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What’s the Big Draw for 3G?

I’ve been having this conversation with Chris Gavula on and off for about six months now: what is the huge draw for 3G cellular speeds here in The States? With 3G coverage so sparse here, and all of the cell carriers and device manufacturers and OEM’s barking about how this device or that device does 3G, it kinda makes me wonder… So, after listening to one of the latest MoTR podcasts, I finally decided to buckle down and create (what I am certain will be) the buzz that should get everyone thinking (and hopefully talking…) about it – Here in the States, what is really the big draw for 3G; because I really don’t think the masses care, know what it can offer them, or even really care (did I just repeat myself..?)

Most everyone with cell service has access to 2.5G (EDGE or 1xRTT) data access speeds. I’ve got AT&T, and EDGE is what you live with, with just about every device they have except the few, high end devices like the Blackjack (both 1 and 2), the Treo 750 and the Tilt, to name a few…but those are really high end PDA-based smartphones. Most of the general public are using feature phones like the Moto RAZR, Nokia N75, or the Samsung SLM, and even some of those are higher end feature phones. Some of those have 3G speeds, some don’t.

Most of the general public uses cell phones for some very basic tasks:

  • Phone calls (obviously)
  • Taking pictures (and sending picture, or MMS, messages)
  • Text messaging

All of these things do NOT require 3G speeds. While having 3G speed is a huge plus, especially for picture messages, 2.5G speeds do a decent job; and will likely continue to do a good job for some time to come. Most feature phone users really don’t care about 3G. All they want to do is talk, txt, and take pix. You really don’t need 3G to do any of that, and again, with 3G coverage here so sparse, all it really does is drain your battery as the radio fights with local 2.5G and 3G towers for signal dominance.

In Europe and other parts of the world, 3G cellular networks are much more prevalent. They also likely have a lot more real world, consumer based use than what we’re using the network for over here in The States. MobiTV and other broadcast video apps like it, don’t get a lot of use over here due to service cost, and again, network coverage. Trying to view any kind of streaming video via EDGE can be painful at times. 3G coverage is available in some major markets (but not all) like Chicago, Atlanta, LA, Nashville (yes, Nashville…), but isn’t available in every part of the 5 ‘Boro’s in the New York area (go figure…you would think that it would be all over the East Coast…). The same can be said for streaming audio. The experience is much better when you have 3G service.

…and don’t get me started about signal penetration… if you’re trying to do ANY of this in any building in downtown Chicago (or any metro area for that matter), and have any other service other than Verizon, you’re going to have trouble (though admittedly, after I got my replacement Blackjack from AT&T due to the "recall," my call quality went up, and I didn’t drop as many calls). This is one of the reasons why the recent wireless spectrum auction with the FCC has been so important. Signal penetration is so important to the success of 3G network roll outs…

So again, I ask, what is the draw for 3G here in The States? The only thing that I have been able to come up with is one, very important feature:

Simultaneous voice and data traffic

When you make a voice call with a 2.5G device, any and all data traffic is suspended and queued. When you end that voice call, data traffic resumes, and any data items in the queue (e-mail, IM’s, text messages, MMS messages, etc.) are delivered to the device. With a 3G device (and a supported 3G signal), data traffic is never suspended, so nothing is ever queued. You get data delivered to your device regardless of what you’re doing with the phone, again, as long as you’ve got a 3G signal.

The first time this happened to me, I got kinda freaked out. Then it was really kinda cool. For me, it means that as long as I have a 3G signal, I get e-mail regardless of if and when I am on a voice call. In my opinion, this is where the vast majority of 3G customers in The States, that make use of their data plan(s), will see the value.

However, unless and until we see a couple of key things take place –

  • Better 3G network coverage
  • Implementation of 3G applications
  • Adoption of 3G Services (apps mentioned above)
  • Reasonably priced 3G apps/services

I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of people truly embrace 3G here in The States. I simply don’t see the draw for the masses. I could be wrong; but knowing how my wife is the exact opposite of me (she is the anti-geek to my geek), I don’t see 3G making its way beyond anyone else other than me at our house.

What do you think? I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions and thoughts. Please join in the discussion below and tell us what you think…

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