A look inside the cloud - a commentary on the mobile industry that connects the dots that together create that thing we call 'telecoms'
The Wireless Internet - a way of life, not a technology!
I moderated a great roundtable yesterday put on by our Consumer Tech practice on ""WiFi rejuvination in 2009", run on behalf of Devicescape and in partnership with The Cloud and Trustive.
One of the main conclusions to come out the debate between the panelists and the journalists, bloggers and analysts that attended was that when it comes to 'Wireless Internet', definitions come down not to technology, but to user expectation, demographic, usage scenarios and applications. It's not, as the adage (kind of) goes, how fast it is, but what you do with it that matters.
Devicescape had commissioned some research of its global user base to try and find out some end user perceptions of WiFi and 3G. What was apparent from it is that the Smartphone - and in particular the iPhone - has been a complete game changer in how WiFi is seen and used. As The Cloud observed, free WiFi in retail locations such as McDonalds is not only driving footfall for the retailer, but also indicative of the way consumers are using Wireless Internet. Social networking, Internet browsing and instant messaging are the applications that the 18-24 demographic is using ... and they're not opening up their laptops in McDonalds so they can type away with their ketchup-covered fingers, but rather using their Nokia or iPhone/iPod Touch to update their Facebook status.
When it came to the age-old WiFi v 3G debate, Trustive made an interesting argument that 3G is a back-up for WiFi coverage, not vice versa. Indeed, when you consider the still extortionate 3G data roaming costs, you can see the user case. It's also clear that transparency in charging is critical to the user. Where paid-for WiFi hotspots have gone wrong is that it's a fixed charge for a use-it-or-lose-it period of time ... £5 for an hour's usage, for example. However, in no way will a user pay that if all they want to do is a quick bit of browsing or just download their emails (unless they can expense it back, of course!). Trustive's take on it is charge by the second, and apply your pool of credit to their international coverage. So that's 30 seconds in McD's to update my Facebook; 8 minutes at the train station checking directions to my next destination; and 32 minutes at the hotel looking up detox diets online to recover from the burger! And the user still has credit left. By charging by the second, it is all that much more transparent ... I'm sorry, call me stupid but I don't really know how big a MB of data is, so don't charge me by the MB. I can tell the time, but I can't look at an online app and know that the poorly designed UI will eat up 1MB of data.
So, what did we learn? Well, the debate finished where it started ... the Wireless Internet is about the user experience. And while WiFi goes along way towards addressing it and providing a real alternative to 3G (both in terms of speed and cost), the user really doesn't care - and nor should they - what technology they are using. They just want it to work. To this end, Devicescape seems to be on to a winner by providing the automatic WiFi connection that means that the Wireless Internet just happens.
The roundtable was held at The Hospital near Covent Garden, and one couldn't help but think that with a title ' WiFi rejuvination' the choice of location wasn't all that auspicious. But in fact, coming out of the event, there was a sense of optimism coupled with an acute awareness that there is still alot of work to be done. With the GSMA confusing matters with their 'mobile broadband' branding campaign, explaining to the consumer what the wireless Internet experience should be will remain a constant challenge.
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