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WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED?
So we have seen what has gone wrong with Mobile Broadband, but perhaps a more important question is Who is responsible? I said it earlier and I'll say it again: I blame the networks.
Their failure is essentially two pronged. Firstly, mobile broadband is a victim of its own success. Whereas previously price had deterred widespread adoption, today dirty cheap packages have led to a flood of new customers who use their ever growing data allowances to hammer networks to within an inch of their lives. Every cell tower only has a limited amount of bandwidth so it doesn't matter if you have a full 7.2Mbit HSDPA signal because if mobile broadband usage is high in the area then there simply isn't enough room in the data pipe to give everyone acceptable performance. The unpleasant side effect is some of the most central locations and core business areas suffer worse than anywhere else.
This is a situation which is doubly hampered by the emergence of the smartphone, a category whose web ready development has rapidly improved over the last few years and it competes directly with mobile broadband dongles for the bandwidth on tap. Telcos have certainly tried to expand and increase the speed of their networks, but they haven't kept up with the expansion of data consuming customers and their requirements.
To put this in some perspective Orange has announced mobile data usage on its network has increased by 4,125 per cent in the past 12 months. O2 quotes even greater consumption thanks to the runaway success of disproportionate data usage on the iPhone, a handset which has brought the previously inscrutable network to its knees (watch out Orange and Vodafone!).
The second prong is even worse than the first: wilful mis-selling. Flaws start with the name itself 'Mobile Broadband' which immediately suggests a) speed and b) the same service we have at home to be available on the move. This is compounded by the reluctance of networks to come clean about real world performance. Notably Vodafone has used its 7.2Mbit HSDPA network as an asset with which to promote its service over the 3.6Mbit networks of other providers and yet - as we have seen - it provides little benefit. Sure, the term 'up to' is now widely in use, but customers have yet to realise just how far away they can expect their actual speeds to be.
Another part of such mis-selling is use of the dreaded term 'unlimited'. Thankfully, unlike its callous omnipresence in the smartphone sector, most mobile broadband contracts do now list their monthly data allowance, but this corrective measure has still to fully register. For example, in the previously mentioned ThinkBroadband.com user poll when asked "Do you know your mobile broadband usage limit?" 18 per cent of respondents (almost one in five) answered "unlimited/unrestricted" when they are anything but.
Such misunderstanding has resulted in a number of high profile occurrences of bills running into the tens of thousands of pounds, especially when roaming since users continue to believe 'mobile broadband' is just like what they have at home. With pricing often in excess of £5 per megabyte it's a hugely dangerous mistake to make.