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Networks applying their S-band system will be able to use satellites to provide universal coverage over nine channels, Baujard says. Meanwhile, in cities, ground-based transmitters would provide on-demand access to a virtually unlimited range of TV channels and movies.

Baujard says that the AII funding will enable Alcatel and its partners to accelerate the process of developing the system from handset to satellite. He predicts that by 2008 consumers will be watching S-band-ready handhelds on the first trial networks in Europe, and he looks to China, India, and Brazil for future growth. (Frequency issues will delay entry in the United States, though, where cordless phones and some other applications already use the S-band.)

No one disputes Alcatel’s suggestion that its mobile TV technology could be worth €10 billion in revenues in 2010. But many are skeptical of AII’s more aggressive infotech project. Led by French home electronics manufacturer Thomson, with €90 million in funding from AII, this project, called Quaero, is Chirac’s answer to the U.S. dominance of the Internet in general and Google in particular.

Quaero’s promise is to develop sophisticated search, translation, and voice-recognition tools, the latter for crawling through and making available the Web’s growing podcasts and video clips. The problem, according to critics, such as IT consultant Mons, is that the wrong player is at the top. Rather than Thomson, they say, the AII funding should have gone to a more agile and smarter player: Paris-based Exalead (see “The Enterprise Approach to Search”).

France’s much neglected search engine innovator Exalead has struggled to find financing since its founding in 2000. Virtually unknown in the United States, its search engine offers extensive options for narrowing a search and viewing the results, including thumbnails of each page. Instead of leading the Quaero program, however, Exalead will participate as one of five startups and even more research labs in Thomson’s consortium.

It’s a good sign that France’s leaders are asking why Europe has yet to produce an infotech success story like Google, says Mons – but their top-down solution shows they have a ways to go. “There is no innovation,” says Mons, “in innovation management in Europe.”

Bernard Buisson, coauthor of a recent book on the process of developing new ideas into products, Objectif Innovation, agrees. “Instead of enabling the creation of new companies,” he says, “the [French] state is going to waste several billion euros in large projects that won’t deliver.”

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