At a high level, it seems safe to say that when users and developers have access to faster processors, greater storage and bandwidth, new applications are created to take advantage of those features. But there always is some interim period where investments are not widespread enough to create a potential base of users for an application that uses the new features. Which comes first, bandwidth or apps?

And in a capital-intensive business such as communication networks, being too early, with too much additional capacity, processing or storage, can be ruinous. One might point to the dramatic bubble in capacity investing, competitive local exchange networks or e-commerce sites around the turn of the century.

Equally to the point is the serious gap that developed between 3G mobile networks, especially in Europe, and the promised new applications that proponents expected would develop.

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It has been roughly a decade since European mobile operators placed big spectrum bets on “third generation” mobile broadband, and then largely watched as killer apps failed to emerge, customer use of the new networks remained sluggish, and executives ruefully noted they had overpaid for spectrum.

As operators now gear up for a transition to 4G, we will hear similar talk about new applications the network will enable. The difference is that, a decade after launch, the “killer app” for 3G turns out to be mobile broadband access.

Right now, 4G is mostly “just” faster access. But 4G looks to be a potential replacement for fixed-line broadband, so maybe, early on, a lead application for 4G will be displacement of fixed-line broadband connections, and not any particular new application.

Some might argue that a lead app for 4G is turning out to be personal Wi-Fi hotspots, for example, another “access” function. A decade from now, we are likely to have discovered that some important new applications, enabled specifically by 4G, have arisen. But it will take some time, if 3G is any predictor.

At some point, the gap can be bridged either by “build it and they will come” improvements in processing, storage or communications that outstrip known demand, or “build it and they will come” applications that might be usable by only a fraction of potential consumers.

Some think the logjam can be broken only by moving faster towards faster networks, to create the right environment for application developers. That tends to be an opinion held by people whose core business interests do not require investing the money.

Service providers are quite a bit more circumspect, and “greed” is not the primary reason for such views. In fact, experience teaches service providers that consumers are quite careful about spending their own money on communication services, devices and features.

One case in point is a study of small-business broadband by Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, which conducted a nationwide survey on behalf of the Small Business Administration.

The really significant finding is that respondents won’t pay all that much for 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps connections. Businesses Want 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, but won’t pay

And price resistance is stubborn. Even when the price for such a service is just 10 percent to 20 percent higher, businesses are significantly less likely to switch to a 100-Mbps service from what they currently buy.

As you might guess, if small businesses are hesitant to spend 10 percent to 20 percent more to get 100 Mbps, they are even more hesitant to spend more for an extremely fast Internet connection of 1 Gbps. This is especially true for prices that are 40 percent or more higher than their current prices.

If you asssume the average prices now range between $70 a month to $124 a month, then survey respondents show significant resistance to paying much more than $84 to $149 a month for 100 Mbps service, or $98 to $174 for 1-Gbps service.
This graphic might confuse you. The taller the bars, the less likely the respondent is to take the action indicated. The tallest bar, a score of “5” would mean “highly unlikely” to take the action. SMB broadband demand report

A score of “1,” shown by a shorter bar, would indicate strong willingness to take the action.

The point is that small business users aren’t willing to spend much more to upgrade from their current level of service to 100-Mbps service.

The most surprising finding is that even the same prices, or prices 10 percent 5to 20 percent lower do not cause small business respondents to become certain of switching. Scores around “3” indicate a “maybe, maybe not” attitude.

No matter what these respondents say about wanting higher speeds, they don’t appear to be willing to pay much of anything for it.

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