There was a compelling reason for Microsoft Windows. There were compelling reasons for first- and second-generation mobile phone systems. But no one ANYWHERE has come up with a compelling reason or a viable business case for 3G. How much, exactly, are you the consumer willing to pay for mobile Internet access? A couple of bucks a month?
This is certainly the common wisdom today. No killer app and there won't be. My problem with that kind of argument is that it could have been made (and probably was) for the examples you cite and just about any other technological advance.
A compelling reason for Microsoft Windows? Sure, that is easy to say with perfect hindsight. But at the time it was a huge gamble for Microsoft. It wasn't at all clear AT THE TIME that people would want or need all that Windows allowed a user to do. Certainly Xerox PARC didn't think so. It let the GUI languish in its research center until it was rescued and developed by Steve Jobs and Apple and by Microsoft.
When Windows was first introduced most people certainly didn't think they needed or had to have Windows. They were getting by just fine with their existing operating system, weren't they? Why would they need anything beyond that?
Same for the PC itself 10 years earlier. Who but techno-geeks and hobbyists would ever want or need a computer? Let alone one with a Pentium 4? My 286 works just fine. What more do I need? What good is a PC for?
Oh yeah, the Internet. But who but a few fanatics would ever want to use the Internet? What could you do on it? What is it? AOL is a good little company but surely the masses wouldn't pay much for the slow frustrating experience that the Internet was back then (and of course still is sometimes). And look what AOL charges...2.95 per hour! That's outrageous. How many people will pay that? The Motley Fool... who are they? How many people would pay for that kind of online experience? Certainly not 30 million.
First and second-generation cell phones? Who needs one of those? Hell, I've got a phone in my house. Cell phones are expensive, the technology and coverage isn't that great and if I need a phone on the road, well, that's what pay phones are for. Upgrade? I don't think so! This one the size and weight of a brick works just fine for me. I'll certainly never see a cell phone being used by anyone but executives and salesman. Look at how much service providers charge per minute. Who can afford that? Handsets as fashion accessories? Don't be ridiculous. Cheap enough for a teenager to buy and operate? I don't think so.
And on and on it goes. Television? Why would I need one of those? I've seen my neighbors and the picture is all fuzzy and black and white. Nothing on it anyway. No, I've got my radio and that works just fine for me. At least it has those new transistors and not those big old vacuum tubes that used to burn out so often. Transistors! What will they think of next? Anyway, I've got to go so I don't miss my flight. Flying to Seattle on Boeing's newest turbo-prop.
I will agree with you, David, that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Nokia and 3G right now. I'm just suggesting that there has always been a great deal of uncertainty (technological and commercial) around any technology advance and that this is nothing new for 3G.
It's only looking back with the perfect clarity of hindsight that one can say, "Aha! There was a huge need and demand for Windows" (or PCs or semiconductors or TVs or video recorders or jet aircraft, etc.) and it was all so perfectly obvious at the time. It wasn't. Doesn't mean 3G is a slam dunk. It just means that only time will tell. We wait.