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Mobile Broadband: Up and Coming

Mobile broadband.
Illustration: Harry Campbell
Compared with overall broadband use, high-speed mobile services are clearly in their infancy: Less than 8 percent of the 6400-odd PC World readers who responded to our survey said that they used these services. Most are buying them from the major nationwide carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon), but our sample was too small to produce statistically valid ratings for individual providers.

As a group, though, mobile-broadband users are distinctly less happy with their services than home or business users: 45 percent said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their mobile-broadband providers, compared with 64 percent and 57 percent sharing those opinions for home and business ISPs, respectively.

Similarly, less than half (45 percent) of the mobile-broadband users in our survey described themselves as satisfied or extremely satisfied with the reliability of their service, compared with roughly two-thirds of the landline (home or business) broadband users in our poll.

Mobile-broadband satisfaction ratings were marginally lower for download speeds, and only about a third of polled users expressed high satisfaction with upload speeds. But those satisfaction levels may at least partly reflect a rapidly changing landscape with regard to service availability (true high-speed wireless networks are still rolling out), prices, and applications.

The overwhelming majority (62 percent) of surveyed readers who subscribe to mobile-broadband services (such as EvDO on Sprint and Verizon, or UMTS/HSDPA on AT&T) use them with a cell phone, compared to the less than 30 percent who reported using a notebook adapter to connect a laptop to the Internet.

Prices are all over the map. While nearly a quarter of those polled said that they were paying over $50 a month for high-speed data services, a good one-third reported paying $15 or less.

But price ranked only third on the list of factors prompting choice of carrier. The most frequently cited reason was coverage area, followed by reliability. Only 13 percent said that they chose a service to get a specific handset (which could bode ill for any hopes that AT&T might entertain about its exclusive iPhone offer attracting tons of new customers).

Predictably, e-mail and Web browsing topped the list of popular applications, followed by instant and text messaging. At the bottom of the list, downloading music and watching streaming video or TV were the choice of only 18 and 17 percent of survey participants, respectively. But broadcast-style television for cell phones (which doesn't go through the Internet) is a relatively recent phenomenon, and we expect that its usage will rise during the next few years.

Yardena Arar

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