The Road Wirer
on Bourbon Street
by Mark Sedenquist
A week ago I was in New Orleans attending the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Wireless 2000 show. The four-day conference was, by turns, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating and illuminating. New Orleans itself was gearing up for Mardi Gras, and inside the convention center, it was humanly impossible for one person to attend the swirl of press conferences, product briefings, panel discussions, and keynote addresses. By keeping myself focused on dashboarder equipment (and attending only one little Mardi Gras parade), I came to a couple of observations.
First, the line between work-time and personal-time continues to blur. In one session, one presenter asked the room of 500 telco executives how many worked 9:00 to 5:00 I saw about three hands raised. In my own entrepreneurial dashboarding life, there is virtually no hour during the day when I am not "available" for a work-related telephone or Internet messaging communique. In fact, since many of my dashboarding colleagues work and reside in time zones distant from my own, much of my daily work correspondence "arrives" in my e-mail box when I am asleep, and vice-versa.
Being accessible, whether in wireless or wireline mode, doesn't necessarily lead to more productivity. In Road Wirer 16, I introduced the concept of Dynamic Space, and it is my contention that the current rush of products and services should be viewed in relation to how much personal control the devices provide (or fail to provide) in enabling personal productivity in work and leisure time. There was so much activity at the CTIA show that I am still at a loss in my attempt to provide some measure of clarity to what seemed to be happening. While my mind continues to sort out true utility from glitzy hype, I will plunge in and report on several Web sites, companies and products that show promise.
- Nokia's new "How-to" Web site
- MarbleTop Wireless LAN
- AirDesk, Inc.
- "Customized Internet Vehicle"
- New Hands-free Cellular Products
A frequent problem posed by correspondents on the Road Wirer Wireless Forum has to do with interface questions by owners of Nokia phones who have purchased wireless handset with the expectation that they will then be able to use the phones to connect their laptops to the Internet. Nokia makes one of the most popular .6 watt phones (6160 series) among professional road warriors and the general lack of documentation about how to perform this task has led more than one analyst to suggest that Nokia's preference for WAP-enabled phones may be the culprit. It seems possible that Nokia's marketing push may tend to favor non PC-based applications using Nokia handsets. (See commentary about WAP below).
There is good news on this particular Nokia horizon. I spoke with a senior marketing manager who assured me that Nokia will be updating their on-line customer service Website with accurate, practical information for this application on most of their North American products. The Website currently provides excellent tutorial information about many of the features of the listed handsets. Current "How To" information is now online at www.nokiahowto.com. The updates are expected to completed by early summer.
WAP stands for "Wireless Application Protocol" which includes a programming language, (WML) that allows Internet content to be delivered in a stripped down version so that it could be viewed by low-bandwidth capacity devices, like handsets and PDA's (e. g. Palm Pilots). There are hundreds of WAP-enabled devices that are being rushed to the marketplace. Such devices will make it easy to capture and deliver the latest stock market, news and business facts to personal devices. There is also the entire SMS (Short Messaging System) network that can deliver information and data to personal paging devices. However, I am of the opinion that anyone should be able to access information from any Web site, regardless of whether or not that information has been re-written in the WAP-formatted language. To that end, there are a number of companies that are working on ways to translate the HTML codes of most Web pages into this other language.
There were lots of companies exhibiting new products and technologies at the show that sound exciting but are largely unproven. I'll be keeping abreast of news about a "MarbleTop" wireless LAN that can deliver Internet content at 9.6K speeds.
AirDesk, Inc., working with Paradigm, is marketing the AirStar100 for $199 that provides a digital interface for use with a Motorola StarTAC handset in much the same way that the S1936D provides an analog interface for connecting with a laptop on the road. This AirStar100 can be attached to an external antenna. AirDesk, Inc. also produces an excellent catalogue, and they sell many of the products that the Road Wirer has recommended. The current version of the Website, www.airdesk.biz, is a little difficult to navigate, but ordering one of their printed catalogues may be helpful. Since they are a Motorola retailer, it is unlikely that they will expand their product lines to include other telephones. However, they also carry the Standard Communication's CDL900 AMPS data modem. Top speed on this unit is still only 9.6K but it was developed for heavy applications and may offer a good alternative to analog-based cellular phones. One of the worrisome aspects of the current spectrum crunch is that many carriers are dropping analog service through conventional service plans.
Cellport Systems in Boulder, Colorado, certainly grabbed my attention. They are building or preparing to build something they refer to as a "Customized Internet Vehicle" (CIV). By the use of a on-board mobile server this vehicle supports TCP/IP and CDPD, iDEN, PCS and CDMA platforms.
For something interesting you may see at your neighborhood Circuit City in about a month, check out www.cellport.com.The current offering is called the Cellport 3000 which is a phone-specific pocket adapter that enables a single hands-free platform in which you can place different digital handsets using Lucent's audio enhanced sound, battery charging, and antenna connection. In subsequent versions, data jacks, voice-recognition and text- to-speech protocols are planned.
More news in a few days, when I can find some perspective of where we are and where we are headed. Our grail of finding the ways and means to log on anywhere at a reasonable cost is still just slightly beyond our grasp, but conferences like Wireless 2000 certainly reveal a strong commitment on the part of many companies and developers to stay the course.
Las Vegas, Nevada
March 10, 2000