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Glaser Gets Real With 4G

10:55 AM -- SAN FRANCISCO -- Open Mobile Summit 2011 -- Rob Glaser, 4G genius? You never might have guessed that the man formerly best-recognized as the Tasmanian Devil behind RealNetworks Inc. (Nasdaq: RNWK) would someday become a wizened pro in matters wireless. Yet there he was at the OpenMobile Summit Wednesday, expounding intelligently on why the 4G wireless market hasn't really taken off yet.

"The infrastructure [for 4G networks] is still being built, so it's not surprising to me that the consumer value is not clear yet," said Glaser, during a panel discussion about monetizing 4G networks. In a separate interview with Light Reading after his panel, Glaser expounded on his ideas a bit and talked about his new role as a part-time advisor with Accel Partners , where he is involved with several wireless-related investments.

On the subject of 4G, Glaser noted during the panel that part of the reason for the slow takeup of 4G is that "we haven’t yet seen a killer app that only works on 4G." But that will probably change soon, he said in the follow-up interview.

"I think we’ll get there," he said, when asked if 4G networks would really matter to consumers. "There’s so much happening now with the devices -- if we didn’t have iPhones, and didn't have all the Android phones you might ask what's the proof that people are going to suck up the [wireless] capacity. I think we'll soon see some service that only works on a 4G network, and it will really take off."

In his former life, the ex-Microsofter Glaser was well known for his role as CEO and founder of RealNetworks, one of the firms that helped drive the adoption of audio and video content online. But after resigning as CEO of RealNetworks in January of 2010 Glaser moved into his role at Accel Partners, where he has been immersed in telecom- and mobile-related concerns. (See IPTV vs Me-Too TV.)

"After being heads down for so long at Real, it's been fun to get a fresh perspective on the world," Glaser said of his VC experience. He said Seattle, where Glaser continues to live, is a perfect place to increase knowledge of things cellular, as Glaser said he is tapping into the current and former employees of local wireless players like AT&T, Clearwire, T-Mobile and McCaw Cellular to increase his industry knowledge.

"It's great to be able to spend time with a lot of smart people, both alumni and people currently at companies in the Seattle area," Glaser said. "It's been a big part of my learning curve."

Glaser, who was an early investor in the voice-control company Tellme Networks Inc. years ago, is now helping Accel with its investment in Qwilt Inc., a provider of hardware meant to make video delivery "dramatically more efficient," according to Glaser. Qwilt, started by founders who sold their deep-packet startup to Cisco, recently announced it had raised US$24 million in two rounds of funding. (See Qwilt Raises $24 Million for Video-Delivery System and Cisco Plucks P-Cube for $200M.)

Given his RealAudio background, it perhaps isn't surprising that Glaser sees enhanced voice communications as an area for future innovation in 4G, especially for providers who "see audio as data" and use the faster network capabilities to find ways to make voice communications richer and better. "Even with these great new phones 47 percent of our time is still spent on phone calls," Glaser said. "One of the great opportunities is how do we make this [voice] better?"

Glaser also thinks that despite opposition from a small "digerati" segment of the audience, most cellular customers aren’t really offended by things like wireless data caps, which are the hallmark of new services such as Verizon's 4G LTE.

"There's been a mini-firestorm [about data caps] but most cellular customers are not pushing past the data caps," Glaser said. "This isn't a NetFlix or a Bank of America problem because the caps only have an impact on a small number of people."

But could data caps keep 4G from taking off? Glaser did say that getting consumers to use multiple devices -- one way carriers see as a path to monetizing 4G -- will require a more "low-friction way" than the one-plan-for-each-device method that currently exists.

Paul Kapustka is editor and founder of Sidecut Reports, an independent research firm that specializes in wireless technologies. Special to Light Reading. He is also the editor of Mobile Sports Report, a new site that lives at the intersection of mobile-social technologies and sports.

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