WWD: What will it take to spur wireless Internet culture in the U.S. and how far away is that likely to be?
Carl Steidtmann, director and chief economist, PricewaterhouseCoopers: “There are three barriers to the development of a wireless Internet culture in the U.S. In reverse order of importance, they are:”
New Technology: “Cell phones are still relatively slow and the connections are poor in many parts of the country. The development of cell phones based on third-generation (3G) technology will mostly likely remedy these problems, but that is still at least a year or two away. (3G technologies will enable transmission of data to mobile devices at up to six times faster than existing 2G and 2.5G digital networks.)”
Standards: “Unlike the rest of the world, the U.S. has been unwilling to coalesce around a global wireless standard. Take most U.S. cell phones to Europe and they stare at you blankly, confused at all of the electronic noise around them. The Japanese have solved this problem and so have the Europeans. We need to get our heads out of the sand, get our collective acts together and join the rest of the world. Standards reduce investment risk and enhance productivity. Without a universal standard, nothing much of interest is going to happen.”
Killer Applications: “A lot of the wireless hoopla is technology in search of an application. It completely ignores the consumer. Until there is something out there in the wireless world that is a must-have, by more than just the techno-hip among us, wireless will continue as it is, a voice-oriented world. Using the phone as a transaction medium is one possibility. Being able to do real-time price comparisons is another. Having quick access to all kinds of real-time information from plane schedules to stock prices and restaurant suggestions is a third.
“The bottom line: A best-case scenario would have a standard agreed to, new technology online and some more fully realized wireless applications showing up in the U.S. in two years. Worst case is never. If no standard is ever set, and the major wireless players continue to bicker over the details of the technology, consumers will go on to something more interesting.”