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Gates, Chambers, Schmidt, Zennström Share Davos Podium
Annual Meeting panellists discuss high-tech now and tomorrow

27 January 2006 - Davos, Switzerland

John T. Chambers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cisco Systems Inc., USA; William H. Gates III, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation, USA; Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer, Google, USA; and Niklas Zennström, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Skype Technologies, United Kingdom, came together in a panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting today to discuss the nature of technology and what the future might look like.

Zennström sees ubiquity as the trend in connectivity. “Small companies anywhere will be able to make a big impact,” he predicted. There’s no need to be totally tech savvy and “no need to even care about how Cisco servers work” in creating such a business. His own business has 75 million users. But in a business where underlying costs are virtually nothing, this can be an interesting business model. As bandwidth becomes cheaper, the Cisco boss said, “Business customers and consumers are talking about business model enablement more than technology per se”.

Gates agreed that the fundamental objective is to get more users. “Here is where terminology matters.” Users can become paying customers. Schmidt seconded this idea, and refined Gates’s observation: “Google set out to solve the search problem and discovered ads,” Schmidt noted. “We have the mission of organizing all the world’s information – all of it,” he declared. But understandable inhibitions remain, and ease of use challenges. Both require solutions.

Zennström said the purchase of his company Skype by eBay has meant an expansion of the “self-distributed peer-to-peer model” to integration within the eBay business model. eBay clients may be separated by some distance, but now the online sales and auction house can provide users “with an enhanced experience” combining video and voice.

Gates mused that with ubiquitous connectivity “you can eventually even get rid of telephone numbers.” But he cautioned it will be quite some time before voice recognition comes of age. “Language is so ambiguous,” he pointed out.

The cross-border nature of Internet business and increasing competition mean that privacy becomes extremely important, Zennström observed. Schmidt agreed, but noted that in any case all companies fall under local law.

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Last updated: 28 January 2006
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