The coming IPO of ClearWire has many talking about increased competition and even price wars in the mobile data space. We certainly need them.
Today it is still hard and expensive to make mobile data work well beyond isolated applications like email. A recent look at EVDO reveals pages of information to know about selecting and installing hardware and software, different coverage areas and even awareness of EVDO versiosn and the dreaded 1XRTT or even worse 1XRTT roaming. The average consumer responds: “What the hell is all that about?!”
Beyond the design of the iPhone there is some promise here that new networks will get rolled out by AT&T that start to make it easier to contemplate real mobile computing, at least in the US.
Going abroad still requires a digital landing party of experts to change our phones and data methods.
The interesting part about all this is cost. Mobile broadband is in the range of $700-$1200 per year plus device in the US. Most users also pay for fixed broadband via cable or DSL to the tune of $500-1000 per year in round numbers depending on the capacity desired. There is increasing talk about each player slashing prices of the item they are most poor at. Kind of a “hey, why not?” strategy.
There are also new technologies from WiMax to FLO coming into the market. Notably laggards in the US like Alltel and T-Mobile are doing trials of FLO. This could point to some technology competition in the mobile markets as well.
The market sure needs it. We can thank Apple for design innovation and maybe Craig McCaw and Qualcomm for network technology evolution. Still in all we need help to drive adoption given the $2000 price for a two-year TCO on a mobile data capability.
Who wins? Well it’s been written before that the obvious winner is Google. We aren’t sure the providers themselves win with dropping prices even if unit costs are declining. We’d sooner look at chip and device providers ranging from Qualcomm to SiRF to RIMM and Apple.