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10/27/2005
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Qualcomm Co-Founder Skeptical Of Broadband Wireless Potential

The technology is likely to be too expensive to become as popular as existing mobile phones, said Qualcomm's Andrew Viterbi.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Broadband wireless technology is likely to remain too cost prohibitive to ever achieve user numbers close to the 2 billion people who currently use mobile phones, according to Andrew Viterbi, co-founder of Qualcomm and currently president of the Viterbi Group LLC, a technology advisory and investment company.

Delivering a keynote address here Wednesday (Oct. 26) at the GSPx signal processing conference, Viterbi said broadband wireless could provide a "nomadic desktop experience" for business and professional users, but that high-speed wireless connectivity is not necessary for the majority of applications that consumers are interested in. Ultimately, he said, the user base for broadband wireless would peak at "hundreds of millions," rather than billions, of users.

"A lot of the dumb things that people do don't take that much bandwidth," Viterbi said, referring to applications such as gaming.

Applications such as two-way gaming and video conferencing, which would require the speed of broadband wireless, will not appeal to a wide enough base of users to bring down the cost of broadband wireless, Viterbi said. While consumers would not necessarily say that they do not want broadband wireless functionality, he said, they would not be willing to pay an extra $50 a month or more for this capability.

Viterbi acknowledged that the situation is not the same in Europe as it is in the U.S. or the rest of the world. European carriers paid dearly for the additional spectrum required for broadband wireless in 2000, he said, and will likely push harder to make low-cost consumer terminals available for its use in order to capture some return on their investment.

One application that people have been counting on to support the need for broadband wireless is high-quality audio and video broadcast. But Viterbi expressed doubt that people would be interested enough in this capability to justify paying the additional cost.

"We are going to get broadcast, and that is going to need high speed," he said. "But we've had audio broadcast for 100 years and video broadcast for 50 years, so what's new?"

Meanwhile, companies keep moving to bring broadband wireless to the market. Motorola Inc. and Intel Corp. Thursday agreed to collaborate to advance the use of mobile WiMAX technology, based on the proposed IEEE 802.16e standard, for both fixed and wireless broadband applications.

Earlier this month, mobile communications industry pioneer Marty Cooper warned that broadband wireless blanket coverage could be disruptive to the business, referencing recent announcements by Google and Earthlink that they are prepared to offer blanket Wi-Fi coverage across San Francisco and Philadelphia, respectively.

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