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New iPhone Will Jumpstart Demand for Wireless Broadband

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It was over a decade ago when I got my first broadband connection — by today’s comparison a very slow DSL connection from my then-local provider, Verizon Communications, which went by the name of Bell Atlantic. At $60 a month (not including the cost of the modem), the service, which got around 256 Kbps on a good day (vs. top speed of up to 640 kbps), was really a novelty.

With the exception of many who worked in New York’s Silicon Alley, not many cared about the expensive, always-on connection. Being a broadband nerd of sorts, I couldn’t care less about the price tag; I couldn’t wait to pay more to get more bandwidth.

I am reminded of that moment — of that thrill — of experiencing the web without delays, thanks to the new iPhone and its ability to connect to the 3G network. I already can’t wait for AT&T to upgrade their network from HSDPA to HSPA to HSPA+ to LTE so we can get faster and faster broadband. [digg=]

For now, the best we can get on the iPhone 3G is HSDPA, which has a theoretical download speed of between 400 and 700 Kbps, though Apple on it site says it’s going to be 2.4x the speed of EDGE – about 100 Kbps. Still, I am going to go out on the limb and mark July 11 down as a red-letter day for 3G wireless.

Don’t get me wrong — it isn’t the day 3G wireless was first introduced in the U.S. Neither is iPhone the first 3G phone. I have had 3G phones, USB and PC Card modems for a while now. It isn’t the first time I have used 3G broadband; I am on old hand at using EVDO to connect my laptop to the web, or at connecting my Nokia e61 to a 3G network whenever I am in Europe, or using the Nokia N95 to snap-and-share photos and videos via one of the life-streaming services.

Yet this is the first time that a 3G connection on a non-computer device actually feels like a broadband connection. “This device is a true game-changer. Why? The immediacy of the data at your fingertips is huge. Imagine, looking up anything, anywhere,” is how AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told me in a chat earlier this year. In the U.S. especially, the iPhone is going to have a major impact, mostly because are a PC-centric society constantly search for web-like experiences. (So far, most of the carriers have made their money off 3G computer connections. I am wondering how the iPhone impacts (or not) 3G usage in Europe.)

I received the new iPhone 3G on Friday, and since then I have been tinkering around it — a lot. My first (and perhaps lasting) impression: The 3G speed is quite addictive and it doesn’t take long to slowly start switching your daily compute tasks to this device instead of reaching for your computer.

A lot of that is because the iPhone has a generous screen and is very easy to use, but more importantly it has a more than adequate browser, making it an ideal candidate for being a “cloud client.” All that was missing was a fast-enough connection that helped “off-source” some (or, in the case of others, many) tasks from their computers.

The briskness with which I can surf web pages means it has become easy to keep and eye on this and our other network blogs. The email shows up in the inbox as quickly as on my desktop. NetNewsWire’s iPhone App has already become my preferred way to read RSS. Its ability to sync with the desktop client over the web only adds to its utility. Facebook on the iPhone is almost infinitely more usable than its web counterpart. (John Markoff is marveling at the pocket-sized experience as well.)

Truphone’s new iPhone app makes it easy to place VoIP calls on the iPhone, thereby making it less necessary for me to fire up the old computer to call mom. It sure would be nice to see a Skype client for iPhone. I am sure that over a period of time other habits will form — including watching YouTube videos – which just got bearable, thanks to a faster connection.

More importantly, 3G has freed me up from thinking about the availability of a Wi-Fi connection. Of course, if everyone else gets into the same habit, as I suspect they will, this is going to put some stress on AT&T’s 3G Network.

Going back to the early days of broadband, the thrill of doing mundane web tasks faster and without tying up a phone line didn’t seem as great in the beginning, but acted as a spark for the broadband revolution. It wasn’t till Shawn Fanning unleashed Napster that broadband demand took off, eventually leading to innovations like Skype, YouTube & Facebook.

I think that from that perspective, the iPhone 3G is going to provide a similar spark for wireless broadband. Just like touch and big screens are becoming increasingly commonplace in high-end phones, over the next 12 months I wouldn’t be surprised to find mobile device makers focusing heavily on the Internet, all while waiting for the elusive killer app, which none has seen just yet. Despite the tight control of carriers on wireless spectrum, this could be the start of a new wireless wave.

Photo of iPhone & Safari courtesy of Apple.

41 Responses to “New iPhone Will Jumpstart Demand for Wireless Broadband”

  1. totoro

    “People, neither Apple nor AT&T invented 3G.”

    Thanks for the history lesson :p
    Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player either, do you deny the iPod was responsible for jumpstarting that industry?

    Its not about who is first. Its about who can push an existing technology to the next level. The Mogul? Yeah, that really did the trick :p

  2. Look the Iphone is not the greatest… The Verizon network is faster then the ATT one. The HT deivces running windows mobile 6 are far more prevelant and usefull then the Iphone but they just are more clunky. The blackberry is a pain in the rear. Iphone is still just a toy.

  3. @Mike:

    Fair enough that you don’t like the Mogul. I can understand that. The Mogul does not have a slick UI (at least not out of the box), but the feature set is literally unmatched at this point.

    As for what most users would agree on, that’s the problem. Most users have never used anything resembling a smartphone until picking up the iPhone. They don’t know what’s out there, or what’s been out there for years now. I bet if you polled alot of iPhone purchasers, many of them would tell you that 3G is a feature that comes with the *PHONE* not the *NETWORK* and some would probably swear that 3G is an Apple invention. I also know people who thought 3G meant 3 gigabytes of storage. And don’t for a second think that anyone reading this site is a typical iPhone customer.

