A Workable Combination

A Workable Combination

Andrew M. Seybold

By M. Seybold, Andrew

Wireless carriers that have offered analog voice service since the early 1980s know that some of their subscribers have experimented with circuit-switched dial-up data connections. Some carriers even have installed pools of modems to improve the user experience. Although there is no real way to measure how many have tried data, the best guess is that around 5%, at one time or another, attempted to use their wireless phones to access their e-mail and other computer data.

Digital cellular CDMA and TDMA systems can support short messaging, and CDMA is capable of circuit-switched dial-up data access, but carriers need to enable their systems with additional software. TDMA systems are not data-ready except for short messaging, but this will change during the next 12 to 18 months. In the PCS bands, all three technologies support short messaging, and both GSM and CDMA also support circuit-switched dial-up.

Most carriers are not promoting short message service (SMS). Moreover, they apparently do not want to enable circuit-switched dial-up services either. This is unfortunate because once subscribers are “hooked on data,” it is more difficult for the competition to move them off of your system.


Carriers that are interested in supporting both SMS and data should understand that data over digital systems is not like data over analog services. The short-messaging capabilities of the networks offer some decided advantages to the customer, and dial-up circuit-switched services are far more robust over a digital wireless network.

A significant number of wireless phone subscribers use notebook computers. There are 60 million wireless phone users in the United States today and about 25 million notebook computer users. There are no specific market research numbers that measure the overlap of users that have both notebook computers and wireless phones, nor is there any definitive research regarding the number of paging subscribers (45 million) who have both cellular phones and notebooks.

An educated guess is that the number of users who carry two or more devices is at least 15 million and as high as 20 million. People who have two or more of these devices are the most likely to buy additional services, and there are many opportunities to market advanced services to all of them.

Several PCS carriers that have expressed interest in providing SMS for their subscribers are making a mistake by trying to convince paging subscribers that wireless short messaging can replace paging. In the United States, 1-way paging systems will continue to provide better coverage inside buildings for some time to come than is possible with wireless voice systems.

It makes more sense to get your voice subscribers hooked on SMS than to try to convert paging subscribers to voice plus short messaging. One way to do this is to offer a bundle of some short-messaging software for a desktop computer along with the service. Executives can have the software installed on their secretaries’ computers to have almost instant messaging access to their paging devices. This type of messaging is far less intrusive to the wireless phone user than a phone call during a meeting. Furthermore, if the user is out of range, the message will be delivered when he returns to the coverage area.


If you operate networks that are built on one of the two technologies that support circuit-switched data, you should be marketing this service actively to your subscribers. It is almost certain that a number of your voice subscribers also use a notebook or other mobile computer when they are out of the office.

Circuit-switched dial-up data access offers several advantages over packet-switched data access. Dial-up does not require special software to be installed in the notebook. Any notebook user who knows how to dial up over a wired connection will find it just as easy, if not easier, to use his wireless phone in place of a wired connection.

Voice phones are about making short spurts of time more productive for all of us. Now that e-mail is as vital to many of us as voice mail, it only makes sense that there is a growing interest in being able to access e-mail as easily as voice mail.


The first mistake is to believe that access to the Internet is what subscribers want and need first and foremost. One way to disprove this theory is to look at the many information services being offered to wireless voice subscribers. Most are not successful, and all certainly are under-used by your voice subscribers.

Another way to fail with your data offering is to try to make a phone into a computer. Voice phones with small screens are good for voice, and they are good for short messages such as “call your office.” But they are lousy computers. History shows that voice phones that have been adapted to receive data from the Internet (AT&T PocketNet) have not attracted subscribers in large numbers.

Some believe that a combination voice-and-data device such as the Nokia 9000i or the newly announced Qualcomm PDQ palmtop computer with a built-in phone will sell millions of units. However, most people want a phone that is simple to use for voice, and most who need access to data already are computer-literate and want a mobile computer with them. They will connect the two devices with a cable (or via Bluetooth when it becomes available). They will not carry a single device that is too big for voice communications with a screen or keyboard that is too small to be a useful computer.

Finally, the “killer” mistake is the way in which wireless voice and data carriers price their services. The trend for voice is to purchase a bulk number of minutes ($50 per month for 400 minutes). Subscribers view these minutes as “free,” and carriers want subscribers to use them up and then pay for additional minutes on a per-minute basis. On the few networks offering data, the trend is to bill subscribers for every data minute, not permitting them to use any of their “free” voice minutes for data.

For circuit-switched dial-up data and voice, minutes are minutes. If a customer knows that data minutes cost money while voice minutes are “free,” he will not be as inclined to use data over your network. It does not matter to your system whether the minute is used for voice or for data. Let your subscribers include data minutes along with their voice minutes against their “free” airtime. They will use more total minutes, which is, after all, your end game.

Mobile computer users want access to their e-mail just as wireless voice users want access to their voice mail. Using circuit-switched dial-up data access is not as easy to learn as voice, but many already know how to dial in over a wired circuit. Wireless is about extending a user’s reach beyond wires. It only makes sense to extend his data reach along with his voice reach.

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