Posted by: mikepearsonnz | September 17, 2009

Why broadband must include mobile

The first step

There has been a lot of publicity this week, about the New Zealand government’s broadband decision.  Broadband is good, for all the reasons said before.

“The future of broadband is in fibre, and taking it right to the home will bring significant gains for productivity, innovation and global reach.”
Communications and Information Technology Minister Hon Steven Joyce

I believe fibre broadband is the first step on a journey, not the final goal.   More awareness needs to be raised of the second step, mobile broadband to enable mobile Internet access.

Mobile devices increase productivity

Remember when mobile phones came to New Zealand?   They changed the way that we did business.   If you didn’t have a mobile phone, you were at a disadvantage to your competitors.

It’s probably stating the obvious, but mobile devices increase productivity.  It increases the productivity of the businessman travelling away from the office; the parent volunteering at a school; the people waiting to be selected for a jury; and the fan at a sports event.

You can receive information while on the move and make an immediate decision.   You can work while away from the office or home.

The Internet is going mobile

Smartphones are the next evolution in mobile devices.  They are already changing  the way that people access the Internet.

  • A recent US survey showed that 58.2% of total smartphone owners accessed news and information on their phones, compared to 13.1%  of the overall mobile phone market.
  • Mobile Internet adoption will grow to 39%  in Western Europe in 2014, from 13%  in 2008, according to a Forrester report.

Why then, are we not talking about the issues surrounding mobile Internet access?  If you wait until you get back to the office, you will have lost the opportunity to the US or Europe.

Issues surrounding Mobile Internet in New Zealand

  • Geography and Population:  New Zealand’s geography and its small population means  it is expensive to achieve 100% coverage.
  • Business Models: The common business model involves a service provider installing infrastructure, and then convincing a customer to buy their exclusive service.    The NZ consumer faces a fragmented market of commercial WiFi hotspots in hotels, cafes and shops – each with their own registration and payment screens.  The casual daily price is often a barrier to the decision to use.
  • Organisations: Many organisations do not offer WiFi as a courtesy, because they view it as an expense.    If they choose to provide it, they will often outsource it.  The service provider they use, will often see it as a business opportunity.
  • Laws: Legislation aimed at tackling illegal use of wireless Internet connections can hinder attempts to increase mobile broadband access.   People may not provide access because they are concerned about liability.

A potential future

Wouldn’t it be great, if I could turn on my smartphone or laptop, connect to a wireless signal, and be billed on my monthly account, by my ISP or telco.   Wouldn’t it be great, if organisations that require me to wait on their premises, provided this wireless signal?

What was a cost on my time, could become an opportunity to do something useful.  It would totally change my perception of them.

How might we achieve this?

A recent article about Vodafone UK said that they have just launched an in-the-home  femtocell service.

A femtocell plugs into a customer’s broadband connection and extends wireless coverage.  They are typically used in areas where access would otherwise be limited or unavailable.

The Vodafone business model has  controversy about customers paying for their own infrastructure.  Also it is an exclusive arrangement.  If you’re a Telecom customer, you can’t use it.   Even if you’re aVodafone customer  next door, you can’t use it.

I suggest we think about a concept that very similar to the government’s stated objective: Government investment will be directed to an open access, wholesale-only, passive fibre network infrastructure.

How can we build a public 3G/wifi  femtocell network?



Disclosure:  I have been involved in the promotion of free wifi in New Zealand, as part of TheFreeNet.

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