The future of mobile networks, devices, connectivity and content.

by Aanarav Sareen on January 5, 2010

The past 6 weeks have gone by fast. I’ve traveled about 30,000 miles and for the first time, was always reachable via my BlackBerry. However, after using the BlackBerry nearly exclusively during those travel days, it’s safe to say that mobile networks and devices have a long way to go.

Most technology and media blogs focus on mobile devices. And, that’s fine. But, it’s also important to focus on the networks behind these devices.

Let’s break up each of the 3 factors:

1. Mobile networks: There are 4 primary mobile networks in the US — AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. Out of these 4 providers, Verizon and Sprint offer CDMA devices, which means that they cannot be used outside North America. For a global traveler, these 2 networks are moved to the bottom of the list. Which leaves us with AT&T and T-Mobile. AT&T has had significant service outages in high-density areas, such as New York and San Francisco, making it nearly unusable for numerous people, leaving T-Mobile, who has the least 3G coverage in the nation. While the situation is definitely different internationally, how is it that none of the four networks in the US are capable of offering reliable service? Before any of the below factors are improved, this is the the first thing that has to be resolved.

2. Mobile devices: There is no question that the iPhone is a success and despite its cost, it continues to soar. The iPhone has accomplished one thing that most other phones were not able to do — get consumers to pay for it. Many networks subsidize the price of a phone by signing-up a customer for a 2 year contract. Because of this, cellular networks were attracting customers by offering devices for free!

With the release of the iPhone, all of that changed. The $199 price has become the de-facto for nearly all smart phones.

However, what hasn’t changed is the BlackBerry. Most BlackBerry communication still goes through RIM’s own servers. In the last week of 2009, this service faced a severe outage, crippling nearly all BlackBerry communications. As someone who was in Bangkok and was heavily relying on the BlackBerry for directions and other tourism information, this was a big let-down. In order for BlackBerry devices to succeed, the company needs to create consumer focused devices that don’t use intermediate services. Using such services is more of a headache than an advantage to many “average” consumers.

3. Mobile connectivity: Mobile connectivity is an interesting and challenging topic to cover, because it has a different impact across the globe. For example, my Verizon powered BlackBerry worked seamlessly in London, Bangkok, and Singapore. It was fast and for the most part, reliable. However, outside the BlackBerrys, the cost of using mobile devices internationally is extremely high. For example, T-Mobile charges its users $15.00 for each MB outside the US. While corporations can afford this, most consumers cannot.

The implication of mobile on media: Over the past few posts, I’ve covered mobile devices for one reason — the more capable the device, the greater the potential for immediate content. Producing and publishing media no longer requires millions of dollars in investment. For breaking news stories, video streamed live from a mobile device is more useful than pristine video received 4 hours after the event. Once devices, networks and connectivity are all at an adequate level, the amount of mobile content will increase substantially. And, this is extremely important for organizations that cover breaking news. In the very near future, don’t be surprised if every journalist is carrying a broadcast capable mobile device. Because, more than anything else, mobile devices will be the future for instantaneous content and have the largest revenue potential.

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