For wearable technologies, bandwidth matters (and other things)

Ab Fab Glass

Today, UK mobile operator EE is launching what it describes as “the world’s fastest 4G network” in part of London.

The company says that the network – running LTE Advanced technology, capable of reaching 300Mbps speeds – will initially cover London’s Tech City, with companies in the area being selected to access it first.

One significant metric EE quotes in its press release is this:

EE predicts data usage will rise by 750% over next three years

That means more content creation, consuming and sharing on the go. It means more desire to do more things that will require persistent connectivity, ie, being connected all the time in real time rather than connecting and disconnecting as you travel, either deliberately or forcefully when the network connection suddenly drops.

And it will require a great deal of bandwidth – what most users see as fast and consistent speeds – especially when it comes to using wearable technologies like Google Glass (currently available only in the United States to early adopters).

Right now, wearable technology sits at the top of the peak of inflated expectations in Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, described by Gartner as ‘wearable user interfaces’ (they are geeks).

Gartner's 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

For it to get into the mainstream requires multiple events to converge: connectivity is one, but also availability, affordability, ease of use, fashionability, utility, and undoubtedly a host of other things that will influence people’s desires and interest.

Indeed, EE sees this quite clearly:

[…] For consumers, the future of mobile is about connecting more devices, accessing more real-time information, and sharing higher definition images and videos. The emergence of wearable technology, for example, will continue to increase consumer usage of data across multiple connected products. In consumer entertainment, ultra high definition 4K TV is the future, and LTE-A makes it possible to support that on a mobile network. BBC iPlayer streams at 5Mbps, whereas 4K TV will stream at 20Mbps, so a consistently high average speed, enabled by sufficient capacity on the network, is essential.

Think not only wearable technologies from a consumer perspective – there are huge benefits for specific businesses, EE says:

[…] The amount of capacity within the 4G network enables the extension of vital, high-data business applications, such as ERP and SAP, to become cloud-based, offering enterprises increased efficiency and flexibility. Financial institutions in particular – often reliant upon transferring large volumes of data – can benefit enormously from this flexibility. Increased bandwidth across the network also enables a new approach to outside broadcast for media companies, as a small number of 4G SIMs can replace an entire satellite truck and the rental of a satellite connection.

So many foundations are being laid that will add to the elements that need to converge – aligning the planets, as it were – to become a tipping point that enables people to do the things they want to do, whether for business or for pleasure.

In the case of wearable tech, that means how fast it can scoot out of Gartner’s peak of inflated expectations, past the trough of disillusionment and onto the slope of enlightenment; and, ultimately, out to the plateau of productivity.

That latter destination, Gartner says, is at least five years away and could be as many as ten.

The way things and behaviours in context move and converge ever quicker – just listen to Shel Israel and Robert Scoble – I’d say much nearer five years than ten.

(Photoshopped pic of Patsy and Edina via Engadget)

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Differentiators in the battle for the 4G customer

UK mobile operatorsMobile operator EE has enjoyed a near year-long monopoly with its 4G cellular service in the UK, launched in October 2012.

That dominant market position comes to an end this week as rival mobile operators Vodafone and O2 begin to roll out their own 4G services from today, starting in London.

Or does it?

The Financial Times has an insightful report that assesses the options for the mobile operators, setting the scene with this perspective:

[…] EE now covers almost 100 cities and towns in the UK, and at speeds that it promises will be much faster than those of rivals, even if those faster services also carry higher prices.

Daniel Gleeson, analyst at IHS, says consumers will probably find differences in four main areas: speed, coverage, data caps and content. EE has in effect seized the advantage for the first two for now, meaning that rivals have needed to focus elsewhere instead.

While Vodafone’s and O2’s 4G coverage from the start will be in the tens of towns, EE actually covers 105 towns and cities now, according to a company announcement on August 28, covering 60 percent of the population. It also has double speed 4G – meaning, they say, potentially up to 60 megs download speed in the 20 towns and cities across the UK where it’s currently available. That’s faster than most consumer cable broadband speeds.

