Marty Cooper: ArrayComm's CEO shares his vision for the wireless world
SONY'S RECENT INVESTMENT in ArrayComm's new wireless technology may herald the implosion of wireless initiatives in the United States. ArrayComm's iBurst -- called the DSL of wireless by some observers -- offers alternatives to the expensive proposition of building third-generation wireless networks. Marty Cooper, CEO and co-founder of ArrayComm and inventor of the cellular phone, spoke with InfoWorld reporter Geneva Sapp about his vision for a wireless world.
InfoWorld: What are the forces driving wireless initiatives, and what is needed to bring these technologies to the fruition in the United States?
Cooper: I've thought about that perhaps more than anything else. The bottom line is, because of the way that cellular started out in the United States with the fragmentation, with competitive licenses in many markets, it has taken wireless a longer time to get organized. I'm convinced that's the right way and that the way it's being done in other places like Europe and Japan, even though it appears to be more effective in the short term, in the long term we're going to come out better.
The bottom line is, the way the world of telecommunications has evolved from the beginning has been through monopolies. Even today, when you want a telephone, you go to the telephone company. And it wasn't that long ago that the phone company was one company: in the whole United States, AT&T; in Japan, it was NTT; in Britain, it was British Telecom. And the telecommunications world got into a monopoly mode of thinking. That is in contrast with other consumer products where there's competition, where there are many, many solutions to serve every facet of the market. The telecommunications industry has grown up with one company doing all the creative thinking and deciding what the products are and what the services are and how to bill for those services, and the change that is happening in the world is the result of competition. The fact is there really is not one solution for all problems. There are lots of solutions, and that's true in every marketplace.
What you're seeing now with the halting but accelerating growth of wireless local loop and the aggressive growth of wireless data in Japan, with PHS [Personal Handyphone Service] now offering 64Mb[ps] now and 128[Mbps] later this year and imode in Japan offering a different kind of data to cellular users; each one of these things is the solution for different kinds of customers. Frequently they take different kinds of infrastructure, different kinds of networks. That kind of thinking is going to pervade the future of telecommunications: lots of solutions and lots of different applications to solve lots of different consumer needs.
InfoWorld: Is this in contrast to universality?
Cooper: I hate the concept of universality. As you know, they've characterized at least one of the versions of third-generation cellular as UMTS, Universal Mobile Telephone Service. To me, universal means compromise. Let's do all things for all people and do none of them well.
If you think about it, if Marconni and Tessla had invented radio before Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone, are you certain that our personal communications networks would have grown up to be wired networks? At least for people talking to people, the wires don't make any sense at all. The fact that we've spent billions of dollars creating this wired network, it doesn't mean that it's the optimum way or the way it's going to be when the technology catches up to that of the wired network. The really fundamental thing is, it doesn't make any sense to have a telephone number via location and have someone forced to be at that location to receive a phone call. We've learned that. We've learned it more in places like Finland, where more than half the traffic is over cellular systems. The systems are good enough [for] people [to] use the cellular systems as their basic telephone. There's no reason why it can't be that good in this country, and ultimately it will be.
The same thing is going to happen on the Internet in terms of personal use. I'm not talking about sending huge amounts of data from one computer to another. I'm talking about people on the Internet, and ultimately that is going to be wireless. There's a bunch of problems to be solved, but ultimately wireless is the way to go.
InfoWorld: Why is Sony interested in ArrayComm's iBurst?
Cooper: Sony is interested in one thing and that is that they are interested in serving their customers, their constituency. They have made it public that they believe the network environment is the future of consumer distribution. They really mean consumers. The focus of all cellular networks in this country is the high-usage subscriber, and who's the high-usage subscriber? The businessperson. It's clear that for Sony's vision to be realized, it's going to require new technology and new kinds of networks. What they want to do is propel the development, and boy, are they propelling us.
InfoWorld: Will this new Sony partnership force the adoption of more radio technology by infrastructure manufacturers or carriers?
Cooper: The pat answer is yes, of course. The reality is that the modern paradigm is to get out there and build it and create a de facto standard. When that standard's proved and when it's shown to be commercial, shown to serve the needs of some important part of society, it will be adopted. And we expect that to happen with ArrayComm's iBurst. We're still going to go through the standards bodies and do all the things to make it a standard.
InfoWorld: Are there strategic alliances in the works for a major infrastructure manufacturer or an ISP to provide this kind of technology as a package?
Cooper: We are talking to manufacturers and carriers because we need partners who are skilled at constructing and managing the networks themselves. We've already announced, as an example, an alliance with Redback [a networking company]. So we are talking to lots of different people.
InfoWorld: What kinds of advantages in implementation would an I-burst technology have over other third-generation wireless technologies?
Cooper: In contrast with those 'universal' [technologies], iBurst is focused on freedom to move, broadband, and always-on service. The always-on part is obvious; you can't have people dialing up to get a network. When you want a service, when you want to buy something, when you want to download music, you want to be able to just do it instantaneously. The real issue for consumers is the freedom to move. You don't have to have your computer in a specific place in the house, just because there's a phone jack there. When you have a notebook computer, you don't have to look for a jack. We can save a ton of money by serving people anywhere they are.
It's not as relevant which interface you use; the issue is the system design. How many base stations do you use, and most importantly, do you use smart antennas or not? And the key issue of iBurst is that we use adaptive array processing technology -- what other people call smart antennas. You get a huge, huge win using smart antennas. The smart antennas have a lot more capability to serve a lot more people from every base station, and they have the ability to follow people as they move slowlly. By eliminating the necessity of following people who move at high speeds, we can reduce the cost of this system enormously. We can apply smart antennas to high-mobility systems as well. We are doing that, and we will continue to do that, but they serve a different kind of subscriber, but high-mobility systems will always be more costly than low mobility or what we call portable systems.
InfoWorld: What's the next challenge for ArrayComm?
Cooper: The promise of wireless still hasn't been realized to the degree to that it should. The biggest reason that folks don't use cellular in the U.S. is because the service is just not good enough and it costs too much. ArrayComm's technology -- we call it Intellicell -- solves those kinds of problems. It allows you to put more people on radio channel. One of the top things on ArrayComm's agenda is getting our technology adopted into more of the traditional cellular services. So we are talking to people about GSM [Global System from Mobile communication], CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access], and certainly about third generation. So all those nasty things I said about third generation don't mean that we don't think it's a great service for certain applications.