When we were kids, and PCs were “microcomputers,” we all believed in recipes.
These days, the mobile world is trying equally hard to believe in mobile television.
So the question of thirty years ago has resurfaced: What on earth would you actually use a home computer for? enquired baffled friends, not even trying to hide their conviction that we were insane.
Well, you could keep a database of all the stuff in your fridge. And then you could ask the computer to match that against various recipes, and suggest a great meal for tonight!
Strangely, people believed us. To my knowledge, nobody on the planet does this, but it convinced people. It illustrated what you couldnt do without a computer, and could do with it.
The same goes for high-speed mobile phone networks. Yes, its very clever, but what would you actually do with one? It doesnt take very long with a calculator and a suckable pencil to realize that whatever it is, you cant afford it.
So Qualcomm is predicting that mobile TV across mobile phone networks is going to be great. It has bought Flarions Flash-OFDM wireless technology, and it has announced that no less an operator than T-Mobile is rolling out this high-speed broadband network in Slovakia.
By a terrible coincidence next door, in the Czech Republic, no less an operator than T-Mobile is about to announce a deal with Flarions arch-rival, IP Wireless.
Details, as they say, to follow. Im going to be in Prague tomorrow to see how it works and theyve promised a working device to test.
The Qualcomm connection isnt really the key factor. The company came dangerously close to buying IP Wireless anyway, instead of Flarion.
In the end, Qualcomm decided to go with its core competency: intellectual property legal expertise.
Its litigation team decided that IP Wirelesss intellectual property was indefensible, and that Flarions was “more defensible” even though, technically, it felt that IP Wireless had some advantages (its a 3G standard already!) compared with Flash-OFDM.
The one thing we can be sure about, is that this wont lead to a boom in mobile TV. For goodness sake—you can buy a mobile TV which receives free-to-air programs for trivial sums, and people dont watch it.
What chance do you have, seriously, of selling the same ridiculous material—reality TV, for goodness sake!—by the minute across a network which will go bust if they dont charge a dollar for a five minute connection?
I dont have the slightest doubt that both T-Mobile networks will operate successfully. There are lots and lots of things that you can do over high-speed wireless. Television, however, isnt the way to go.
We now have the video iPod in the market. Pretty thing… but the one missing component—the one youd be certain to see if wireless video were important, or likely to become so—is wireless. No Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi, no GSM, nothing.
Did Steve Jobs miss a trick there? Is Qualcomm onto something Steve should have twigged? Well, in a sense, I think yes.
There is a Bright
Future for Mobile Video, Despite Limitations”>
I happen to think theres a huge future market for mobile video, and it will grow out of Podcasting. I suspect that the reality of the market is that some people will do mobile downloads—but that the vast majority will connect to a kiosk.
As to “when?” the answer is hard to guess, because it requires someone to come up with the idea, sell it to a VC, negotiate a deal with iTunes and promote it successfully in the face of determined opposition from the music copyright lobby, which would do almost anything except change the status quo (If God had meant us to download music, he wouldnt have given us the CD).
But at the moment, the whole iPod market is limited. To use an iPod, you have to have a desktop computer. If you just want to use the Pod itself, youre rather stuck; nobody will charge it up with tunes for you. Even if you offer them money.
And the same applies to podcasting. You need a home computer, a cheap broadband connection, and the right to plug your iPod into that link (something a lot of kids dont have!) or you cant play.
Will the iKiosk of the future be wireless?
The technology makes the answer tricky. Todays iPod cant use Wi-Fi because it simply cant afford the battery drain.
It could, just about, use Bluetooth—but very approximately. The download speed of Bluetooth is going to be about 4X playback.
In other words, you could buy a single track and have it ready to play in a minute—which is, just about, an acceptable transaction time. Push the download speed much further, and it will be unpredictable, and unreliable.
When Bluetooth goes to UWB, sure, the problem goes away. Im not expecting widespread UWB deployment for another 24 months—if you are, get in touch, please, because I need a good headline—or maybe more.
That gives us two years, at least, during which time the iPod remains tethered to the broadband network, and during which time some clever genius could roll out a street corner tune dispenser, probably using free bandwidth on the Lottery networks.
OK, thats the podcast and iTunes market saved. What about video? Well, you work it out.
How many bytes per minute of even low-quality iPod Video? What does it cost per megabyte on the typical mobile network? Are you seriously saying you think people are going to use THAT MUCH of their monthly music budget trying to do it over the air?
Sony Ericsson has, at last, announced the Walkman phone. All its customers are hoping fervently that the networks will become havens of expensive music downloads. The experience of Orange, which announced a music download service over a year ago, suggests that fervor of hope is no substitute for rational spreadsheet analysis.
But what is the point of a high-speed mobile network, then?
In a word, gaps. No local WLAN (wireless LAN) technology can hope to be blanket coverage. But people will not want to be tied to kiosks; and so being able to move smoothly from local to wide-area to local—even for a few seconds—would be a solution. To what problem? To the problem of interrupted downloads.
And interrupted downloads are the single main reason why MMS (multimedia messaging) and tune downloads and other data based services are failing today.
Its just not what a paying customer expects. Please resume download! is an absolute killer. And never mind what it does to the billing systems.
No, its not going to fund the mass replacement of useless 2.1GHz masts with more sensible 450 MHz wireless. Nor is it going to turn the terrified downsize-fodder which passes for mobile network management today into confident, forward-looking optimists.
But it may turn some red ink black, often enough that one or two networks may not implode, after all.