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Big sites, little phones: a mis-match from the get-go

December 7, 2009

I feel bad for AT&T. They dropped their “maps” suit against Verizon last week and when I first learned of this suit I knew AT&T was in trouble. Their 3G coverage is less than Verizon’s and any iPhone user can tell you as much. They also came in dead last in satisfaction in a recently released Consumer Reports survey. So why is AT&T’s network a poor performer?

Too many iPhones accessing bloated PC-based web sites. The AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega admitted as much recently while promising to address the problem. Let’s hope it’s not with metered data pricing.

One may say that big sites on little phones isn’t the only reason for AT&T’s woes but I’m going to put my network hat on and say it’s got a lot to do with what users are seeing on their phones. Dropped calls, slow data sessions and lack of signal are signs of capacity problems in a shared resource like your typical cell sector.

Even if you had a 1MB connection on Wimax or some 4G network like it you still have to address the problem of how much data a cell phone can process. I recall from my days at Sprint talking to handset guys about how much of the cell phone’s processor could be devoted to an application and still maintain the radio link. It was 10% for the app and 90% for the radio. Apps back on those days had to be small in KBs to fit into tiny memory and they were thin in what they did because the processor was maxed out. This was especially the case for video apps decoding video streams.

Anything done on a handset these days is a volatile mix. When folks would say why is this video running at one frame per second I would reply that what you have is “wireless internet streaming, ….volatile, volatile, volatile”. Just look closely at the fine print on any iPhone ad on TV. You’ll see the phrase “Sequences shortened”. All that cool stuff with iPhones doesn’t happen nearly as fast as they show. If anyone should be claiming a lack of truth in advertising it should be iPhone users and these sequence-shortened ads. As far as data networks go, I think Sprint’s is the best out there and I’ve tried them all.

The mobile industry needs to acknowledge that the mobile internet is not the PC internet on a cell phone. You’ve seen me write about this before. I believe that if there were more optimized mobile internet sites out there like what you can have with a free Ruxter site, the mobile internet would be a lot more useful, networks would be a lot faster and we’d get the information we want faster since it would be front and center and not buried 5 clicks deep in a Flash-rich PC-based website.

Perhaps more importantly, the carriers would be less inclined to look seriously at metered pricing for data as a means to not spend on their networks.

Dale Knoop is the President of Ruxter and an industry-recognized pioneer of mobile data services. In 2005 Dale won an Emmy while serving as the GM for Sprint TV. In August 2009 he launched Ruxter which allows anyone to quickly and easily become part of the rapidly growing mobile internet with a free, fully optimized mobile website they can share with anyone. You can contact him here. Follow Ruxter on Twitter.

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