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Surfing on the go Carrying the internet in your pocket

(Keystone)

Mobile internet access will soon surpass fixed web usage in Switzerland. The charge is led by teenagers - four out of five are smartphone users. But Switzerland is behind other countries in offering faster data transfers with the 4G standard.

The development of mobile internet access is constantly moving forward. Even exact statistics are difficult because of the rapid pace of development.

“We are recording a major increase in mobile internet access,” says Carsten Roetz, a spokesman for Swisscom, the largest telecommunications company in Switzerland. “The volume of data consumed by mobile internet users is still doubling every 16 months.”

Kathrin Kissau, research director at NET-Metrix, which conducts twice yearly studies of internet use in Switzerland, is always amazed when she looks at the new access numbers that come across her desk.

“Looking at the newest numbers, we assume that by the end of this year or next, mobile internet usage will top fixed web usage,” the communications and political scientist says.

The research division of the United States bank Morgan Stanley estimates that the same will happen worldwide in the next few years. Google already shows that more than one-third of all queries on its search engine are carried out from mobile devices, over a cellular data network.

Access over a wireless connection qualifies as stationary internet access, not mobile.

On Tuesday, an international survey by consultants Accenture, “Mobile Web Watch 2012” (see link), revealed that the Swiss were among the leaders regarding mobile internet usage.

More than three-quarters of Swiss use a mobile device to access the internet, up from 44 per cent last year. In addition, 67 per cent of Swiss surf with a smartphone and 26 per cent with a tablet.

Normal trend

“The internet has prevailed. It seems perfectly normal to me to access the Web on mobile devices if it is technically feasible,” says Bernhard Plattner, a Swiss internet pioneer who personally uses several smartphones.

For Plattner, a professor of computer engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, it’s a time saver, allowing him to answer and sort his emails when out of the office.

He believes that the trend towards more mobile internet access will only continue. “The sale of tablets and smartphones has increased at the expense of laptops – a trend similar to the shift from PCs to laptops at an earlier stage.”

Nowadays one in two Swiss have a mobile phone with access to the internet. Among teenagers the ratio is a stunning four out of five, according to the comparison service Comparis.

A NET-Metrix study found that 2.2 million Swiss are constantly online be it “in the tram, while taking a stroll, in a café or on a park bench”. Latest surveys suggest nearly three million smartphone users and 750,000 users of tablet devices to surf the Web.

Swisscom estimates that the figures are actually even higher based on the latest data on mobile device users. Of the 6.1 million subscribers in the first six months of the year, nearly 50 per cent have a smartphone. “And almost 70 per cent of the devices sold are smartphones,” says Swisscom’s spokesman Roetz.

New net integration

Customers expect ever faster mobile internet, therefore networks have to be constantly upgraded, according to Roetz.

The next step is the 4G-net (Fourth generation/LTE) which is set to offer higher data transfer.

Swisscom is currently running trials. “The frequencies were only allotted in spring this year,” Roetz says. Swisscom hopes to install 4G in 12 cities by the end of the year and extend it gradually.

Sweden is the leader in Europe when it comes to mobile broadband technology with 4G, while South Korea and Singapore are frontrunners in Asia with more broadband subscribers than heads of the population at the end of last year, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

The whole of South Korea has been brought up to date with the latest technology and all providers of mobile telephony are on board, says expert Dongkee Lee.

“We can access the internet from just about everywhere, the underground train system, at the beach or even on the smallest island,” he says. Six out ten mobile phone users have a smartphone in South Korea.

Japanese technology

For a long time Japan was considered a pioneer in data communication. It was the first country to develop a mobile phone network. Thanks to its 2G Personal Digital Cellular system it was possible to access the internet via email on mobile phones early on.

“The Japanese bought mobile phones to use the internet when they are out, while the rest of the world was acquiring equipment for fixed-line access to the internet,” says Ashiq Khan of Euro-Labs, an affiliate of Japan’s telecom giant NTT Docomo.

“Mobile and the fixed internet use do not necessarily have to develop side by side,” says NET-Metrix research director Kissau. “One can complement the other as we have seen in several African or Asian countries.”

She says Africa in particular has made a quantum leap skipping several stages of technological development. There are regions where no computers or telephones are installed and mobile internet technology is introduced straightaway.

“Wireless infrastructure is cheaper. There is no need for lines to the end user,” says computer engineer Plattner. Also smartphones keep getting cheaper. Kissau for her part believes the main advantage of smartphones is that they are easier to obtain and power.

An International Telecommunication Union study shows that the number of mobile phone users at the end of 2011 exceeded the population in 105 countries, including Botswana, Gabon, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa.

Technical standards

1G

The first-generation of wireless telephone technology is based on analog standards and was introduced in the 1980s. These mobile phones were mostly the size of briefcases and were called natel (National Auto Telephone). The name is still used even though the technology has developed.

2G

Became known as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). It is based on digital technology and made it possible to send short text messages (SMS).

Japan developed its own PDC (Personal Digital Cellular) system, an extended 2G version. It allowed data transfer and emails to be sent via mobile phone.

2G networks are still in use in many parts of the world. By adding the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) data service this technology provides access to the internet.

The 2.5G standard is a GSM mobile phone network with a higher data transfer capacity.

3G

Known as UMTS, the technology uses additional possibilities and higher speed. Most countries have built 3G networks but the technical specifications vary a great deal from one country to the next.

4G

The latest standard, Long Term Evolution (LTE), is aimed at ultra-fast mobile broadband access to the web. Experts hope the technology will eventually became a global standard.

Such networks are being built in many countries of the world. In Switzerland, three telecom providers have launched or are to begin trials with this technological standard.

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Mobile internet

The term refers to a G3 or G4 standard for devices which offer access to the web.

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(Adapted from German by Veronica DeVore), swissinfo.ch


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