All We Are Saying, Is Give 3G A Chance
By Mike Masnick, Fri Sep 24 16:15:00 GMT 2004

3G rollouts seem to be announced every few days lately, but the press is already complaining that rollouts aren't ambitious enough. Either that, or they're too ambitious and don't work well enough.

You just can't win if you're trying to offer 3G these days. Clearly, the carriers have made many mistakes along the way, from overhyping services to focusing on the wrong concepts to poor pricing decisions. However, with the rollouts on the way, it seems like the various 3G offerings are being attacked for minor things that are clearly temporary, and which are likely to be resolved in the near future. It makes sense to question strategic positions that will damage a company in the long term, but complaining about their short-term decisions to get the technology rolling seems like complaining for the sake of complaining.

Articles today are questioning AT&T Wireless for its "unclear" deployment schedule for UMTS in the US, and that Orange appears to be focusing more on datacards than handset sales in the UK. Both are basically complaining that the rollout schedule isn't aggressive enough (though, the AT&T Wireless article is otherwise positive about the technology). Meanwhile, other articles are complaining that Verizon Wireless' EV-DO aggressive rollout in the US is getting too much attention while being too slow and too expensive.

It all amounts to something of an impatience for wireless broadband. Clearly, people want reasonably priced, high quality, high speed wireless broadband. The industry itself, of course, needs to take some of the blame for setting the expectations so high. For years, carriers have made people believe that the next stage of wireless broadband technology would have us all connected anytime, anywhere with all the bandwidth we could ever possibly need. Reality is turning out to be a bit more limiting and these articles suggest some of that frustration.

However, the complaints often leave out the reasonable explanations for what's happening. AT&T Wireless rolled out its UMTS offering as part of its deal with NTT DoCoMo, which required the rollouts. However, with the looming Cingular merger, it doesn't make sense to have a more complete announced rollout strategy until the merger is complete. In the case of Orange, the focus on datacards over handsets was a decision to help get the network up and running and tested under real world conditions, without having to deal with bad handsets no one wants or other problems that plagued 3G offerings that were rushed too quickly to market. Also, some of the claims in the article seem especially questionable. It says Vodafone has "put the brakes on" for 3G -- which suggests whoever wrote the article (there's no byline) wrote it before Vodafone's major 3G announcements yesterday. Meanwhile, plenty of other sources suggest that Orange (and others) are moving along just fine with plans to offer 3G handsets.

In the case of Verizon's EV-DO offering, the speeds it's offering are clearly much higher than what's already available from cellular services -- which is where the comparison is right now. The high prices are for the same reason Orange focused on datacards initially. Verizon Wireless is also only offering datacards, and the high prices make sure the network isn't overloaded as its built up. However, Verizon has made it clear that it plans to launch handsets and cheaper consumer pricing early next year.

There are plenty of strategic issues about 3G rollouts concerning how they will attract subscribers and how they will compete with eventual competition from other wireless technologies. The carriers certainly have a history of making some strategic blunders along the way, but it seems a bit early to be taking issue with the state of the rollouts. Let the rollouts happen, and then look at the more strategic decisions the carriers make with those networks.