Going Wireless

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By BRational
August 15, 2001

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I appreciate Lokicious' qualitative insights (in Why I don't do wireless) that greatly help interpret the survey responses. As expected, it generated a reaction�or why do wireless. Lok gave two specific criteria that would need to be met (pricing, quality) before he would take the plunge, and gave 2008 as the estimated date when this might happen. I address both criteria below, and argue that 2008 is overly pessimistic.

Criterion 1 (price):

Since we don't spend a whole lot of time on the phone, I would hope the cost of wireless service (excluding internet) would be comparable to what we now pay for regular phone service plus long distance.

...pricing for 500 minutes per month, with no long distance charges, will be less than unlimited line phone local service plus long distance (which is what we have now).

I believe the service providers have been listening to participants in their focus groups. There has been a growing trend of people (especially younger urban individuals) doing away with wireline altogether, and replacing it with wireless. I do not have a ready link to provide, but I have seen something in the popular business press to that effect (probably in Business Week or in the business pages of a newspaper). However, one can see that the service providers are now targeting this market by looking at the service plans� I don't know how long it's been since you've checked Lok but the competition is fierce and the prices have gone down significantly over the past year. Here are a few links:

Sprint, for the LA area (though similar plans exist for most other areas�I checked Austin, TX and Detroit, MI, for example):

So as not to be accused of favoritism, here is a link to Verizon, for Austin.

Here's another to a non-CDMA carrier, Cingular.

(Sorry, I will not link AT&T..).

The point is: for about $35 a month, one gets about 250 to 400 "anytime" minutes, plus an allotment of about 1000 "evening and weekend" minutes depending on the plan�this would take care of most of my long-distance needs. I suspect this would come close to meeting the first of Lokicious' wireline replacement criterion.

Now the second criterion is:

Criterion 2 (quality):

I will also want the quality to be as good (or bad) as current line based service. 2008...CDMA will have evolved to the point that quality is comparable to line phone service today

This may be more subjective, and I know of no links to address that. I can only speak from personal experience. The call clarity on my CDMA phone, especially if I'm not driving, is at least as good as what I get on wireline�and is in fact significantly better than the use of the lower-cost calling card services for long-distance (or internet-based telephony). My mobile phone has replaced almost totally my use of a long-distance calling card, and payphones. This includes personal long-distance calls made from work.

Why do wireless?

Of course, the emergency factor. Let's take Lok's $500 per year estimate (actually, it is now less�the basic emergency-only plan runs about $20 a month). The ability to provide someone we care about, or who cares about us, the power to reach us in case of emergency, any emergency, becomes priceless once there is a need for it. It may not be needed for years, but the moment it is needed, because we fainted, or got hit by a bicyclist, or the car battery just decided to stop�makes the $500 a small price. Most people pay a lot more for insurance that provides a lot less, and less immediate, protection.

But the pricing structure has now made wireless well beyond the emergency-only use, both replacing wireline and becoming an enabling tool in a lifestyle where time is often the limited resource that we wish we had more of . Like other "new" forms of telecommunications, wireless is contributing to increasingly the total volume of communication that people engage in. Fundamentally, wireless liberates from constraints�constraints on physical space (location), and constraints on time. For commuters, the mobile phone has provided one tool to add value to time that is otherwise "unproductive"�and we are no longer just talking about lawyers who bill for their talking while commuting. Wireless delivery of information, and the ability to act on this information (mobile computing) just expands the realm of opportunities. It may not replace anything we do now, but it is allowing us to do more things (for those who derive utility from accomplishing more activities in the available time), and to do some of the things we do anyway better and with less risk (e.g. traffic information and navigation assistance).

Finally, perhaps a lot of what is being communicated is worthless chatter anyway�so what? Look at how much worthless chattering we do on this and other boards...

So, in closing, here are the


10. It helps an elderly parent, spouse or young child reach you in an emergency

9. It helps you not have to alert your elderly parent (nor spouse!) when you are in an emergency

8. Price has come down; no roaming, no long-distance surcharges

7. You won't have to use those long-distance calling cards again

6. No need for change to use a payphone

5. No need to hit a payphone that just ate your money

4. Talk's Free during evenings and weekends

3. It allows you to be loquacious when propitious

2. Qualcomm gets a royalty for every CDMA phone sold

.....and the NUMBER ONE reason to do wireless is

1. You'll never miss a glute-toning appointment again!