GSMA's 3G folly

19 Oct 2006

If you spend any time with the GSM Association, you learn a few things. That 85% of mobile owners - nearly a third of the world's population - are GSM users. That its board comprises the world's biggest mobile operators. That a thousand people a minute are signing up for GSM - or maybe that was 1,000 every second.

Anyway, you get the point: this technology developed by French boffins 20 years ago is the most extraordinary invention since the ink dried on Gutenberg's first page.

So stand by to hear the latest initiative from the GSMA, delivered at its annual GSM Asia jive circus in Singapore last week.

Are you ready‾ The bold new plan that will rock the world is: bring an entry-level 3G phone into the marketplace.

To which your response is surely: huh‾

Sure, you might have been under the impression that 3G was the high-speed, picture-taking, video-phoning, Web-browsing, photo-messaging technology that was going to - and I think this was the operative word - revolutionize the mobile experience.

Well, that was then. This is a whole new different millennium.

There is a pressing need for an affordable W-CDMA handset that you and I weren't previously aware of.

No, not from the customers, but from the GSMA. They may be charging $30 a month for a few kilobytes of data, slugging customers for excess SMS or emails, or jacking up data roaming charges - but they're convinced the biggest problem is the cost of the phone.

For all the readies GSMA members have lavished on W-CDMA, their return has been pathetic: 85 million subscribers in five years. In the same period total mobile numbers have increased by over 1.5 billion.

That's not a total failure.

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