Despite the hype, don't look for the U.S. to go rushing into the new high speed data Third Generation cellular phones any time soon. In fact, Europe and Asia will probably be well established in 3G before the U.S. ever gets started.
The reasons are quite simple:
* The U.S. telecom community, market and government are busy dodging the quintessential issue of who pays for installing the costly new 3G infrafrastructure.
* American high speed, large file downloaders will probably use wireless PC notebooks over 3G handsets to access their data.
Europe and Asia will almost assuredly beat the U.S. to 3G because government subsidized infrastructures are slowly being put in place. Once big money has been sunk into the 3G entry stakes, the payees will push to start getting a return on their sizable investments.
But Laissez-Faire Telecom America has few sugar-daddies willing to pay the stiff upfront costs for 3G infrastructure. Bob Merritt, Redwood City, Calif., former Semico Research telecom chip analyst on temporary leave, said wireless carriersare reluctant to ante up until they see a potential large base of subscribers.
3G users don't want to foot the big infrastructure costs as part of their bill, and non-3G customers decidedly don't want to be socked. The government traditionally is out of the financing game.
Given this money standoff, it is hard to see any fast 3G start in this country.
Besides, the interim 2.5G GPRS cellular systems seem to be meeting many user needs to download e-mail and whatever Internet news and modest data is desired.
The stopgap 2.5G doesn't have the bells and whistles of its third generation successor, but does enough of the job to put a crimp into big future wireless networks.
That also raises the question of how mobile users really want to download large data files and images. Do they really want to get inundated with bits and bytes over their wireless 3G handsets? Or will they prefer to download data to the new
breed of wireless PC notebooks that increasingly can connect to ubiquitous wireless LANs being installed in airports, convention centers, hotels, Starbucks, and other public places, as well as corporate and campus sites?
In the long run, peripatetic users will probably do both. But that will require paring the costs of both wireless access systems to affordable complementary levels.
Once we figure out how Wireless America will access data and video, we'll get a handle on how fast 3G is going to ramp up in the Home of the Nearly-Free.