No Wireless Killer Applications without a Killer Environment

For quite
some time now everybody in wireless has been trying to find „the“ killer application.
It is hoped that such an application will bring the breakthrough for the
wireless Internet to be as successful as the PC based fixed line Internet we
know today. While reading a book on the history of the Google, I realized that
it took much more than just applications for the big breakthrough of Google and
the Internet in general. In my opinion, even the early Internet offered an
ideal environment for both creators and consumers which in the end triggered its
own mass market success. The same is needed for the wireless Internet. However,
the worlds of the fixed and the wireless Internet could not be more different.
Here’s why:

1. The
Creator Side:
The Internet as we know it today was shaped by creative people,
many of them being students at universities all over the world. Students have
two advantages over people working for companies. First, they are not pressured
by quarterly results and business plans but they can use their time to
investigate and develop whatever comes to their mind and whatever they find
interesting. Second, no business model crosses their mind when being creative.
Many of today’s big Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo and Excite started
off like this. This is not happening for the mobile Internet for a simple
reason: At Universities, access to the Internet has always been free for
students as it is part of the universities’ infrastructures. The mobile
Internet, however, is not freely available to students and academics in most
cases. Hence, not many of them go mobile.

2. The User
Going back 10 to 15 years in time, services that form the core of today’s
Internet such as the world wide web, FTP, HTTP and eMail were used by academics
and students for their research. Search engines such as Google, Excite,
Altavista and others were created mainly to serve this clientele. On the
wireless side however, students and researchers are not the users as the infrastructure
is not provided to them for their work. In effect, this means that a vital part
of the user base is missing. As a consequence, an important part of the feedback
loop is missing that inspires creators to expand and develop new services.

3. The
Service Side:
The Internet became a big success as most services were free for
people at schools and universities to try them and use them over a long period
of time. Services such as search, eMail and web browsing were free, as was the
use of the network. This inspired people to try them. Over time, they became accustomed
to using these services and started to appreciate the added value they brought
to both their professional and private lifes. Again, the way things happen in
the mobile Internet is quite different. While many services are also free, such
as the mobile portals and services of Yahoo, Google, Shozu and others, access to the network
is not. Therefore, potential users are not even tempted to try out these
services as from their point of view, they can’t use the services for free and
in most cases have no idea what it would cost them if they tried.

4. The
Over the past two decades, the personal computer became an integral
tool for students and researchers for both offline applications such as word
processing and calculus tools, as well as for online Internet applications. In
the middle of the 1990’s, computers became cheap enough for home use. At the
same time, people started to see the value of being connected and of being
online and thus they also became willing to spend money for Internet access at
home. Thus, an Internet connection became a logical extension for a PC at home.
At this point the Internet left its free islands, i.e. the Universities, and
became an everyday tool in people’s homes as well. Yet again, things are very
different in the mobile Internet. Here, the mobile phone is the equivalent to
the PC at home. The advantage for the mobile domain is that most people already
have a personal mobile phone which is data capable. On the other hand, the
Internet is not a „natural“ extension of the main use case of a mobile phone,
i.e. voice telephony. Instead, it creates a new range of possibilities which
are not directly linked with the initial purpose of the device. While the
transformation from offline PC usage to online usage was a natural process,
moving from the use of a mobile phone for voice telephony to using it as a
device for Internet data services is a rupture in the evolution which seems to
be hard to overcome.

So where
does that leave us?
It is obvious that even in its early days the Internet was
not free. Somebody had to pay for the computers and the local infrastructure,
and somebody had to pay the telecom companies to build and operate the wide
area networks. Universities are either funded by nations or by tuition fees if
operated privately. While it was accepted that Internet connections are a vital
resource for research and academia, the wireless Internet is still seen as a
luxury good. I whished this attitude would change to create a similar ‘creator –
user feedback loop
‘ to kick start the wireless Internet in a similar way as what
has happened for the fixed line world.  

So where
to take the money from?
Well, I guess it’s already been spent on other things.
Just imagine: Five years ago the German government alone got 50 billion euros
as a result of the 3G frequency auctions. Paid in cash!!! Only 10 percent of
that, 5 billion, spread over 10 years would mean that there would be 500
million euros in Germany
alone each year that could be invested in research and development of wireless
technologies, services and applications. That’s 1000 euros for 500.000 students
to buy hardware and network access every year. I am not even sure if there are
that many students in Germany who’d want to benefit from this. Staggering numbers, just imagine what the
number would be when you count all the license fees paid in Europe and over the world. So what happened to the money? It was used to reduce
the huge budget deficit instead of being partially reinvested into the future.
Well done, German government and others, that’s how we keep our technical

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