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US lawyer David C Jacobson argues that the US will become a wireless superpower

During 1940 and early 1941 a debate raged within the US about whether we should involve ourselves in the war in Europe. Isolationists said we shouldn't waste our resources on someone elseís problems. As history shows, however, when the US did devote its strengths to the war effort, it made a big difference.

Today a less critical but no less strident debate is underway on how the US should enter the wireless wars. And I believe the eventual result will be the same. After much hand wringing, the US will deploy its financial, manufacturing and technical resources to wireless and weíll be a wireless superpower.

Much is being said about how far behind we are in the wireless space. There is, of course, truth in that. In Europe, there arenít five competing wireless standards. Cellphone penetration is as high as 70% in some countries, compared with 25% in the US.

In Japan there are more wireless subscribers than fixed-line. 2.5G is already a reality and 3G will be available in months. NTT DoCoMo is viewed in the US as the most formidable competitor since the days of Toyota and Nissan. Indeed, it just bought a 16% stake in AT&T Wireless.

But what I'm sensing in meeting after meeting is that this sorry state of affairs is coming to an end. Technology leaders know that broadband wireless has the potential to be as disruptive to our lives as the Internet and they are finally preparing for it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Chicago is home to Motorola and large parts of the wireless industry in the US. And that wireless industry is poised to move from voice to data.

Paradoxically, being a year or so behind in the wireless space may give the US a long-term edge. We'll have the opportunity to watch our counterparts in Europe and Asia make their mistakes first. And in wireless, the mistakes tend to be costly. On the other hand, we can learn from the true innovations like the i-mode microcharge payment system at NTT DoCoMo which will unleash a real tide of wireless commerce.

There's activity in other areas as well. Virtually every major US Internet consulting firm (and there are many of them) has established a significant wireless group. There's also much discussion about how the combination of wireless and new forms of battery technology, which are close to a reality, will create vast new opportunities, letting us cut the cord to the power source as well as the network.

Wireless momentum is building in the US. While our development has been slow, itís accelerating daily. As this continues, expect the US to quickly catch up with - and perhaps even surpass - Europe and Japan in this critical area.

<i>David C Jacobson is an e-commerce lawyer</i>

<i><b>For more comment from New Media Age, see the magazine's own page</b></i>

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Published 14 February, 2001 by NMA Staff

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