Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Flocking to tap wireless broadband data market

APPLE launched its iPhone3G this month. Of course, this is good news for gadget lovers because not only has the price gone down to around US$200 (for one with memory storage of 8 Gb) but the 3G technology also makes this mobile phone, which has a touch screen, more functional. Besides its attractive design, its features cater more to entertainment. This gadget can be used not only for ordinary communication or for SMSing but it also has a mobile TV, music streaming, video call, video on demand and Internet access.

The sophistication of broadband mobile cellular technology offers a lot of facilities and benefits to users of the iPhone and other 3G mobile phones. While, for example, you are waiting around or relaxing or feeling bored, you can watch your favorite program on the mobile TV, play an online game or enjoy the latest video clip of your favorite singer. Using the 3G video call service, you can see for yourself how the person you have phoned is through your video mobile phone channel. The 3G technology also provides a solution with high-speed Internet connection. You can read urgent electronic mail or download a file.

Unfortunately, however, uses have yet to make maximum use of most of these services. One of the reasons is users' lack of knowledge about 3G technology. However, the main reason is that the 3G features, particularly video call, appears to have few fans here and so are considered unsuccessful in Indonesia, unlike in Japan and Korea.

Obviously, innovations continue to be introduced in the telecommunication world. Even though the 3G market is not particularly encouraging, operators have become interested in tapping wireless broadband data, commonly known as 3.5G. This service is very fast and is therefore also called high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA). The data access speed can reach 3.6 megabytes per second (Mbps).

The three largest cell operators in Indonesia, namely PT Telkomsel, PT Excelcomindo Pratama and PT Indosat, are now offering this service. They offer high-speed broadband Internet packages that refer to the size of the quota for download capacity to be used by a subscriber. The packages offered by these three operators are generally the same, namely the 500 MB package, the 1GB package, the 2GB package, etc.

What distinguishes one operator from another are the rates. Indosat Matrix, for example, charges Rp 200,000 for the 1GB package while Telkomsel charges Rp 350,000 for the same package, and XL charges Rp 270,000. Generally, these operators use movable/wireless an HSDPA USB or PCMCIA modem. A wireless modem costs between Rp 1 million and Rp 2.7 million.

Indosat is marketing its wireless broadband through its subsidiary, PT Indosat Mega Media (IM2). Since its launch in November last year, this service has attracted close to 7,000 subscribers. The same achievement has also been made by PT Excelcomindo Pratama (XL), which claims to have some 6,000 subscribers.

Although it is relatively new, Ventura Elisawati, XL's general manager of integrated marketing services corporate solutions, said that the prospect of the wireless broadband industry is quite promising. The popularity of wireless broadband services is not confined to Indonesia but is also apparent in advanced countries such as the U.S. and Germany. One of the yardsticks is the success of Vodafone in selling its wireless broadband products in its country of origin, the U.S.

For several years, a number of world-class cellular operators in the U.S. have estimated that the wireless broadband service will be the backbone of their earnings. The reason is the great demand for high-speed and mobile data access. It is the same in Indonesia. Another reason for the high demand for this wireless broadband service is the fact that the video call service offered by 3G does not enjoy popularity. There is a high demand for wireless broadband service because people have an increasing need to use the Internet for various purposes, including for business.

The 3.5G, which is also called super 3G, is an improvement on 3G technology, particularly in terms of data transfer speed, which is higher than that of 3G technology (more than 2 Mbps) so that it can serve multimedia communication such as Internet access and video sharing.

With a bandwidth of up to 3.6 megabytes per second (Mbps), the presence of HSDPA on the 3.5G technological path has left behind its predecessors, namely from GPRS to 3G. GPRS can carry data at a speed of up to 50 kilobytes per second (kbps). Its successor, EDGE, which is also known as 2.75G, can reach a speed of only 150 kilobytes per second (kbps). As for WCDMA or 3G, the speed is only 384 kilobytes per second (kbps). Mobile Internet access based on 3.5G technology offers various benefits for businesspeople and individuals. Its main advantage is its super high speed, which can reach 3.6 Mbps, using High Speed Downlink Package Access (HSDPA) technology. This shows that 3.5G technology is superior to the technologies of the previous generations.

Indeed, originally people were very taken with the video call offered by 3G. However, things have changed and consumers now prefer to use data access rather than video call. Onno W. Purbo, a telematics observer, agrees that in future it is high-speed data access that will be the killer application of the mobile phone service of the 3.5 generation.

Indeed, things will not stop here with this technology. XL, for example, has introduced various gimmicks to market its products. On July 8, this operator teamed up with Oke Shop, a distributor of several brands of mobile phones, in providing BlackBerry and Internet 3G-HSDPA services. "This cooperation is expected to help XL expand its market in the retail sector," said Titus Dondi, XL's head of enterprise and carrier.

The BlackBerry market is indeed still quite small. However, he is optimistic that this market will develop exponentially. Besides Oke Shop outlets, BlackBerry and Internet 3G-HSDPA services can be obtained at 15 XL centers across Indonesia (in Jakarta, Bogor, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Medan) and in seven XL Gadgets Store Partner (C-Palm Plaza Senayan, C-Palm Ratu Plaza, C-Palm Grand Indonesia, C-Palm Pondok Indah, C-Palm Plaza Indonesia, Inmarc and Delcell).

In connection with 3.5G technology, earlier PT Indosat Tbk also launched a new feature, namely its Multimedia Messaging service based on this technology and called "Meet Me". This feature allows facilities for Indosat subscribers to communicate or chat via video through a 3.5G mobile phone at any time, as long as they are located within the range of Indosat 3.5G. "Giving various pleasing features is part of our effort to always give added value to the service we provide to Indosat subscribers, particularly 3G/3.5G subscribers," said Teguh Prasetya, PT Indosat head of brand marketing.

Well, all operators are competing to be the forerunner in 3.5G technology. Obviously, this latest high-speed cellular technology innovation will make life much easier. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 10, 2008

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