Monday, January 31, 2011

What Needs To Be Known About NGP's 3G

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The much rumored follow up to the Playstation Portable codenamed the Next Generation Portable or NGP by been officially been announced by Sony.  Sporting a screen that displays 720p high definition graphics and two analog thumb sticks, Sony promises the NGP will deliver a gaming experience only matched by the PS 3.  One feature that surprised many analysts and journalists that follow the video game industry is the built in 3G capability. 

Onboard 3G will bring online multiplayer gaming to anywhere there is 3G service available.  What isn't known is if Sony will be selling the NGP using a business model similar to Apple's iPad making the end customer subscribe to 3G service on their own or will be more like Amazon's Kindle where the cost buying content pays for 3G service.  Since the onboard 3G will be used for playing online, not just for downloading content it's extremely likely that Sony will choose the former rather than the latter. 

Another of the first of the early questions about the NGP's 3G is going to be which carriers' networks are going to be compatible the NGP.  If Sony chooses make the end user responsible for subscribing to their own 3G service it will be most likely that HSPA/UMTS/GSM networks will be compatible.  American gamers will need to subscribe to data service from AT&T and possibly T-Mobile if Sony chooses to support Advanced Wireless Spectrum bands on the NGP.

Subscribers on Verizon and Sprint are once again SOL, Even though CDMA subscribers make up about half of the cell subscribers in all of North America, putting in CDMA would increase the cost and would be next to impossible to get service hooked up since both Verizon and Sprint don't activate devices they didn't originally sell through their authorized retail outlets.

For Canadian gamers, getting online through 3G will be pretty easy, since the NGP will be compatible with Rogers, Fido, Telus and Bell right out of the box.  If the NGP comes compatible with AWS Wind Mobile and Mobilicity will also be compatible.  MTS may also be compatible if they can get their HSPA network that they have been promising up and running before the NGP launches at the end of 2011.  However subscribers on Sasktel may have problems getting an NGP online, not because of an incompatible network, just incompatible customer service.  Sasktel even after switching to an HSPA network still refuses to activate unlocked devices on their network.

Putting 3G on the NGP will bring an online component that will help Sony compete against Nintendo's 3DS and will undoubtedly be game changing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RIM Playbook 4G Could Be Rare In Canada

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At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, and just about everywhere else RIM has showed it, the Playbook RIM's answer to Apple's iPad is a surprise hit.  The Playbook launches from their position as a maker of smartphones that have traditionally appealed to the corporate world into a company that makes general consumer electronics. Just like the iPad the entry level model will get online through WiFi only, but unlike Apple's high end iPad with 3G connectivity, RIM's upper end Playbook can get online there's a 4G connection through Sprint's WiMax network.

For the vast majority of potential users who do not yet have access to any 4G service the Playbook can be WiFi tethered to Blackberry smartphone or a MiFi personal hotspot to access 3G service.  A rather cumbersome work around to get connected outside the limited areas covered by 4G service.  

For those in the Great White North looking to get a Playbook, it's already looking like it will be a better idea to save your pennies and go with the WiFi only model.  WiMax service only available in popular cottaging areas North of Toronto, and some ski resorts in Alberta and BC.  WiMax provider Inukshuk Wireless, a partnership between Rogers & Bell hasn't built out into most densely populated areas, owing any WiMax device may make any buyer regret spending the money very quickly.

Now that Rogers and Bell have stated intentions of building LTE networks, the makes any expansion of Inukshuk unlikely at best.  That will mean that waiting for a future Playbook with onboard 3G or LTE support for those Canadians, especially those in Manitoba (MTS) and Saskatchewan (Sasktel) who will not be getting WiMax at all, who don't wish to be bothered with tethering with a Blackberry.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Windows Phone 7: What's Next?

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In the past few months since Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 all that has been seen is a bunch of ads promoting Windows Phone 7 as the smartphone for those who don't typically use smartphones.  Despite the claim 1.5 million Windows Phone handsets have been sold to carriers, there has been no mention of how many Windows Phone 7 handsets have been sold to consumers.  Undoubtedly there is so much more that can be done to sell Windows Phone 7.  Microsoft to their credit, including access to Xbox live and allowing developers of games that play on Xbox 360 to develop games to run on Windows Phone 7 that integrate into Xbox live will most certainly appeal to gamers.

To those who would never buy a smartphone and video game players, Microsoft has those users covered but for any other smartphone user, does Windows Phone 7 offer anything better than what they get from iPhone, Android, or Blackberry? The answer is generally considered to be an overwhelming no.  How can Microsoft turn things around before Windows Phone 7 ends up a lost cause, and not become another WebOS?

Firstly, the Big M will need to get Windows Phone 7 on every cell carrier they can.  Leaving out CDMA in the initial release of Windows Phone 7 was a fatal flaw, Now that Verizon will be carrying the iPhone Microsoft kissed away one of largest groups of cell phone subscribers.  That leaves Sprint's 45 million subscribers, may be the third largest carrier but still a large enough group of potential customers to make adding support for CDMA worthwhile for Microsoft.  There are still many subscribers on regional cell carriers where the only smartphone they have access to is Blackberries. That's is starting to change though, Android phones are now starting to appear on smaller carriers. 

