The proponents of 3G for data have some convincing to do. In Japan, iMode was all the rage, but it appears that the peculiar passions of teenage girls in Tokyo do not translate to business elsewhere. In the US, ATTW mMode is being pushed hard. In my experience, too hard. When I switched to GSM from TDMA, around $17 of extra charges magically appeared on my bill for mMode services I cared a whit about. Took a few calls to remove them and get credit. Worse, my daughter had earlier switched to GSM, and she too had the magic charges. She had no clue what they were for. At first ATTW would only stop billing them, not give a credit for past bills, even though there was no usage of these services at all. After a few more calls, this got fixed. Then I got one of those evening-time ATT phone calls that are so constantly annoying. In this case, it was a satisfaction survey of my mMode experience. This was a survey I participated in, although I am unsure how well to hapless college student on the other end survived it.
Carriers in Europe and Asia have been able to offer point services that appeal - ringtones, SMS, cellcams. But the broader opportunity for a World Wide Wireless Web is eluding their grasp. In the US the Blackberry (aka Crackberry) is another point solution, albeit operating largely off the 2.5G networks. T-Mobile has offered the Danger device (a Blackberry for tweens) on their GPRS network, but to very underwhelming success.
Why aren't the dogs eating this dogfood?
Why is ATTW playing games with customers to claim users? Maybe it is because the carriers still do not grasp the essential lesson of the Internet: that openness wins. They do not need to look very far back in history to see how Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve and the original MSN, Microsoft Marvel, were all swamped by the open world wide web. AOL held on by the skin of its teeth as it switched to embrace the web. Bill Gates had his own date that would live in infamy - Dec. 7, 1995 - when he killed the nascient walled-garden MSN, switched to embrace the Internet company-wide, and swept aside the threat from Netscape.
New ventures seeking to create services for the cell carrier xMode data networks face a daunting guantlet of business development and technical jumping-through-hoops: two years of meetings, custom versions for each carrier, no assurance of any real business.
This situation will not last much longer. VoIP is sweeping across the wireline networks, and is beginning to come to wireless. WiFi is being added to cell phones. Cordless SIP phones are being sold into major enterprises, and soon we should see WiFi SIP phones for the mass market. The combination of WiFi and SIP with the widespread acceptance of VoIP means the foundations for a WWWW - a world wide wireless web - are being laid. The smart carriers will follow Bill Gates's lead with MSN and embrace the open WWWW. The rest will hang on the Prodigy model.