The FT story discusses what EE’s competitors may do to attract customers in ways that are credible: of the four main areas the paper mentions, network speed may do it, but coverage can’t yet match EE’s, so the FT suggests they’ll likely focus on data caps and content as differentiators.

As someone who’s been using EE’s 4G services since last December, courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in, I can say right now that the two most important areas of all are speed and coverage – in that order.

Until you’ve experienced cable broadband speeds on your mobile device, you won’t really appreciate what a massive advantage a really fast mobile internet connection can be as it enables you to get things done faster.

And faster in a magnitude of fives or so. Upload pics to Instagram in about five seconds rather than nearly 30 when you use 3G, for instance, on a 4G smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE I’ve been using. Highly-spec’d hardware and software play a role so I bet it’s an even better experience on newest devices like the Galaxy S4 LTE.

Of course, that’s my perspective – I have friends who have EE’s 4G and they swear by content (apps, games and online services in particular) as the most important thing, more than speed or coverage.

So expect Vodafone and O2 to have some amazing content deals to persuade you to sign up for their 4G service. I wouldn’t be surprised if EE comes up with some attractions to match.

And what about Three? They’re not due to launch their 4G service until later in the year. And maybe their differentiator will be price as they say there will be no price premium for their 4G (as a paying customer of Three, I find that most appealing).

In fact, I bet a price differentiator will be of major interest to customers from whoever gets the balance compellingly right – high speeds, broad coverage, unlimited data (or generous amounts), great content – all at a terrific price.

And therein lies an ongoing dilemma for customers – so much choice and how do you pick the best deal?

Cue opportunities for imaginative communication and great story-telling that give consumers the powerful reasons why they should choose you and your offering rather than the other guy’s. I wonder how social media and a social approach to engagement will support that communication  beyond the expected traditional marketing and let’s-sell-you-an-experience stuff.

There’s quite a time ahead if you’re on the lookout for a new mobile device.

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Get things done even faster on EE 4G

Need for Speed

Since I started using EE’s 4G cellular service last December courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in, the one thing that constantly impresses me is simply how fast it is so that you can get things done, well, faster.

Uploading Instagram photos and videos, status updates on Twitter or Facebook, opening a file in your Dropbox, streaming a TV show with iPlayer… you can do all of these things on your 4G mobile device when you’re out and about with the same confidence of having a great experience as you expect to have when you’re connected to your home/office broadband network or high-speed wifi.

EE started rolling out its 4G service last October, and says it’s currently available in 85 towns and cities across the country, offering 4G access to more than 55 percent of the UK population. EE adds that its 4G network is on track to cover 98 percent of the population by the end of 2014.

Last April, EE doubled the speed of its 4G network across some of the UK with headline 4G speeds of 80Mbps or more, making its service very competitive indeed in speed terms to high-speed cable broadband and wifi.

Today, July 4, EE is doubling speeds again with more double-speed 4G in twelve cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The company says that this latest double-speed 4G will see EE’s network reach a theoretical maximum top speed of 150Mbps – that’s much faster than typical cable broadband speeds – and will double the current average speeds to 24-30Mbps, giving the UK a 4G network that’s unequalled in Europe, faster than mobile networks in the US and Japan, and equal to the best in South Korea.

It’s good news for existing 4G customers in the cities where the new double speed is rolling out as you’ll get the faster service at no additional cost, says EE.

And that’s not all.

In its announcement yesterday, EE also announced a raft of new 4G-related and other services:

To meet the growing needs of customers and allow them to realise the potential of 4G and Fibre broadband, EE will launch a pioneering range of new services on 17th July, making it as simple and as easy as possible for people to access EE’s superfast network:

  • The UK’s first Shared 4GEE Plans, allowing customers to connect up to five separate devices to one 4GEE plan. Customers will receive one bill for all of their devices on their Shared plan, providing greater convenience and value.
  • The UK’s first range of Pay As You Go 4GEE Mobile Broadband Plans for customers who want the convenience of superfast speeds on tablets or laptops without a monthly contract.
  • Cash on Tap, in partnership with MasterCard – a quick, secure and convenient way for customers to make payments via their mobile.
  • EE will also be launching the Bright Box 2 wireless router for Fibre broadband customers later this summer. The Bright Box 2 is designed to offer a stronger Wi-Fi signal and less drop-off in speed when a customer moves around, as well as plug and play set up.

