More on phones, data plans, and bloggery

Photo: Gordon Ross, using his fancy Nokia N70

This is not really about the Matchstick phone thing or so much about blogging, but I’m not the only one who has noticed that wireless data is wildly pricey from any of the local cell phone companies. Indeed, the capabilities of most modern phones are outstripped by the usually-prohibitive costs of using those features.

Roland Tanglao has comphrehensively covered this story, but here’s the skinny: now that mobile phones with 1-3 megapixel cameras (and video capabilities) are starting to trickle into this market (the, ahem, Nokia 6682 being one such example), there are some nice applications that handle direct uploading of data to the web (ShoZu apparently gets high marks here), and there are stupidly expensive data plans that punish any attempt to actually use these features (Roland’s potential $2500 phone bill is one real-world example).

I had a conversation with my friend and club-mate Gord, who recently attempted to live out his electronic dolce vita by buying (with his own, no-carrier-subsidy money) a Nokia N70, a nifty phone with a remarkably good camera.

Gord’s experience was that uploading two photos as wireless data cost him about $19 in data charges. This is not especially odd given bulk data charges that measure out to something like $30/meg from his carrier, and a photo that could easily be a megabyte. Never mind video…Bell Mobility seems to offer a big 250 MB of data, but they want $100/month for that option.

Gord described this situation as “a joke”, and from the perspective of the people (like me, most of the nerdy bloggers at this site, Gord himself, and anyone else who wants to upload photos but doesn’t have a business case for spending hundreds or thousands a month on data) who are obvious early adopters of neat new phones, that’s exactly what the current situation is.

In fairness to Fido, they do offer a true unlimited-data plan for a mere $20/month, but with the slight catch that you can only use it with the well-liked but more-data-terminal-than-phone Hiptop 2. Did I mention that the camera on the Hiptop is terrible? Even so, I am sorely tempted to go for it.

For myself, I just won’t use the data features of my phone. That can’t be what anyone wants, can it?

In the US, some providers seem to offer specialized all-you-can-eat data plans for $20/month. That seems like a really acceptable price to me.

I don’t like to dictate business plans to large businesses just because I’m some grumpy customer. There’s enough competition in the cell phone market that I don’t suspect a fiendish conspiracy or some dreadful monopoly rent-seeking. I’m just saying that a great number of these companies have primed myself and others to desire these services, and then priced them somewhere between wildly expensive and utterly prohibitive. That can’t be a good business model.

Ridiculous whining from the overprivileged? It’s a fair cop, but darnit, I want to unleash the full capabilities of my nerd-toys! Nerd toys!

7 Comments so far

  1. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on July 30th, 2006 @ 10:14 am

    The reason data is so high compared to the states in five minutes or less:

    – Economies of Scale and the like:

    Take California as the Propellerheads once told us to. It’s about the size of BC geographically and it has how many times more people than the whole of Canada? When cell towers cost upwards of a million dollars and we have quite a bit of more (and more mountanious) terrain to cover it’s far more expensive for Telus, Bell, Rogers to blanket the country with a network than T-Mobile, Cingular and the like.

    Even with large parts of northern Canada ignored because there’s no people.

    And there’s such a much smaller user base. Even Rogers which I think still has the most customers, is barely a fraction of what the third or fourth biggest wireless provider in the US is. Even regional carriers in the US have a greater revenue stream than Rogers.

    So if lowering your data packages might bring in tweny or thirty million more customers they’re going to do it based on the fact that if they make even a little more per person it’s going to outstrip what they lose on their existing customer base.

    In Canada there’s just not that many people to push the prices down as fast. Blame the population.

    – Phone companies are in it for the cash:

    Well they are. The days of the public teleco only charging what is needed to put lines in the ground and pay the woman who connects your calls ended a long time ago. As much as we want to mobile blog the companies want to make money.

    – Target markets:

    Could they make money with lower packages? Sure, probably. The trouble is right now their base for data is corporate clients and they like charging them the big bucks. If they went for a lower cost consumer data plan then things would get dicey, because they’d lose all the high levels of revenue generated by the big corporations and lawyers but gain a lot of new revenue from bloggers and teens wanting to IM each other.

    Right now they don’t think that trade off is worth it. Ideally they change their minds, or it becomes worth it one day.

    – Fido baby:

    I think the Sidekick is the phone that I’d pick if I didn’t have a Rogers account. Seriously it’s got an okay camera, a full keyboard and the data plan it pretty cheap. The fact that it’s not more popular shows Rogers/Fido that a cheap data package isn’t as popular as people might tell them.

  2. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on July 30th, 2006 @ 11:28 am

    Also it’s fair to point out that the phones can by synced with your computer, and the photos can be uploaded that way. Nokia’s Lifeblog software, which is totally useless to me since I’m on a Macbook, is one attempt to get people to use the camera and video features of their device without having to use the network’s data.

    Also the BlackBerries have an unlimited plan for $60 on Rogers, which is more than the $20 for Fido’s Sidekick but still pretty good.

