Tag Archives: T-Mobile

The Real Revolution

This is also a podcast, from my weekly BBC piece. 

While folks at the annual tech show in Vegas are getting all excited about a glass-encased laptop, the world’s thinnest 55″ TV and a washing machine you can control from your phone, they may be forgiven for missing the quiet sound of a milestone being crossed: there are now more smartphones in the world than there are ordinary phones.

According to New York-based ABI Research, 3G and 4G handsets now account for more than half of the total mobile phone market. Those old ‘dumb phones’ and the so-called feature phones–poor relations to the computer-type iPhone or Android device can–are now officially in decline.

This is, in the words of ABI Research’s Jake Saunders, “an historic moment.” While IDC, another analyst company, noticed that this happened in Western Europe in the second quarter of last year, Saunders points out: “It means not just mobile phone users in Developed Markets but also Emerging Market end-users are purchasing 3G handsets.”

So why is this a big issue? Well, a few years back it would have been hard to convince someone in an emerging market to shell out several hundred bucks for a phone. A phone for these folks was good for talking and sending text messages. That was a lot. And enough for most people–especially when the handset cost $20 and the monthly bill was even less.

Now, with prices falling and connectivity improving in the developing world a cellphone is so much more: It’s a computer. It’s an Internet device. It’s a portable office and shop front. It’s a music player. A TV. A video player. A way to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

And for the industry these people in emerging markets are a life saver. For example: The developed world is pretty much saturated with smartphones. People aren’t buying them in the numbers they used to.

But that’s not to say the feature phone is dead. In fact, for some companies it’s still an important part of their business. Visionmobile, a UK based mobile phone research company, says that Nokia–busy launching its new Windows Lumia phones in Vegas–is still the king of feature phones, accounting for more than a quarter of the market.

And they just bought a small company called, confusingly, Smarterphone, which makes a feature phone interface look more like a smartphone interface. So clearly at least one company sees a future in this non-smartphone world. In a place like Indonesia, where the BlackBerry leads the smartphone pack, nearly 90% of phones sold in the third quarter of last year were feature phones, according to IDC.

So companies see a big chance for growth in these parts of the world. But they also need the spectrum. If you’re a mobile operator your biggest problem now is that smartphone users do a lot of downloading. That means bandwidth. The problem is that one piece of spectrum is for that 3G smartphone, and another is for your old-style 2G phone. The sooner you can get all your customers to upgrade their handset to 3G, the sooner you can switch that part of the spectrum you own to 3G.

So this is a big moment. We’re seeing a tipping point in the world’s use of cellphone use, from a simple, dumb communication device to something vastly more useful, vastly more exciting, vastly more lucrative. All those people moving over to smartphones

ABI Research reckons there’ll be 1.67 billion handsets sold this year. That’s one in four people buying a new device. Forget fancy Vegas. The real revolution just started.

The Prepaid GPRS Rip-off

I’ve grumbled before about how hard it is to do GPRS on prepaid cards. For those who haven’t done this, it’s simply a way to turn your smartphone into an Internet ready machine when you’re on the road (removing you from some of the pain of roaming GPRS charges, in the rare times they’re available. )

The problem is that as far as I can work out there are no flat-rate plans for prepaid GPRS users. Instead, you’re charged per kilobyte transferred, and just downloading a dozen or so email headers  (not the contents; just the headers) will quickly drain your credit. I emptied 20 pounds of credit on UK’s T-Mobile this month after checking my email twice and making a couple of local calls. The price per kilobyte is given as 2 pence but that doesn’t sound right. GPRS on prepaid seems a quick route to bankruptcy. No wonder there’s no useful information about the pricing on their website.

Sadly it’s not just Rip-Off Britain that’s emptying pockets with what are  beguilingly called Top-Ups. Singapore and Hong Kong, when they offer GPRS at all, do so at rates that are usurious.

Anyone had similar or contrasting experiences? Or tips for getting around this problem? Here are some from Syd Low of Alien Camel. My only ones are these:

  • use one email account for vital stuff when you’re travelling so the number of emails you need to sync is manageable;
  • download only headers on sync. You can always download the whole email if you need to;
  • eep your inbox folder as empty as possible if you’re using IMAP. This reduces sync time and cost.