3G expectations need to be lowered, says Intel CEO

Consumers dreaming of exotic 3G (third-generation) services delivered to their mobile phones may want to put those thoughts on hold. Telecommunication companies and equipment vendors have over-hyped the capabilities of 3G mobile technology and need to set about readjusting market expectations as roll-out plans for 3G networks slow down, according to Intel Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Craig Barrett.

While consumers have been led to expect the coming availability of high-end 3G services, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), not 3G, will be the next generation of mobile technology that is widely deployed, Barrett said in a speech here Monday.

GPRS is an upgrade to GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks that currently allows an increase in data-transmission speeds from 9.6K bps (bits per second) to around 40K bps, and is expected to eventually offer speeds above 100K bps. By comparison, 3G is expected to ultimately offer wireless data transfer rates of up to 2M bps.

Barrett believes GPRS will be widely deployed before 3G technology in the short term. However, GPRS is nonexistent in Japan, one of the world's largest wireless services markets, and is several years away from widespread roll out across the U.S., another major market.

There is some evidence that Barrett's prediction could come true. In South Korea, for example, the country's major carriers have delayed deployment of 3G networks, instead favoring the use of GPRS-like fast packet data services on existing 2G networks.

With GPRS expected to be closer than 3G to reaching the average consumer's handset in many markets, Intel is working on technologies that take advantage of the bandwidth increase that is offered by GPRS networks.

During Barrett's speech here on Monday, an Intel executive demonstrated the capabilities of GPRS technology by showing a video stream on a wireless handheld device running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE 3.0 operating system and based on Intel's Personal Internet Client Architecture. Acknowledging that the postage stamp-sized video was small, the executive said Intel was satisfied with the quality of the video stream given the bandwidth and technical limitations of GPRS networks.

In the future, those limitations will increasingly disappear as technology evolves, according to Barrett, who predicted that eventually there will be no difference between wired access to the Internet and wireless access in terms of the services and information available. At the same time, the line is blurring between mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), with the two types of devices already beginning to merge into a single device in some applications, he said.

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