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Vodafone CEO sees mobile Web as the future

Mobile's future lies in the Internet, chief exec says, and carriers must be pickier about the technologies they select if they want to succeed.

BARCELONA, Spain--The Internet is the future of mobile and carriers need to be more selective about the technologies they choose if they want to succeed, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin said during his keynote speech here Tuesday.

Sarin, who was speaking on the second day of the GSMA's Mobile World Congress, said that mobile operators need to be at the forefront of developing new services for cell phones, such as music, games, and video. If they don't take an active role now, he said, they risk losing their relevance in the market.

"Operators need to invest to bring important mobile Internet services to life," he said. "We can't sit back and become bit pipes."

Sarin also encouraged the industry not to get into a technology standards war between emerging 4G wireless technologies WiMax and LTE. And he called on the industry to combine the two technologies into a common standard so that the research and development community will not be split between dueling technologies.

"The old debates around TDMA, CDMA, and GSM weren't very productive," he said. "So we need to encourage folks to merge WiMax into LTE."

He also encouraged operators and handset makers to look at Apple's iPhone as an example of how to improve user interfaces. And he suggested that carriers consolidate the number of operating systems they use on their handsets to ensure that new applications and services are launched quickly. He said that Vodafone, which is the largest carrier in the world in terms of revenue, has between 30 and 40 operating systems working on its network today.

"I'd argue that is too many," he said. "There's no way that an application developer can develop applications for 30 different operating systems. We have to narrow the range to three, four, or five."

He was careful to note that the mobile industry is not looking for any one company to monopolize the mobile operating system market, the way Microsoft dominates the PC operating system market.

He said he welcomed new entrants, such as Google, which announced in November its Android mobile software. Several companies are showing demonstrations of the software on prototypes at the Mobile World Congress. But Google's emergence in this market has also sparked debate over how many open operating systems are actually needed. Sarin said he didn't care if operators and handset makers use Symbian or Microsoft's Window's Mobile--or Google's Android or the open Linux operating system from the Limo Foundation. Sarin said that the market will ultimately decide but also noted that the GSMA might provide guidelines to help narrow the playing field.