3G Rollouts

The Economist compares the reality to the hype as the 3G networks are being rolled out:

Most observers agree that there has been a shift in expectations about how 3G networks will be used, away from video and other data services and towards traditional voice calling.

Three years ago, everyone was talking about video-telephony, says Mike Thelander of Signals Research Group, a consultancy. But while video-telephony sounds cool, the evidence from early 3G launches in Japan, South Korea, Britain and Italy is that hardly anybody uses it. Market research suggests that women are particularly reluctant to adopt it, says Mr Cole. Nokia’s first mainstream 3G handset, the 7600, does not even support video calling, but nobody seems to mind.

Nor have the high hopes for data services been fulfilledso far, at least. The idea was to encourage consumers to adopt data services on 2G phones, paving the way for fancier services on 3G phones. But while text-messaging is hugely popular, with over a billion messages sent daily worldwide, other forms of wireless data such as photo messaging, news updates, and music and game downloads have proved much less popular with consumers in most countriesJapan and South Korea are notable exceptions.

Greater emphasis is being placed instead on 3G’s ability to deliver cheap voice callsfor as well as being able to support faster data downloads than 2G networks, 3G networks provide vast amounts of voice capacity (typically three times as much as a 2G network) at a lower price (typically a quarter of the cost per minute). As a result, says Bob House, an analyst at Adventis, operators’ sights are now much more firmly trained on displacing voice from fixed networks.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.