Comdex: Mobile Internet to overtake fixed access

Ericsson's Hellstrom sees demand for mobile Net access exploding

More people will access the Internet via mobile devices than from fixed PCs in as little as three years, according to Ericsson president Kurt Hellstrom Tuesday. Perhaps more surprisingly, he also claimed WAP is about to become huge.

Speaking at Comdex Fall 2000 in Las Vegas, Hellstrom said the march of the mobile phone will continue apace as Internet and telecommunications continue to merge. The mobile phone now outstrips the PC as the world's best-selling consumer device.

Hellstrom explained that his invitation to speak at the influential conference was recognition of the importance of the mobile Internet. In a conference often dedicated to US tech, the mobile world is one clear market where Europe is leading the way, he said.

"We believe that the mobile Internet will soon be bigger than the fixed Internet," he said. "Just as we cut the cords of the telephone so we will cut the cords of the Internet."

Hellstrom said 700,000 new mobile subscribers are signed up every day adding to the worldwide figure of 260 million mobile users. Even belaguered WAP is regarded optimistically by the Ericsson boss.

"After a shaky start WAP is growing very strongly," he claimed, predicting 26 million WAP-enabled mobile phones by the end of the year: a growth of 23 million from July. Crucial to the explosion in mobile Internet services will be 3G, which Hellstrom describes as "bringing broadband to the pocket". 3G is predicted to roll out first in Japan. Europe will follow, with 90 operators ready to roll with 3G services by the end of next year.

The high price paid for 3G licences in the UK and other European countries, particularly poor regions, has led some analysts to question how operators will afford to roll out services. Ericsson, which has been chosen as a handset provider by Vodafone and BT Cellnet among others, is not concerned.

"Prices paid in Germany and the UK are the highest but on average across Europe the price of 3G is not that big," said Hellstrom. "3G will create new revenue models as well from advertising, content and transactions."

Analysts have suggested that Ericsson, struggling to make money on its entry level handsets, may be about to divest itself of its phone business to concentrate solely on infrastructure. Hellstrom admitted that infrastructure was a huge part of Ericsson's business -- accounting for 80 percent of revenue -- but denied it is about to abandon handsets. "We will continue to have mobile handsets. Some of our 3G contracts require us to provide mobile phones."

Finally Hellstrom paid tribute to Bluetooth, the wireless technology that Ericsson invented. "Every where you go at this show you hear Bluetooth, Bluetooth, Bluetooth. We think it will be a great booster to the communications industry and will put it in every telephone we make."

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

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