Beechlog‎ > ‎Feb 2000‎ > ‎


Happy New Year

Welcome to the year 2000! This year has been heralded as the start of a new age in communications. In the first few days of 2000 we have seen the Vodaphone takeover of Mannesmann, and the Time-Warner AOL merger. It has been predicted that there will be a big shake-out in the communications and media businesses, as companies jostle to position themselves ready to to take advantage of new developments in the information and entertainment world.

Indeed there is plenty to suggest that big money is waiting to be made. A few years ago, who would have predicted the incredible growth in mobile phone ownership in the UK? Even the takeup of digital TV has surprised many, including myself. Internet access has expanded greatly since I first started using it about 5 years ago, largely a result of the "free" ISP bonanza. So where are we heading? What benefits are in store?

For some time it has been possible to access the internet over mobile phones. The "early adopters" have been those (single young men?) who have always been fascinated by new ideas, regardless of actual benefit, and some business users. I haven't actually had a suitable phone to do this with, although I have used Psions and Palm Pilots to connect to web and mail servers via a dial up wired connection. However, wandering around Slough last weekend I saw shops stuffed with the new Nokia 7110 phone, with its built-in WAP browser, ready for exploring the internet via WAP portals.

WAP hardly exists at the moment, but no matter. This represents a potential of greatly increasing the time mobile users spend making calls, it's no wonder the likes of Vodaphone, Orange, etc. are rubbing their hands together in glee.

Although WAP is "new technology", the idea is quite old. It's not far removed from Viewdata, a means of retrieving information via a TV set (via a phone line) dating back to the eighties. I remember spending hours using Viewdata (I tested the TV's for a public trial). WAP promises access to the web via portals that reduce todays complex web sites to a short pick list. This fills me with intrigue, I'll believe it when I see it! Reading the screen is one thing, but typing in stuff with a normal phone keypad must be another matter. Though I must say the word prediction system on my phone works surprisingly well.

However, the phones are in the shops, so we'll soon see what happens. I can't see me being a customer though. Last month my Virgin Mobile bill came to about one pound, for a dozen or so short calls (the bill for the calls I made from Cyprus will take a while to arrive)! I have no plans to greatly increase this!

Great changes are promised for the way we obtain our entertainment. These seem to involve the merging of the internet and television. The web on our TV, and TV programmes via the net. I have commented about this before, and little seems to have changed. At the moment the net can't keep the data flowing fast enough. Whatever increases there have been in capacity have been offset by the increase in usage. The best connection I have seen this year was in my companies Boston HQ. Here I achieved downloads from the Cix news server in excess of 60 kbyte/s, even though the server was a few thousand miles away. Not enough for TV though, although no doubt this could be possible if the local ISP hosted the TV server, and the customer was connected directly via a high speed xDSL link. But having been a customer of the local cable TV company for almost 10 years, there is still no sign of any sort of improved internet connectivity. Indeed, their new pricing structure carries a message in small print at the bottom of the list, it excludes calls to ISP's!

Also the merger of TV and mobile phones has been predicted, I fear by media types who have not done their sums! I suppose a 1 inch screen of a few hundred pixels requires a low-ish data rate, but who wants to pay 30p a minute to watch unrecognisable faces on such a puny screen?

One of the factor influencing this technology is that current markets must be approaching saturation. There was a rush for digital TV before Christmas, but it's not likely to carry on at that rate. The mobile phone market in the UK is certainly greater than in the US (when scaled), the only incentive to buy more kit is to add new services. We can hardly watch more TV than at present. (I watched a little TV in the US, when I could find programmes in between the adverts. One girl in the office was addicted to UK programmes - Boston is the home of WBGH (or similar), who make joint programs with the BBC. I also checked out the TV in Cyprus.

Next page...