  4. Om,
    Just curious, are you planning to make the iPhone your primary device or are you still in the Nokia camp as main device or is your Blackberry?

  5. You almost had us until you said Mogul and Sprint. I have had both and they are garbage. If you are happy with them fine but most users agree that they just don’t compare to the experience of the iPhone.

    “Sorry but this is only a game changer for people who never knew what 3G was until Friday.”

  6. For me iphone 3G is something hot now every way in this world. Yesterday I read in Japan people lineup from night to morning waiting for the iphone launched. They really extreme to this phone. For me yes I would like to own this iphone though my place the broadband umts not that good. Speed will damn slow when lots of people used it the same time. The broadband provider keep on saying they are upgrading the bandwith so you can surf better. And it still slow …suck! Anyway I really love this iphone.


  7. Interesting data point: In January, Wired reported that iPhone tripled the AT&T’s data traffic. And that was at pokey EDGE speeds. (

    The tough part for carriers is going to be finding the right strategy for pricing. If you price too high, you discourage use and your shiny new services never reach a critical mass. If you price too low, your cell towers get overwhelmed by the throughput during peak times (Imagine downtown at 5:30, with everyone waiting for the bus and watching YouTube clips) which leads to bad user experience and lost revenue down the road.

    I just came back from Calgary and can confirm that iPhone frenzy is in full force there as well (iPhone was not available in Canada before Friday). That story was 2nd or 3rd in the evening news even though Calgary’s annual “Stampede” festival was in full swing. (If you’ve ever been to Stampede, you know how worked up Calgarians get about it.)

  8. People, neither Apple nor AT&T invented 3G. The instant and constant availability of an Internet connection has been a reality for many for at least a few years now. My Mogul (on Sprint’s superior) 3G network routinely pulls down over 1 mbps.

    Combine that with Skyfire browser (and, GASP, Flash support), the iPhone doesn’t come close. Sorry but this is only a game changer for people who never knew what 3G was until Friday. Welcome to 2004, iPhone users.

  9. @loosely_coupled,

    You make some good points, but as I point out best you get is about 200 kbps – 250 kbps and nothing wrong with that. I think the issue with the laptop example is frankly it is not clear how fast it is. Some get about a megabit, but I routinely get 300 kbps and i live in downtown san francisco – supposedly a great area of coverage. I think most of it is about getting information faster than we are used to. Then we think that is slow …. etc. thanks for you comment though.

  10. loosely_coupled

    I like the article (and the site), but I can’t help but correct some errors.

    “For now, all the best we can get on the iPhone 3G is HSDPA which has a theoretical download speed of between 400 and 700 Kbps”

    See the problems is that when speeds get quoted, some quote the theoretical air interface speed and others quote the real-world expected speeds. In this case, you have real-world numbers, and are saying they are theoretical. AT&T’s HSDPA (currently) is rated near 2.0mbps, and with a laptop broadband card (better antennae, more power, and processing power) many users routinely get over a megabit/second (download).

    With 3G phones, you’ll see less than that, but by no means is 400kbps -700kbps “theoretical”. Most users should easily see 400-700kbps REAL WORLD.

    And secondly, many users have reported routinely seeing 150kbps-200kbps
    on AT&T’s EDGE/E-GPRS network. So even at 2.5X that, it’s not bad.

    Another thing to think about is that at present, all mobile devices are terribly slow compared to regular PCs in loading data. Apple itself even showed that using an iPhone over WiFi (on a fast broadband network) was barely faster than 3G in many cases! Many webpages routinely take 45-60 seconds to load on the iPhone over Wifi, and only a few more on 3G. So obviously, the internet connection is NOT the limiting factor in many cases. Future iPhones (and especially other smartphones) will certainly need to have better network and system processors to even catch up with REGULAR HSDPA/HSUPA — LTE and even HSDPA+ is pointless if the phone can’t take advantage of it!

  11. @tina…

    Yup. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that is single biggest problem they have to fix. I think they can make some software tweaks that work on that.

    As a tip, turn off bluetooth and wifi and you can eek out some more minutes out of the battery.

  12. gregory

    here in india we are about two generations behind, iphone will be useless for this, best use, putting it on your table in the club so people think you are cool

  13. Just couldn’t help smiling seeing the video – great job :)
    Am hoping that the iPhone will be a revolution – atleast even in Japan here am seeing the guys drool over the device. These are people here who see a lot of TV on the phone, use it to pay off the tickets n many many more things and are complete phone addicts if you ask me and to them, iPhone does not give anything – however, on the first day itself I saw SOLD OUT boards outside stores and that means something. Apple has always done great in Japan they say and it might not do so well with iPhone it was said – just that things that were predicted aren’t coming true ;-)

    It is indeed a red-letter day like how the iPhone v1 launch day was.

  14. totoro

    Yes it will. The funny thing was, I was standing in line for the iPhone 3G, and using both Barnes and Nobles and Apple’s wi-fi connections as I inched closer to the store. But with the 3G, that constant search for wi-fi networks just becomes irrelevant (all battery concerns aside :p ) The 3G really makes the iPhone sing.

  15. I completely agree. I just picked up the iPhone 3G in Vancouver, and can’t believe how natural it feels to always be online. I was at the beach yesterday. I took a look at how close the water was to our towel, and wondered if the tide was coming in or out. Two days ago I would have just waited to find out. Yesterday I pulled out the iPhone, searched for “vancouver tide charts”, and found out the tide was coming in, and would be high in two hours. It’s a disruptive technology, no doubt about it.