Vint Cerf on mobile phones as a means of accessing the Internet

Posted on July 5, 2007  /  0 Comments

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet now at Google, appears to see a key role for the mobile especially in developing countries.

ACM: Ubiquity – Cerf’s Up Again! — A New Ubiquity Interview with Vint Cerf

CERF: Well, certainly that has happened in the sense that the mobile telephony has allowed the provision of communication services, and let me include in that Internet access, in places where it was very difficult to obtain that service before. And so, I think roughly the number of telephone terminations has more than doubled in the last five years. It’s gone from a little over a billion to a little over 2.3 billion. And the 1.3 billion of the 2.3 billion are mobile telephones. So, it has had a tidal wave effect on access to both mobile telephony and also the many instances in the GSM system anyway of short messaging. It’s extremely popular. And these devices are becoming increasingly Internet-capable. So, you’re seeing people use these things for navigation. They use them for some certain amount of Web surfing, for identifying products and services that they’re interested in. These devices are becoming much more elaborate than they were ever before. They have a lot of horsepower, a lot of compute power, a lot of memory. Some of the displays are getting bigger. So, it’s very much a universal tool. I’m even seeing financial transactions being done through these mobile telephones. And this of course adds a certain degree of convenience. You don’t need a credit card anymore. It’s your mobile phone that is making the payments.UBIQUITY: So you don’t think it’s too fanciful to think that leapfrogging would continue to work and that the kind of rich environment that you were talking about just a minute ago could be realistically obtained by countries that are now underdeveloped?

CERF: I want to be a little careful about the leapfrog argument because mobile telephony doesn’t have the same potential capacity that the wire line does, especially optical fiber or coaxial cable. And so I think that many countries that are experiencing this huge influx of traditional mobile telephony, if I can call it that, may still be constrained as to the applications they can support over the air. So they have to find a way to mature wire line capability concurrently with the mobile, at least that’s my view. It’s possible that some of the broadband wireless capabilities can be used as a substitute. Ultra wideband radio, for example, and maybe WiMax would be alternatives to wire line, but I think we should be very cautious about predicting massive leapfrogging merely as a consequence of mobile telephony deployment. I think it’s also very important in economic terms to recognize that the use of these technologies for economic gain require a certain amount of infrastructure to be in place, not only physical infrastructure but trained people who can operate various pieces of equipment and know how to configure things and the like. And so, at the same time there’s investment in physical facilities there has to be a serious investment in training so as to create a local population that’s able to operate with these increasingly complex systems.

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