Thursday, March 26, 2009

Betamax vs. VHS redux...

We can't seem to avoid expensive and polarizing either-or technology choices.  I'm not sure this is altogether bad, but it sure looks like considerable waste of resources by failing to agree to a universal format/standard earlier on.

But here we go again. The development of 4G data systems (wireless broadband) is taking the proverbial fork in the road.

The 2009 expansion will increase the population covered by Sprint by over 15 times. Add the cities planned for 2010 - which includes the Big Kahuna, New York City - and Sprint's WiMAX coverage will be available to over 22 million potential customers, an increase of 35 times its current availability.
But the rival 4G standard, LTE, isn't standing still. As we noted last month, Verizon is planning its first LTE roll-out for next year. LTE also has garnered significant support over the past year, while WiMAX has lost some of its luster.
It has always been known that WiMAX would be deployed before LTE. The question is whether it can parlay that head start into a global success. [More - also follow the link above for a good explanation of LTE]
I was counting on WiMax to solve my broadband headache, but it look right now like I'm backing Betamax. I'm not so sure the stimulus package will get that last 5% of us either as two departments will be heavily lobbied by the telcomm industry to be able to skip that non-paying remnant.

But wait, there's another standoff approaching: Kindle vs. Google

Sony’s partnership with Google is brilliant in that it can help to minimize the current advantage the Kindle has of being owned by Amazon which provides a simple and seemless ordering experience, as well as being the current leader in convincing publishers to make their books available for electronic distribution through the Kindle.
It is my believe that eventually, the Kindle, and whoever else emerge in this space, will replace many printed books.  We will begin to see students use them in school, as well as other new business models popping up where travelers will be able to rent a kindle for a flight or cruise or other travel event and download content on their rented device.
Early on, Sony needs to prove it is a viable contender to the Kindle.  They need to made their product available at a below market cost to convince consumers to give it a try.  I am sure there is some fear that Sony may not stay in the space, thus they would rather go with the Kindle because they know Amazon is in this for the long haul.  We need to see the Sony product in the hands of people.  If I were Sony, I would send it to leading bloggers, executives and other influencers who could help Sony to gain share.
Just like with Gillette, they switched from being in the razor business to being in the razor blade business.  Sony should not focus so much on making money initially on its device, but rather the revenues from the downloads.  You never get a shot at the download revenues if you do not have devices in distribution. [More]

I've already placed my bet of course, and I love my Kindle.  It could also be this binary choice at least could be resolved with software rather than hardware like phones and towers.

What I have learned as far back as the Apple/PC beginnings is waiting for a clear winner probably isn't the best choice.  If nothing else, taking the plunge generates significant practical knowledge of an emergent technology that could be a significant advantage.  This happened for early personal computer users regardless of which platform they eventually ended up with.

Situations like this beg for economic analysis to see if earlier regulatory intervention should be used as it is in Europe, for example, to prevent the inefficiencies of winner-take-all technology smackdowns. 

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