Remember using the internet in the 90s? Maybe you don’t, but in my house it wasn’t uncommon for us to have the ‘internet conversation’.
Me: ‘Mum, I won’t be long, I’m just waiting for a webpage to load.’
Mum: ‘Do we have spiders?’
Me: ‘No, it’s the internet, Mum – a place where you can access all sorts of information at your fingertips.’
Mum: ‘All I can see is blank screen. It’s not doing much is it? If it’s at your fingertips, why are you waiting so long to get it?’
Obviously things have moved on since then, right? Err…not quite. This morning, for example, I can see her asking the same questions if she’d watched me (red-faced outside London Bridge station) look at a similar blank screen on a T-Mobile HTC Desire as it failed to connect to the internet three times. ‘Everything Everywhere’ – just not on my phone in the mornings, it would seem.
So my main ask as we head towards Mobile World Congress (MWC) is that, in amongst the talk about fun new gadgets – like the new Android Honeycomb Tablets (Motorola XOOM), 3D phones (substitute LG Optimus, Xperia Play/Playstation or Facebook phones) – or location-based advertising or payments, the industry takes the chance to agree how they’re going to tackle the lack of mobile network capacity. Internet use at home has grown partly because increased bandwidth has allowed us to do more. Why should my mobile internet experience be any different when I’m on the move?
Network capacity isn’t sexy or shiny and won’t fill the pages of the gadget mags, but it’s already a real issue for mobile consumers who can’t watch a video, have to wait endlessly for slow loading webpages or even fail to get on a mobile network at all. What good are all the new platforms, phones, apps and hardware if the networks can’t cope with them? It’s a bit like putting Lady Gaga on stage in her jeans.
The Governments, mobile operators and their partners need to use MWC to communicate a clear strategy on how they will invest in infrastructure and innovation to resolve this problem. We need to hear stories of investment in 4G bandwidth, towers to increase coverage and backhaul technology. And we need to know how we’ll use innovation to work out how we can transfer more content for less.
This communication strategy shouldn’t involve telling consumers (my mum included) or service providers like Facebook or Google that they need to pay more to operators for data services. I know profits are falling and margins are getting squeezed. But service providers and consumer habits have driven the growth opportunities and revenue in data services – the industry now needs to make it profitable. Most consumers don’t care how it’s done, but they do care about unexpected charges when they see their ‘unlimited’ data plan doesn’t cover them checking their email or browsing the odd website on the move. Many people would rather talk with their feet and go somewhere else than pay more.
So, I know it’s a bit boring, but please put your heads together to communicate what’s next. Maybe an Andrew Lloyd Webber-style show format would help liven things up… something like ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Capacity?’
(Image courtesy of BBC)