NEW ORLEANS The founder and chairman of MIT's Media Labs, Professor Nicholas Negroponte, criticized the approach European regulators have taken to introduce third-generation (3G) wireless services, saying some governments have made disastrous mistakes in trying to repeat Europe's enormous success with GSM networks.
"In going down the route of auctioning spectrum for 3G services, these governments have imposed ridiculous conditions on European operators," Negroponte said in a keynote address at Motorola Inc.'s Smart Network Developers Forum here. "They copied a bad U.S. idea badly."
The step to 3G services is not such a big deal when compared with the three major shifts experienced by the telecom sector over the past few decades, Negroponte said, referring to the shift to digital networks; the shift from circuit-switched to IP-based networks; and the introduction of wireless communications.
The intended march to 3G services has turned into a slow crawl, Negroponte said. "Wireless communications will suffer greatly from the fact that we are too rapidly bringing in a new technology that in reality is not that big a jump ceratinly not when compared with the other three," he said.
It was "crazy" to try to start an industry by saddling it with hundreds of millions of dollars in spectrum license fees, no infrastructure, no handsets and unproven services, Negroponte said.
"We now have tremendous friction between two groups. One is shouting that having paid so much money up front for licenses, they need to get UMTS-based networks and services up an running as soon as possible. The second force, with which I tend to agree, says we have not given 2.5G a good enough run yet, let's go later," Negroponte said.
Negroponte also assailed Europe's confused approach to rolling out wireless LANs (WLANs), which he maintains is as significant a shift in the communications sector as the three noted earlier.
Unlike the United States, which is pushing the concept of
ad-hoc, peer-to-peer, or mesh personal WLANs using the unlicensed and free-to-use 2.4-GHz spectrum, Negroponte said Europe is completely confused on the issue, despite the fact that the 2.4-GHz approach offers significantly higher data rates, albeit over much shorter distances.
"Across Europe, the regulations for introducing 802.11-based WLANs are completely inconsistent," Negroponte said. For instance, in Italy it is legal to use unlicensed spectrum, as long as the service does not cross the street; in Ireland, it is OK as long as you don't make money from the service; France has just eased restrictions, but it's still only legal to use one channel. "The whole thing is a mess," Negroponte said.
However, Negroponte did not mention that some Europan countries, notably the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany are about to introduce public WLANs.
The "big deal" Negroponte was keen to stress was that the emerging world of ad-hoc, peer-to-peer wireless networks will lead to a world of intelligent devices that will in fact serve as a network.
"For years, we have been saying we can get the intelligence from the network, but we have not thought of these devices as being the network," Negroponte said. That is about to change."