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Mobile Internet in Australia

The entire process of delivering information over the Internet has entered a new phase. A wide variety of factors contribute to this, with the demand driving the development of the technology, but conversely, the actual availability of that technology fuelling the demand.

Nor is this confined to one sector of the community. Self-employed business users, corporate sales and service personnel for example have greatly contributed to the rate of adoption of wireless modems for laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

GPRS and 3G also allow direct email service using mobile technology without the need to convert to SMS because of their high-speed transmission speeds. However, an even greater contributor to the adoption of mobile Internet has been the “leisure” market, where entertainment in the form of on-line music and the creation and sharing of still/or video data complements the desire for instant access to Short Message Services (SMS), news, and other Internet-based services. In this latter segment, the “cool” factor is a major element.

Few urban teenagers would wish to be seen without a “mobile,” a term now extended well beyond the former “mobile phone” terminology that has become virtually meaningless. Today, it is difficult to purchase a device just to make phone calls!  As usual, Australia’s rate of adoption of technology is one the most advanced in the world.

Just over a year ago, a senior Microsoft development expert visiting Australia predicted that the Internet would rapidly become the domain of the mobile phone, as distinct from the desktop, or even laptop computer.

Although initially regarded by the industry as an aberration restricted to the young, the transition is now well into a mature stage, with website developers and content providers having to create or re-engineer websites, message services and data management tools for this formerly marginal environment. The reasons are based mainly on lifestyle convenience issues. Wireless Broadband Internet Access can effectively eliminate the home telephone landline and fixed Internet line, of obvious appeal for anyone who spends little time behind a desk in a fixed location.

Of course, the mobile device itself is worthless without the reception/transmission capability. This is where considerable improvements have occurred and are continuing.

The most critical element affecting the choice of a service provider is coverage. An increasing number of Internet service providers have begun offering wireless wide-area broadband services, though in practice, many of these are resellers of the major network providers. It is worth careful analysis to determine whether the actual service offering is as required. For example, in rural areas there may be little choice of service provider, but in major metropolitan areas, there is a rise in the availability of dedicated services to that specific city or region that might be more appropriate.

In addition to coverage area, a major selection issue is speed typically up to 1Mbps download and peak upload speed of 345Kbps. Transfer rates alone are not the only issue. We are dealing with a shared medium so the amount of traffic at the time can greatly affect actual performance, as can the level of responsiveness of the servers. The impact of the latter will depend largely on what the users is trying to do.

For on-line gaming, video-conferencing and other “real time” applications, there can be quite irritating lags that are not important at all for SMS or similar usage.

Data capacity is another major factor when selecting a service provider. This can vary from 2-30GB but after reaching the quota, most providers either restrict access to dial-up speeds for the rest of the billing period or charge for the extra usage at a fixed price.

A warning here is that incremental usage can be very expensive and consideration might be given to any supplier offering unlimited capacity as part of the contract.

When making comparisons broadband providers, the big national providers, namely Telstra, Optus, Virgin, Dodo, 3 Mobile, Vodaphone, AAPT and iiNet now have plenty of regional competitors. Competition is of course driving the prices, as well as the service backup.

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