Fixed Mobile Broadband
By Carlo Longino, Mon Mar 28 22:45:00 GMT 2005

Mobile operators are trying to further hone in on fixed carriers by offering broadband and voice over 3G networks that's intended for fixed use.

It's a curious proposition -- Vodafone's Zuhause service and O2's Surf@Home (both just in Germany for the time being) offer download speeds of just 384 kbps, at prices that don't look very competitive with DSL, given the difference in speed and the tariffs of the UMTS-based services: Vodafone offers 5 GB of traffic or 60 hours of use for about 17 euros a month, O2 looks like it offers 10 hours for 20 euros a month, on up to 40 hours for 32 euros.

Given the widespread availability of ISDN and the proliferation of DSL and cable-modem service, and the speed and pricing advantages, what's the attraction for users? Guy Kewney speculates on The Register that apartments might be the only place these services, since evidently it can be difficult to get broadband in them -- though it would seem in most cases if you could get phone service, you could get ISDN or ADSL.

What's in it for the operators? Perhaps just a realization that there's plenty of spare capacity on their UMTS networks, so an attempt to monetize it. Of course, that spare capacity could disappear pretty quickly when you get 25 people in an apartment building trying to download BitTorrents at the same time.

It's hard to take this seriously, since the mobile operators have priced their services like, well, mobile operators. If they really wanted to steal business away from fixed ISPs and carriers, why not offer cut-rate prices, or at least unlimited access? The real question, though, is if the services only allow users to browse certain sites, since these are mobile operators, after all. Or can users access anything, but get charged at a higher rate for non-approved sites?

If the operators haven't decided to wall access in some way, it begs a few questions. First, why do it on phones? Is it that they couldn't figure out how to monetize it, or because they know they could never get away with it on the "real" Internet? Second, the boxes Vodafone and O2 are selling that are needed to connect to the 3G network probably have USIM cards. How long before somebody cracks open the box and tries the USIM in their phone, since, while still expensive, the tariffs are more reasonable than many operators' mobile data charges?

But perhaps the biggest question is why charge different prices to access the same network -- never mind they're generally charging mobile users more and delivering them less.