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Cell-Phone Pioneer Skeptical About Google's San Francisco Wi-Fi Plans

Marty Cooper, who conceived of the cell phone more than 30 years ago, says that Google has grossly underestimated the number of access points needed to provide "blanket coverage" to the whole city.
MADRID, Spain — One of the earliest pioneers of the mobile communications industry, Marty Cooper, warned that the sector still has many disruptions in its wake and warned that participants need to separate the technology from the marketing hype during a session he chaired at the Broadband Worldwide forum here.

Copper, who pretty much conceived the cellphone while working at Motorola in 1973 and is now chairman of smart antenna company ArrayComm, referred to two stories this week that characterize the ‘revolution’ that is driving the mobile sector.

He noted the ‘disruptive’ business models some new players are creating by referring to the announcement that Google would provide ‘blanket coverage’ of Wi-Fi across San Francisco, at apparently no cost to the city and no cost to the subscriber for basis Internet access. The payback would come through advertising, suggested the search engine provider.

“We need to be careful here to separate the business and technology issues. I don’t believe it is possible to ‘blanket’ a place like San Francisco with Wireless LAN, and certainly not with the 300 access points per square mile Google is suggesting. I calculate they will need more like 3000 AP’s per square mile.”

Google has suggested it can provide 95 percent coverage outdoors and 90 percent indoors with the 300 Wi-Fi Access points.

“They are clearly a great company, but I suggest they need a few lessons in wireless propagation,” said Copper.

He also noted Earthlink, one of North America’s fastest growing providers of Internet access, had just been awarded the contract to make Philadelphia the first big ‘wireless city’ in the U.S. by, again, providing almost total Wi-Fi coverage for its citizens.

However, he stressed that the overall trend is set — more players, which will create more pressure to develop more applications for different market segments – and all this accompanied by the need to still drive down network costs.

And the biggest challenge, he suggested, is the step change in the cost of wired and wireless communications “People are talking more on the phone, but the bill has remained the same for the last 20 years.”

During the same session covering ‘Visions of a Broadband Future’, Reza Ahy, chairman and CEO of wireless router provider Aperto Networks said the industry is set for its first major WiMAX interoperability ‘Plugfest’ in Beijing in November. This followsthe availability of more and more products certified for the fixed WiMAX standard at the WiMAX Forum/Cetecom interoperability labs in Majorca, Spain.