Last week Cingular announced their initial rollout of 3G services. Before the SBC acquisition of AT&T wireless, there was a core group of UMTS test markets; Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. At the beginning of the ATTWS to Cingular transition, there were talks of keeping the UMTS markets alive but looking at the message boards, users were being offered one-time inconvenience packages for UMTS service outages. With the dismantling of the attws.com domain, all information about subscribing to 3G services for now “Cingular Blue” customers were now closed.
All year, we’ve seen the rollout of the EVDO 3G services by Verizon and Sprint. Granted, this is a large country and there are lots of mobile subscribers out there to which 3G means nothing. To us gear heads and technophiles, this is just another cool-tool swinging on the batman utility belt, or in my case the hipster sling bag or Cafe Bag. The huge problem is that there needs to be a profitable hook for 3G. In the United States, the world of mobitainment is in its infancy. WAP sites aren’t generally geared for the go-go media saturated American market, so mobile phone carriers waited to roll out content when the bandwidth was able to handle what we apparently want to see. The problem is, that we aren’t a culture of phone-gazers. Unlike in Japan, we don’t have a contingency of fashionista girls traipsing the streets of megalopolis socially networking with other fashionistas pushing the limits of mobile communications. We use our phones to natter on about the most mundane portions of our lives. Services like text messaging and WAP were big in other countries because it was a cheaper alternative to voice transactions. Now with the internet thrusting into the operational core of major media firms, heck all businesses for that matter, there is an emerging desire for truly mobile internet access. Sure, there are traditionalists that sit down in public hotspots to surf the internet (in the matter of full disclosure, I am one of those people), but that’s not good enough anymore. I want to be able to surf the internet at a reasonably fast connection while being chauffeured around the countryside. Fanciful dreaming yes, but being in the first world, I expect to be wrapped in geeky unguents. Unfortunately, the America is full of average Americans who don’t want this unadulterated bandwidth coursing through their pockets. I don’t know the hard numbers of people who enjoy the 30 second video clips of television shows, ostensibly a way to generate buzz about a failing show, on their tiny mobile phone screens. My best guess is that there isn’t a lot, and on top of that I bet they don’t want to pay a premium to access this media. It is the masses and services that have chosen to add a mobile component like Yahoo Flickr, Google, CNN, BBC, and TextAmerica, that push the need for better mobile access.
Business people can afford this by claiming it as a necessary expense, but that doesn’t help the content get any better. I do subscribe to a data plan to allow for mobile communications. I wanted the UMTS service and I live in the area that AT&T marked as covered. I would like to consider myself a mobile professional, but only in the sense that I work as a professional and I happen to like mobile communications, they aren’t tied together by any means. Reports of Cingular launching HSPDA with UMTS services were very thrilling. I saw myself importing a Japanese UMTS phone… All hopes were dashed when I saw that the initial market for their “BroadbandConnect” service is not going to be laid over the UMTS infrastructure in Michigan. Why did Cingular decide not to build here? AT&T was bold enough to test market here, why not include it in the release? I can understand if there was a lack of interest in the service, but towers were built, people subscribed, kiosks were erected to tout the service. What I fear is that the state economy or the cooling auto industry is what kept us from the roll out.