US ‘winning wireless race’

27 Oct 2005

After bowing to the supremacy of Europe in the wireless arena for over a decade, the US had learnt from its mistakes and now leads in mobile telephony, a leading technology commentator has claimed.

Delivering the keynote speech at at yesterday’s Telecoms and Internet Federation (TIF) annual conference in Dublin, Walt Mossberg, who writes a hugely influential personal technology column for The Wall Street Journal, argued that the European 3G experience was lagging behind that of the US, where Verizon Wireless was rolling out a 3G network based on EV-DO (Evolution Data Only), a CDMA technology that delivers speeds of between 700Kbps and 800Kbps. “In Europe the 3G networks peak at 384Kbps and the real throughput is in the 200s – so in the US 3G is three to four times faster than Europe,” said Mossberg.

He also noted that rival mobile operator Cingular was rolling out another high-speed network technology, HSDPA, in a dozen US cities as its answer to EV-DO.

However, Mossberg was not all praise of the mobile networks. He recently attracted the ire of mobile operators there for describing them as “Soviet Ministries” for the way they tightly control their networks and, he argued, stifle innovation in the process.

“Mobile carriers have too much power in the US. You could have the greatest design ever for a mobile handset but it won’t ever reach the end user unless it is approved, marketing and distributed by the carrier,” said Mossberg. Likening the mobile carrier’s stranglehold on the handset market to a “feudal system” he argued that it needed to be broken so consumers could buy a handset knowing that it will run on any network.

Turning his attention to the internet, Mossberg predicted 10 years from now being “on the internet” would be an obsolete term because the technology would be all-pervasive and deeply embedded in our lives. “It’ll be like the electricity grid. You’ll take it for granted; it will be there in the background.” Internet protocol (IP) will become so pervasive that not only will telephone calls be made over the internet but television too will be delivered over IP.

Moving on to hardware, Mossberg contended that the PC had “peaked as a device” and would gradually wane in influence as smart mobile devices began to take over. This, he pointed out, had implications for software companies such as Microsoft, whose fortunes were closely tied to the PC, which is why the Seattle-based giant was starting to move into other areas such as hardware and gaming.

He singled out Apple as the model for the successful company of the new digital economy in that, unlike competitors such as Microsoft and Sony, it excelled in both hardware and software.

By Brian Skelly