As if the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, didn't have enough to worry about this week, up pops Professor Nicholas Negroponte, Director of MIT's media lab to say that the auction of the 3G radio spectrum in the Spring was crazy, that 3G would not be good enough and that even if it were it would have to be so expensive that most citizens wouldn't be able to use it anyway.
Negroponte prefaced his remarks by telling delegates that he spends six months of the year here, was educated in Switzerland, and considers himself more European than American. "So what I have to say I say with a good deal of affection." A good job too, given the assault on Europe's lead in mobiles that followed.
Describing the auction of 3G spectrum, Negroponte was scathing: "This is such a big mistake, I'm not sure how to recover from it any more. When the UK launched 3G spectrum the government was gloating. Look at this wonderful thing that we have done. It wasn't wonderful. It was in fact terrible."
Suggesting that the auctions in the UK and Germany were far from open, Negroponte said that it was inconceivable that BT (quote: BT) or Deutsche Telecom would fail to get a licence.
The problem, according to Negroponte and many other speakers at this week's forum, is that the auctions have now saddled operators with a starting cost of $1,000 per subscriber. With no infrastructure, no handset, no research, no new services, and no new evidence to suggest the system will be vital to people, the future is not the safe bet many believe it to be, he said.
Negroponte's central theory on 3G is that GPRS will steal its thunder, and that unused parts of the spectrum will be used to create informal networks.
"3G isn't good enough. And it isn't good enough in the context of GPRS. When GPRS comes on line people will have 64bps and they are going to love it people are going to say 'Wow, GPRS is really great!' Which will lead them to ask the question about 3G: 'What is so much better than GPRS?'
"3G is not good enough, and I believe it will not see the light of day, he said."
Future gazing is something of a specialty with Negroponte, and he didn't disappoint, predicting that in the US there will be more Barbie dolls connected to the Internet in a few years than Americans. He predicted the average house would be home to more than 5,000 computing devices communicating directly or indirectly with the Internet very shortly and that working cellphones, displays, mechanical motors could be printed on a piece of paper.
As for the how technology will affect our health, Negroponte predicted that shortly we won't swallow pills when we're ill, we'll simply swallow tiny computers to analyse and fix things instead...
Take me to The road to 3G