Much has been made of AT&T’s scaled back launch of true 3G (W-CDMA) service in the United States. Instead of launching in 13 major U.S. cities next June, AT&T’s 3G rollout will now be limited to four cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and San Diego — and won’t be ready until the end of 2004.
It’s tempting to think that Cometa Networks, the joint venture of AT&T Wireless, IBM and Intel for Wi-Fi everywhere, played a role in slowing the 3G rollout.
It’s no big thang, sez Alan Reiter:
“There has been a lot of writing about how WiFi is going to kill 3G. Baloney. 3G — whether CDMA or GSM — has advantages not just for data but also for voice because 3G increases voice capacity. Indeed, even the mighty NTT DoCoMo of i-mode fame wanted to implement 3G because of the increased voice capacity.
So, 3G (whatever you call it — 1xRTT, EDGE, WCDMA — and in whatever iteration) will continue to be around because it increases voice capacitiy. But 3G and 2.5G, the hype notwithstanding, are offering better data speeds than 2G circuit switched data which typically offers, oh, around 10K bps (plus or minus a couple of K).”
What’s happening with 3G? Here’s a quick roundup:
NTT DoCoMo, the world’s 2nd largest cell-phone carrier (after Vodaphone), was the first to roll out true 3G (W-CDMA) service in Japan, in October 2001. It has been a massive disappointment. The true 3G system gathered only 10% of their projected sales – but it DOES work according to Wireless Watch Japan. Their services now include i-motion, M-Stage Live, and video conferencing. NTT is dumping Microsoft’s ASF video (Advanced Streaming Format) on its I-motion service in favor of MPEG-4.
On December 20, 2002, Vodaphone, the largest cellular company on the planet, rolled out W-CDMA service in Japan with carrier J-Phone. As of January 2003, “3G service would be available in the Tokyo metropolitan area as well as major cities and towns nationwide, totaling some “865 cities, wards, towns, and villages” to cover approximately 71.1% of the population”. J-Phone uses the Nancy codec for real-time video compression/decompression delivering full-color video at up to 30 frames per second. It’s used in their 2.5G “Movie Sha-Mail” video mail system, a big honkin’ hit. J-Phone is owned by UK-based Vodafone Group and Japan Telecom.
Japan’s third 3G network, KDDI, provides a 2.5G system (similar to CDMA 1X networks used by Sprint and Verizon in the United States). KDDI took off in Japan when movie mail came out. KDDI got more subscribers in a month than DoCoMo’s W-CDMA system managed in a year.
Takeshi Natsuno is the man responsible for developing i-mode. Formerly known as NTT Mobile Communications Network, the DoCoMo name is a play on dokomo, the Japanese word for “everywhere.” The company is 63% owned by Japan’s incumbent telco, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., of which the Japanese government owns 46%.
NEC’s “Pocket@i” PDA may be the wave of the future. It’s got built-in VoIP via wireless LAN and PHS functions. It integrates the performance of a PDA and mobile phone/PHS within a PocketPC. A spoken-word pocket interpreter is also planned.
Meanwhile, Sharp’s Zaurus PDA makes telephone calls over Wi-Fi networks in Japan. Sharp has achieved about a 30-percent power reduction at 5GHz on a wireless LAN. Intel is investing in Wi-Fi including companies like TeleSym and Navini. TeleSym is an IP telephony software company based in Bellevue, Washington. Their VoIP software can be used on mobile PCs and handheld devices. Navini uses phased array antennas to deliver mobile IP on the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band several miles to client PC cards.
Developing VoiceXML applications doesn’t appear all that hard. The XHTML+Voice specification was jointly developed by Opera and IBM. They took the VoiceXML specification, which defines voice-based applications and mixed it with XHTML and VoiceXML modules. VoiceXML tags can prompt a user to select a city, for example, through voice. The user would then speaks a city name and the browser interprets and displays the contents. Currently, voice “portals” such as TellMe and BeVocal offer voice access to stock quotes, movie and restaurant listings. Getting a map to the closest restaurant on your cell phone will, essentially, require a PocketPC – or something like it.
Will hand-helds with VoIP kill the cellular business? You bet.
Vivato’s Wi-Fi Switch gives mobile Wi-Fi users a 4 mile range. It uses ordinary $50 Wi-Fi client cards in hand-helds. Navini also uses the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band (as well as MMDS) and uses a more “rugged” synchronous CDMA (S-CDMA) air interface similar to Qualcom’s and that used in DOCSIS 2.0 rather than stock 802.11. For more range and reliability, Arraycomm and Flarion can deliver 1 Mbps to PC Cards over licensed bands with range that’s similar to cellular (“at one-tenth the cost”). It’s being deployed in countries around the world.
Imperial forces must deliver stockholder value. AOL hopes to generate over $159/month per sub. AT&T Broadband paid $4,000 per sub aquiring cable properties and needs similar revenue streams. Three-G providers like AT&T, Cingular, Verizon and Sprint aren’t much better off.
They must kill Wi-Fi or be killed.
If Cometa uses Navini wireless backbones they might simultaneously wipe out “free” community “hot spots” with the noise floor of S-CDMA while delivering branded subscription service. But VoIP on Pocket PCs is a problem for circuit-switched cellular carriers. Cometa gives too much power to Intel and IBM. It’s not going to fly. Moore’s law says so.
Net result: Kansas is going bye-bye. It should be an interesting year.