Friday, November 19, 2010

The Power of Embedded 3G

These days, whenever a new device is announced, the first thing I find myself doing is sifting through the small print to learn whether it will be WiFi only or support both WiFi and 3G connectivity. For sure, 3G seems to have an impact on how the public both perceives and discusses the usefulness of that device, so what does the future look like for this often times overlooked feature?

To start with, it’s obviously a cost issue. Adding embedded 3G to any device costs more money. With the iPad, the price jumps by over $100 and for some devices it goes up even more. However, having a 3G embedded device also creates a natural partnership between mobile carriers and tablets, allowing users to signup for a two year service plan and receive subsidized pricing on the tablet – as is the case with the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

What Does 3G Bring to the Table?

Think of it this way – a WiFi only device is no better than a laptop. Yes, you can carry it with you more comfortably, but you’re still stuck looking for WiFi signals wherever you go. That means paying extra fees in airports and hotels, hunting for hotspots when out of town, and having to simultaneously use the phone for any on-the-go communications.

On the other hand 3G allows you to greatly increase productivity. Just having a 3G transceiver embedded in a tablet, you’re immediately more likely to carry your tablet with you everywhere you go. It becomes more like a phone in its 24/7 mobility than a laptop which you must sit down to use in set areas – there’s a big difference.  

Beyond simple access, imagine being able to quickly and easily jump onto the Internet and check a video when on the train or look up an important fact or figure in your email. Imagine being able to work on a file and send it while in a cab. These are things you cannot do with WiFi.

Going Beyond Simple Access

Beyond simple Internet access, there are a lot of manufacturers out there pushing the implementation of voice features on devices with embedded 3G. The Galaxy Tab is again a great example. While not available in the US, the European models of the Tab sport voice that can be paired up with Bluetooth to use your Tab like a giant phone.

On one hand it helps the mobile carriers to sell contracts, but one has to wonder if it is a bit of a distraction. You already have a mobile phone most likely – do you need a voice connection to make your tablet useful? I don’t think it’s necessary, but at the same time the fact that it’s possible is yet one more point in favour of 3G connectivity.

Right now, we’re in the transition between 3G and a series of faster, more direct mobile technologies like WiMax and other 4G technologies. Devices that are willing to explore mobile access to the Internet beyond WiFi are going to not only be more useful, but eventually be more desirable (regardless of cost). 

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