If you believe the internet, AT&T is rolling out Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) for the iPhone on September 25, 2009. This is widely perceived to a good thing, even if it may be too late.
Today, there exist a number of applications that run on the iPhone to solve just this problem. Do iPhone owners really need another delivery vehicle to use up bandwidth? They already have a bad reputation:
Not only do iPhone owners download applications, stream music and videos and browse the Web at higher rates than the average smartphone user, but the average iPhone owner can also use 10 times the network capacity used by the average smartphone user.
If there’s one thing AT&T’s network could use, it’s more network. Particularly in major cities (we’re looking at you and your dastardly street parking situation, San Francisco), AT&T’s 3G network is perpetually overwhelmed, oftentimes forcing users to switch to EDGE just to tweet about how awful the coverage is. Thankfully, the operator is making good on its earlier promise to roll out HSPA 7.2Mbps to select cities, with Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami now destined to get lit this year. Potentially more interesting, however, is the deployment of “additional backhaul capacity to cell sites,” which will also support LTE when the time comes. All told, around 2,000 new cell sites should be added before the year’s end, and at least a half dozen 7.2Mbps-capable smartphones should be in AT&T’s portfolio by the same deadline. Feel free to express your joy in comments below — that is, if you can get comments to load on your existing 3G connection
And it is not limited to the markets listed above. During a recent spectrum auction, AT&T picked up some extra bandwidth in the North West, looking to alleviate capacity problems near Paul Allen. According to AT&T spokesman Michael Coe, the company is making the purchase to “meet customer demand and to support its transition to LTE.”
So it would seem that AT&T is attempting to do the right thing, but now they still find themselves in the position of having to defend how they use their spectrum. In case you did not hear, the FCC proposed net neutrality rules has caused an uproar. AT&T is not alone in vocalizing concern. Verizon has become a quick ally in making sure the issue, as the FCC would have it apply to wireless, is not over-simplified:
Both companies’ wireless divisions are expressing concern that the proposed rules would apply to ISPs regardless of medium, and the argument is that while landlines (and the accompanying bandwidth) are a theoretically limitless resource, wireless bandwidth is ultimately limited by available spectrum no matter how advanced the underlying technology may be — and if the carriers don’t have authority to clamp down on certain types of heavy use, everyone loses.
Will AT&T’s rollout of MMS for the iPhone, better 3G, and TLE be too little, too late? The popularity of video on mobile phones is increasing, due to several factors:
- availability of video capable handsets
- increase demand for video
- economies of scale, leveraging video already broadcast in digital formats
Will AT&T’s rollout of TLE fix the problem or the solution? Once today’s video requirements are met, how will increased interactive applications be serviced? As Kudlow Report asks: will this stifle innovation? The question to Cellular providers is: do you really need a walled garden?
The NY Times reports that AT&T and another cellular provide, T-Mobile, are starting to address the problem with Wi-Fi. They should take it one step further. One of the features supported in the ATSC candidate Mobile DTV standard is data-casting. Using a portion of the over-the-air (OTA) transmission bandwidth, shared with the same spectrum and equipment used for HDTV, information may be pushed out over the airwaves. The handset could be augmented with a receiver for these signals. It would be free to anyone with a receiver, but if the bandwidth intensive content is in a different lane on the information superhighway, part of the problem is alleviated.
One application of this feature could be to start downloading content to phones in anticipation of viewer demand. Similar to the Vudu model for serving movies. The Vudu box stores beginning sequences for a large number of popular titles, then goes out to its peer-to-peer network to acquire the entire content. Cellular providers would have to tweak the model, but only slightly.
Imagine a future handset with multiple radio receivers:
- 4G: LTE, WiMax, etc.
- ATSC Mobile DTV
Of course, a multi-band device with these capabilities would need a new FCC approval.