Mobile providers -- Wake Up!

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Tim O'Reilly
Oct. 20, 2003 08:39 PM

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I recently sent around to my internal O'Reilly editors mailing list a pointer to Dan Gillmor's column Smart Phones Making More Sense. In the column, Dan wrote: "Orange, a unit of France Telecom, is one of several companies around the world now selling devices that begin to validate the notion of the overpromised and, to date, underdelivered 'smart phone' ..."

Brian Jepson wrote a great reply:

    "Thanks for sending this on; I think this is a great example of the future not being evenly distributed. Most, if not all, of the pieces are in place on phones like my Nokia 3650 and some cellular providers' services to do the sorts of things described; why couldn't I send an SMS containing the name of a movie I'm interested in and get an MMS back with a 30-second clip of that movie? No reason I couldn't; the phone is capable of it. Someone could make a business around this and charge 75 cents a pop.

    Along the same lines, why couldn't I visit my carrier's WAP site, select Local Info, and then select Movies? It's almost there, but I have to type in my zip code, and after a pile of menus, I just get movie descriptions. But the technology is there on both the T-Mobile network (unlimited data, possibility of correlating location to a rough zip code) and the phone (10 seconds of video @ 176x144 is just about 100k).

    Within a year or less, we'll probably see data rates on the GPRS networks going up from 30kbps to 70kbps or more; Sprint and Verizon already have this on their CDMA networks, so we go from roughly 30 seconds of download time per 10 seconds of viewing time to pretty much 1:1.

    The real barrier is companies who price the data through the roof; T-Mobile gets it ($9.99 unlimited on your handset, $19.99 if you use your phone as a modem) and so does Sprint ($15 unlimited on your handset). But Verizon and AT&T Wireless still want $80 a month, which is a real turnoff to consumers."

I think Brian is right on about the data rates, but his initial comments are even more telling. The cell phone providers need to adopt the "small pieces loosely joined" design philosophy of open source software and the Internet. That will will allow independent developers and enterprising power users the ability to put existing pieces together to deliver new and exciting services. When all the innovation has to happen within a closed framework managed by the cell provider, it will take a lot longer before we get to the smart phone promised land.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

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