T-Mobile has launched a mobile Internet package it claims will drag people away from PCs to browse and send e-mail by phone.
"Mobile Internet usage will displace fixed-line Internet usage," said chief executive Rene Obermann. "It will change the way we live and work even more than mobile voice."
The Web'n'Walk service is actually closer to dial-up than broadband, with a basic monthly fee of £30 for 100 minutes of voice and 40MB of data, and speeds up to 384Kbit/s where 3G is available, but usually much less.
The price breaks down to about £10 a month for the data, according to UK managing director Brian McBride, who claimed this was more than most users would require: "That's about 2,500 emails or 500 web pages."
T-Mobile did not offer any extra incentives, like the free six months' introduction O2 offered with its i-mode service, which launched last month. T-Mobile Executives were unwilling to compare their services, but implied that O2's i-mode is a traditional "walled garden" approach, where users will be persuaded to remain on tailored i-mode sites, while Web'n'Walk will give them "the whole Internet in their pocket". "Walled gardens will not bloom," said McBride.
Despite this, T-Mobile's own walled garden, T-zones, will continue to exist, and will be linked from the Web'n'Walk home page, said Obermann.
Despite what it claims is a low price, T-Mobile has stopped short of unmetered access, because mobile Internet is still an untried market, said McBride: "There will always be some premium for mobility. This is early days and we're going to monitor how it works." He added: "We are not here to rip people off - we're here to create a new mass market." The company also said it won't be pushing VoIP because it's not ready for the mass market.
Although the MDA can handle Wi-Fi and mobile data, any users adding a VoIP client such as Skype will have to do so under their own steam. "We have demonstrated seamless handover, but there is no mainstream demand for VoIP," said Obermann. "Customers that use VoIP will experience a significant number of challenges." Next year, the company will introduce handsets that can handover seamlessly, for corporate customers, he said. "In future, if and when VoIP becomes mainstream, we would expect to introduce QoS and additional security.
"There is a perception that VoIP is free," added McBride, but pointed out that a Wi-Fi connection may cost money. "By the time VoIP hits the mass market, prices will be so converged that arbitrage is not an issue."
The launch included the much-heralded MDA, launched by T-Mobile in Germany earlier this year, and by Orange in the UK last month. Other phones include the MDA Compact, the SDA II, the Nokia 6630 and N790. Later in the year, the Danger Sidekick will arrive, a keyboard-based handheld aimed at consumers wanting to do instant messaging.
T-Mobile will be including remote management with the service, which can upgrade and fix firmware in the device remotely. These updates will be free, said Obermann, and could be extended in future to include an anti-virus service. "We can also offer users a complete remote back-up of their data," he promised.
In Germany, mobile substitution may not be so popular with T-Mobile's fixed-line parent, Deutsche Telekom, admitted Obermann: "But substitution is a fact of life. We are all grown up people." The company will also be keen on fixed-mobile convergence, in which phones with Wi-Fi (such as the MDA) will be able to take voice away from the PSTN: "In Germany, we are set up to take the benefit of fixed mobile convergence," said Obermann. "In the UK we are set up for mobile solutions that attack fixed telecoms."
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