Wireless services will lead the next growth phase of the Internet as venture capitalists who helped fund the early boom open their wallets again, industry leaders said on Monday.
"I think the Internet's largest opportunities are in bringing new services, ones that we barely imagine, to billions of people around the world, wirelessly," said John Doerr, one of Silicon Valley's most renowned venture capitalists and a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
"We're probably in the early ... adolescence of this Internet world."
Doerr spoke at a roundtable discussion of the TechNet Innovation Summit at the Mountain View, California, headquarters of search company Google Inc.. TechNet is a bipartisan political network of about 400 CEOs that promotes technology.
One focus of the discussion was new ways to use wireless technology to expand the Web. Wi-Fi, the popular term for wireless high-speed Internet access over short distances, is gaining traction and other wireless technologies are in the works.
"The interesting thing about wireless is what it can do to bring the rest of the world into the Web," Intel Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Otellini said. "You can start to think about bringing this into rural markets."
Twin growth engines
Chief Executives John Chambers of Cisco Systems Inc., Eric Schmidt of Google and Terry Semel of Yahoo Inc. also pointed to Wi-Fi and high-speed, or broadband, Internet access as twin engines of growth for their companies and the industry.
"There are many ways in which devices are going to be connected," said Bill Joy, former chief scientist and a co-founder of high-end computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. "The thing we probably have not paid enough attention to is there are going to be many kinds of Webs," he said.
In addition to the familiar World Wide Web, Joy said he envisioned sub-sections of the Internet providing a personal Web, an information Web and an entertainment Web, among others.
Doerr said his company has in the last year and a half invested in about half a dozen companies focused on delivering wireless services.
After the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, venture capital funding all but dried up. But Doerr said investors were ready to spend again, if not at peak levels.
"We've returned to pre-1999 funding and valuation levels for new ventures," Doerr said. "It went up by a factor of four through the end of the boom" from the pre-1999 levels, he added.
Otellini and other executives said the United States lagged many nations in rolling out broadband and Wi-Fi.
While funding of new ventures and innovation continues in the United States, the world's largest economy is falling behind in turning out high-tech workers with science and engineering degrees, panelists said.
"We are not generating the engineering talent that we need," Joy said.