Read the details in EE’s press release: EE Launches Next Generation Services On World’s Fastest Network.

EE will soon lose its position as the only provider of 4G services in the UK when other UK mobile operators – Vodafone, O2 and Three – start rolling out their 4G services over the next few months.

Until then, you have one 4G network on which you can get things done really fast almost wherever you are – and even faster in one of those twelve cities with double speed.

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EE ups the 4G game

A daily commute

If you’re a customer of EE on a 4G cellular service plan, you’ll relish the latest news from the UK’s only mobile operator with a commercial 4G service.

EE announced today that it is doubling the speed and capacity of its 4G network that, the company says, will boost headline 4G speeds to 80Mbps plus, and double the average speeds for 4GEE customers to more than 20Mbps.

EE says double-speed 4G will initially be available in ten cities by the summer: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

If you’re like me, what you’re interested in knowing is what does that mean in your daily use of your 4G-capable mobile device on EE’s 4G network?

Here’s how EE describes it:

What it means for 4GEE consumer and business customers

With double-speed 4G for mobile broadband and smartphones:

  • Pictures can be uploaded and downloaded in HD, on larger screens, with greater resolution.
  • HD video can be uploaded and shared, and peer-to-peer video can be pin-point sharp and viewed with zero delay.
  • Multi-tasking on the move can become even quicker, with support for image and video-heavy online shopping, while uploading to Facebook and downloading an HD video.
  • ‘Always on’ technology, constantly taking in and sharing information from what we’re seeing and doing, can be supported.
  • Files so large that they previously required a fibre connection can be uploaded and shared, or stored in the cloud – all on the move from a mobile device, revolutionising working practices for content-heavy businesses.
  • A truly mobile office can be a reality, with smartphones, tablets and laptops connected by a 4G Mobile Wi-Fi device, serviced by average speeds around 20Mbps.
  • Streaming an HD video while uploading a presentation and speaking on a video conference call over IP, all in real time on mobile.

4G cellular service has now been available in the UK for about six months after EE  – the combination of Orange and T-Mobile – launched its service, dubbed 4GEE.

As a user myself of some of EE’s products on its 4G network – first, a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE smartphone and, most recently, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 LTE tablet courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in – the most significant aspect of it clearly is how it enables you to get things done faster.

You may have seen some of EE’s TV ads featuring Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon. Mixed opinions about the ads and Bacon abound. I like them, though: this one, for instance, from last November, very apt in light of today’s announcement about faster speeds:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

EE’s 4G service is currently available in 50 UK towns and cities across the UK: Amersham, Barnsley, Belfast, Bingley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford , Bristol, Cardiff, Chelmsford, Chorley, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Dudley, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Harpenden, Hemel Hempstead, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Luton, Maidenhead, Manchester, Newbury, Newcastle, Newport, Nottingham, Preston, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Shipley, Slough, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, St Albans, Stockport, Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Telford, Walsall, Watford, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.

EE says it’s aiming for 98 percent of the UK population to be covered by the end of 2014.

Soon, EE’s competitors in the UK will be rolling out their own 4G services. That’s when things will get really interesting in the mobile market in the UK from a business and a consumer perspective – what it all lets you do (faster), and how much it will cost to do it. Meanwhile, EE has a head start and is clearly intending to extend its footprint to maximize its first-mover advantage.

Read EE’s full announcement in their press release, embedded below (or see it in EE’s online newsroom).

(Picture at top of page courtesy CNET.)

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The future can be rosy for advertising and mobile

I must have walked past Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho scores of times over the past decades, yet I’ve never enjoyed the moments of being inside. Until last Wednesday.

