Ever since I have been involved in telecom (i.e.1986) I have heard the message of convergence and how it will impact the lives of users being sung over and over again. Whether it be discussed vis a vis ISDN, ATM, Internet, Mobile, triple play, quad play, I have always been waiting to see it finally happen. Now it is almost there!! !
Even when the network allowed for convergence, users still faced different bills for different services. Many users are still waiting for the day to get one bill and it has not happened. For example, Starhub in Singapore, owned cable, telephone and mobile but offered no single bill. SingTel likewise. In the US, triple play and one bill is slowly creeping in but what I would love to see if finally quad play (voice, data, video and mobile) leading to one bill.
The US is unfortunately a little behind Asia on mobile, and so whilst triple play is happening, quad play is not yet there. Even if it is, it is rather expensive. I find that unlike Asia, in the US there is separate pricing for text messaging, separate pricing for the voice airtime and again separate pricing for data (including Internet). This definitely hampers growth in the mobile market unlike in Asia. In Asia, mobile growth has exploded. However, as broadband mobile is implemented, even if pricing was good, there was no real promise for interconnectivity between the different mobile standards within countries or between countries. So even when mobile carriers offered attractive offers to get customers hooked on MMS for example, it did not kick off as consumers were hestitant of paying more for MMS and who they could reach (they were used to wider coverage with SMS, not to mention cheaper pricing).
Meanwhile, end devices did not help deployment either. In 1989, converegence was supposed to promise us a converged end device. Yet, we still see people carry handphones for voice, laptops for Wi-fi, etc. Will smart phone or the PDA/pocket PC type become the converged device. All these years, as people moved to usingPDAs, PalmPilots, or smart phones, I resisted. I resorted instead of going for the smaller and smaller laptops (my favorite being the Acer Travelmate). This did not satisfy me, as my handbag just got bigger and bigger (not to mention heavier) to carry laptop and handphone. Now, I think I have finally, I have reached my utopia…well almost. The Dopod 838Pro. Check it out…it is really the coolest thing!!
It was a lot smaller than the consumer reports told it to be (CNET said it was bulky) and it was not as heavy either. It is a pocket PC about the size of a larger handphone, and it has a camera, video camera, and pocket PC functions. What is coolest about it, is it is quad band GSM, has 3G and Wi-fi. So here I am, having my SIM card in, loading up skype and I finally have my all in one tool. I can use it to organise my life, connect to friends using skype, get on the Internet, make my phonecalls, and take pictures and videos. The only thing about it I don;t like is that the screen is not optimal for browsing. It is just a matter of getting used to a new format. The buttons for shortcuts on this device, plus the finger recognition (so you are not obliged to use the stylus) make it so user friendly indeed. My general rule of thumb is if I can use it without using a manual, then it is a great user friendly device!!
My prediction is that as devices such as the Dopod take off, websites and blogs will need to cater to these new devices and this will truly unleash the world of convergence for the user. As countries such as Singapore start offering free broadband wireless services, I really look forward to finally being connected always affordably, great usability, and just so empowering. This will not just be a world open to the big corporate user who can pay carriers for Blackberry, GPRS or other type of more expensive services.
The next challenge…how to make these devices more affordable and we will indeed bridge the digital divide for many more.