There are some 300 million 3G UMTS subscribers around the world as of October this year, or about 5 percent of the world's population. Actual airtime is not available, but anecdotal evidence suggests that uptake on the video abilities afforded by 3G remains dismally low.
There are some 300 million 3G UMTS subscribers around the world as of October this year, or about 5 percent of the world's population. If you recall, one of the original promises of 3G was its fast packet-switched data network, as well as an inherent ability to support video calls. In the aftermath of multibillion-dollar spectrum licensing bids and hardware investments, has 3G delivered on its promises?
I don't have the figures for the United States, but where I live in Singapore, there are some 2.3 million 3G subscribers out of a total of 6.2 million mobile phones here. To be honest, I haven't even seen anyone making a video call recently. Indeed, a quick poll of my acquaintances shows that all of them are not or don't care for using this feature.
On the other hand, I have seen a sharp increase in laptop-toting digital nomads, with scores of them spotted at any one time in Starbucks and other cafes in town. Practically all of them are using some kind of wireless data modems for Internet access. Recent months, too, have seen netbooks with built-in 3G datacards essentially being given away for free by Telcos. Indeed, U.S. phone companies have added $8.8 billion in wireless data revenue in the latest quarter that ended on September 20 — the data aspect of 3G does appear to be popular. That just leaves the video calls component, which seems to be lagging behind.
I met up with the managing director of a local company called Nano Equipment Pte Ltd., Mr. Liew Kong Nam, who hopes to change all that. Just to be clear, Liew is no new kid on the block. Indeed, he has been working with various Telcos and other organizations around the region to implement and roll out various 3G video-related solutions since 2006.
Liew was excited to tell me about Asia Video Club (AVC), which is a site set up by his company. AVC is positioned as a mobile social-networking and "infotainment" — information and entertainment — video portal service. The one key idea here is that users are able to video chat with other AVC users without having to exchange their mobile numbers. It is possible for users to record their own video blogs and profiles, with nothing more than a simple 3G video call to an AVC server.
While not your standard network administration material, I felt that the use of mobile technology presents some rather intriguing opportunities for us IT professionals. Indeed, a few ideas came to my mind while talking to Liew.
We've all heard jokes — and horror stories — of borderline computer-literate users giving a completely wrong description of problems or following instructions in the wrong order. You know, like trying to plug an Ethernet cable into a fax port or insisting that the monitor is bad when the computer isn't even switched on. Perhaps the help desk of the future could see users calling in on their 3G video phones to "show" the problem. A picture is worth a thousand words, yes?
Webcams can be purchased cheaply for the relatively adequate quality that they offer. How about connecting one or two in order to monitor the entrance to your server room perhaps? Or maybe you want to check to see whether the door to your rack in the data center has been left open.
How about we throw in the ability to access the live feeds from these Webcams by means of a 3G video call? Well, this is exactly what a local Telco has packaged as a commercial service for a couple of years now.
I don't know about you, but it always seems that I have to monitor certain display or LCD panels somewhere in the server room, but I have to go elsewhere to do the actual configuration or adjustments. Won't it be interesting to be able to affix some kind of dedicated appliance — or mobile phones — to monitor certain devices and then video call back to see the results?
What do you think? Do see any other applications for 3G video that you can add to the list?
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.