The Mobile Divide

Mobile phones are the new ‘mass media’. Smartphones are all the rage. Last month brought news that Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system will be on smart phones by the end of the year, Dell is to introduce a smart phone using Google software, and Verizon Wireless (the biggest wireless operator in the US) will market a variety of Google Android-powered devices.

Mobile is where it’s at.

And of course the mobile phone is of utmost importance to remote workers…well those on the move at least.

So what’s the problem?


I’ve got a fairly decent mobile phone. It’s a Nokia 5800. It’s got quite a lot of apps, good music storage, fairly decent camera and video functionality and it’s easy to use. It’s got clear and easy to use connectivity too. The only problem is although my contract gives me lots of free texts and call time I have to pay to go online. I don’t have unlimited data and downloads. After a very scary bill a while back I’ve now limited accessing the internet from my phone to ‘only when absolutely necessary‘.

So there, I’ve admitted it, I’m not ‘always online’. When I’m not in an area with wireless I’m very much offline (though I can be rung up, but that’s so last season…)

Not only that I seem to be surrounded by people who are permanently online.

I often wonder if they have very full wallets or have just made very good gadget choices in the past and are clued up on the best deals. I can understand how some people who are always away from their desk might have unlimited Internet access as an essential but I tend to work from my home that has a PC with broadband connection in it and for me it boils down to priorities. There are many things that come further up the list than paying to be permanently connected.

That said I do sometimes feel like I’m sitting the wrong side of a mobile divide. The divide is no longer whether you have a phone or not because most people do (we’ve all heard it said that there are more mobiles than people in the UK, recent stats suggest that 89% of people in the UK own a mobile phone), I guess whether you have a smart phone or not matters, but the real issue is if you can afford to download the data.

Keep up if you can

At UKOLN we’ve recently released a number of briefing papers on mobile technologies. These originate from a session given by Sharon Steeples at the Institutional Web Management Workshop – The Mobile Web: keep up if you can! Sharon talked about the challenges of creating Web sites for the mobile Web. She mentioned at the start that one of the biggest issues is that wireless and 3G is still something only the minority have and data costs big time! That said at University most students tend to have better phones than the staff – in the future I’ll be able to have my children’s cast offs!

Of course data cost will go down. (Last week the EU roaming cap law was found to be valid.) It was only last year that Dr Nigel Bannister, a space scientist from Leicester University, did the calculations to show how costly mobile phones can be. It was all part of efforts to defend the money spent on space programmes. Dr Bannister explained that:

The bottom line is texting is at least four times more expensive than transmitting data from the Hubble space telescope – and is likely to be substantially more than that.

So till my contract ends and downloading data gets cheaper I’ll stay on the cheap and cheerful side of the mobile divide.

Anyone else willing to admit they’re stuck in the same place?


7 thoughts on “The Mobile Divide

  1. Pingback: The Mobile Divide | Best Wireless Phone

  2. Hi,

    I agree that cost is the primary barrier for accessing the web on a mobile device (or at home for that matter). Until recently I saw my £35 a month contract (including unlimited data within reason) as value for month as my other half and I were 100+ miles away during the working week and so it worked out as the most cost effective way of communicating. However now that we are living together I only need to phone home for 1 min if im running late. Friends and family do call but its rare. So now my £35 is not value for money. BUT i want a new iphone so that i can be on the web. In order to do that with unlimited data I must stump up £30+ per month. Effectively I’d be paying twice my home broadband cost per month for the pleasure. I LOVE having access to the web with a mobile device, but since my iphone went into an Oxford canal, i have survived without and the sky hasn’t fallen. Good-bye email anywhere, rss catch-ups on the train and 8GB of music at my finger-tips and hello books.


  3. Surely if you need to be online all the time then work will pay? If they won’t then maybe you don’t need unlimited data?

    Is this a case of those with money ‘getting on’ in their jobs more?

    I’d agree with Zak – sometimes there is a benefit of having no internet access on your phone – like you read a book!

    Surely books are better than iPhone apps…oh dear have I touched a nerve now?


  4. Not sure which network (or tariff) you’re on, but I’m with T-Mobile UK, which offers “Web’n’Walk”: basically, “all you can eat” mobile data for about £8/month. That sounds like a fair whack, but it’s worth it for me as I think I use the data more than the voice calls!

    Of course, T-Mobile and Orange are hoping to merge, so I hope WnW stays the same for the foreseeable future. The point is, I think a lot of UK mobile networks now offer “fair use”, “unlimited” data packages for a monthly supplement on your tariff, if this is something you want/need. (Roaming outside the UK is a different matter – at £1.50/Mb, I tend to use this only in “emergencies”, or for apps with very low data transmission, e.g. Twitter.)

    Just be sure to check the T&Cs very carefully, to see what is OK to do and what isn’t, and what the bandwidth restrictions are. Web and e-mail should be OK, but I’d be careful with streaming video, and BitTorrenting (legal or not) is probably a no-no if you don’t want the network “feeling your collar”!

    Hope you find the solution you need, anyway 🙂

  5. Thanks for this.

    I guess part of the problem is I have very little understanding of how mobile phone contracts work (i.e. if they can be easily upgraded). I’d be happy to pay a fee for Web usage and know that I’m not going to end up with a huge scary bill that I have to hide from my husband!

    I’m with o2 and currently tied in to a 2 year contract. I suppose I just need to do the dirty work and read the T & C and see what I can do.


  6. Pingback: Nicola's E-learning and Digital Cultures Blog » Weekly Digest for October 16th

  7. Came across your blog today via Brian. You’re right, the mobile phone tariffs are coming down and many are bundled with internet allowances. Personally I don’t really use my phone as a phone. I don’t make many phone calls and don’t send many texts. I use my phone primarily for its data connectivity. I’m on PAYG through 3 and pay £5 a month for 2Gb data allowance. And each time I top up they bundle in free texts and a 150Mb data allowance. Not promoting 3 by the way. Your mileage may vary!

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