The roll-out of the new 3G phones has been hard to miss. The handsets equipped to handle the technology put a bulge in the pockets of early adopters and makes their eagerness to have the newest thing hard to hide. Though the phones have been on the market for several months now,
subscribers aren't singing up at the rate Taiwan's mobile carriers had initially hoped for, a problem that carriers in Europe and the US are also facing. It's enough to have created an industry-wide head-scratch as to whether the popularity of 3G services was overestimated, or if it's just going to take longer to catch on. Part of the problem, according to manufacturers and sales representatives, is the public isn't
particularly clear on what 3G offers. The confusion, they say, stems from the fact that many Taiwanese cellphone subscribers are already equipped with what's known as 2.5G, a stepping-stone to the faster, fuller 3G technology that, at a glance, would seem to offer many of the same services. So what exactly is the difference? While 2.5G lets you view Web pages and watch streaming video, the speeds for doing so on a 3G network are up to several times faster, at speed of up to 384Kbps, compared with 2.5G's of up to 90Kbps.
The faster speeds are to usher in the real revolution of 3G: video telephony. The new platform will allow you to see the person with whom you're chatting. And it's here, many say, the industry may have got it wrong.
"What I'm hearing from customers is that, while it might be cool to see the person they're talking to, they're in no hurry to be seen," said cellphone sales shop owner Tom Fu (
In Taiwan, the practical applications of video telephony have been widely touted and include helping your husband pick the right pork at the supermarket to finding your lost dog, provided that the animal is smart enough to spot its own "Lost Dog" posters and alert a nearby team of teenaged softball-players who know to call the number on the
Ironically, it's more likely that a dog could spot its own poster than a
teenager could afford a new 3G handset, with prices ranging upward of NT$12,000.
Asked which models were selling best, Fu pointed to several manufactured by the usual suspects.
The Samsung Z500 will look familiar to anyone who's seen its hugely popular predecessor, the E700. That's because it's essentially the same silver clamshell design, but a bit thicker and heavier, though not as bulky as the majority of its competitors. Like the E700, it has dual cameras -- one outside and one in -- but has several connectivity options the E700 lacked. It also has MP3 playback and is reasonably priced for the number of features it packs.
Packing similar features and more is the Sony Ericsson Z800i. While its inside screen is noticeably larger than the Z500, its because the phone itself is noticeable larger. Large enough, in fact, that it could likely knock unconscious any envious thief who would try to take it from you. But with that increased size, Sony Ericsson has packed in more
features than you'll find in other 3G phones.
Among the more noticeable of the 3G handsets is the Nokia N90, which when unfolded and unfurled, looks something like a miniature video camera. That's because it is. Grabbing the new technology by all 3G's, the phone allows you to film short clips then send them to your fellow 3G-using friends to watch. You can then have a video call with one another to discuss the merits of your film-making abilities face to face and even upload it to your Web page for immediate distribution.