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World Scoop: Wireless Technology Will Soon Be Helping to 'Protect America'

World Scoop: Wireless Technology Will Soon Be Helping to 'Protect America'

By one of those strange confluences of events that from time to time engorge those of us who commentate on the fast-moving world of i-technology for a living, the past month has provided me with a rare opportunity to scope out the past, present, and immediate future of wireless as we move into only the third year of the 21st century. In short, I have been on the hoof, on the road for WBT. And what a month it has been.

From Copenhagen to Amsterdam to New York, from New York to Boston and back, then from New York to Orlando, and from Orlando to Washington to New York to Seattle ­ it was a typical travel itinerary in today's globalized business world, and one that in the past might have tried the patience of even the hardiest road warrior. But in 2002, thanks almost entirely to wireless technology deployed within a variety of business and technological contexts from air travel to ground transportation and from wireless LANs to short-range IR, even 13,000-mile journeys are becoming an undiluted pleasure.

No longer do business executives need to go incommunicado while en route to their next destination. On the contrary, these journeys can now lead to an increase in communications. Waiting time that would previously have been frustrating downtime can now be harnessed productively by means of untethered use of laptop, PDA, or WAP-enabled telephone.

It's with considerable concern, then, that I am forced to recognize that the very month that saw me city-hopping on various WBT business also saw a slide ­ or should we say, a further slide ­ in the fortunes of wireless as a business, be it from the point of view of wireless carriers, aggregators, handset manufacturers, or WISPs.

The carnage, this time 'round, was unusually intense: NTT DoCoMo declared a fall in half-year net profits of a massive 95%, after a further slump in the value of its overseas investments in wireless operators; Cingular Wireless's president and chief executive stepped down after reporting dismal third-quarter results for the nation's second biggest wireless carrier; and even Microsoft, protected one might think from wireless travails by its bulging cash reserves, suffered a tactical defeat when its would-be manufacturing partner in the UK, Sendo, promptly announced that it would be partnering instead with Nokia, scrapping a two-year collaboration just days before it was due to deliver the first handsets using Microsoft's "Smartphone" software.

Skeptics in Europe might say that the wireless industry in North America seemingly never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Yet the Sendo about-face cannot in all fairness be explained quite so glibly. Sure, there is maybe an element here ­ at the end of a tough 2002 ­ of resistance to Microsoft's entry into the wireless software space. But as we have noted in WBT before (see v.2 n.7, "As Microsoft Goes Mobile...Will Innovation Follow?"), it is more or less inconceivable that Microsoft will be other than a huge player in wireless. One day real soon.

You could go further and say that there is really only one North American corporation capable of carrying wireless successfully down from the giddy heights of worldphones and global travelers to "mere" Smartphones, which I tend to view as "worldphones for the masses," if you will.

I say "only one North American corporation" advisedly, because outside of North America there is no shortage of rivals for that self-same role, that of wireless galvanizer. Finnish giant Nokia, which has $7.8 billion of cash on its balance sheet right now ­ a total that, like Microsoft's $23 billion, will by definition continue to grow ­ is strategically and tactically poised to put up a right royal fight against Redmond's plans to acquire wireless market share. It is to Nokia, significantly, that Sendo has now defected, deciding to license their advanced Series 60 phone software, instead of Microsoft's offering.

Is this good or bad for wireless? Depends on whom you ask. At a high-powered Executive Forum called "Witness the Power of Wireless" in which I had the honor of being invited to participate as an analyst recently, the master of ceremonies and moderator of the day's proceedings, CNN's former anchorman Bernard Shaw, was visibly exhilarated as he heard all about some of the innovative and cost-effective uses of wireless technology that are part and parcel of American businesses nationwide right now. The event was hosted by Nextel Communications, and was replete with case studies about "Wireless That Works" in verticals from ground transportation to waste management.

But that is nothing compared to the general consternation and hushed silence that ensued among Forum attendees when Professor John J. Donovan, from the MIT Sloan School of Management, revealed that one of the widest-spread wireless applications of all time is about to be unveiled...in the defense of the nation. Donovan explained to an awestruck room of CEOs from some of America's leading Fortune 500 and 1000 companies that he was currently instrumental in demonstrating to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and indeed to the Commander in Chief himself, how a system of wireless distributed computing could transform America's ability to organize itself in ways that might spectacularly help thwart terrorism within the nation's borders.

According to Professor Donovan, "Project America" will reverse once and for all our creeping sense of defenselessness and replace it instead with an empowering sense of activism and risk curtailment...all made possible by enabling wireless telephones and PDAs and other handhelds with what he called an "Integrated Homeland Security System." It was a riveting presentation, and clearly, a historic day for wireless technology beckons. Never before in the field of human history will J2ME and BREW and mobile phone handsets and iPAQs and RIM BlackBerry handhelds have been seamlessly bound together to make so utilitarian a contribution to America and Americans.

In short, I have seen the future. And it is most decidedly...increasingly, triumphantly...wireless.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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