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3G overhyped, says tech pioneer

Mobile broadband? Pah

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The need for high-speed internet access on mobiles has been overestimated, according to a mobile-phone technology pioneer who poured cold water on the short-term potential for 3G network operators to realise ambitious business plans.

Dr Andrew Viterbi, co-founder and retired vice-chairman of Qualcomm, who's best known for developing the Viterbi algorithm used in most mobile phone and digital satellite receivers, said the need for broadband wireless had been overstated. Applications such as obtaining radio and TV broadcast on mobiles and transferring pictures between users of 3G mobiles are unlikely to generate as much data traffic as expected, he argued.

"Users are more likely to download pictures from phones onto their PC at home and distribute them using Wi-Fi networks," he told delegates during a keynote at the IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium in San Diego on Tuesday. There are few applications that need mobile broadband, Viterbi said.

WiMax, which has been promoted as an alternative or complimentary wide-area wireless technology by firms such as Intel as a consumer product is "unlikely to be a big player," he added.

Viterbi said mobile operators in Europe paid about 10 times too much for 3G licences and were now forced to chase consumers. Unsurprisingly, Veterbi thought the CDMA2000 approach backed by Qualcomm and predominately used in North America and parts of Europe had a better technology and business strategy than the W-CDMA approach to 3G, which is backward compatible with GSM and backed by European operators.

"3G in the US has so far been marketed to professionals and road warriors. In Europe, operators have had to go after the consumer mass-market with lower pricing," he said.

Veterbi's downbeat assessment was followed by an opposing view from Intel. Intel engineer D. Schmidt predicted a convergence between cellular and WiMax technologies on the handset. But he said new applications would only be enabled by this technology development providing operators revamped voice-centric billing models to encourage users to exchange data and hardware suppliers came up with very inexpensive kit. ®

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