Technical Leapfrogging: American Wireless


I just wanted to post a quick observation. When I first came to Spain in early 2000, the Internet nuttiness which had been going on for several years in the U.S. had just arrived here. Only 6 million of Spain's 40 million people were on the Internet (this has since more than doubled). This was supposed to be a major advantage to the consulting company I was working for because we had years of experience in technologies that the Spanish were just starting to work with. But then the bubble burst and everyone came back to their senses and the consulting company went away. But obviously the internet didn't.

One of the things that I found very interesting was how fast Spain caught up to where the U.S. is in terms of internet technologies. Within a year of living here, I was seeing the same technology at work as I was reading about online. The reason is that technical trends may arrive to different countries at different times, but when they do arrive, then it's always the latest and greatest technologies that are used. I quickly saw that the application servers and were up to date on the latest best practices were being utilized. They didn't have to start with CGI scripts and work their way through bash shells and Perl to arrive at J2EE, they just went to or wherever and downloaded the best version of the applications available just like we do back in the U.S. Companies ordered from Dell just like we do and got the latest Pentiums - they didn't have to start with 486s. And the telecom here saw what was going on in the U.S. and rapidly started building out their high-bandwidth connections to the internet - which is why I now have DSL. Spain didn't have to re-invent the wheel or go through the same process. They just started with the latest.

I think we can find a similar parallel to the improving mobile technology in the U.S. The U.S. has gone a completely different route than Europe and Asia in their wireless market and for years it has been complete chaos. There are good things to say about the chaos - this is the market that produced CDMA, which everyone in the world has decided is the basis of the future of cellular voice and data communications. This is good. The complete crap phones and services we've gotten for the past decade in the U.S. while Europe and Asia have had reliable mobile phones and services is bad. But this is changing, and my point is that its going to change faster than anyone thinks.

What's going to happen in the U.S. is the same thing that happened with the internet in Spain. The U.S. has been behind in services, phones, and availability. But now they see what's going on in Asia and in Europe and are pushing fast to catch up. Both GSM/GPRS - which basically didn't EXIST in the U.S. when I was there three years ago - is now coast to coast and moving towards EDGE already, and the CDMA networks from Sprint and Verizon are spread out and starting to step up to the next generation as well. The phone makers are now all focusing on the international market - for example, Nokia, SonyEricsson and Siemen's have all announced that their Symbian phones will be tri-band world phones. No more having different phones launched on different continents. There may be differences still in GSM/GPRS/EDGE vs. CDMA/CDMA2000 vs. WCDMA, but in general in the coming year these phones are going to arrive in the U.S. at just about the same time as they do elsewhere. This is the first time that's been the case.

So things are coming and coming fast to the U.S. I'm also heartened by the companies we have in the U.S.: Qualcomm, which controls CDMA, Motorola which despite its misteps is still a mobile phone powerhouse and does have a stake in Symbian, and cool companies like LightSurf which shows that some American companies do indeed "get" next generation mobile services like MMS. Add to this the rapid deployment of WiFi and related services and Americans might be the most mobile yet.

Obviously it's not going to ever be perfect in the U.S.: I'd like to see free incoming calls, Bluetooth taken seriously, better coverage for remote areas, a single standard for CDMA services, better interop between carriers for SMS and MMS messages, and Microsoft wiped off the face of the earth. But some if not all of these things are changing too, I'm sure...

Just my thoughts for a late evening.


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