Letter: Cambridge rings in

November 10, 2000

Gill Evans (Soapbox, THES , October 20), Phil Baty: "Cambridge tackles ethics code after Vodafone row'' ( THES , October 20) and Andrew M. Colman (Readers' Reactions, THES , October ) all attack Sir Alec Broers over the Cambridge Open Mobile System in which Vodafone has recently announced its participation.

Sir Alec did not know the extent or state of the agreement between Vodafone and the university, simply because he was not involved in discussions. It was I who discussed and continue to discuss this venture with Vodafone and others. It is true that Sir Alec provided me with an introduction into Vodafone when the idea of an open testbed for new mobile applications was first mooted, but that is where his involvement ended.

I have been in discussions with other companies that might participate in this research programme. It is clear that we cannot make a success of this without broad participation. But it is also clear that without a network infrastructure it is difficult to bring other parties to the table. Vodafone has, in essence, started the ball rolling; we will be welcoming a wide range of participants in the project, possibly including Vodafone's competitors.

Much is made of "free mobile phones for students''. Vodafone has said it will make a small number of handsets available to ensure the network is used on day one and will help us draw in handset-makers to the project. I choose my words carefully, for I do not know whether they will be telephones, palm-tops or a combination of the two, since we have not yet defined the projects. This is not about providing a free mobile phone service to students.

Colman asserted that "Cambridge should be the last university to accept Vodafone's kind 'investment'''. One hates to disappoint an academic at another university, but I think the potential that Cambridge (university and local industry) has for being a major centre for mobile communications rather outweighs his ill-founded prejudices.

Perhaps he will look at the situation in a few months when agreements with others have been reached and the nature of this large research collaboration is fleshed out.

Ian Leslie
Head, Computer Laboratory
University of Cambridge

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