The good and the

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2004-10-12 Print this article Print

bad"> The good thing: Everybody in the phone business knows that ARPU (average revenue per user) goes up if you get customers using data. The Sidekick user pays around $20 a month just for the data subscription. Some, clearly, use a lot more data than theyd normally get for that money, but most live well within the 20MB bracket youd expect for that. So, is T-Mobile going to go for it in Europe? Maybe. In Europe, the Sidekick I was launched successfully—but not by T-Mobile. A mystery! Why ever not? After all Orange/France Telecom was a major investor in Danger three years ago. Why would Orange turn down the chance to get all this extra ARPU?
Its not a hard question to answer: It has to do with available bandwidth. And thats the problem.
In the United States, GPRS is still a minor pursuit. American cell-phone billing is a mess and growing a thriving data business on top of that seems to elude mobile operators, still. But in Europe and other parts of the world where the GSM phone networks pervade, GPRS has actually turned into a real business channel. Its still my view that its a prototyping system for real mobile data systems, which will not be with us until 3G data is widespread. Nonetheless, several neat ideas have caught on. And the fact is, the capacity for this is stretched to the limit. The "all you can eat" approach to data charging in North America works well. Theres plenty of "dark airwaves" waiting to be lit with GPRS traffic. By contrast, the European and African and Far Eastern GPRS channels are jammed and everybody is desperately waiting for wideband CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)—or alternatives—to provide the capacity needed to expand. The "Hiptop experience" has proved, for me, to be a far nicer and friendlier one than the Blackberry ball-and-chain approach. Also, the Sidekick is unquestionably easier to use. But in a world of scarce resources, the big spender gets the deal. And the big spenders are the corporate e-mail server owners—both Exchange and RIM server owners, in particular. And the news of the month, for me, isnt the arrival of Danger in Europe because I really dont know that it will get on the road. Instead, look at the deal between palmOne Inc. and Microsoft Corp., and the deal between PalmSource Inc. and RIM. Both mean that Palm users have access to corporate e-mail on RIM servers or on Exchange servers. That means a lot more GPRS traffic, which simply isnt available in Europe. And that means Danger may be seen more as a liability to the operators, soaking up precious resources, than as an asset. "All you can eat" is a great way of attracting the blue-collar trade. But most ambitious chefs would far rather have a few Armani-suited customers picking over exquisite delicacies in nouveau cuisine portions than see hordes of truckers tucking into the boeuf bourguignon with a spade. A pity. I use my trial Sidekick II all the time and would keep it if I could. And I almost never used my BlackBerry. But the time may not be ripe. Read Guy Kewneys other recent columns about trends in mobile and wireless technology. Check out eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis.

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