3G: Where Will It Be a Year from Now?

Opinion: By the end of 2005, we may well find that commercial deployment of technologies such as Flash-OFDM in North America will heavily outstrip European and Asian 3G deployments.

Its probably time to admit it: 3G wireless is like satellite. It will never be economical as a broadband solution.

Five years is a long time to wait and now that 3G wireless is here, youd think wed be grateful. Not a chance of that! We want its successor on schedule, please.

The concept of 3G phone networks was originally seen as a 2001 technology. Then, after four or five years, we were supposed to start using advanced data extensions to 3G.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here for more on the state of 3G in the United States.

Well, the news that Flight 123 was delayed is no concern to the passengers on Flight 345; they still expect 345 to be at the gate on time. The worlds desire for wireless broadband didnt disappear just because video phones werent ready for the marketing boys.

So the arrival of both IP Wireless and Flarion on the scene as purveyors of genuine high-speed packet-switched data to mobile users is forcing the phone business to re-think its priorities—especially in Europe.

Its far, far too soon to suggest that either of these newcomer technologies will dominate. Right now, the best bet would be that theyll find separate niches. But the plan was that they would find niches supplying data to people who were, around now, starting to lose patience with wideband CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) or other 3G networks, and needing more capacity.

"You can see that 3G voice technologies arent suitable for data except on a small scale," said John Hambidge, global marketing director of IP Wireless, when announcing new licensees of his companys technology. "They are simply not capable of supplying enough data to enough users at a high enough speed to pull prices down."

That is ironic of course because this was always obviously true about satellite broadband. It doesnt take a very wide calculator to see that satellite data on a penny-per-bit basis cant be made cheap enough to compete in any area where there is actual competition. The technology will always be useful in places where you cant run cable, and people there will always include enough big-spenders who can afford satellite fees.

But satellite will always be a backup, a failsafe, or a last resort. If the launch vehicles and the transponders could be combined for a price of a thousandth of the current budget, then sure! You could send enough of them up to supply 512KB to a large number of homes. But that simply isnt going to happen. When you charge around 500 euros for 50MB of data, your customers are going to have to be desperate, or they wont sign up. And if you have to charge no more than what Europes fiber providers can charge for metro Ethernet, you cant get the rocket off the ground.

Next page: Preparing for takeoff.