Wireless broadband must meet user expectations

John. C. Tanner
02 Apr 2008

The road to ubiquitous wireless broadband - or something close to ubiquitous - is fraught with challenges. One of them, of course, has been finding a sure-fire way to convince people to use it as a supplement to, or extension of, or possibly even substitution for their fixed broadband activities.

Another challenge has been the fear that they might actually do that.

Consider this case study spotted on the blog of British comic book and science fiction writer Warren Ellis. Mr Ellis found himself without a DSL modem and temporarily replaced it with an HSDPA USB modem from 3 UK to keep up with his online activities. One of the drawbacks of this arrangement, he noted, was 3's 7-GB monthly bandwidth cap.

'On a normal day, I'd grab a TV program-, an album's worth of music - and that's getting on for a gig's worth of material right there - spend an hour on Bloglines getting up to speed with the world, which usually involves watching more video and streaming more audio, move a LOT of email with images and documents, watch a handful of online communities, do research,' he reported. 'And before you know it, rough calculations start reaching the 3-GB/day level.'

There's a couple of interesting takeaways for anyone in the wireless business. One: when fixed-line fails, people will turn to wireless to pick up the slack. Two: when they do, they are going to have preconceived expectations about what they can do with it and how much of it they can do.

Granted, Mr Ellis may fit the profile of 'early adopter/heavy user' rather than the average 3G user. A survey from iPass, released last month, that measures both enterprise Wi-Fi usage and 3G broadband usage, found that users who exceed 2-GB of usage a month account for less than half a percent of the sampled user base.

On average, by Q4 2007, wireless broadband usage worked out to just 190-MB per user per month, iPass says - well within the limits of a 7-GB cap. And most of those users were using wireless as a convenient quick-access option, not emergency DSL replacement.

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