The entire telecommunications industry will be restructured within the next couple of years, the father of the cellular phone says. And if you still do business the old-fashioned way, you will be left in the wake of wireless turbulence.
As a witness to how the major long-haul carriers now scramble to provide wireless, Martin Cooper, chairman, CEO and co-founder of ArrayComm Inc. (www.arraycomm.com), says the industry is moving away from technological divisions and more into the area of perceived service.
“The divisions we made in the past, like local, long distance, analog or digital are disappearing, if they haven’t disappeared already,” says Cooper. “There is hardly analog left anywhere. It is now voice as data, and there are different kinds of data.”
Because of this, Cooper says wireless–and especially his newest endeavor at ArrayComm–is an opportunity that will revolutionize telecom today and tomorrow, just as his cell phone began changing calling habits in the 1970s.
Cooper adds that carriers, resellers and independent agents can claim a stake in this future, if they are concerned about personal communications services.
“And they certainly will have to be concerned, because eventually all services will be wireless,” says Cooper. “I’m not just speaking about voice. I’m speaking of all data. When the Internet grows up, most Internet services are going to be wireless.”
But first, wireless must mature, he says.
“Everybody I know has been on a cell phone call and will say, ‘Let’s finish this call on a real phone.’ There is no fundamental reason wireless can’t be as good as wireline,” Cooper insists.
So the man who is credited for creating the cell phone in 1973 while working for Motorola Inc. (www.motorola.com) and who lives by the principle that “There is no lack of spectrum, only a lack of spectral efficiency” has a new technology that he believes will once again shake up telecom dramatically.
Many people might be satisfied with one gigantic accomplishment in a lifetime. Cooper was not.
“Think about what the alternative is,” says the 71-year-old. “You could sit around talking about the past and boring people to death, or you can keep active and be where the action is. Your mind and body have similar attributes. If you stop using your mind and body, they atrophy. That is why I run six miles every other day. I lift weights for 20 minutes on the days I run.
“To keep up with these smart alecs, you have to keep yourself exercised and persuade yourself to stay younger.”
Cooper is credited as a co-founder of ArrayComm–his fifth startup. The “technical” founder is one of those “smart alecs” who sought out Cooper nine years ago at the suggestion of Arnaud Saffari, the company’s executive vice president. Saffari heard a concept from a “techie,” and told him no one would listen to him unless he could convince someone in the industry who had clout, Cooper recalls.
“I hear ideas like this on an average of one every two weeks,” Cooper says. “This guy persisted, and the only time I could find to meet with him was during my running time during a convention in New Orleans.”
Cooper laughs at that meeting. He says the youngster was cruising alongside him explaining his idea, while the older man says he probably looked as if he was huffing-and-puffing to get through the run.
But it was a meeting that satisfied “Cooper’s law” of squeezing more stuff into the spectrum.
“The problem right now is capacity,” Cooper explains. “If we can find a way to increase capacity and make it less costly, we can get to the point where personal communications can be done completely wireless. The key issue is how much stuff can you squeeze into a radio frequency. We’ve been searching for ways to squeeze more onto frequencies since Marconi invented radio.
“I’ve come up with a way to squeeze more into a radio frequency by 10 trillion times.”
He explains that with Marconi’s discovery, the conversation was simply two-way radio. After the invention of the cell phone, the 1980s allowed the technology to provide “confined wireless conversations” within a specific distance.
Cooper says, “Now, we can deliver the entire radio spectrum to each individual. We can do this by literally placing radio energy around the individual.”
According to Cooper, the proof is in Southeast Asia, where ArrayComm already has installed 50,000 base stations.
Cooper says the ArrayComm methodology is through what the company calls i-BURST, its “smart antennae arrays” that direct data transmissions at 1mbps.
“We’ve only seen a trace of what will be possible in the next 10 or 15 years,” says Cooper, explaining that i-BURST will allow streaming media from the Internet anywhere on earth. He compares the performance of the i-BURST system with current cellular to a Razor Scooter up against an F-16.
“What we do comes down to the matter of how we are combining the signals, which allows us to receive signals from the people from whom we want, and to reject the signals who interfere with us,” Cooper explains.
The array requires 10 or 12 antennas. This allows the system to act more like a radio station engineer who processes the music sent over the air.
“Think about how you hear,” Cooper explains. “If you and I are in a room and are speaking, you can close your eyes and you know exactly where I am because you have two ears, and because my voice gets to your ears at different times, your brain can figure out where in the room I am.”
In a room with a lot of people, however, a person’s brain goes into overdrive in order to zero in on specific conversations or sounds. This is what Cooper calls the “cocktail party effect.”
“Your brain has the ability of focusing in, and if someone behind you says something that interests you, your mind immediately focuses on that,” he says. “You haven’t moved your head, but you think differently. You can reject the first person.
“That is what we do. Instead of two ears, we have 10 or 12. We can really magnify the signal. Furthermore, while you have one mouth when you talk, we have 10 or 12 antennas.”
The technology is also able to work on top of any existing system, Cooper says.
“How does this relate to your clients? Well, if they’ve built a wireless system and apply our kind of technology, they need many fewer base stations to serve more people,” Cooper says.
While he is excited at what ArrayComm is doing, Cooper admits that he has “always lived in the future.”
His first cell phone was a 29-ounce, brick-like device. Now he marvels at how similarly today’s cell phones resemble the communicator Capt. James T. Kirk used on television’s original “Star Trek.”
And in a few short years, it may become similar to what was used in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Cooper told a CNN audience during a recent interview, “The future of the cell phone will continue to be personal. … In the long term, you may even have your cell phone embedded, perhaps, under the skin behind your ear.”
During his interview with PHONE+, Cooper said, “It’s really embarrassing, but television did not become commercial until I was past my teen years.” Instead, he read science fiction novels, and he recognizes that many of today’s technologies were born through the imaginative visions of what was, decades ago, science fiction.
So maybe Cooper’s major contribution is in bringing science fiction to reality.