On March 20, the iconic venue was the place where some 200 people in advertising, marketing, PR and the mainstream media came together to hear the CEOs of the three biggest mobile operators in the UK talk about how they see the future of advertising and the role of mobile in that future.

Mobile CEOs
Pictured above, from left to right: panel discussion moderator David Jones, Global CEO of Havas; Guy Laurence, CEO of Vodafone UK; Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE, the new mobile operator combining Orange and T-Mobile; Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefónica UK (owner of O2); and David Sear, CEO of Weve.

The event was a leadership breakfast panel discussion as part of Advertising Week Europe, the near week-long conference event taking place in London for the first time.

The breakfast session was organized by Weve, a joint venture between the UK’s three largest mobile operators: EE, Telefónica UK (owner of O2) and Vodafone UK. Between them, they represent over 80 percent of UK mobile customers.

As you’d expect, all of the discussion was pretty upbeat. I was left in no doubt of the belief, articulated in what those mobile CEOs said – together on stage for the first time – that we’re on the cusp of a major transformation of advertising and media and a major opportunity for brands.

Indeed, Weve CEO David Sear was clear regarding the ambitions of the joint venture with its combined customer database of 15 million users and the latest technologies shared by each venture partner.

One of those technologies – 4G – is already being established throughout the UK by EE which launched its 4G/LTE service last October in a dozen towns and cities (EE says it now covers 37 across the UK plus rural Cumbria). The other operators plan to roll out their 4G services during this year after acquiring licenses from the government in the 4G spectrum auction held earlier this year.

4G is unmistakably significant to the plans and intentions spoken about in the panel discussion. As a user of 4G mobile devices – I’m part of an ambassador programme for EE who have provided me with 4G devices at no cost to me – I can attest to the huge benefits I can clearly see from both a user perspective as well as from the advertising, marketing and PR perspectives.

Make no mistake, being able to just get things done quickly when mobile – do your email, post pics to Instagram, update your social status, check-in on Foursquare, watch or upload a video, etc – in a similar speedy way you can (and expect) when on a fast broadband network via fixed or wifi connectivity is an absolute boon to your productivity.

Not only that, you tend to use your fast connectivity more, especially for the kinds of things that really do need a fat and fast broadband connection – streaming video, for example – because you can.

At one point in the discussion, EE CEO Olaf Swantee noted simply that he’s seeing a “surge” in the way people use their phones with 4G. I agree – I hear that from everyone I know has has a 4G device.

Some of the snapshot points I noted especially from the panel on Wednesday include these:

  • There will be a billion NFC-enabled phones worldwide by 2016, said Vodafone’s Guy Laurence
  • “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the broadest access” (can’t remember which CEO said that)
  • There’s huge growth in online shopping with the advent of 4G, said EE’s Olaf Swantee

Two mainstream media reports on the event that I’ve seen are worth a read: Weve’s EE, O2 and Vodafone invest ‘tens of millions of pounds’ to woo brands by MediaWeek; and Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence: Join Weve or miss out by MobileNews. And there’s some relevant insights in some of the comments to the Twitter hashtags #Weve and #AWEurope.

EE’s Swantee wrote an opinion piece in LinkedIn yesterday, talking up Weve, what it’s doing and its plans. One thing he said especially caught my attention:

[…] The key is to ensure that mobile advertising draws on the creative opportunities that mobile screens and superfast networks provide and, critically, to ensure it is never intrusive, never unwanted and always relevant.

This exciting new world of personal advertising and mobile instant payments poses big questions around data security and trust. But get that right – which WEVE will – and the opportunities for driving creativity, economic growth, and customer satisfaction are huge.

And there is the bigger challenge for brands, advertisers and mobile commerce enablers (ie, the mobile operators), revolving around the sentiments of “never intrusive, never unwanted and always relevant.”

If all of the players are able to see this Brave New World as more than just another advertising medium or marketing channel, and consider genuine consumer empowerment opportunities, then the future Weve envisions can look very rosy indeed.

