TR: Yet there seem to be a lot of new and creative wireless services springing up, particularly in Europe and Japan.
Cooper: That’s a myth. Europe and Japan seem to be ahead of the United States in some ways just now because they’ve rammed through some standards. In Europe the big phone companies got together and developed a standard by committee. That’s just not the way to win, ultimately. In the U.S. we have four standards, maybe more. Guess who will choose which will win? The people. The market. In the long run the U.S. will have a much more effective telecommunications industry because of it.
Cooper: The real question is, how is this industry going to evolve into a healthy competitive situation, when today it’s so mired in monopolistic thinking? We’re very fortunate that the Internet has come along. The Internet is full of people trying to figure out what customers want. The Internet is going to force the telecommunications industry to wake up.
TR: How will the Internet force the telecommunications industry to change?
Cooper: What you have now in the cellular market is a lot of carriers going after markets that generate the most revenue and ignoring everyone else. The whole focus is on people who use a lot of minutes. So what happens to old people? To teenagers? To police departments? To all the billions of people in the world who don’t fit the profile?
But the Internet creates a situation where an aggressive company can attack a very small market and make a business out of it. It will engender a bunch of different applications and markets. Some people will be good at managing customers and delivering value. Others will be great at building the pipes, the bits and bytes that make this stuff work.
TR: Yet big companies have a huge edge over newer players in spectrum auctions.
Cooper: Well, that’s right. Governments have been auctioning spectrum off to the highest bidder, which favors established players, not risk-takers. We’re on a campaign to persuade the FCCs of the world to make some provision for innovation, and for services not provided by these behemoth organizations. We’re having some success. It turns out that the FCCs of the world really are trying to use spectrum in the best way to serve people. Our market trial [in San Diego] will be important to establish just what we have to offer. Spectrum is essential to what we’re trying to do. It’s a good thing that our particular technology doesn’t need much
TR: Tell me a little bit about what you see people doing with wireless networks. Will it be an extension of what we’re doing already on our desktops, or will we be doing new things in new ways?
Cooper: First you have to get rid of the idea we’ll be accessing the Internet via cell phone. The laughable part of that idea is, here we have this huge power in the Internet, and we’ve only tasted a shadow of it, and yet people insist it will be delivered to us over the cell phone. No. My vision is that you deliver the real, full Internet to people wherever they are. You’re not tied to a desk. You don’t need to be computer literate or know how to find an ISP or a portal or whatever. It has to be wireless, and it has to be ubiquitous, so wherever you happen to travel, it’s there. It has to be available when you need it. No nonsense about dialing in. And it has to be low in cost.
Once all those things are in place, remarkable things can happen. We’ll take a picture with the push of a button, and in seconds it will appear on our Web site for our friends and family to enjoy. Or say you want to hear a John Denver song. You can tell how old I am by my example. You’ll download a five-minute song in 20 seconds directly to a device that plays the song. That will happen. Or games. Imagine a kid in Shanghai and a kid in Cleveland, playing together with absolutely no geopolitical barriers. Someone still has to figure out how to charge you for all these things, but they will.