Microsoft's long path to greater market share is not just getting Windows Phone 7 Handsets on more of today's wireless networks, but tomorrow's as well. Long Term Evolution or LTE currently being rolled out by Verizon, with deployment by AT&T next year and by T-Mobile to follow, getting Windows Phone 7 on LTE based smartphones will get Microsoft in ahead of most of the competition.  The only operating system will be available in the short term is Android.  Apple and Research In Motion have not yet even announced LTE iPhones or Blackberries.

Since Blackberry is widely considered to be in decline, and WebOS is considered to be a crash and burn, The smartphone OS market is shaping up to be a two horse race.  It would not be impossible for Microsoft to come from behind and become the third major player in the market. They can do it, they have done so before in home video games.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Verizon's iPhone Is Going To Suck!!

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Three and a half years of pent up anticipation will come to an end when Verizon Wireless and Apple announce that Verizon will become the second carrier in the United States to carry the iPhone.  Unlike in most countries where the iPhone is sold that a carrier's exclusivity ends and then every other carrier sell iPhones.  It will be the first time that the iPhone hardware is engineered from the ground up for just one carrier.  Unlike the GSM & UMTS technologies found in every iPhone sold to date, Verizon's CDMA network has limitations that will make the experience of using an iPhone running Verizon's network unlike the iPhone experience that people are used to.

Just about every criticism of AT&T's iPhone service comes from just two American cities - San Francisco and New York.  Both cities restrict the number, placement, and height of cell phone towers.  These restrictions have caused the dropped calls and slow data rates that iPhone users in these cities to complain about the service that AT&T provides.  However all cell phone carriers operate under these restrictions including Verizon.  If the subscribers who get iPhones from Verizon are defectors from AT&T there will be will be faster data rates and fewer dropped calls for iPhone users on both Verizon and AT&T.  If however Verizon attracts new subscribers or their current subscribers upgrade to iPhones, Verizon's network will bog down in San Francisco and New York.

Despite the complaints in a few areas of slow data speed, AT&T can actually provide faster data connections due to their faster 3G HSPA technology, which can provide data speeds up to 7.2 Mbps, which is far greater than the EV-DO technology used by Verizon which tops just short of 1.0 Mbps.  This ability for AT&T has been well promoted through their own commercials.  

Another limitation of CDMA is that when data applications are unable to run while a call is connected.  Another advantage of the iPhone that was advertised by both Apple and AT&T in the past.  Apple has added more and more multitasking abilities into the iPhone over the past couple of years only to saddle themselves with a limitation like that for the Verizon iPhone, probably one of the reasons it took this long.

Users of smartphones know way too well the daily need to feed their phones power to charge their batteries.  iPhones are no different, a voracious appetite for electricity which if it goes unfulfilled can leave an iPhone sitting with a dead battery.  Using CDMA technology that appetite for power gets a lot larger.  CDMA phones have always performed poorly when compared with GSM counterparts.  Combining the already short battery life inherent to CDMA, with the battery gobbling tendencies of the iPhone means a good time for those selling iPhone charging products.   

There has been a lot of excitement about the possibility that someday there would be an iPhone coming to Verizon, because of the limitations of CDMA hardware there are going to be a lot of disappointment when Verizon's iPhones don't provide the same experience that everybody else's iPhones have.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are You Ready For Cell Phone Commerce?

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Just in the past couple of years advancements in payment processing have brought consumers from swiping the card and then signing the credit slip or keying in a pin for a debit transaction, to chip and pin on both debit and credit cards and now tap and go technology now found on both MasterCard and Visa cards.  In the near term future technology that will even replace the plastic cards that consumers have loved (or hated) to make purchases with their own cell phones will emerge.

The idea of making purchases with a cell phone instead of cash has existed for several years.  In some asian countries vending machines with text messaging ordering and payment has existed for some time.  A customer sends a text message with the name of the product to be dispensed, the purchase price is then added to the customer's next cell phone bill or deducted from their pre-paid account.

Paying for purchases could move from vending machines to the point of sale terminals in retail stores within the next couple of years.  One such system backed by Google and potentially Apple known as Near Field Communication works exactly like PayPass enabled MasterCard or PayWave enabled Visa transactions, an RFID chip embedded in the phone would send it's information to the store's point of sale system.  This could require the purchaser to key in a PIN into their phone in order allow a transaction to proceed.  This could add a layer of security that current PayPass and PayWave systems being implemented by the credit card issuers don't have.

Another system being proposed is using a display screen on the point of sale terminal that shows a bar code that the customer takes a picture with their phone, an app on their phone would make the customer verify and authorize the purchase being made. 

Canada's largest by volume payment processor, Interac has not stated any intent or interest in mobile commerce, If retail establishments implement cell phone payment processing, it could leave those who do not have credit cards on the outside looking in, similar to online shopping is now. 

For every new technology, there are going to opportunities to exploit it to steal credit and debit card numbers along with PIN's assigned to cardholders.  It would not be impossible for criminals to park a van in front of a store set up a completely open WiFi access point.  Most smartphones have WiFi capability that automatically connects to open WiFi access points that would allow for sensitive data like credit card numbers and PIN's to be captured and allow potential identity theft.

For cell phone based payment systems to take hold and displace plastic cards security will have to be a major issue that needs to be addressed.  Even when it's proven that mobile commerce can be secure it will be a hard sell to both retailers and consumers. 

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