It Really Is the Phones
By Eric Lin, Thu Feb 26 03:30:00 GMT 2004

A panel of executives and engineers shredded the few W-CDMA handsets available to European carriers at 3GSM. They deduce the phones are unreliable and bulky for widespread adoption. It's about time someone else says it.

Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin complained "the current generation of 3G handsets are bulky, they get hot and they don't have enough battery life...The experience today is unacceptable for us to deliver to our customers," in an article on Mobile Pipeline. While Sarin approached the shortcomings from the customer perspective, other panelists shredded the handsets on their poor engineering.

Of the 3 GSM / W-CDMA handsets available to Western carriers today, Nokia's 6650 has the simplest design, using only 29 chips. However it also lacks any media co-processors for advanced features like streaming video. The other two models, Motorola's A830 and NEC's e606, trail behind in the panel's estimation. Newer models which have been announced but are not yet in stores such as the Nokia 7600, Sony Ericsson Z1010 and others could not be torn apart for evaluation by the panel.

Although the current crop of chips and the resulting phones are disappointing, the panel agreed manufacturers and carriers are in a chicken and egg situation. In order to justify designing and manufacturing more efficient, better integrated 3G chipsets, there has to be a significant demand for 3G handsets (and thus the chips inside). But many 3G networks are still spotty and with disappointing handsets and poor coverage, there isn't much demand generating the cash to improve either situation.

Though they may not be perfect from an engineer's point of view, new 3G handsets look to have better form factors and interfaces. The past few weeks have brought us a number of announcements about new integrated chipsets as well. As both these products are brought to market, a positive feedback loop of 3G adoption should occur- improving the handsets as well as network coverage as more money is available to invest in each.

3G networks in Asia are proving it's not services or coverage that increase adoption, but consumer-friendly handsets. It's good to see European carriers have taken notice of the trend. It's also nice to know we haven't been talking to ourselves every time we say "see, it's the phones."