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12/3/2004
10:34 AM
David Haskin
David Haskin
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Stop The Camera Phone Rip-off

Mobile phone vendors, who are in co-dependent relationships with wireless operators, are in a race to increase camera phones to six megapixels and even more.

Mike Elgan was right in a recent blog to suggest that camera phone vendors should focus more on improving optics than on increasing resolution. But he missed one important point: camera phones are rip-offs foisted upon us by wireless operators who absolutely will love higher-res cameras. That's why mobile phone vendors, who are in co-dependent relationships with wireless operators, are in a race to increase camera phones to six megapixels and even more.

If your home broadband provider charged by the byte, would you pay, particularly if you were into high-bandwidth apps like digital imaging? Of course not. But wireless operators persist in charging for data -- including images transmitted with camera phones -- by the byte. Or, if they offer flat-rate plans, they're so expensive that few users will bother.

With by-the-byte pricing, the bigger the camera phone image, the more money the operators make. And camera phone vendors, by definition, must please wireless operators because that's who sells their phones.

Now does it make sense that vendors are racing to see who can pack the most megapixels into camera phones?

But here's the gotcha for the wireless operators: They're facing serious competition from other types of wireless data service. Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up everywhere -- even in McDonald's, for mercy's sake. In another year, WiMAX and similar -- and more mobile -- wireless broadband technologies will start being widely available. These technologies will be cheaper than cellular data systems, not to mention significantly faster. For instance, SBC is selling access to its 5,000 hotspots to its DSL subscribers for only two bucks extra a month. And those hotspots typically offer T1 speeds, compared to the paltry speeds currently offered by wireless operators.

Wireless operators are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing, so far, to offer reasonably-priced, all-you-can eat pricing for cellular data. I agree with Mike that camera phone optics need improvement. But a better approach if you're away from home is to use your regular digicam with all its bells, whistles and superior optics, transfer the images to your laptop and upload them from a hotspot.

Admittedly, that's not as elegant as doing everything from the phone, but the choice is clear: Get good pictures and transmit them at ten times the speed for half the price, or take lousy pictures and get ripped off by wireless operators. The choice is yours.

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