Red tape holding back mobile web data

I just spent an illuminating week holidaying in a ‘cold spot’, without any mobile phone signal or internet access, and while that’s good for peace of mind, it says something worrying about the evolution of the mobile web.


I won’t name my quaint Cornish bolthole, in case it prompts an influx of overworked marketers trying to escape their emails. But it’s surprising how easy it is to let go of being ‘always on’ when there’s no choice but to switch off.

I could have walked down to the seafront, the only place in the village where I could receive texts and get 3G internet, whenever I wanted. But most of the time I just didn’t bother. Instead I reverted to non-digital pursuits.

The point here is that when the internet connection is slow, intermittent, or non-existent, the user will struggle to see the benefits of online services, because they don’t actually make life easier or more enjoyable. Instead, they make it frustrating and disappointing, so we just opt to do something else.

That should be chastening for those tasked with pushing forward innovation in the mobile internet and data industry, because the UK is showing itself to be a laggard in adopting faster 4G connections.

Numerous mobile devices, including the newest version of Apple’s iPad, are already equipped to download data via 4G connections, and consumers in other countries are already able to use them. But media regulator Ofcom doesn’t plan to auction off the frequency bands that could carry the signals in the UK until 2013 at the earliest.

Everything Everywhere, the mobile operator comprised of the Orange and T-Mobile brands, is ready to launch 4G services using the frequencies it currently owns, but has to wait for Ofcom to rule on whether allowing it this head-start would create an unfair monopoly.

All the while, the UK is dropping further and further behind in developing more bandwidth-intensive mobile content and services – location-based apps and high-definition video, for example.

Consumers won’t use technologies that are designed for faster connections than they have, because the experience won’t be a rewarding one.

That also means the bulk of the investment and wealth creation the industry should be delivering is being lost to other countries while the UK catches up.

Obviously the mobile operators and other interested parties can shout until they are blue in the face about how Ofcom should organise its 4G auction as soon as possible – for what little good it will do. But in the meantime, marketers need to impress upon their businesses the importance of ensuring their apps meet consumers’ needs given the existing infrastructure.

And they need to push their businesses to have high-quality products ready to take to market when 4G finally arrives, so they don’t lose any more time than necessary.

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