Everyone in the mobile phone business is giddy about the potential for 3G networks. Well, almost everyone. Dr. Andrew Viterbi thinks that the need for high speed mobile internet access has been overestimated and that 3G network operators will struggle to realize ambitious business plans. Viterbi has some credibility in the matter. He is the co-founder and retired vice-chairman of Qualcomm. Perhaps his biggest impact, though, is the creation of the Viterbi Algorithm, which is used in most mobile phones and digital satellite receivers.
Viterbi suggests that applications such as mobile TV and radio and the transfer of pictures between 3G users will create far less traffic than is anticipated. He suspects that users are more likely to download pictures from phones to their PCs and transfer them using WiFi networks instead. His outlook was equally sunny for WiMax, which he said is “unlikely to be a big player.”
Viterbi suggested that European operators paid about 10 times too much for 3G licenses, forcing them to work hard to find customers. American providers are marketing to business users, while their Europeans counterparts have to market to consumers with their lower margins. He did say that CDMA2000, the approach used in North America and parts of Europe, is superior in technology and strategy to W-CDMA, which is used in most of Europe. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that he thinks that, given that CDMA2000 is backed by Qualcomm.
Viterbi’s views are not universally held. He presented them at the IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium in San Diego Tuesday. The next speaker was from Intel and he was far more positive about the future.