The endless journey to 3G

As reported yesterday on ZDNet, Nokia is in a fight with Qualcomm over patents that were part of a cross-licensing deal between the two companies which expired last month. Yes, patents don't just harm software companies, but splash around the competitive landscape like an exploding creature from the mind of H.

As reported yesterday on ZDNet, Nokia is in a fight with Qualcomm over patents that were part of a cross-licensing deal between the two companies which expired last month. Yes, patents don't just harm software companies, but splash around the competitive landscape like an exploding creature from the mind of H.R. Giger, which seems particularly relevant given that those monsters supposedly had acid for blood. Hey, if you are looking for furniture that will terrify the in-laws, Mr. Giger's creations are sure to fit the bill.

Poor 3G. Governments seem to be doing everything in their power to slow the rollout of a technology for which many will have trouble understanding the need, as most use phones primarily as voice and simple text messaging devices. To start, most governments around the world licensed 3G spectrum at prices so obscene that it drove a number of companies out of business. The 2000 auction in Germany yielded the government $65 billion USD, and that just gives the "winning" companies the RIGHT to broadcast on 3G spectrum. It doesn't pay for the expensive hardware that mobile companies would have to roll out.

Further, some of the most obvious revenue spinners for 3G-enabled smartphones are being actively ruled out by prudish federal regulations. H.R. 4411, the Internet Gambling Probition and Enforcement Act, essentially ruled out any form of gambling using mobile devices. What's next, prohibitions on naked pictures? If they did that, a lot of providers wouldn't even bother with upgrades.

It's taking so long that I wonder whether it will ever be worth bothering with 3G. The initial WiMax rollout will compete more with fixed line Internet access as it won't support roaming between networks, but Mobile WiMax will fix that. At that point, where is the value in having a 3G network, particularly if you haven't already spent the huge amount of money to upgrade your equipment to support the technology?

Then again, waiting might take longer than expected, as "just around the corner" can mean many things in the world of technology.

The big lesson to be learned from the experience with 3G is that government can do MANY things to hold back a new technology. If governments are earning $65 billion licensing a public resource, they are doing something wrong. The public isn't served by placing high barriers around use of a public resource that can improve our lives as much as an ubiquitous, low-cost high speed wireless network would.

...and as for the nanny-state impulse, that's a harder one. We need to convince ourselves to stop rewarding politicians for protecting us from ourselves.

But that's not likely to happen. Gambling / drugs / smoking / fatty foods / <name your vice here> are bad bad bad, and no politician ever won an election by telling citizens that vices were their problem, not government's (though they should).