Applications, Not Technology
By Carlo Longino, Mon Jun 13 23:30:00 GMT 2005

3G, EV-DO, MMS -- these acronyms hold little meaning for the average consumer. It's time mobile services were marketed by pumping up applications, rather than technology.

ZDNet UK has a sort of rambling comment doing some general complaining -- mostly valid -- about the state of things in mobile networks. The main takeaway is that the author is disappointed in 3G, its business applications in particular. Perhaps a bit harshly, they say "3G has failed commercially for businesses, and not in ways that can be fixed merely by speeding it up." Drawing in the example of O2's unit on the Isle of Man's plans to deploy HSDPA without using the term "3G", the author makes the point that operators have done a lousy job of marketing mobile services by tying their offerings too closely to technology.

There are endless examples of this, MMS probably being the most notable example. "MMS" on its own doesn't make nearly as much sense to users as "picture messaging", and the bad reputation MMS has attracted -- much of it because of boneheaded marketing and implementation by carriers -- has tarred the technology, regardless of its usefulness as a platform beyond P2P messaging. ZDNet says the 3G name has been dented in the same way, and billing future networks or technologies as "faster 3G" won't do any good.

There are a few different elements to this. First is the idea that all these different network technologies fit together in a complementary way, that none of them are the "killers" of other technologies they're often made out to be. Network connectivity is a means to an end, not just an end to itself -- users want access to their services, and they don't particularly care over what kind of network they travel. Nokia and Intel seem to be getting this, with the announcement they'll work together on WiMax. Some interpreted the move as an admission on Nokia's part of the failure of 3G, though company execs rightly say WiMax will slot in alongside its existing technologies like UMTS and HSDPA.

But, it's almost one step forward and one back: vnunet says that HSDPA and its uplink counterpart will eventually be moved into a larger standard called "3.9G". This is the first mention of 3.9G within memory, and hopefully it's down to a reporter's misinterpretation or imagination and won't become an actual term. What does that sort of term say to consumers? It's .9 better than 3G? It's as if the guitarist from Spinal Tap is coming up with these terms.

There's a set of users for which high-speed Internet access is the only application needed to sell service. But there's a much larger set of users that are more interested in services, applications and content rather than the network that delivers it. Selling mobile services would be much easier if the marketing were based on what mobile can do, rather than what a network is -- tying marketing to technologies doesn't seem to do anybody much good.