The quality of coverage remains a paramount concern among US wireless Internet users, according to a study by the Yankee Group, which found that two-thirds of wireless Internet subscribers would be interested in changing service providers for better coverage.
Service interruptions with wireless voice calls have become a somewhat acceptable fact of mobile life in the US, but the Internet poses new problems.
“We all hear complaints from subscribers and from foreign visitors about supposed ‘shortcomings’ in wireless coverage,” said Mark Lowenstein, the Yankee Group’s executive VP for wireless programs. “Dropping the occasional voice call is OK, but who is responsible when you’re dropped in the middle of doing a stock trade on your mobile phone?”
The Yankee Group compared the US to four countries with high wireless penetration and usage rates (Japan, UK, Germany, and Finland) to see why wireless coverage in the US seems to be lacking. Among the findings:
- The huge US land mass and major-city spread has led to a low cell-site density of 2.3 sites per 100 square miles, compared to 3.8 in Finland, 9.4 in Japan, 20 in the UK, and 35 in Germany.
- The US population density is 75 per square mile, about one-ninth that of the UK and Germany. Finland has more than three times the number of cell sites per 10,000 people, indicating a more comprehensive investment in wireless infrastructure.
- Only 41 percent of the US population lives in an urban area compared to 78 percent in Japan, 87 percent in Germany, and 76 percent in the UK. Americans travel an average of more than 14,000 miles a year, more than twice that of people in the UK, and five times that of Japanese citizens. Thus, the average US user requires a coverage area of 1,330 square miles, which is 14 times what a user in Japan would need, five times that in Germany, and 3.5 times that in the UK and Finland.
- The 80,000+ cell sites in the US are spread across 10 major carriers, using different air interfaces and incompatible networks, resulting in a misallocation of resources.
“But there is reason for hope,” said Eugene Signorini, a Yankee Group analyst. “Recent merger activity among wireless operators, the development of extensive affiliate partnerships, long-term roaming agreements, the emergence and growth of tower consolidators, and technologies such as repeaters, smart antennas, and multimode phones are all helping to alleviate coverage issues and move the industry in a positive direction.”
And why is that important? Because the number of people accessing the Internet through wireless devices is set to explode. The number of individuals using cell phones for wireless data applications among the US Internet population is set to increase from the current 3 percent to an estimated 78 percent in the next 12 months, according to research by the strategic research group within the E-Business Unit of Cap Gemini America and Corechange, Inc. Presently, one-third of the US population uses cell phones for business purposes. Of this group, only 11 percent are currently using them for data applications, representing merely three percent of the entire population.
Or is it? According to a report by Forrester Research, 72 percent of US households currently have no interest in receiving data like news, weather, and sports scores on their wireless phone. Wireless e-commerce fared even worse, with nearly 75 percent of households saying they weren’t comfortable with the concept.
But consumer interest in wireless Web access may see a rise in the not-too-distant future. Just as many consumers first received cellular phones through their employers and used them for business purposes, now only 3 percent of consumers say they use their cell phone exclusively for business. The ability to send and receive text messages and access features like a personal calendar will likely drive more people online through their phone than wireless e-commerce, according to Forrester’s report.
As we saw with Internet adoption in general, the more technology-savvy crowd will likely be the first to use wireless devices to access the Internet. A survey of 1,047 technology professionals who are members of internet.com’s Technology Advisory Panel (internet.com is the publisher of this site) found that nearly 90 percent of the respondents have or plan to use wireless Web services within a year. Among the hurdles to wireless access is the perception by 41 percent of the respondents that wireless access is less secure than hard-wired systems.
Also similar to Internet access in general, email is the first application finding widespread acceptance among wireless Net users. Sixty percent of the internet.com respondents have already connected to Web-enabled services, and 50 percent have used wireless email. Fund transfers (15 percent), shopping and searching (13 percent), and sports scores (12 percent) are among the least popular uses. When it comes to advertising, 86 percent of the early adopters of the wireless Web on the internet.com panel see it as intrusive, but half would accept it if advertising meant paying less for wireless Web service.
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