New iPhone Will Jumpstart Demand for Wireless Broadband

It was over a decade ago when I got my first broadband connection — by today’s comparison a very slow DSL connection from my then-local provider, Verizon Communications, which went by the name of Bell Atlantic. At $60 a month (not including the cost of the modem), the service, which got around 256 Kbps on a good day (vs. top speed of up to 640 kbps), was really a novelty.

With the exception of many who worked in New York’s Silicon Alley, not many cared about the expensive, always-on connection. Being a broadband nerd of sorts, I couldn’t care less about the price tag; I couldn’t wait to pay more to get more bandwidth.

I am reminded of that moment — of that thrill — of experiencing the web without delays, thanks to the new iPhone and its ability to connect to the 3G network. I already can’t wait for AT&T to upgrade their network from HSDPA to HSPA to HSPA+ to LTE so we can get faster and faster broadband. [digg=]

For now, the best we can get on the iPhone 3G is HSDPA, which has a theoretical download speed of between 400 and 700 Kbps, though Apple on it site says it’s going to be 2.4x the speed of EDGE – about 100 Kbps. Still, I am going to go out on the limb and mark July 11 down as a red-letter day for 3G wireless.

Don’t get me wrong — it isn’t the day 3G wireless was first introduced in the U.S. Neither is iPhone the first 3G phone. I have had 3G phones, USB and PC Card modems for a while now. It isn’t the first time I have used 3G broadband; I am on old hand at using EVDO to connect my laptop to the web, or at connecting my Nokia e61 to a 3G network whenever I am in Europe, or using the Nokia N95 to snap-and-share photos and videos via one of the life-streaming services.

Yet this is the first time that a 3G connection on a non-computer device actually feels like a broadband connection. “This device is a true game-changer. Why? The immediacy of the data at your fingertips is huge. Imagine, looking up anything, anywhere,” is how AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told me in a chat earlier this year. In the U.S. especially, the iPhone is going to have a major impact, mostly because are a PC-centric society constantly search for web-like experiences. (So far, most of the carriers have made their money off 3G computer connections. I am wondering how the iPhone impacts (or not) 3G usage in Europe.)

I received the new iPhone 3G on Friday, and since then I have been tinkering around it — a lot. My first (and perhaps lasting) impression: The 3G speed is quite addictive and it doesn’t take long to slowly start switching your daily compute tasks to this device instead of reaching for your computer.

A lot of that is because the iPhone has a generous screen and is very easy to use, but more importantly it has a more than adequate browser, making it an ideal candidate for being a “cloud client.” All that was missing was a fast-enough connection that helped “off-source” some (or, in the case of others, many) tasks from their computers.

The briskness with which I can surf web pages means it has become easy to keep and eye on this and our other network blogs. The email shows up in the inbox as quickly as on my desktop. NetNewsWire’s iPhone App has already become my preferred way to read RSS. Its ability to sync with the desktop client over the web only adds to its utility. Facebook on the iPhone is almost infinitely more usable than its web counterpart. (John Markoff is marveling at the pocket-sized experience as well.)

Truphone’s new iPhone app makes it easy to place VoIP calls on the iPhone, thereby making it less necessary for me to fire up the old computer to call mom. It sure would be nice to see a Skype client for iPhone. I am sure that over a period of time other habits will form — including watching YouTube videos – which just got bearable, thanks to a faster connection.

More importantly, 3G has freed me up from thinking about the availability of a Wi-Fi connection. Of course, if everyone else gets into the same habit, as I suspect they will, this is going to put some stress on AT&T’s 3G Network.

Going back to the early days of broadband, the thrill of doing mundane web tasks faster and without tying up a phone line didn’t seem as great in the beginning, but acted as a spark for the broadband revolution. It wasn’t till Shawn Fanning unleashed Napster that broadband demand took off, eventually leading to innovations like Skype, YouTube & Facebook.

I think that from that perspective, the iPhone 3G is going to provide a similar spark for wireless broadband. Just like touch and big screens are becoming increasingly commonplace in high-end phones, over the next 12 months I wouldn’t be surprised to find mobile device makers focusing heavily on the Internet, all while waiting for the elusive killer app, which none has seen just yet. Despite the tight control of carriers on wireless spectrum, this could be the start of a new wireless wave.

Photo of iPhone & Safari courtesy of Apple.