New Hope For Narrowband

If you’re thinking you have to spend millions for broadband candy right now, think again.

The age of narrowband Internet services is getting a new lease on life, as the Internet goes mobile. That message came from this week’s Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) meeting in New Orleans. On Monday Cisco Systems joined Motorola, while Microsoft joined British Telecom, in major new investments aimed at bringing Internet services to mobile devices. These are not National Football League team owners. They don’t spend $1 billion lightly. That’s the price tag put on the Cisco-Motorola alliance alone.

Others have gone beyond the alliance stage, heading straight to product announcements. Nextel and Netscape announced a wireless Internet gateway called “Nextel Online,” which includes browser access. Shares in Nextel rose on the news.

All this means there will soon be millions of new Internet users using slow modems and tiny screens. They’ll want short e-mails and simple text. Study their needs, serve those needs, and you’ll do well.

I also got a hint last week that the age of broadband is coming more slowly than anyone expects. BellSouth installed a 1.5 Mbps ADSL modem on my phone, and while it works, it took two technicians four hours to install it, with help from a supervisor. He admitted this was not unusual, that his teams usually add just two ADSL customers each day. You do the math. At two homes a day, with 10 million in each service area, the Bellheads just can’t serve the market. Cable companies must spend billions upgrading their networks just to prepare for broadband, and their devices slow down as more people use them. Yes, the pace will pick up. But how many times must the pace double before it equals the rate at which mobile users will start dialing into your site in the year 2001?

So look at your text-heavy pages with their small .gifs and relax. They are not obsolete, nor will they be for quite some time.

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