Comdex: Pricking the mobile bubble

Information is a commodity? Not one that's likely to get you rich quick

Bell South's Jim Hobbs, vice president of strategic development, pricked one of the biggest bubbles of all at Comdex Fall 2000 Tuesday -- that people will pay for information on the move.

This is something of a reality check for attendees, who were starting to be seduced by the mobile mantra being trotted out at keynote after keynote. But people won't pay for weather and sports reports, never have, never will.

A given in all mobile presentations is that consumers will value location-specific information on their mobile devices. Details of a good restaurant, an ATM machine, or a pharmacy, together with map-based instructions on how to get there from a network that knows exactly where you are. Trouble is, the network cannot pinpoint you so exactly and trigger data to be served back at you based on that knowledge. The networks just weren't built to deliver this, says Dave Rensin, chief product officer at OmniSky.

Beefing up the networks ability to precisely locate users will need new technology. AT&T's chief executive, John D Zeglis, told ZDNet this morning that his firm its developing its own hybrid technology to deliver this. All mobile operators in the US have a regulatory incentive to crack location finding as the FCC has ruled that mobile network providers have to be able to geographically locate callers who place 911 calls by the middle of next year, a deadline that OmniSky's Dave Rensin says will be challenging for most networks.

The reality check continues into 3G, which many believe will provide the speed and bandwidth to solve a raft of technical problems that need to be solved before the mobile Internet really takes off. The Comdex panel consensus is that the US is not going to see 3G until 2003 at the earliest two years behind Japan and one year behind most of Europe and Scandinavia.

The single biggest reason for the US being relegated to the 3G slow lane is the squabble over spectrum, which Jim Hobbs describes as a highly politicised problem to crack. 3G data is going to gobble a huge amount of the spectrum, so much that the pricing models required to deliver a service would be prohibitive unless more spectrum can be made available.

The answer is to free up more spectrum for the mobile industry, and here Jim Hobbs points the finger at the FCC. They have the power to do something about this now. They could lean on the broadcasters to give up some spectrum, but they lack the political will to do so, he said.

The only good news is that if the US gets 3G late it may not necessarily be fatal. Rensin says that the great secret is you don't need 3G networks to deliver meaningful mobile Internet. He concedes that Europe and Asia will have a knowledge lead in developing new software and content offerings that work on 3G platforms.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

Take me to the ZDNet Road to 3G News Special.

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