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Q: Who will pay for 3G networks?

A: Chinese gamblers

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Last night we were enthralled to finally hear how 3G mobile phone companies intend to recoup their, quite frankly, ludicrous investment in an unknown technology. Well, that's not strictly true. For two hours a panel of guests representing BT Cellnet, Motorola, the GSM Association and other assorted companies skirted the question of making money, opting to hype up their products instead.

Despite persistent raising of the question by the moderator and hacks, we remained none the wiser. Just as we were considering leaving though, it all kicked off. A large journo, growing increasingly agitated, couldn't help himself and went into a five-minute rant. There was no question but the basic point was that all the 3G players are over-hyping 3G (WAP anyone?) as well as lying outright about the speeds possible with the new (unbuilt) network.

"You're saying we'll get 2Mbps. I'd like to know how and where. I've wasted days trying to get someone to tell me what speed they really run at and the best I reckon you can come up with is 140Kbps. I'm sick of you lying to the media about what you can do," said the mystery man.

Ted Hally (VP and gen manager of Motorola GSM division) tried some damage limitation: "Well I'll address the technicalities later..." This caused another two old boys to start ranting and it looked for a second as though the issue of mobile speed would be settled with some old-fashioned fisticuffs. Mystery man ranted some more before announcing he had to catch a train and stormed out the press conference.

His mantle was picked up by the other two who started delivering lectures to whoever would listen. And with the consumate "skill" of politicians, not one of the panel guests said anything about either the speed or how revenue would be made. The multi-billion pound price tag on the licences, the billions needed to actually build the network and the billions needed to provide services will all be recouped by some mysterious killer app that will just appear out of nowhere. Like SMS did (?!).

It seems a little weak and stupid to spend a small fortune on some unknown future application but then that's the IT industry for you. However, right at the end, VP of Entrust (a company working on secure transactions over phones) Richard Kirk suddenly, without warning, came out with a money-making idea. "The Chinese are addicted to gambling, so we intend to set up a mobile-based gambling system. They can play it on the bus on the way home." So that's it. It's official. The entire 3G revolution will be funded by Chinese gamblers. At least we know now. ®

Conference rundown

Key words (read, tediously reiterated buzz terms): forum, killer app, iMode, innovate
High point: Ranting man
Low point: "3G is going to put the excitement back into billing" - Richard Brand, TelesensKSCL

Oh, and a special Reg handshake to Andy Munarriz, co-founder of VoxSurf. Andy was also on the panel and expressed his dismay to us after the event. You see, Andy thought it was all about telling journalists about where he thought 3G was going. He became confused when it slipped into a product-hyping, question-avoiding mess.

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