Wireless: 300 Percent PenetrationMonday, January 07, 2008
I just received my new Kindle, the electronic book from Amazon.com. I have set it up and already downloaded a book using “Whispernet” wireless access. Whispernet, Amazon’s way of masking the high-speed broadband service from the customer, is actually Sprint’s EV-DO Rev A service. With the Amazon Kindle, you turn Whispernet on when you need it and, if you are in range, it works seamlessly for purchasing and downloading books. There is even an indication of signal strength and a short blurb in the set-up manual about the fact that performance might vary depending on your distance from a cellular tower location.
The only files I have to transfer to my Kindle by attaching a USB cable are MP3 and Audible files―everything else is sent wirelessly, including my new Kindle email address (name)@kindle.com. From the Website, you can basically configure and download books, newspapers and other materials to the Kindle. (As you might expect, someone has grabbed kindle.net and it is up and running, offering a number of other services including hotel reservations, rental cars, flights, dating and more. It is not clear if this is an official Amazon.com site, but I am willing to bet it is not!)
But this blog entry is not meant to be about the Kindle, which I am only beginning to learn to use. It is meant to be about the fact that Kindle is the first consumer product I know of that includes high-speed wireless data as a function of the product and not as a selling point. Sprint is simply the network Amazon has chosen to deliver new books, magazines, newspapers and other materials.
Amazon does not make a big deal out of the wireless portion of the Kindle, it only talks about wireless in the context of being able to deliver content to the Kindle, some email and perhaps some access to the Internet. In fact, there are no wireless airtime charges (or at least none I have discovered). Instead, when I subscribe to receive the New York Times, for example, it costs $13.99 per month including wireless delivery. A subscription to Time Magazine is only $1.49 per month, again, including wireless delivery. This makes the Kindle the first consumer device I have seen on the market that makes use of a commercial wireless network but does not require customers to pay a monthly fee, sign a contract or otherwise become a network customer.
We will be seeing more devices such as this―CES will probably be full of them this week. These are not voice-centric devices; they simply make use of high-speed wireless data delivered by wireless networks. The communications is two-way, so within a few seconds of my book being delivered to my Kindle, the Website reflected that it had been delivered.
The Kindle uses CDMA EV-DO Rev A on the Sprint network but Intel believes the bulk of such devices will be on the WiMAX network going forward. However, the Gobi chipset by Qualcomm provides new ubiquity of wireless broadband access around the world, so my bet is that we will be seeing many more of these devices making use of UTMS/HSPA and CDMA EV-DO than WiMAX. Imagine two people sharing experiences, one using WiMAX in the United States and one using the Sprint EV-DO network. For a number of years, WiMAX coverage will be spotty at best (assuming the network is built) while the CDMA EV-DO network is already fairly robust and offers great coverage in many places around the nation. WiMAX will have a long way go to catch up.
But this is not about WiMAX, either. It is about the fact that our wireless penetration rate is about 85% of the U.S. population and more than 100% in some areas of the world. The final figures may well reach 300% as a result of devices such as the Kindle, standalone navigation systems, game consoles, automobiles, perhaps our electronic wallets, dog and cat collars and lots of command-and-control functions so we can check our houses, garage doors and all manner of things.
With the addition of my Kindle, I now have a wireless phone, a BlackBerry and my notebook with embedded EV-DO. I’m probably not a typical consumer, but I’m certainly not atypical either. The Kindle is a better product because I can download books no matter where I am, my iPod not! If I am sitting in an airport and want to load a new book before I board the plane, I can easily find one I have not read, download it and walk onto the plane. While I will get a bill at the end of the month, I won’t get two bills, one from Amazon and one from Sprint!
Wireless is no longer about a wireless device over which we can have voice conversations and gain access to our email or Websites. It is now also about other devices we want to use that will become more valuable because they are wirelessly enabled. While wireless makes a major contribution to the success of the device, it stays in the background and does not get in the way. My Kindle service did not require that I sign up with Sprint, commit to a two-year contract or decide whether I wanted an unlimited data plan. This service is simple―the cost of delivery is embedded into the price of what I buy, and I don’t get a second bill.
Amazon and Sprint have done a great job with this product. Except for those who have a problem using a standard wireless phone, customers will have the Kindle up and running quickly and easily.
Andrew M. Seybold