Okay, how many of you have mobile Internet on your cellphone right now?
If the studies are accurate then 33% of you would have your hands up. According to a Pew Internet study last year, about a third of all adult Internet users in the US have also accessed the Internet via their mobile device.

Suddenly, I’m not feeling quite so smug anymore.

You see, nearly four years ago, I walked out of a telco’s store feeling rather smug. You see, I’d just signed up for an unlimited data plan for my phone and had just become one of the few thousands (maybe) of Malaysians with a 3G Internet connection in my pocket.

Back then, the geek’s dream was to be able to check e-mail and surf the web wherever you went. The cellphone I carried at that time serviced my needs pretty adequately – a proper HTML web browser and the ability to install applications (yes, there were phones before the iPhone that had apps.)

But today, the landscape has changed. I’d say we’re just about at the tipping point where mobile Internet is about to be a basic part of your mobile experience. Here’s why:

Smart, smart phones
I was just whining to a friend recently about how every Tom, Rick and Nancy I’ve come across has a canggih phone. Lady seated next to me carries an iPhone. Dude across the table at a cafe sports a BlackBerry Bold. His friend has a Nokia N900. Where did all the smart phones come from?

I half suspect it’s the tumbling cost factor, the way telcos are throwing subsidies at everything that moves. I’d still argue against tying yourself down to a contract for two years just to get a RM400 discount on an already-depreciating gadget, but hey, if you’re pressed, the price point is pretty attractive.

Cheap, cheap data plans
My first unlimited Internet data plan cost me RM138, for data alone. Tagged onto the mandatory RM30 postpaid access fee, and RM80 commitment of my plan, my cellphone bill came up to more than RM250 a month.

Today, “unlimited” data plans can be subscribed for as low as RM48 a month. I pay about RM98 a month (for data, voice and SMS messages). If you do the math, I’m paying about 35% of what I did four years ago.
Of course, if you tag on an expensive phone plan, you’d still be paying more than RM200 plus a month, but that’s really the cost of your phone being spread out over 12, 24 or 36 months.

Social, social, social networks

The real driver that’s making us need this internet access on our phones more than ever is the rise of social networking as the form of communication among youths today.

Young people in my church tell me to send them a Facebook message instead of e-mailling them. Likewise, more and more people prefer to tweet me rather than send an SMS. But, all these forms of communication would be of little use if they were tied to the desktop. It’s in mobile that they come to life.

If previously the cellphone was just used for calls and SMS, now you’d expect that the cellphone also supports social networking, instant messaging and e-mail. The goalposts have shifted.

And there’s corroborative evidence to the fact. The most recent Opera Mobile Web study released in January shows that mobile access of Facebook has grown by 600%. The same study showed Malaysia as No. 3 in South-East Asia (behind Indonesia and Vietnam), in terms of number of mobile Internet users, up from fourth place a year before.

Kill downtime

Ever lined up for a cinema ticket and had nothing to do but to play some dodgy JAVA game on your phone? With mobile Internet, you could surf your favourite forums and participate on your favourite social networks while you’re at it.

Do cool stuff with your phone
Let’s face it, most of the really cool     applications for phones require some     form of Internet connection. Take     Shazam, for example, a great party tool for a music-ignorant nut like me.

I’ve impressed people by telling them what obscure track is playing simply by whipping out my phone having the     Shazam app “listen” to the song, and then send it across to the Internet for     recognition.

Help is always around
Get quick answers to burning questions. One word: Google!

So, are you convinced that now might be the right time to get that mobile data package you’ve been putting off for so long?

I’ll leave you with this thought: The next time you’re frantically looking for that one device that you never want to leave home without, think about what you’re putting into your pocket. Is it just your phone? Or the Internet?

*David Lian is looking forward to the launch of 4G networks in Malaysia, so that he can feel pretty smug again.

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