In a discussion a while ago someone came up with a suggestion for something that could only be done by a 3G Phone. My, "thank god, a reason for 3G at last" was met with a sudden, thoughtful silence by the 5 cellphone company people who were buying me lunch. But it could have been worse, it could have been the Ming experience.
Sometime last month I was bored and decided to check what my mobile phone actually could do. It is not an expensive phone, but a rather recent one with 3G. Which means it can access the net with a useful bandwidth and it has video and stuff like that. So, it can be a video phone for one thing. But actually I didn't run into anybody I had a chance to try that with.
But it can also just play videos. There's a bunch of TV channels, and there are music videos and stuff like that. So I watched some of those, and clicked around a little bit to see what was there. I think I spent an hour doing that.
Pretty crummy on a small screen like that, but I thought it was cool that it could do that. Until I got the bill, that is. I had accepted a €4 charge for some categories of videos, all I want, all day, which sounded ok, and I expected to see that on my bill. Plus, I imagined I might be using up my calling minutes.
But, no, that hour of poking around in stuff I thought was largely free cost me over 100 euros. The killer was the billing by kilobyte, at a ridiculously high rate. Which means one has to be pretty insane to sit and watch crummy videos at several euros per minute. So, one thing is to have fancy technology. Another is that it might be billed in such a way that it is totally useless. Having a 3G phone essentially gives me nothing.
Here's the problem in a nutshell. 3G has cost so much to roll out that the only way the telcos will make the $$ back before hell freezes over is to soak the user dumb, or bored, or experimental enough to get carried away with it.
Unfortunately for the Telcos, that is a self innoculating experience. Throw in the fact that voice calls are a trivial percentage of available bandwidth on a 3G network, and should therefore be charged out at practically nothing, and you get a very nasty hole in the business plan.
One of these days they are going to have to write all that investment off the books; it will NOT be a pretty sight.