Why Are We Still Talking about the Mobile Internet?

At CNET News.com, Marguerite Reardon has written an article about the current status of the mobile Internet.

For those who care, the current status of the mobile Internet is about where it was in early 2001.

While rapid, sometimes head-spinning innovation has occurred all around it, the mobile Internet, such as it is, has not progressed much since the days of boundless optimism in the spring of 2000, when the irresistible draw of the CTIA Wireless Conference and Exposition filled the New Orleans Convention Center to capacity.

I was there, and I can remember all the buzz about the coming of the mobile Internet, about WAP, about the future of 3G, about the endless promise of mobile data applications. Incredibly, we still are talking about all those things in the future tense.

It’s like Waiting for Godot, but with mobile phones.

The mobile Internet, my friends, is a cruel hoax. It is perpetrated on application developers, on content providers, on the great hoi polloi of mobile punters and subscribers, and on anybody else who believes that the essence and zeitgeist of the Internet can be transferred into an incorrigible and recidivist telco world of wireless operators.

People, it’s never going to happen, not as long as carriers and telco executives run wireless operators. As much as we might want them to go away, they seem intent on staying the course.

The problem, again, is not technology. There are passable means of delivering relatively rich content over the comparatively constrained bandwidth and onto the small-screen real estate of mobile devices. Technologically, there are adequate solutions to the challenge of providing a reasonably satisfactory user experience over a mobile network and onto a mobile device.

The real problem, though, is the mindset and attendant business models that wireless operators employ. These companies and their executive custodians never liked the Internet in the first place.

In their view, the Internet moves too fast, it’s anarchic, it’s disruptive, it’s ceaselessly innovative, and it’s populated by entrepreneurial types who don’t seem to know their place in the rigidly hierarchical order that telcos like to impose on everything around them.

What made us think that wireless operators would embrace innovation? What make us believe that their executives, simply because they ran mobile services rather than landline networks, would be any different than their telecommunications forebears?

Well, fool my once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again.

It’s no knock on Reardon, who must write about she sees before her, but what’s in that story could have been in an identical piece written in 2000. We’ve not moved forward in mobile computing, not nearly enough.

Meanwhile, look at the amazing technological advances that have been made during the past six years on the Internet, on the Web, and on areas that aren’t under the dead, stultifying hand of the telcos, wired and wireless alike.

Just think about what real innovation might come to mobile computing if wireless networks weren’t owned and operated by today’s wireless operators but by service providers who were more creative with respect to business models, and who understood that a more enlightened approach might work better than a rigidly controlled, stiflingly micromanaged, vertically integrated business structure that endlessly overpromises and underdelivers.

The mobile Internet is chronically impaired and severely retarded because it’s not really the Internet at all.

It’s a telco-world version of what they think the Internet should be like, replete with walled gardens, restricted content, decades-long product cycles, minimal innovation, and pricing models that consumers despise and fear rather than understand and embrace.

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