(Picture of the panel discussion participants by Gabrielle Laine-Peters, used under Creative Commons License.)

[Update March 24:] From my vantage point seated in Ronnie Scott’s club, I took quite a few photos of the panel during their discussion, all snapped with the camera on a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE smartphone from EE.

Thinking of what to do with the pics – they’re not really special in terms of sharing them: some are a bit blurred as they were taken at zoom length with not too steady a hand – I thought of making them into a simple audio-visual play using Animoto.

And here it is – a ‘mood video’ with music of “The Mobile CEOs”:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

4G LTE experiences and faster everything

4G mobile phones

4G – the marketing term that covers the next-generation cellular standards LTE, HSPA+ and WiMAX – is rolling out worldwide and LTE is currently available in more than 60 countries.

It’s generally seen that LTE is the fastest 4G service and is the one that is the subject of a just-published report by Open Signal, a UK-based network testing company. The report examines the state of LTE around the world and contains some useful trend metrics for the lay reader:

  • 62 countries already have at least one LTE network.
  • LTE will be present in a projected 83 countries within the next two years, which will drive the production of lower-end LTE-compatible smartphones.
  • LTE’s dramatic improvement in speed and latency from 3G shows that it has the potential to be as transformative an advancement as the evolution from 2G to 3G was – especially true in countries that do not have established fixed line internet infrastructure, meaning that broadband internet can be made widely available through cellular connections.
  • The arrival of cheap handsets that are able to make use of LTE will help expedite mass adoption, leading to the potential for dramatically increased broadband penetration in developing countries.

One really interesting technical point of the many that Open Signal makes is regarding 4G network speed compared to other connection types. All mobile operators talk about how fast their 4G is compared to 3G and even compared to wifi.

It helps to see what that means:

LTE speed vs others

These are averages, according to Open Signal, across all the countries they reviewed. But the numbers do appear to support the high 4G (LTE) speed claims of the mobile operators.

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of “faster everything” on a mobile device, a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE courtesy of mobile operator EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in. The SIII connects me to EE’s LTE network in the UK. It’s the only 4G network in this country at the moment.

EE’s network is fast: my experience behind the phrase “faster everything” is one that is very noticeable when compared to 3G, when you do the kinds of things you, well, do on a modern mobile device: take and post Instagram photos, tweet, like something (or someone) on Facebook, +1 on Google, add a comment to a discussion on LinkedIn, watch a video, do your email, etc.

I’m convinced that device hardware capabilities are a big part of that overall “faster everything” perception: LTE-optimized hardware (and software) and a speedy network, the two go hand in hand.

So I was a bit surprised when I saw Open Signal’s chart that shows the speeds you can expect in the top nine countries they reviewed – and the UK wasn’t one of them:

How speeds compare

Then I spotted that they’re measuring download speed rather than overall speed. That’s something that still puzzles me in my “faster everything” experiences.

What I typically get on an LTE network connection is a pretty slow (comparatively) download speed, and a faster upload speed according to speed tests I’ve run with the mobile testing app from Speedtest.com.

Faster upload speeds

Actually, you can see that my LTE download speeds aren’t that bad – the first one in the list, for instance, is better than speeds shown for seven of the nine countries in Open Signal’s chart.

I realize these are just a couple of tests and may not reflect a constant in any way concerning network speeds up or down. Yet it seems to go against what research like Open Signal’s talks about. And I never see any network operators talking about upload speed – it’s always about download speed.

Even cable broadband companies like Virgin Media only talk about download speeds (although with their pathetic less-than-5mbps upload speed, I’m not surprised)

Still, I suppose I shouldn’t be concerned about being puzzled when I’m able to just get things done on EE’s 4G LTE when out and about in London, much faster than I can with 3G. It’s not as if upload speed is a factor mentioned in the pricing element of service; neither is it highlighted in any operator’s marketing messaging (those might become more important, though, once 4G LTE competition heats up in the UK later this year).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep calm and carry on!

(Via GigaOm)

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