TR: But no one now is making money even in wired broadband. How will the industry solve its cash flow problems?
Cooper: If you think about it, we have a bunch of problems. The biggest problem is people’s time. It’s a commodity in short supply. People have been bombarded with all these new things. Is there a model that says you can make money through advertising? Sure. Radio and TV work that way. But when everyone jumps on that model at once, it doesn’t work, because people just don’t have the time to pay attention to it all.
TR: When do you predict these services will take hold and companies begin to make money?
Cooper: It takes a long time for people to change their habits, which is another reason these businesses are failing. I can’t conceive, myself, of buying groceries over the Internet. My grandchildren will do this stuff without even thinking about it. We’ve been way too impatient with this technology. It takes a long time before something becomes popular. How many years do you think it took from the time the first microwave oven was available until you could be fairly certain your neighbor had one? Nineteen years! Almost every new thing has taken that long. The whole Internet thing is only five years old. People are saying it’s a failure. Wait a second. A lot of things really are going to take a generation. They’re going to take people growing up with this tool.
TR: So we’re not going to really see a broadband revolution until 2014?
Cooper: To really achieve the potential of the Internet, yes. It’s going to take longer than anyone thinks. Of course there will be progress along the way. I’m talking about people being connected to a full Internet, wherever they are, carrying three, four, five different devices, maybe even having a couple of telemedicine sensors connected to two different places monitoring their health. Yes. That will take a generation.
In the interim there will be a lot of stuff in the gadget category. Like personal digital assistants. They still aren’t as convenient as they need to be. I should be able to update the calendar in my PDA and have my computer at home and my secretary’s computer automatically update themselves, without me needing to be in the vicinity to establish an infrared link. It takes a long time to get these human-to-computer interfaces right. People are always saying I invented the cell phone. But I didn’t carry one myself until it got down under four ounces. Before that cell phones just weren’t convenient to me.
TR: What keeps you personally fomenting revolution?
Cooper: I guess I must be an optimist. There is no such thing as an easy business, you know. They’re all hard. You need to create a vision, to get people who have money to give it to you, and to overcome all sorts of insurmountable obstacles. They always come and they’re always unforeseeable. If you understand that in the beginning, it helps when you’re in the thick of it.
TR: If you could pick the one thing everyone has wrong right now in the wireless industry, what would it be?
Cooper: I only get one shot at this? Okay. It’s the concept of universal solutions. In other words, people think you can come up with one universal gadget or system or solution that solves a whole bunch of problems. That if you find the Holy Grail of solutions then everyone will flock to you. In my business right now they’re inventing what they call the “next generation of cellular networks,” and they have the temerity to claim it will do everything. They’re saying, “look, we’re going to combine cell phones and personal digital assistants into one device, because everyone is carrying both of these things already, so obviously we all want one device that does both.” That’s crazy!
TR: Yet it does seem to be what everyone thinks is going to happen-that people will gravitate toward a handful of devices.
Cooper: Everyone is wrong. People are different. They have different needs. They’ll need different devices to satisfy those needs. I see a proliferation of gadgets, all of which interconnect. Some gadgets will combine, but more will be separate. There won’t be a universal network, either. Some will be optimized for voice. Some will be for international travelers who need to communicate all over the world. Some will just work around the neighborhood. The suggestion that all of us should be served by one solution is just insane. In my world, there will be lots of companies all battling to make you happier, healthier and more prosperous, with the companies themselves getting prosperous in the meantime. It’s going to happen. I guarantee it.