Europe's lead in wireless digital telephony will generate more Internet users there than are in the US, according to Apple board member and Oracle chairman and CEO Larry Ellison.

"First comes Europe, then Asia. The US will be dead last with this technology," Ellison told a packed hall in Geneva, during a keynote speech to mark the opening of Interactive 99, held parallel to the Telecom 99 exhibition.

Ellison - self-proclaimed "best mate" of Apple CEO Steve Jobs - believes Europe has a two-year lead over the US in digital wireless technology. While today, the cost of Internet access via fixed phone lines prohibits widespread Net usage in parts of Europe and Asia, wireless technologies will change that, he said. Users will access the Internet in increasing numbers via a variety of wireless devices, including mobile phones, Ellison predicted.

"Most people in Europe don't have PCs. That's because you're smarter than we are," quipped Ellison. He then launched into his by now familiar criticism that desktop PCs, loaded with applications, are too complicated for the average user.

Ellison did not miss the chance to gloat over the predictions he made four years ago at the last Telecom show.

"At that time, I angered some people by saying the PC was ridiculous," Ellison said, reminding the audience about his prediction that the world would move over to a network computing model, where users access a network that stores the applications they need.

"It's happening. The desktop PC is becoming a network computer," he said.

Apple's forthcoming AirPort wireless technology - used in the iBook, new iMacs and Power Mac G4 - still requires a computer, but does allow users greater mobility and flexibility in accessing the Internet and ethernet networks.

The network computing model also makes it easier for users to access the Internet via a variety of mobile devices, Ellison said. When data and applications no longer reside on the desktop, but instead are stored in centralized servers, it will be easier to access those applications through different Internet appliances, he said.

The Internet, in the last four years, has also changed the whole computing world dramatically, Ellison said.

"Four years ago the PC was the centre of the world. Not now," he said. Just as the PC pushed out the mainframe, the Internet has now pushed the PC off centre stage, he said.