Despite the drool-inducing new tech from such phone-makers as LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, mobile broadband was the star of the show at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, which was held in Barcelona from February 15th to the 18th. At a press conference, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg boldly declared that the era of mobile broadband is upon us.
“Mobile broadband has had its breakthrough,” said Vestberg, “and we believe that we will see three billion new mobile broadband subscriptions in the next five years.”
Vestberg’s estimates may seem a bit optimistic, but there is no doubt that the growth in mobile data is a significant reality. In the last ten years, the number of mobile subscriptions has grown six-fold, and now sits at roughly 4.6 billion. In 2008, marketing research firm comScore released a study that showed a 154% increase in mobile broadband use between 2006 and 2007. Vestberg asserts that, as the mobile phone industry continues to gain subscribers and develop content-rich applications, mobile traffic will increase by as much as 50 times in the next few years.
While the proliferation of smartphones in recent years continues to push mobile broadband use to new heights, there has also been a considerable increase in mobile-connected notebook computers, particularly among business users. There are currently 5 ways of achieving wireless mobile 3G and 4G broadband on a laptop. The simplest and most elegant solution is to buy a laptop (or netbook) with a built-in 3G or 4G modem. These are becoming increasingly common as wireless broadband makes the transition from a niche service to the mainstream. Of course, if your computer is any older than your current toothbrush, chances are you won’t have a built-in modem for mobile broadband. No worries, though, as there are four different technologies out there, ready to bring your aging laptop into the era of mobile broadband.
Just as PC Card Wi-Fi adapters jutted awkwardly out of laptops everywhere just a decade ago, 3G and 4G wireless modems are now available as PC Card and ExpressCard devices, as well as USB dongles. Portable 3G/Wi-Fi hotspots let you and your co-workers share a single mobile connection, and some cell phones even allow wireless “tethering,” so your computer can get in on the 3G action just by piggybacking on your cell phone’s signal.
While any of these options can get the job done, finding and accessing the best available network can be tricky on some devices. Look for devices that come bundled with mobile connection management software such as QuickLink Mobile from Smith Micro. A good mobile connection manager will easily manage and quickly connect to the fastest, most cost-effective network available. QuickLink-branded software often comes pre-installed on laptops with built-in 3G modems, such as those by HP and Dell. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile also pre-load certain phones with QuickLink mobile connection manager and mobile multimedia manager to automate connectivity and enhance the multimedia user experience.
We’ll see over the next few years if Hans Vestberg’s utopian vision of mobile broadband comes to fruition. Maybe he’s right. Or maybe he’s been drinking the same love potion that made Steve Jobs think the iPad would be the next big thing. Whatever happens, it’s safe to say that mobile connectivity is happening, and it’s pretty cool.