  3. Ryan Cousineau (unregistered) on July 31st, 2006 @ 7:15 am

    Jeffery: good points about the cost bases, though they sound like factors that should make data in Canada cost about 3 times as much as in the US, not whatever ridiculous multiple is currently in operation.

    what’s the camera like on the Blackberry?

    (Trick question, Jeffery knows the answer as do I: none of the Blackberry models Rogers is selling has a camera.)

    Yeah, Lifeblog (which I am using at various computers that are not my iBook) is a try, but the fulfillment of these phones (any of these phones) is their ability to use the wireless data network. If I am surprised at anything, it’s that Rogers and Nokia are willing to go to so much effort to promote a phone to non-business users, when they can hardly use its features.

    Add in the fact that bloggers are one of those disproportionately-Mac-using groups, and it’s a trifecta of marketing: they’ve made me want a service I can’t possibly afford (well, unless I give up eating).

  4. Roland Tanglao (unregistered) on August 1st, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

    The reason the HipTop is only $20 a month is because it is a walled garden device. You can’t add apps! So the carrier knows exactly what the data on this device looks like and can engineer their “expensive” network for it. And yes the camera is pathetic compared to modern cameraphones like the Sony K750i, W810i, Nokia N70, N80, etc.

    The fact that the HipTop is not a runaway hit is NOT an argument that people aren’t interested in unlimited data plans. The HipTop is not successful because it’s a closed device with a lousy camera that you can’t customize. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome closed device if all you want to do is write email, IMs and take lousy quality pictures and you can do minor customizations, but it’s still closed)

    I’d argue that people are interested in unlimited data plans. People want to create photos and videos on their mobile device and pay a fair price to upload them to Internet sites like flickr and MySpace which I agree is about 3x the USA price which would make unlimited GPRS plans $CAN 60 a month and unlimited 3G (HSPDA, UMTS, EV-DO) about $200/month for early adopters and even less as the carriers ammortize their network over time.

    So yes, give me affordable unlimited 3G for $200 a month and I would pay (as long as I knew the cost would go down over time to around $100 a month).

  5. Ryan Cousineau (unregistered) on August 2nd, 2006 @ 11:36 am

    Roland: good points about the walled garden of the HipTop.

    Rogers just released their Q2 results. I would direct you to page 9, where they indicate their ARPU (“average [monthly] revenue per user”) of $67.26. I suspect that indicates a lot of regular users like me paying about $40/month and a few special people (corporate data users) bringing up the average. This suggests that a $20/month data plan would actually reduce Rogers’ revenues.

    Talking to a Rogers rep yesterday confirmed that there were real plans to focus on making data cheaper, just faster. My impression was that consumer-friendly data plans (and blogger or no, I don’t currently have a business case for even a moderately expensive data service) were not going to happen in the forseeable future.

    As such, I’m no longer in love with my phone as the future of ubiquitous connectivity, and I’m pretty much committed to finding a WiFi-based solution for my next pocket-sized nerd toy. Or maybe I’ll just carry my laptop everywhere. As it stands, FatPort seems to be more in tune with my needs than the mobile phone companies.

    Roland, keep posting about your Wi-Fi Nokia, eh?

  6. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on August 4th, 2006 @ 1:59 pm

    “I agree is about 3x the USA price”

    That is of course a completely arbitrary number. Canada is much smaller the than one third the size of the US based on population. Again California carriers on they’re own has to spend significantly less on infrastructure than our entire nation while having significantly more population and thus a much larger consumer base.

    Saying that people want a $60 unlimited data plan is nice but not really realistic at this point. Especially when the companies are focusing on their portable internet, a portable modem that plugs into a power outlet and provides sub-high speed data.

    Roland you might not want a closed platform but most people download a few ringtones and send a few text messages and that’s about it. Don’t mistake the power user that you are for the average user.

    For wi-fi there’s a wi-fi compatible HP iPaq phone coming out within the next few months that’s interesting.

  7. Mark Jones (unregistered) on August 17th, 2006 @ 4:08 pm

    I am in the process of planning a cross Canada cycling trip for next year and am looking for ways to update my blog (with photos) while enroute. I considered taking a laptop with me but can’t justify the space nor am I convinced it would survive the trip.

    In any event after much consternation I have come up with a solution by successfully linking my Sony UX50 PDA with my Motorola Razr from Rogers via bluetooth. I can now send emails to update my blog and would like to send photos to my Flickr account as well.

    The $/KB data charge that Rogers asks is cost prohibitive to say the least and even a data plan, while less expensive, is not cheap. Not sure what the answer is but I know Rogers shares have done quite well in the past year! The only solution I can think of is to send emails via bluetooth but to save my photos until we stop in at a library somewhere to use a computer.

    You are right about the toys though. It is nice to have the toys but it would be even nicer to be able to use all their functions as well without having to pay an arm and a leg.


Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.