Why Apple's iPhone Doesn't Need 3G

Oct. 16, 2007 3:29 AM ETApple Inc. (AAPL)15 Comments
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Yankee Group

By Carl Howe

We've all read articles about why Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone won't sell because it doesn't boast the latest and greatest 3G technology, which can transmit data at 1.8, 3.6, 7.2, and in some places, 14.4 megabits per second. Instead, Apple chose to go with the more ubiquitous EDGE system, which tops out at 0.2 mbits per second here in the US, and presumably will do the same in the UK and Germany when the iPhone launches there next month.

But the question left unasked as been, "Does 3G really improve the user experience dramatically?" Most pundits would reply, "Well, of course Internet experiences improve with higher bandwidth. That's why the world went broadband." And if the pundit is having a bad day, they'll add "Duh."

Funny thing though. They're wrong. Bandwidth doesn't affect the mobile phone experience nearly as much as most people think. And in some cases, high bandwidth Internet is actually worse for the user than a low-bandwidth one.

How can this be? Because:

  • People confuse network bandwidth with latency. Think of latency as how long it takes bits to go from the server to your phone, while bandwidth is how many lanes of highway those bits can use to get there. Because mobile phone networks use narrow-band radio signals, their latency is on average 2 to 10 times that of a wired network. And because of the way the Web HTTP protocol works, the quality of a Web user experience depends much more on low latency than high bandwidth, because Web pages typically contain lots of different elements such as pictures, ads, and widgets coming from many different sources. The result: loading Web pages on a 3G phone may actually take about the same amount of time as a phone loading those pages over an EDGE network because all the network time is spent setting

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The people of Yankee Group are the global connectivity experts–the leading source of insight and counsel trusted by builders, operators and users of connectivity solutions for nearly 40 years. We are uniquely focused on the evolution of Anywhere connectivity, and chart the pace of technology change and its effect on networks, consumers and enterprises. Headquartered in Boston, Yankee Group has a global presence, including operations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

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