LONDON, England – Welcome to the world of the 3.5G (three and a half) phones which promise fast wireless access to the Internet, plus streaming of music videos and live television through your handset.
Companies from CNN to Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon) to Yahoo! are building platforms to give users access to all the same content they get now on the computer or through the TV.
The question continues to be at what cost people will take these services.
3.5 or HSDPA services are being rolled out across Asia and Europe. By last month some 100 services have been launched in more than 50 countries.
Technically, HSDPA phones can receive data ten times faster than current smart phones. That means mobile devices could start to compete with your average computer’s broadband access, though current services have not reached that level yet. And some of the 3.5 phones cost over $1,000.
So for now, many service providers are trying to create fixed price packages to lure customers to 3G phones which offer near-unlimited access to the internet, before they attempt to migrate customers to 3.5 packages.
Hutchison’s ‘3’ launched the ‘X-Series’ late last year in the United Kingdom. 3 likes to say it has started the trend to “cheaper access to the internet via mobile broadband.”
In the UK, 3 now offers the X-Series through a free Nokia E-65 with a fixed price service of £40-45 ($80-90) a month. The text and calls are limited (like most bundles) but it allows for unlimited access to Windows Live Messenger, eBay, Skype, orb and web searching through Yahoo!.
Earlier this year, 3 loaned me a Nokia N73 with full service to test.
I signed into eBay service, started a Skype account and searched on Yahoo. The services are well laid out on the screen and are very easy to use.
Of course, it was free and I still wonder how much I would pay for this, given I have broadband at home and in the office and I always have my Blackberry with me.
I also did not try the orb service which would allow me to remote access to my pc files like photos and music, which may be one of the more useful tools.
3 just launched an X-Series package in Australia. Some customers can use 3.5G phones to access it.
The service includes many hours of free long distance and near-unlimited service to create a buzz in the market. It seems to have worked.
Analyst Warren Chaisatien of Telsyte was quoted in the Australian press saying “With the X Series (3) have set a new industry standard that going forward will make the market very competitive. My expectation is that by the end of this year we will see all mobile operators offer flat fees for basic internet connectivity.”
A flat fee service through various operators will put all the hype to the test.
Smart phones are still only a fraction of the mobile phone market and with billions of dollars spent on building the networks, and millions now being spent on content and platforms, 2007 will prove whether people want 3.5. Then of course, 4.0 isn’t far behind.