Is mobile broadband for Universal Service a foregone conclusion?
While there has been plenty of positive coverage over the proposal to have a Universal Service Obligation in place and running for 2012 that could see a 2Mbps standard across the UK, as further meetings occur we are consistently seeing mobile operators at the forefront.
For people stuck with dial-up and no mobile coverage or just GPRS services then a 2Mbps 3G or similar technology service will be attractive, but there is a big 'but'. How easily and cheaply can the infrastructure and hardware consumers buy be updated to support 4G or WiMAX, since by 2012 a basic 2Mbps will be the equivalent of having a 256Kbps broadband connection now. Yes it's broadband by Ofcom definition and you can do your online banking, but embracing the digital revolution becomes difficult. Some of us remember that streaming video was possible over dial-up connections, but now no-one would sit and watch a 128 pixel wide online video.
A meeting between Lord Carter and the five UK mobile operators in an attempt to resolve a spectrum row has occurred at almost the same time Ofcom is releasing a consultation on how existing 900MHz licencees will be made to release 10MHz of bandwidth to be sold on through an auction. Exactly how much will firms be willing or able to pay for the capacity at this time when many firms are simply unable to get credit to even just see them through cashflow problems, let alone risky investment in mobile services.
Perhaps the risk of spending millions and millions in the auction is to be alleviated by the income that will come from handing a USO to mobile firms. With some 7% of UK households not having broadband or it runs at speeds under 2Mbps this could be an attractive market, since at the same time improved mobile coverage would allow the upsell of mobile handsets.
For those thinking 3G is a saviour, we'd suggest spending some time in a city with coverage, and while you can most of the time send and receive email, speeds for watching video content are highly variable even if in a static location. Using it for more advanced things like online gaming, or connecting multiple devices and you find out what the services limits are.
Here is an idea that is a long way out of the box- has anyone who holds the purse strings or can make telecoms providers jump considered asking the consumers and small businesses what they want? We don't mean an online consultation which will just see the usual respondents, but sending out physical people to see what it is that people actually want.