Healy, the chairman of the GSM Association and also president of Cook Inlet VoiceStream PCS, a US mobile network operator, was the opening speaker at the 3GSM World Congress on Wednesday.
"Close your eyes, and count to ten," he told the audience. "You are now experiencing second-generation communications," he said, referring to today's generation of digital mobile phone systems, based on technologies such as CDMA (code division multiple access) or GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). "Now open them," he said. "That's 3G."
3G networks, due to enter service in many countries later this year, will be able to carry data at much higher rates than the 9.6Kps or 13.3Kbps supported by 2G networks, or the 53Kbps typically offered by intermediate or 2.5G technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). Data rates of 384Kbps will allow 3G networks to transmit large data files; high-quality audio, or still and moving images.
While the industry's eyes are on the services of the future, subscribers continue to sign up for existing offerings. Seven of every ten new digital mobile phone subscribers last year opted for GSM, Healy said, bringing the total number of GSM customers to 457 million by the end of January.
Looking to the future, he predicted that one in ten of the world's population will be a GSM subscriber by the end of this year, and more people will have a GSM phone than have a PC.
The transition from second to third generation worldwide will take longer than the blink of an eye his illustration suggested, warned Healy. "GPRS and 3G will begin in the big cities, but the ability to deliver that to other parts of the world is a truly amazing possibility, and also a responsibility," he said.
The 3GSM World Congress, in Cannes, runs through Friday. Further information can be found at http://www.gsmworldcongress.com/.