s the top download in the App Store. If true, that’s big.

Gnashing of teeth? It’s all about conflict of interest. Skype takes voice traffic and routes it over a Wi-Fi hotspot, or your home or office Wi-Fi network. The mobile operators make no money out of voice over Wi-Fi: they make money out of voice calls and data traffic routed over their cellular networks.

And that’s the attraction of Skype for end users, and why mobile operators have dragged their feet¬† over the years. Many mobile operator contracts include a phrase that explicitly forbids users from using VoIP applications, for just this reason.

Yet over recent months, some operators have relaxed this stipulation in the face of vociferous end-user protests, via both their wallets and by the generation of poor publicity. End users want no limits on what they can do with their devices and data feeds, while operators want a walled garden that constricts end user choices to those that generate revenue — but they’d still rather have some of your business than none of it.

As a result, Skype is likely to become accepted across all networks.¬† So what’s the conflict I mentioned at the top of this story? There’s another VoW player in the mobile space, namely Truphone.

This company’s been around for a while but its business model differs from Skype’s in that Truphone reckons its service ‘provides Skype calls outside of Wi-Fi on the iPhone’.

Truphone’s system also allows you to make calls when not in Wi-Fi coverage by routing the first leg of the call over the mobile network — just like a standard call, says Truphone, — and then running the call from there over Truphone’s own network.

The advantage here is that the mobile network’s coverage is always going to better than that of Wi-Fi, a technology whose coverage is measured in metres, not kilometres like the cellular networks.

Is it important? When you compare the hype-fest surrounding Skype to Truphone, possibly not.

So if you want coverage wherever you go and don’t want to pay the extortionate prices charged by mobile operators for calls outside the UK, Truphone is a viable alternative.

The moral? Beware hype-fests: like that surrounding the iPhone, glitz often wallpapers over a multitude of shortfalls.

Filed under: Wireless, , , , , , , ,

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